Is it worth it to offer your book for free?

I used to say “yes” – unequivocally. But now I’m not so sure.

After I published my first novel in December 2012, I went the free route a few months later having nothing at all to lose. The results astounded me. I had more than 14,000 downloads over a three day period and the book peaked at #11 on the Amazon free charts. I was ecstatic. Within a matter of days, 14,000 people had my book on their Kindle. There was no greater marketing method around.

But since then, things have changed – for the worse if you’re an independent author. My subsequent free campaigns with my first and second novels never again came close to those numbers. Bloggers have accused Amazon of changing algorithms that affect sales. (That doesn’t exactly make sense to me since Amazon wants to promote sales. But, okay.) New Amazon rules forced affiliates to reduce the amount of free books they promoted lest they be dropped as affiliates. From that point on, it became much more difficult to find websites who would promote your book for free. They still exist, but many of them have moved to asking authors to pay for promotional services, and so the broad avenues of promotion of 2013 have narrowed considerably.

Now as my third novel will be reaching it’s one year anniversary of release within the next couple of months, I have to decide how to continue to market it. I have never offered “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” for free. I have had several sales promotions at $0.99 and they have been successful to varying degrees, but the number of books that I have gotten into the hands of readers is significantly less when compared with my first novel.

It must also be pointed out that putting a book on someone’s Kindle does not mean that they will ever read it. My wife is a great example of this. She still has 100+ free books on her Kindle which she may or may not ever get around to reading. What benefit does an author have when a book is deadended on a Kindle? Not much.

On the other hand, a large number of downloads can lead to some traction. My first novel ended up garnering 85 reviews, many of those came from the free downloads. My second and third books have definitely lagged behind in reviews, even though the reviews they have received are better than my first book.

Now it’s decision time. Should I offer “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” for free one time only prior to releasing my new novel?

Or should I continue with periodical $0.99 cent promotions?

I’m open to advice.

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5 thoughts on “Is it worth it to offer your book for free?

  1. I can’t advise regards whether free or 99c promotions work best Mark, but I CAN tell you that I do Book Promos for my Guest and Hall of Fame Authors (which YOU are one of) for free, as often as they care to have them go out.
    I also advise them to send articles on topics they’d like to share, as often as they care to.
    Both these keep them in the public mind and eye (Marketing).
    I’ve spent two years getting my independent authors platform to where it is now – you’re always welcome to use it 😀

  2. What I love about this post is that it describes perfectly what we indie writers are up against all the time. Made all the more complicated by Amazon’s algorithm being so secretive and constantly changing. Correct: Downloads do NOT equal reads. (I have a lot of “to-read” on my Goodreads page, because I found the book interesting but it’s questionable if I’ll ever read any of them.) Writers who do Goodreads (and other) giveaways constantly say “I got 600 people to put my book on their to-read list; I got, if nothing else, exposure for the book.” But it costs nothing to put a book on the to-read list forever. You (we) still have to make YOUR book more appealing than any other book and you have to make people want to purchase it.

    ALSO I read recently that free downloads do not “count” on Amazon toward whether they promote your book in their carousels of promoted books which, I think, would be the goal: You can see that If a person purchases the book, if even only for .99, the review says “Certified Amazon Purchase.” If they get it for nothing, it says nothing and doesn’t figure into the (secret) algorithm. I say that because at 85 reviews for Beauty Rising, I’d think that Amazon would be promoting it. So why aren’t they? Maybe because the downloads/reviews were free, not purchases??

    Amazon and Goodreads (now owned by Amazon) has fostered a culture of readers wanting and being able to get something (ie your book) for nothing (ie free). The reviews tell YOU that people like the book, which is great. But then you have to ask how you turn that into sales. So 1) free downloads do not equal reads; and 2) reads of free downloads do not equal future Amazon promotions.

    My thoughts. I’ll be curious to see what you do.

  3. yes, time for a laugh.We have to get out of serious mode now and then with all these decisions. The decider will decide and all will work out!! Love the dialogue… Thanks.

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