This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

New posts on Wednesdays. Email

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Free Book Giveaways, R.I.P.

            Several months ago, I wrote about rethinking Amazon free promotions, in which an author gives away a book at no charge for a day or two. The idea is to pull in some readers who might not have found the book otherwise, with the hope that said readers will tell friends, write reviews, and pay full price down the road for another book if they liked the first one free.
            At the time, I was debating the effectiveness of the tactic and have now concluded, based on steadily diminishing results, that it’s no longer worth it. With my first two mystery novels, I did a free promotion within days of the book’s release, and did about 20 more over the next year.
            There has been no free promotion for the third mystery in my series, Not Death, But Love, and I doubt there ever will be, though I remain open to evidence. Several factors propelled me to that decision, but two were particularly critical.

The Big Yawn

            For a period of a bit over two years, from July 2012 to October 2014, my free-book giveaways were generating good numbers. Using the direct-mail analogy, I figured an author had to give away a hundred books to get two to four read. In the first couple of years, I was moving a hundred books a day on free days as often as not, and sometimes as many as several hundred.
            In the past nine months or so, I’ve probably done 30 free giveaways and had only one 100-plus-book day. At that rate, I’d have been better off leaving the book out there at full price and hoping I sold one copy each of those days.
            I was also seeing evidence that fewer people overall were participating in the free-book frenzy, both as authors and as customers. Late last year and early this year, it was not uncommon for one of my books to be in the top 50 Crime Fiction free books with only 30-40 downloads. That’s a pretty low bar.

Done in by Borrowing

            Part of what I suspect is happening here is that Amazon has been promoting its Kindle Unlimited program, which allows people to borrow books free for a 21-day period once they’ve paid the membership fee. Authors get a small cut of the membership money, but not as much as if the book were purchased, rather than borrowed.
            In the past two months slightly more of my books have been borrowed than purchased, which shows the market is going in that direction. The allure of free ownership is diminished by borrows. After all, why wait for a free-book day to come along when you can borrow the book already?
            So my strategy now is to run Kindle Countdown promotions, in which one book each month is offered at a discount for a period of several days. I don’t move as many books with those promotions as I did with free giveaways, but the ones I do move are going to likely readers. Or so I figure. You’re not going to pay even 99 cents for an e-book unless you have some expectation of reading it. And the strategy is always subject to change.