How Booktrope Turned a Free Ebook Into A Bestseller

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Riversong by Tess Thompson used a free-book strategy to become a bestseller.

Riversong by Tess Thompson used a free book strategy to become a bestseller.

Riversong, a women’s fiction title by first-time author Tess Thomspon, is a bona fide bestseller for publisher BookTrope, having sold about 90,000 copies to date. The book reached #1 on Nook and spent 35 days in Amazon’s Top 100 in 2012. Booktrope attributes the fast rise of this book to hard work, an aggressive social media and marketing campaign, and a strategy that includes free ebook giveaways.

Thompson has sold 90,000 copies of Riversong, which is remarkable. What’s more remarkable is that she’s also given away 250,000 free downloads.

Gaining 250,000 fans

Some people may look at those quarter-million free downloads and think Thompson and Booktrope are letting revenue slip through their fingers. To that response, Katherine Sears, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Booktrope asks, “Did we lose 250,000 sales or gain 250,000 fans?” Booktrope equates those give-aways to 250,000 advertising impressions.

Free title’s exposure translates into sales

“As a new author in a sea of books it’s almost impossible get noticed by readers,” said Thompson, “Making Riversong free was a way for us to entice readers to give my work a chance hoping that once they read the first in the series they would come back for more.” Riversong rose to the number one free book on Amazon the day it was made free. That high download rate, said Thompson, “translated to sales the very next week.”

Part of a broad marketing strategy

Though a free pricing strategy is an important element of their strategy, it is only one part of a larger campaign. “If you make the book free and you do nothing more, then nothing will happen,” said Sears, “We have put in a huge amount of work outside of free book promotions. You can’t skip all the other necessary marketing work.”

Offering free books works hand in hand with activities such as garnering customer reviews, participating in book promotion newsletters, and keeping prices low when they do charge for books.

Booktrope admits that a free ebook giveaway isn’t appropriate all titles and all authors. Free giveaways are often most effective for first time authors who have everything to gain by gaining as much exposure as possible.

Lots of Customer Reviews

The goal of offering ebooks for free is to grow a fan base. Avid fans write positive customer reviews. “You need sufficient reviews at the high end of the ranking for credibility,” said Sears. Riversong has about 359 reviews on Amazon and 239 on Barnes and Noble.

No matter what price a book sells for, a multitude of customer reviews is key. Whether the price point is zero or $12.99, people want to make sure that the experience will be worth it.  Even when readers don’t pay money for a book, they’re investing their time when reading it.

Newsletter Recommendations

In its overall marketing campaign, Booktrope also made sure Riversong was featured in email newsletters that promote free or deeply discounted ebooks. Members of these newsletters can be a great source of word-of-mouth. Two popular newsletters, Pixel Of Ink and BookBub have avid readers who act like “early adopters” to help spread the word.

Low Prices

When Booktrope titles move from the freebie stage to the full price stage, their prices are always relatively low. A low price eases the transition from free to paid. If, for example, a reader learns about a free ebook, but doesn’t check it out until after the free promotion is over, he or she might not buy it if the price is too high. But if the book only costs a couple of bucks, and the reviews are strong, that customer will often pay to read it.

“We keep many of our fiction prices under five dollars,” said Sears, “The reason we can keep our book prices low is that we have low overhead.” Booktrope keeps costs low by structuring its business around freelance teams. Team members include authors, marketing managers, editors, book designers, and cover designers. Each of these areas of expertise are vital to the success of a book, so each team member earns a percentage of the royalties.

Gaining Visibility With 250,000 Fans

When Booktrope began the Riversong ebook giveaway, Tess Thompson was an unknown, selling about 50 ebook copies a week. “When we made the e-book free,” said Sears, “we didn’t think of it as losing 50 sales. We thought of it as gaining 250,000 fans.”

Company-wide, Booktrope gives away from four to ten times as many books as it sells. The 2-year-old company has distributed more than 1.1 million books. “You need people talking about you,” said Sears. “A free promotion on Amazon is a great way to get visibility.”

2 thoughts on “How Booktrope Turned a Free Ebook Into A Bestseller

  1. Pingback: Marketing with Metadata and Algorithms

  2. Shirley Swoope

    That free book is how I discovered the incredible books of Tess Thompson, so it’s a strategy that works. Now I can’t wait for each new book she writes.



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