The price of free publicity.

Free books

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 26.09.2013

Tuesday

Last Friday I decided, pretty much off the cuff, to enrol my books in the Amazon KDP Select lending programme. Sales of the R&M books have looked stale for a while and I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t try something to inject a bit of interest into the books and maybe provide a boost to sales and, of course, it gives one a few days in the ninety day enrolment period to give one’s books away for free (if one can). I also thought that the initiative would be an opportunity to give the Acer Sansom novels a boot up the backside. I keep abreast of a few of the big selling ebook authors and I’ve noticed that several have all their books enrolled. They must know what they’re doing, right?

I didn’t sign up in the expectation of earning trillions from Amazon’s monthly fund, but rather in the fumbling-around-in-the-dark sort of hope that, like a generous omniscient deity, Amazon, the all seeing and all powerful one true god of ebooks – peace be upon it – would see my act of giving – not to mention the benefit to them (like me joining in with a give-away programme) – and then there might be algorithm benefits – crumbs from the table, looking after their own, a bit of mutual back scratching. What’s the worst that can happen? I thought.

I scheduled Sunday for a day of give-aways. Strike while the iron is relatively warm, I thought, and before I had a chance to think the whole thing through and wonder what the hell I was doing. I harboured fantasies that these give-aways might also have some relevance vis-a-vis those algorithms – you know, Amazon gives some credit to the author in the form of a positive influence on the book’s ranking. (I have noticed that everything I seem to do lately has an ulterior motive, which ultimately has my selfish interest at heart. Like there’s no ‘i’ in team, there’s no ‘I’m-gonna-get-double-rich-and-double-famous-in-double-quick-time’ in altruistic.)

Well, it certainly had an influence on my rankings. But it wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. When Sunday’s promotion came to an end my title, Making a Killing (The Second Romney and Marsh File), had dropped out of the top 100 chart of the sub-category: fiction – crime/mystery/thrillers – police procedurals – British – set in Kent – without pictures – occasional swear words – between 230 and 240 pages long, where it had been languishing in the late nineties for a couple of weeks. On top of this Dirty Business (The First Acer Sansom Novel), which had been clawing its way up to the low thousands in the sales rank had, like the unfortunate climber whose grip fails him, fallen off the face of the rankings cliff to disappear without trace into the ebook abyss below. This must have been because I had been busy giving away my books instead of selling them. Why does that seem unfair to me?

On the free day I gave away over 900 copies of Making a Killing. I’ve spent much of this week trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t have sold them, would I?; that I haven’t just done myself out of £900, have I?. Oh Amazon, I haven’t have I? What was I thinking?

I made two (other) mistakes regarding the promotional day that I am regretful of: 1) I neglected to mention it on any of my social networking sites – doh! 2) I forgot to download copies for myself – double doh! I really wanted to see my covers on my Kindle fire, but I’m not buying my books for the privilege.  I’ve got better things to spend my hard-earned on.

One other awkward mistake I made in the whole initiative was to register Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) with KDP Select when it was still available through Smashwords. In doing this I have fallen foul of Amazon. They don’t miss anything. The warning email wasn’t long in coming. Sort it out or we’ll send the boys round. So then I had another decision to make: leave it on Smashwords where it had been listed on Barnes and Noble and ibooks, for two examples, in the hope of reaching a wider audience, or unpublish it from there and throw my lot in completely with Amazon by providing them with the exclusivity they demand.

Since December, 2012, when I first made Rope Enough available for free on Smashwords it has been downloaded through all the available outlet’s stores a total of 839 times. On Sunday as part of the free promotion (yes, it has also been free on Amazon since they price-matched it to zero, but registering it in the KDP Select programme came with free days so I thought I’d use a free listing day for my already free book and see what happened) it was downloaded nearly 1500 times. [Go figure.] Another no-brainer. I cut my ties with Smashwords. (And I have just this instant, while typing this post, realised that in doing that the book will no longer be listed as free on Amazon’s competition sites and so Amazon will no longer feel obliged to price-match to zero and Rope Enough will no doubt very shortly revert back to £0.77 on Amazon.) Swings and roundabouts.

Now I suppose I just have to wait patiently to see if there are actually any benefits from free give-aways and enrolling in KDP Select. Early days.

Thursday

Thought I’d update the bigger picture now that some of the dust has settled. Rope Enough jumped twenty places up the free chart for a couple of days and has now gone back to roughly where it was before the promotion. (This represents an obvious increase in downloads that might see readers look to download another in the series.) At the time of writing, Making a Killing is up to number twenty-four in the police procedural sub-category (it hasn’t been that high for a long time) which obviously represents an increase in downloads. Joint Enterprise (The third Romney and Marsh File) has not seen any significant knock-on (more early days). Both the Sansoms are higher in the ranking than at any time since their release, which is encouraging. Loose Ends (The Second Acer Sansom Novel) even broke into the Action Adventure chart for a short while.

It’s all pretty inconclusive really. I’m just relating for posterity what I’ve been up to. But I seek comfort in my belief that my give-aways will turn up on ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ types of list and so that’s a bit of publicity. And you know what they say about publicity.

5 thoughts on “The price of free publicity.

  1. I’ve been doing the freebie thing with Amazon since the start of this year and I’m still not sure! I decided I’d put them all up on Smashwords when their latest 90 day run finishes but I don’t know that it’s worth the effort really. I just used my last free day on KDP and there was a noticeable increase in sales for that book. Now I’m thinking maybe I’ll keep it up for some but not all.

  2. Eek! I’m sure the KDP Select thing isn’t the sales-catalyst it once was, even as recently as 18 months ago. That’s my experience, anyway. Between you and me, I personally had/have a plan to emulate your strategy of offering DEVIL’S CHIMNEY as perma-free on Smashwords with a view to an Amazon price-match – as soon as I’ve finished the sequel, of course (don’t really think I can do it with unrelated books). I view it as an extremely shrewd and savvy policy, and probably the only one that isn’t gimmicky. I think you had it spot-on the first time around IMHO.

    • Hi Tin
      When Amazon price matched Rope Enough sales really kicked off for me. Everyone loves a freebie and if you’re not a household name I think the way things are in self-publishing you have to be prepared to swallow on something. Give folks the chance to try before they buy. I’ve screwed that up a bit for myself by unpublishing from Smashwords to satisfy Amazon but it’s been a good while. Things were a bit stale. Maybe a change is as good as a rest. And in ninety days I can always stick it back on Smashwords for free and price match again. And, yes, I do think it works best with series books. I’ll be interested to see how things work out for you. Best of luck with it when the time comes.

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