Do Free Loss-Leaders Help Book Sales?

That is a question that has been debated a lot in recent months. With literally millions of books in the KDP Select program that may be offered free at any given time, the competition is stiff to get your book noticed and get strong results.

The first time I offered a book, One Small Victory, free via the KDP program, I had 30,000 downloads and the following 3 months I sold an average of 1,000 books a month. I was thrilled. I thought I was on the way to riches and fame.

That was in March of 2010, and within a few months, sales dropped, although they did hold steady at a few hundred a month, until this year. Since January, sales have dwindled to just a handful of sales a month. If I reach 30, I’m thrilled. I thought perhaps it was just because One Small Victory has been out so long and perhaps it had run its course. However, other authors on some loops I belong to started reporting dwindling sales, too.

Are there just too many books out there?

Is it time to move away from offering a book free for a short period of time?

Responses to those questions vary, and it is still up to each author to decide for herself or himself whether it is worth it to offer the free book as a promotion.

Because of the increased numbers of books published and books being offered for free as compared to 2010, promoting your free days is the most important thing to do. Several authors that I know have used BookBub for promoting. A listing with them is costly, but reported results were good.

On his blog, Nick Stephenson reported about a free event he held earlier this year that he listed with BookBub and said that the BookBub listing had great results. He had 60,000 downloads, or “shifts” as he terms it, of his thriller Panic. In his follow up report a few months later, he had this to say:

While I’ve had some solid numbers, the results are hardly “blow me away” spectacular. This is hardly surprising, considering the sheer volume of free books out there, but it does mean one thing for authors – if you’re going to use free books to help you gain exposure, you’re going to need to shift A LOT of copies. I mean, you’re going to have to hit the top 20 in the overall charts if you hope to have any chance of a noticeable boost in sales afterwards. I know this because I also ran a free campaign for Departed last month, and only shifted around 6,000 copies – netting me around 10 extra sales the following week. That’s right: 10.

The whole point of even trying the free promo is to get your book noticed. Once people do begin downloading your book the Amazon, search engine algorithms and ranking system will respond and the title will move higher in the ranking. After the promo event, if the book manages to stay in the top 1,000 books on Amazon, that will lead to more sales. And of course, getting more reviews is always an added bonus.

In March of this year I released my mystery, Boxes For Beds, and offered it free for several days to build some buzz. I did some promoting via my online contacts and a few small paid ads, but I didn’t spring for the BookBub listing. My results were okay, but still not numbers that kept the book high in the ranking for very long. So I am trying it again.

Boxes for Beds is currently free through Wednesday. The sale started Saturday, and I did some promoting that got it off to a good start of over 500 downloads. Then Sunday I did very little promoting, and the downloads for that day were just under 500. Still it was ranked number two in historical mystery, number 16 in suspense, and 564 overall. Not bad numbers at all.

I also paid for a listing in BookBub that went live today. It will take a while for any results of that to show up, so I will report back on Friday on whether that was a good investment.

In the meantime, I hope you will download a copy of the book, if you have not already. And when you read it I would love for you to leave a short review on Amazon. The numbers of reviews a book has does help other readers decide whether the story is something they wand to read.

Do you like to read e-books? Do you take advantage of the free offers?

7 thoughts on “Do Free Loss-Leaders Help Book Sales?”

  1. How can all the free books NOT dilute sales?

    I never have to buy a book. I just go to the next free one on my tablet. I find it hard to understand how any Indie sells a book.

    Wait. Maybe it’s the advertising that goes with the free book, not the free book itself?

    I’m going to stay stubborn as long as I can and avoid the whole free thing. Just goes against my nature, giving away something that took months to create.

    If a reader wants to try ‘me’ out, I have 30 pages of all 19 of my current novels sitting there for review on my webpage.

    In the meantime…all those free books keep someone from buying one of my titles.

    I know. I’m whining.

  2. R. Mac, I know this is a rock-and-a-hard-place situation. I have read a number of blogs addressing the pros and cons, and one thing pushed me in this direction and that was the whole idea of loss-leader. Also, publishers have been using free books to create buzz long before digital publishing came along. I remember going to the big book conventions and coming home with bags and bags of free books that had been given out. At least this way we are not weighing our readers down. LOL

    But seriously, you do have a point about the free books glutting the market and perhaps taking sales away. It is hard to know what is affecting the ups and downs of sales.

  3. Thank you for the free download – I am looking forward to discovering your ‘historical mystery’ style, and hearing about your marketing progress.

    I appreciate the information and its timeliness – one of the books I have in the queue will go into that category.

    It is frustrating to watch all my betters (ie, those who are already published and have taken on the dragon) struggle with these extras – AFTER they have finished the hard part: WRITING the book.

    It still is an improvement over letting someone else make the decisions that will affect a book for the six weeks it might sit on a back shelf in a bookstore – before being remaindered and pulped. It just is.

    Best of success.

  4. Great discussion and not one I have any answers to, but will pick up your book Maryann, Thank you. I have downloaded many a book on my laptop Kindle as I don’t own a handheld, but today when the power was out and while on vacation I read the books I can hold in my hand. When someone blogs or shares their free books I will download, and have quite a few. I will be watching for more information on this question – does it work as so many have said or not. Is it genre related, or seasonal? I’d love to see more stats! But thank you both for sharing your results. I have a funny feeling it isn’t so much the ‘free’ as the advertising that produces results. More stats I’d love to see.

  5. Yolanda, I will try to include some stats from other sites on Friday. I got frustrated today as I was unable to find some of the blogs I had read some time ago about this.

    Alicia, I hope you have success with your book when you get it live and are marketing it. This business is not for the faint of heart. LOL

  6. L.D. I don’t think you are in a minority. I know I buy most of the books I read. I will try the free offer from an author I have never read before, but if I like that book, I do go on and buy others by her or him. There are people who just look for free books, but there are a whole lot of others who are buying as well. I hope it balances out. (smile)

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