Does Leveraging “Free” Give-Aways Increase Royalties?

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The Short Answer: Yes.

The Long Answer: Only if you know what you are doing.

I am not going to wade into the esoteric debate of whether or not you should give a book you have worked on for months and months (sometimes years and years) away for free. I’m just not that kind of esoteric girl.

To me, “free” is simply one more price point available, especially through KDP Select, to help increase my royalties.

So now the only question we must answer is…Does free work? Does it generate more royalties?

For me and everyone else I work with, yes.

Since I love math and real numbers so much, let me give you some examples.

This month I participated in a Free Par-Tay where several dozen authors banded together and pooled resources. I gave away (across eight books) 100,000 copies.

I am now on target to sell well over 10,000 copies this month. If we add in international sales, I am looking at over 13,000.

The event as a whole gave away over 1,000,000 books, and is on target to sell over 100,000 copies post-free.

Will I give away ten copies to get a sale? You betcha.

Notice, though, that I said you had to know what you are doing to really leverage free into paid royalties.

Gone are those halcyon days of yore, you know, back in December 2011, when you could just throw a book up for free and rack up the downloads—and then sales.

The Amazon matrix has changed. You are no longer getting credited one sale for every download (in relation to the internal recommendation queue). This equal exchange rate is what helped push so many sales post-free when KDP Select first came out.

From external measures, it now appears that you need three free downloads to count as a “sale.” Which means you need to give away three times as many books to sell the same amount in your immediate post-free window as you did in December. Therefore, your transition from free to paid is a bit more rocky and unpredictable.

Another downside of a solo “free” is that coming out of your free run, your recommendation queue is a hot mess, meaning titles that have nothing to do with your book fill your queue, and you are out in some pretty odd queues as well.

So if you plan to use free, do so intelligently.

Research the market (which days currently are best to start your free run, how many days seem to be working best, etc.), figure out your paid ad options (Kindle Nation Daily, Pixel of Ink, Digital Book Today), and either join a group event or make one of your own.

If you are a small press, find a consultant who knows how to create, organize, and execute a successful event.

The power of “free” can either be harnessed for higher royalties, or it can blow up in your face, leaving your book stranded out in the boondocks of rankings with an internal recommendation queue that appears to have been cobbled together by chimpanzees.

Your choice. :-)

Carolyn McCray

About Carolyn McCray

Carolyn McCray is a social media and sales consultant to writers and publishing houses alike. Her own "marquee" title, 30 Pieces of Silver sat at #1 in Men's Adventure and War sub-genres for most of the 2011 Holiday season selling over 20,000 copies and landed her in the Top 10 Kindle Owner's Lending Library authors. Carolyn was one of the featured authors in Amazon's official press release regarding the success of KDP Select. Carolyn is also the founder of the Indie Book Collective, an organization dedicated to helping writers utilize social media to market their books.

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15 thoughts on “Does Leveraging “Free” Give-Aways Increase Royalties?

  1. This is a tried and true marketing tool. When I opened my first business in 1990 (medical transcription) I offered free service for one week. Clients stuck with me. Because of word-of-mouth recommendations, I never had to spend a penny in advertising. Like any venture, however, success is about your work ethic and timing. If there is no demand for your product or service, move on.

    • True about the hard work, however I seldom give up on a book. I just find a new or different marketing strategy. eBook sales are all about discoverability!

  2. Good points here. It seems that the myth once was that you merely had to load a book onto KDP then sit back and wait for the royalties. Most people seem to be onto that one now but it seems the new myth is that by haphazardly sprinking your five free days across the 90 day renewal periods you can automatically cause a bump in paid sales. Free definitely can pop sales but, just as you say, writers need to be methodical about the process, trying different combinations and noting what works for them. As for those internal recommendation queues……I believe you owe chimpanzees around the world an apology. They would never handle things so badly.

    • Yes, trying something randomly, then throwing your hands up in the air when it doesn’t work is not a marketing strategy :-) #no #seriously

      And my sincerest apologies to Chimpanzees. They never would have put “30 Minute Lobster” and a tear-jerking “coming of age” story set in 1871 with my books! :-)

  3. I’m trying to figure out what this means to me, personally. There is some debate in one of my writer’s groups that this is the end of ‘freeloads’ translating into sales and that Select is a gimmick. I, too, did free promotional days at the beginning of the month and was surprised by the results. I made appearances on both the paid and free bestseller lists (still top ten in drama a month later) and have remained on the popularity lists in my categories. You said that your promotion was also this month, so I’m wondering when these changes were made. Your example, I hope, was an example of the results you experienced *since* the changes. Can you be more specific about when these changes took place?

    There’s been a lot of commotion on the charts over the last weeks as well, and the theories range from Pottermore’s infiltration to inadequate database management to the Select program in general. Or is it, after all, a result of the changes made?

    • I do love debates within a writer’s group.
      My first question…Are they out in the marketplace?

      Many times people have very strong opinions regarding something…they have no experience with. Odd but true :-)

      Free is not a gimmick. It is a tried and true marketing technique more than likely dating back to the cavemen.

      Your experience is a testament to that.

      As to the “changes” that Amazon makes, they have been adapting the algorithm at the first of every month since KDP Select came out. Mainly downgrading the conversion rate from free to paid.

      So it isn’t a good as it was in December, but those Free days are still the best game in town :-)

      More than likely April 1st will bring more “changes” :-) And we will just have to adapt to them :-)

      • I think their frustrations have to do with the ‘glitches’ that appeared in the ranking and database systems over the last few weeks, where books disappeared for days at a time, rankings plummeted, all sorts of weird happenings. My book plummeted 124 spots in the popularity list only to return to its former place a few days later. Some say they’ve tried the promotion but saw few reciprocal sales from it. I believe in it because it’s worked for me, and what the difference is, I can’t say. It does seem like a lot of guess work, but I’ve been consulting with those form whom it’s been a success and that seems to have paid off, so far. I kind of figured Amazon wasn’t entirely sure what they were going to have on their hands, so all this tweaking makes a certain amount of sense to me. But, when it’s all said and done, I have to agree. It’s the best option for me, as an otherwise unknown. The idea with my first novel is to get my name out there, get people reading it. I consider it an investment, not a profit loss. I’m selling fairly well now, and it’s entirely owing to the visibility Amazon is making available to me through Select and its promotions.

        If it’s yet an experiment (as this all seems to be right now anyway) I’m willing to be a guinea pig. :)

        Thanks for your reply.

  4. I’ve seen these Amazon chimps in action. But as far as I can tell, all the planning in the world isn’t going to change it. If your book is free on day X, along with books 1, 2, and 3, those books are going to be part of the also-boughts and will show up on your recommendations. I mean, is there ANY way at all to make sure that only relevant books show up on your recommendations? If you go free, I don’t believe it’s even possible, no matter how savvy and well-planned your campaign is.

    Also, I agree that Select was a good thing in Dec 2011 but 4 months later it appears to be a gimmick. Even in February the results were spotty — a few people made it, many did not. Now, approaching April, caI don’t think it helps anyone anymore.

    • Actually you can help manage your queue coming off of free. That is kind of the whole point of doing a planned cross-promotional event…the preserve or even strengthen your queue. Just go look at my queues, 30 Pieces of Silver, Encrypted, and Fated.

      Their queues are filled with either books from the event or genre appropriate titles. The key is cross promotion with other authors and getting up into the bestselling lists so that people download you primarily from there so that your queue makes sense :-)

      As to your gimmick assertion, again, I must disagree. Free is not what it was last year, however it can still be extremely powerful, if you are strategic about it. Yes, the days of just “going free” and raking in the royalties are over, but that does not mean you can’t still have an extremely successful free to paid run.

      I have 2 titles still in the Top 500 2 weeks out. The event still has a title in the Top 100 Paid (Three Days in Seattle). These are testaments to the strategies staying power :-)

  5. Yes, some good points and suggestions. I would point out that Breakaway Media’s experiences in group events with KDP Select (December seems oh so like the distant past at this point), while even more successful than the 10:1 ratio you cite, have shown a significant downturn in the last two promotions. Here is one anecdote from an author friend in Houston: his friend plainly stated, “I note the books I want and then wait for them to become free. And that’s it.”

    Promotional acumen can only mitigate this kind of “buyer” activity. We find ourselves in a new landscape continually being shaped by Amazon’s rapidly evolving business model which at this point includes KDP Select, but for how long, and what will it look like three months from now if it’s still around? Only the fittest will survive, let alone thrive.

    • You can “feel” the change in Amazon at the first of every month lately. Whenever your rankings go off line, your sales reporting lags etc, that means the techs are in the matrix changing it.

      Amazon, of course, is very secretive regarding the actual matrix, however by monitoring over time you can tell when the matrix has been downgraded. I.E. The exact same number of downloads yields far fewer sales :-)

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