This time last week, I was running a free promotion on my science fiction romance series, Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades, as reported in “Ballet Shoes (on Sale).”
As noted in various places, this was my first-ever free promotion. I ran a countdown deal in December 2014, also on these two books (the only ones enrolled in KDP Select, the exclusive-to-Amazon distribution program), with dismal results. And back in 2012, I ran a straight half-price reduction sale on my then two books, The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel and The Golden Lynx, with a slightly better outcome. But I had never tried free, in part because the deluge of free content available on the Internet worries me. Art of all sorts takes time and effort and training to produce, then edit into something worthwhile. Creators deserve recompense for that investment of passion and attention.
Still, I was curious what would happen, and a week later I can report three findings.
1. People still download free books. This point seems obvious, but I wasn’t sure it would pan out. First, modern users are saturated with free content. Second, these books have been free to Kindle users for a while, through the Prime and Unlimited subscriptions; they do get borrowed, but not so often that I felt certain that people would download them. But they did: 71 copies of Desert Flower and 67 of Kingdom of the Shades during the 48 hours of the sale. How many people will read the books, never mind pay for other books that are not free, remains unknown. Still, almost 70 people now have access to my books who did not before. That is good news. You could argue that I lost about $400 in royalties, but I suspect that’s not so. Most likely, these readers would not have paid the $3.99 that the books cost when not on sale, so in that sense I lost nothing that I ever really had. It was an experiment, so I’m fine with that.
2. Facebook ads work. Although Bookbub is the current go-to source for advertising e-book promotions, I decided not to apply there. Listings are expensive, starting at $150 for a free book, depending on the category. Instead, I paid Facebook $35 over two days to boost my post. At the end of the second day, almost 4,300 people had seen the ad, and 2% clicked through to find out more. That may not sound like much, but for advertising, it’s a typical response rate.
The one thing I would change (if I can figure out how it’s calculated) is my relevance score. At 4/10, each click cost me 76¢. When we boosted the announcement for Some Rise by Sin, the results were similar, but the clicks cost 22¢ apiece, because the Facebook computers considered the targeting “more relevant.” But what made those categories more relevant I have yet to discover.
3. It doesn’t take much to raise Amazon bestseller rankings significantly. At the height of the promotion near the end of the first day, with 55 downloads of Desert Flower and 53 of Kingdom of the Shades, the two books had risen from ranges of 12,400 and 18,600, respectively, to about 3,500 among all free books. Desert Flower hit no. 43 in Kindle eBooks > Romance > Science Fiction; Kingdom peaked at no. 49 on the same list. If I had managed to give away twice as many copies in the same time frame, I probably could have cracked the top ten, albeit in this relatively unpopulated list. Although I don’t control how many people download my books, it’s useful to have a better sense of what those rankings mean. A good advertising plan could raise the profile of my books significantly—at least until the algorithms change.
Any benefit is, however, brief. By the morning after the promotion ended, the sales ranks had plunged again, because the books were now competing with the much larger number of paid titles: both novels dropped below 1,000,000, although they remained much higher than they had been before the promotion began. Since then, I have sold no books at all, either print or Kindle. Even borrowings have flattened out.
Will I try it again? “Never say never,” as the adage goes. I would need a good reason to go against the grain a second time, and so far the results seem rather mixed. But then, that’s the point of an experiment.
Image: Clipart.com no. 20574032.