Is Amazon Killing the Free Ebook?

death booksWith Amazon’s recent move to limit outside organizations’ promotion of free ebooks it may be that we are seeing the very beginning of the end of “free” as a viable business model for indie authors.

Amazon announced to its affiliates this week that they will not earn any income in a month when 20,000 or more free Kindle ebooks are downloaded using their affiliate links and 80% or more of ebooks downloaded using the links are free. For big, free ebook promotion sites that survive on affiliate income, this is bad news. One proprietor of a prominent free ebook site called the move in an email to Digital Book World “a big blow to the company.”

On the author side, there is a belief that giving away ebooks for free is a great way to ultimately generate sales. (Here’s one post of many detailing how this works – and how it has worked less recently.)

Is this move by Amazon part of a larger effort to get people to pay more for ebooks? To limit the number of free ebooks downloaded on Kindle?

If so, established publishers should welcome the development: Ever since ebooks began their rise to prominence, the bottoming out of prices for books has been a concern – and there is nothing lower than free.

But what do authors think? Will this make the Kindle platform less attractive to them? It’s one thing to offer your ebook for free and it’s quite another to do so and make sure it’s linked to by dozens of “free ebook” sites. At least one prominent indie author thinks it won’t have much of an effect on him.

Perhaps a rival ebook retailer will make an effort to take on the mantle of being the best place for indie authors to “sell” their wares.

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The rest of the day’s top news:

Kindle iOS App Trouble (Mashable)
Readers who updated their Kindle iOS app yesterday found that their ebook libraries had been erased from their iPhones and iPads. Amazon has already pushed out another update that does not have the same problem.

Pew: How Schools Are Using Digital Tools (DBW)
A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that schools are now using digital tools widely but that there are major discrepancies between rich schools and poor schools. For instance, 56% of teachers students from higher-income households say their students use tablet computers while learning while only 37% of teachers of students from lower-income households say the same.

Random-Penguin Reckoning (Reuters)
EU antitrust regulators will say “yay” or “nay” (or perhaps something in between) to Bertelsmann and Pearson on whether they will be allowed to merge Random House and Penguin.

What Trade Publishing Can Learn From Advertising (The Shatzkin Files)
Book publishing is unlike other kinds of media in myriad ways. However, it is like advertising in one important way: both try to gather disparate audiences to sell one thing. This lesson could be a path forward for trade publishers.

Avoiding Ebook Casualties (DBW)
More than five years into the ebook revolution and we still can’t quite figure out how to consistently present mistake-free ebooks to readers. Big publishers and indie authors alike have problems. Well, there is a simple solution: quality assurance.

‘Solutions’ For Publishers’ Discoverability Problem (Forbes)
For most readers, finding their next book isn’t that hard. About three quarters of Americans have read a book in the past year and the median number they’ve read is about half-a-dozen. For that level of reading, best-seller lists and ebook retailer recommendation engines are enough. For publishers, however, with more books being published than ever before and the places one can discover and buy them fracturing, the problem of surfacing new books for readers is getting worse. According to one blogger, under the radar businesses like NetGalley, Goodreads and Bookish might be the solution.

New UK Book Discovery Platform (Pub Perspectives)
The Nudge List is an iOS app offers a different experience from the recommendation engines that you may be used to, favoring less over more.

Erudition: Enhanced Ebook Start-up (DBW)
This new digital publishing start-up will only published enhanced ebooks and will only sell direct or through author websites.

Cengage: Dealing With Huge Debt (Pub Lunch)
Educational publisher Cengage has a $5 billion dollar debt to deal with. The company is also not making enough money to pay it off on schedule – and the financial results keep on getting worse. Options are dwindling for the concern.

Another Reason Barnes & Noble Will Never Catch up to Amazon (The Digital Reader)
In short, the usability of the Nook products is inferior to the competition. This morning as this newsletter was being sent out, Barnes & Noble announced its latest quarterly results. We’ll keep you posted.


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Image Credit: Nook HD+ image via Nook Media Kit

6 thoughts on “Is Amazon Killing the Free Ebook?

  1. Claude Nougat

    I can’t say I’m surprised…and as an author, I’ve found that going free didn’t help my sales particularly (the last time I went free was back in February 2012, before all the changes brought by Amazon). Something went wrong – perhaps I didn’t get enough downloads, I wasn’t very savvy at promoting the book through all the dedicated sites as I should have, so it may well have been all my own fault.

    But I do know that as a reader I no longer rush when someone announces their book is free. I just equate that with self-publishing and I’ve been “burned” too often by books that were poorly edited and had boring, cliché characters…So now I download a free book only if I happen to know the author’s work and like it. But as I told recently one of those authors, I would have been happy to pay for her work!

    So, yes, you’re probably right, the time for “free” is over…

  2. Ryan Potter

    I think the end of “free Amazon ebooks” will hurt new, lesser known authors but will have little to no impact on established writers. What’s sad is the impact this move will have on the “free ebook” sites. As an author, the three sites I’ve worked with have been excellent and I’ve been quite pleased with the results of promoting with them. Thousands of people have downloaded my Amazon Kindle work for free via these sites, and I’m just now starting to see the results with actual sales.

    I get where Amazon is coming from with this business decision, but I can’t stress enough how helpful the “free ebook” sites have been in finding me an audience. I guess my advice to new writers is to use these sites while you still can.

  3. Emily

    Free e-books would probably be a good promotion strategy for new authors if there wasn’t already so much out there, so I don’t think it will make things more difficult for new authors trying to break into the market than it already is at the moment. The problem I find as a reader (and this isn’t just free e-books, it is the publishing industry in general) that I have become very disillusioned of late with any \new\ authors – by new, I mean authors I’ve not read before and who have had work published in the past four or five years or so. I’ve found that it is very rare now for me to find a new comer whose work that I like enough to want to keep reading them, and in general, it is only books that were published in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and early to mid 2000’s that I actually like, with the occasional book by a trusted established author that has been published more recently that I like.

    New authors I think, face a new challenge to what they did even ten years ago – how do I convince readers, even if a well-known publisher decides that my book is good enough for print publication, that I am worth giving a go? The problem with e-books, if they are free or not, because they have a self-publishing element to them, don’t have the reassurance for readers that their work is good, and if readers like myself can’t even always trust printed work to be good from new authors, how would a new author be able to successfully break into the market just using e-books alone? That is the problem. I also think that the internet offers too many distractions for new authors as well in that there is too much pressure put on to authors to market themselves when really they should be concentrating on writing books as that is the only way that they will get good at their craft. I find that a lot of new authors spend so much time trying to promote themselves using blogs, and the like, that they forget about the main reason why people would want to read their work in the first place and that is they want a good read.

  4. Lisa Grace

    I offer the first ebook in my teen Angel Series free. Right now, for every nine downloads I get a paid sale. I would gladly give away a million for a 100,000 sales.

    For series, giving the first away free is a great sales strategy. The visibility you get on the best seller lists for your genre, help maintain sales’ levels on the paid books in the series.

    In February, I gave away over 8022 on Amazon US, and I expect to sell around 802 over the next couple of months as that is my readers’ follow-through cycle.

    For a fairly new writer like me, free has worked wonders for building a fan base.

    A low price (99 cents) helped my series get noticed by a movie producer, and now two books in the series have been optioned and moved into the development phase.

    Lower pricing works to move products, which is why so many businesses run sales, or give away a product for free. Try before you buy.

  5. Andrew Hinkinson

    I had a ‘successful’ giveaway that saw my first novel downloaded over 6,000 times on Amazon. From that I got maybe three reviews. The majority have resulted from paid sales – if people invest money, they seem more willing to review. I find my non-fiction works sell better and at sensible pricing, always just a few pounds less for the ebook. Pricing cheap makes our work look cheap with one proviso – if you can find a hook. For example, I did a month-long promo on my novel in support of LGBT History Month in the UK, as it contains gay characters. This worked well, selling for 99p for the ebook, presumably because it doesn’t look so darned desperate as so many authors do. So yes, I welcome the end of the free ebook. There are other avenues if you really must – blogs I’m thinking of – and, in the meantime, price your work to be affordable but not giveaway and people are more inclined to think it worthwhile. I have heard many stories of free success. But if you work hard, you have every right to expect payment. I do giveaways and competitions now. No more free rides for people, the majority of whom don’t value their free downloads at all. It’s only numbers. The numbers that count for me, because I am trying to pay my bills, have a £ symbol in front of them.

  6. Jonathan Gunson

    The free book ‘sample’ model has worked beautfully for centuries. Even Dickens gave away early editions of ‘Pickwick Papers’ to get readers hooked on the episodes.

    But massive overuse of this ‘free’ system kills real book sales. Amazon do not want affiliates who have no interest in fiction just ‘using’ the free books en masse as a way to fish for the commission they earn on all the other things people buy on Amazon after downloading the free book.

    I’m almost certain this will be the reason for the Amazon crack down. And I agree with their actions.

    ~ Jonathan Gunson



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