Thursday, 19 April 2012

Giving it away for free... does it pay?

As I’ve probably mentioned before, Amazon’s KDP Select program (under which you have to make your book exclusive to Amazon for 90 days) gives you the option to make your book free for 5 of those 90 days. I thought it was worth a try. After all, an electronic copy of the book costs me nothing, and if someone reads it for free and then writes a positive review or tells a friend about the book, it could help to generate some paid sales.

Having spent some time on the Kindle forums, some indie authors seem to get very uptight about the notion of giving their book away for free: “I sweated blood over my masterpiece, I’ll be damned if anyone is going to read it without paying me for the privilege.”

I think that attitude is a) monumentally egotistical, and b) bad business.

I’m a new author, so nobody knows who I am. Therefore, my first priority isn’t to make sure everyone who wants to read so much of a chapter of my glowing prose pays me my $3.99, it’s to get as many people as I possibly can to read it. If they like it, they tell people and that’s what will get my name around a bit.

This isn’t a new business model, of course – how do people think reviews of traditionally published books get into newspapers? The journalists get free copies, they read them, and hopefully they have something nice to say about them. If you’re not prepared to let anyone see your work, to try before they buy, then why would you ever expect anyone to pay for it?

So yes, I thought a free promotion would be good for business, particularly as it costs me nothing. (I’ve actually seen someone suggest that 600 free books downloaded equates to 600 lost sales. If you genuinely believe this, you must either be criminally insane, or work for the PR department of a major film studio or record company… not that the two are mutually exclusive.)

Anyway, what I didn’t factor in was the indirect benefit: increased visibility. If enough people ‘buy’ your book when it’s free, it rises up the rankings, which means it shows up on more searches and gets cross-promotion through “customers who bought this also bought this…”

I put Halfway to Hell on promotion for two days last Friday and Saturday. It started doing really well in the free book rankings. It was doing so well that I decided to extend it by another day. By Sunday night, it was number 6 on the top 100 free books for Kindle, and number 3 in thrillers. By the time the promotion finished, I’d had over 3,000 downloads in the UK alone.

The sales bump I got from the increased visibility was unprecedented – from selling 17 copies in March, and only 1 so far in April, I sold around 50 copies on the Monday alone. I picked up a glowing 5-star review from someone who’d downloaded the book free on Sunday evening and finished it late on Monday. Sales have stayed steady, and I’m up to 134 paid copies of Halfway to Hell sold since Monday. It’s in the top 50 paid thrillers in the Kindle store, and number 345 among all books for Kindle.

I know this is probably a temporary bump (although I hope that some of those 134 readers will like the book enough to recommend it to others), and that the numbers aren’t exactly big time, even though they’re a huge jump for me. But still – the royalties I’ve generated since Monday total well over £200 (or around $350).

I’m not quitting the day job just yet, but that’s enough to pay a chunk of the mortgage. And just as importantly, people are reading my book. So yeah, free seems to be working for me.  

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