An instance of KDP Select versus Smashwords

Two Sundays ago I enrolled Making a Killing (The Second Romney and Marsh File) in the Amazon KDP Select scheme. The weekend just gone I took advantage of two of the allotted five promotional days where Amazon allows one to list one’s book for free within the 90 day period of said scheme. It was an interesting and thought provoking experience.

I am happy to provide some figures and observations here for those who are looking for information and numbers to crunch regarding the whole KDP Select initiative. Regardless of some dubious aspects of validity and reliability involved in this little sales episode I still think that some patterns are suggested.

I have three ebooks available with Amazon. They are all in a series of British police procedurals. Not exactly mainstream fiction. Making a Killing is the second book in the series.

My Reasons for trying KDP Select

I was interested to discover four things.

1) How many consumers would a free download promotion attract for the book in question?

2) Whether I might experience a knock-on effect with sales of the other two books in the series (these are priced a £0.77 (the 1st) and £2.05 (the 3rd).

3) How the numbers would compare to my download history through the Smashwords outlet and their partner sites where the three books have all been free to download for a few months.

4) Will there be any discernable long-term effects on sales from this free promotion.

The Numbers

Coming into the promotional forty-eight hours my download figures for this sales period stood like this for the three ebooks:

Rope Enough (1st in series) – 11 (1 copy sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Making a Killing (2nd in series) – 5 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Joint Enterprise (3rd in series) – 4 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Rope Enough – 3 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Making a Killing – 3 (1 copy sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Joint Enterprise – 2 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

After the promotion had ended the figures looked like this:

Rope Enough – 36

Making a Killing – 351 free downloads

Joint Enterprise – 7

Rope Enough – 8

Making a Killing – 219 free downloads

Joint Enterprise – 5

An unexpected result of the promotion was that I also got downloads from other Amazon sites, but only for the free book. – 12 – 5 – 2 – 4

Total downloads across all Amazon sites for Making A Killing – 593

I did no self-promotion prior to this give-away period. I understand that people do and I wonder if creating some awareness through the limited outlets available might have increased downloads. Perhaps next time I do this I will experiment with that option and opportunity.

Amazon V Smashwords

Making A Killing was available for free through Smashwords and its partner sites between 23.12.2012 – 12.03.2013 (thirteen weeks). It achieved a total of 367 downloads. One weekend on Amazon and it had a total of 593.

If my experience is typical, the figures show that, despite Smashwords valiant efforts (and I do admire Mr Coker and what he is doing), Amazon is still far and away the leading outlet for authors looking for downloads and exposure.

Bestsellers Rankings

This was something that I hadn’t thought about prior to the weekend but when things were active it became something to take some amusement from. Before I went to bed, Making A Killing reached the dizzy heights of:

The knock-on that Rope Enough sales got saw this title break into the top 100 paid for Police Procedurals… for about one hour. It got to number 97 when an Ian Rankin title was at 99. I thought that I was about to hit the big time. Next hour, Rankin was at number 14 and I had disappeared without a trace. Pfffttt. (I bet DI Romney could have Rebus in a fist fight.)

When I was keeping my eye on how the books were doing in the charts (see above) I noticed that the other titles around mine predominantly had dozens of reviews. This made me think that perhaps these books had been trotted out before on promotional days, had hundreds of downloads from readers who took advantage of a freebie, a number of whom then went on to feedback on the reading experience. I could be wrong about this, of course. But if I am right then it suggests that when one enrols in the 90 day KDP select programme it is wise to space one’s promotions well apart – probably at the beginning, like I have, to give people a chance to actually read the books and then leave a review – and then towards the end of the promotional period for a final push when there are a good number of reviews in place to attract the confidence of the bargain ebook hunter.

I could be alone in this but I think that even when books are free people are more attracted to books with a good number of reviews already in the bank (providing they aren’t all one and two star of course) rather than taking a chance on a book with a handful of reviews obviously written by friends and family. I have seen many reviews from people who have taken a chance on a free book and wished that they hadn’t wasted their time on it. Free books of self-publishers seem to have something of a tainted reputation – certainly the work has got to be top drawer in all respects to avoid the tar-brush. If readers can see that many others have gone before them to try out a new and unknown author and not hated the experience, even rated the offering favourably, then to my mind it is more likely that the casual and increasingly discerning downloader will stand a better chance of being tempted. Let’s face it there are hundreds of books being offered for free at any one time and that number is only likely to increase.

I will be very interested to see whether Amazon readers are more inclined to leave a review than downloaders of Smashwords and their partners. I will obviously have to leave that a while before I can pass judgement.

The big and pleasant surprise here is the number of Rope Enough downloads. Perhaps that will, in good time, lead to some more Joint Enterprise downloads and/or some reviews and attention.

Like I said, all in all it’s all been an interesting and thought provoking experience. I hope that you might get something out of this.

23 thoughts on “An instance of KDP Select versus Smashwords

  1. I find Smashwords very difficult to navigate and almost impossible to browse. Unless someone posts a link to their book directly on Smashwords, I can find it on Amazon much quicker. As a reader of e-books, I don’t use Smashwords at all, and so when I self-published I didn’t bother to put my book up there.

    • I agree that the Smashwords browsing experience doesn’t compare well with Amazon. How Smashwords worked well for me – and I shall always be grateful to them for it – was allowing me to list my three books for free – something, as you probably know, Amazon won’t generally. That ensured that the books got downloaded and (obviously) read because I got some useful feedback out of it.

  2. Fascinating as always. I know the numbers aren’t especially heartening, but I think they show that self-publishing is a far better way to find an audience –although perhaps not riches!– than traditional publishing. The average print book barely sells more than a few thousand copies. Total. You’ve reached half that figure in a single weekend, without any self-promotion. Sure, not everyone who downloads will read, but I bet a good percentage of physical books suffer the same fate.

    I think you’re right about the reviews. I’m not sure what you can do about it. On the site where I occasionally fill in gaps in my editing schedule, there are quite a few people paying for reviews. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but they do usually stress that they want honest reviews. (I don’t ever apply; I’d feel bad writing someone a two star review AND getting paid for it!)

    Personally, I don’t ever leave reviews. This is mostly laziness, but also partly nervousness. Amazon’s policy on authors leaving reviews on “competing” books is very reactionary and stupid. But it’s their site, so they can make whatever rules they like. And since I’d like to publish something on Amazon within the next year or two, I don’t want to compromise that by leaving reviews that could come back to bite me on the ass.

    Which is a shame.

    • I have reviewed a lot of books on Amazon, mostly in the genre that I write in, and I have never had one flagged or removed. What’s more, I don’t know anyone who has had a review removed. So far as I know, Amazon has no blanket policy regarding authors reviewing books in their own genres. I don’t know where that rumor came from.


        Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean to imply they have a blanket policy on this. But Amazon doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of how to manage the huge number of fake reviews that are out there, and I wouldn’t want any genuine reviews I gave to be misinterpreted in the future. I’m quite critical, and I imagine I’d be giving out a lot more one, two and three star reviews than the average reviewer.

        The sheer number of people who treat the review system as though it was binary also presents a problem. If, for example, I read Oliver’s book and wanted to give it 3 stars. For me that would be a good score, but I wouldn’t want to drag down the average of a new author because I’m using the whole scale. But I also don’t want to subscribe to the “one star = mediocre to terrible, five stars = good to excellent” system.

        My answer is to not review at all. Maybe that’s the wrong choice, but I can’t think of a better solution.


        This one was more worrying. I’m sure that Amazon just has an algorithm scanning reviews to look for “infractions”. That’s perfectly understandable; I wouldn’t even like to hazard a guess as to how many reviews go up a second. The problem isn’t that such algorithms are bad, it’s that Amazon are unwilling to enter into discussion over the results. And that DOES seem to be policy.

    • Absolutely agree with you about self-publishing being the best – only – way to reach any sort of worthwhile audience, particularly the people who you don’t know and who will give you an objective opinion. That’s what we need.

      I saw quite a lot about Jeremy Duns’ ‘outing’ of Stephen Leather et al over their sock-puppetry. I blogged about it. I feel very strongly about it. I would not entertain paying for reviews in any currency, even if I had the money. I think that that is seedy and wrong. I also think that it is dishonest and desperate and demeaning. I’d be embarrassed.

      On a similar note something else that I have come not to trust over my years of reading ‘hard copies’ of books are the often glowing comments that fellow authors provide to be plastered over each other’s dust-jackets. Follow the trail and you will often find that both authors are on the same literary agent’s/ publisher’s books. This is just another form of unsavoury back-scratching. Too often in my naive past, I would read these comments, get sucked in to a purchase only to be bitterly disappointed. I always hold such practices against the authors.

      My own policy on leaving reviews is that, generally, if I haven’t got anything good to say then I won’t say anything, certainly with obviously self-published authors. I think that that stems from having put my head above the parapet as one of them. An anonymous reader gave one of my books two stars on Barnes and Noble’s Nook page without any written justification. I was devastated and locked myself in the toilet for two days. (I say generally but I do make exceptions of best-selling authors who have nothing to fear from my honesty – I gave Lee Child’s ‘Killing Floor’ 1* and a slating, but it truly is awful.)

      • BTW enjoyed those links. Thanks. Kill Zone’s tale of woe is quite disturbing. It could also explain why I’ve only had one review for each of my books on – I think that they must be blocking my fans from heaping praise on my offerings.

      • With regards “gaming” the review system: I agree, there aren’t many ways of doing it that strike me as particularly ethical. I do, however, think there’s nothing wrong with sending out free copies to friends and acquaintances with a request that those who honestly feel inclined to give it a four or five star review should do so, whereas those who think it deserves less should refrain.

        No-one is giving a false opinion, and people can still leave a bad review if they want. No money changes hands (except for the free copies of the book). There’s just a bit of filtering going on. Considering what the competition are up to, I don’t think that’s overstepping too many lines.

  3. I have finished the 3 book series a few weeks ago and really liked your writing. I hope the third book isn’t the last you write in this genre. Are you at work on more?
    There were a few typos in the last two books especially that need to be cleaned up, but other than that I think them comparable to anything I’d get at the book store. (And typos are now also a big problem in printed books,too! Don’t they use grsmmar and spell check?!)
    This post reminded me that I should leave a review on Barns & Noble Nook site where I downloaded your books and could only find the first book.

    • Hi Julie,

      Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to comment on the books. I’m pleased that you enjoyed them. I think that Romney and Marsh have more life left in them and I hope to have them back on the Dover streets fighting crime sometime next year.

      I’m sure that there are typos still, despite my best efforts. I can only apologise for them and hope that they don’t interrupt the reading experience too dangerously and you’re right, I notice errors in published books too.

      I unpublished the books from Smashwords – who supply Barnes and Noble – so that I could concentrate on selling through Amazon. I would have liked to have kept them on Smashwords as well as Amazon, but not living in the UK there are Paypal registration issues that I can’t get around.

      All the best and thanks again.

  4. Well done for sharing the numbers. I think with a bit more advertising and getting the word out you could have improved on those numbers. Maybe it’s about getting that early push to keep the book high enough in the free charts to get the downloads.

    I make a point of leaving an amazon review on anything I read that is self-published. Unless it’s pants then I don’t want to harm that author. That said I haven’t come across any that are pants. I like to be supportive and constructive as I hope people will be when I finally get my work out there.

    Hopefully people will read your book and leave a good review so that when you do the next free days you get a bigger boost.

    • Cheers, Pete. Maybe next time, in the name of research, I’ll try a bit of self-promo before the event. See how that goes. It was fun though and quite informative.

      • There are some great self-publishing bloggers out there with great advice on strategies and stuff. Might give you some ideas. I’ve found WordPress to be a very supportive place. 🙂

  5. Just wanted to say what a prince you are for sharing this excellent and detailed data! As Thomas the Tank Engine would say, it’s really useful — and just by reading it I feel I am part of something professional (for which I am desperate). I bask in your cool.

    • Thank you, sir. You are too kind. It is my pleasure. I wish there were more of it out there. For a community that seems happy to share a great deal of information and assistance, writers do generally appear taciturn regarding sales figures. That’s their business, of course. I have also experienced a decent knock-on with sales, which has been encouraging. Poop – poop!

  6. Hi! I had a similar experience to yours with my first Kindle Select free download – three-hundred-some free downloads and a few sales following the promotion.

    An indie-publisher friend clued me in to the numbers of sites that promote these download days (for free!) so for my next trial I notified a good many of these in advance, and tweeted and made facebook announcements to the related venues.

    The difference was impressive. That time over three thousand people downloaded the book, and some thirty actual sales followed. My book made it to #1 in its category for about five minutes. The next download day went very much like that, but there followed a drop-off over the next couple promotions. Perhaps the pool of potential Kindle readers interested in my particular sub-genre is limited.

    With that in mind, I’d like to try similar pre-event promotions for Smashwords and reach readers who favor other devices, but am not finding nearly as many venues for it. I’ve found a couple dozen sites that list free downloads for Kindle and only a handful that list them for Smashwords. There’s also a forum on Goodreads for making this sort of announcement, but Kindle is clearly doing more to help authors with this sort of promotion.

    ~ Laramie Sasseville
    writing as Naomi Stone

    • Hi, Thanks for taking the time and trouble to post of your promotion experiences. Those second figures are impressive. I’d be very interested to learn more about the sites you mention that promote these promotional days. If you have a handy list would you be able to post it here?

      Best of luck with your book and your writing.

  7. Excellent post. I did a recent experiment with KDP Select and Smashwords. Here’s what I found:


    Works better for some genres than others. I uploaded an old collection of erotic short stories and made it free. I got 69 downloads in an hour. The figure climbed rapidly to 200 in the following two days.

    Easier to make changes. KDP takes up to 12 hours to do so.

    Easy to make ebooks free. Far trickier with KDP.

    KDP Select:

    I did a promotion in mid April with my novel ‘The Fantastic World of Sean Cleary’. I got 289 downloads quite quickly at Listing my novel at a couple of ebook blogs helped gain momentum I think.

    Sales were slow after the promo but have picked up. I wish Amazon dropped the exclusivity policy for their Select program because I want to offer it on Smashwords to see what happens.

    • Hi Clarice
      Thanks for the comment. Things have moved on a lot for me since this post. Amazon made the first book in my series free at the beginning of April. Since then it’s been downloaded nearly thirty-thousand times. The same book has been free on Smashwords since last December and still has fewer than seven-hundred downloads. I do no self-promotion to speak of. Again, no contest. Best wishes.

  8. Hi there, came across your post and found it really fascinating! I’m interested in how/why your book was selected to be free on Amazon now?? Is it something they do when they want to or is there a program to sign up to? I have three childrens’ novels which move nowhere!
    Thank you for sharing your experiences here.

    • Hi Debbie
      As you may know Amazon won’t allow you to list a book with them as free. But they will usually price-match if they are made aware of a book being for sale cheaper on a bona-fide site. My book Rope Enough has been free on Smashwords and the sites that they supply for a while and someone must have told Amazon and Amazon price-matched. I sent Amazon a few notifications in the hope that they would price-match but I don’t think that is was my messages that did it.
      My advice to you would be to have your first book free on Smashwords and the sites that they feed. Get people to notify Amazon where you will have your three books for sale and then hope that Amazon price-match your first to zero. People will be interested then, I’m sure and if they like your writing they’ll go onto look at your other works.
      All the best and I hope that helps a bit. For more detailed information of my experiences check out my blog posts subsequent to this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s