The price of free publicity.

 

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.

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:

Amazon.co.uk

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)

Amazon.com

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:

Amazon.co.uk

Rope Enough – 36

Making a Killing – 351 free downloads

Joint Enterprise – 7

Amazon.com

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.

Amazon.de – 12

Amazon.fr – 5

Amazon.es – 2

Amazon.ca – 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.