Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Trying New (and Free) Things

So, one of the interesting (I hesitate to call it exciting, because that insinuates a pleasantness that doesn't often occur with the publishing business) parts of publishing is that when you're in charge of your own promotional efforts, you get to try a lot of new ideas. Toss in the added benefits of self-publishing (which I've described previously on my blog) and the complete autonomy behind setting prices and other aspects of the bookselling side of the business, and you have a vast smorgasbord of interesting.

I've toyed with varying pricing of e-books in the past, but there really wasn't a lot of stability in the numbers to draw from. So, earlier this year (late March or April), I set my novella Seeker as a free e-book through Smashwords.

The distribution of this title reaches out to Barnes and Noble and Kobo, among others, so the title was free through those outlets as well. Amazon eventually price-matched, but it took them until late May to do so. The earlier sites report back to Smashwords, so the numbers of free giveaways off sites beyond Smashwords has a lot of lag (more so than titles sold for a price), so for the purposes of this discussion, I'll stick just with the last month's worth of information from Amazon (which has instantaneous numbers for both free giveaways and sales both).

In the past month (May 25 through June 22), Seeker has given away 407 copies for free. This is a tiny amount compared to some of the numbers I've seen for KDP Select authors (who can offer their books for 5 days every 90, but a program I've previously denounced as ineffective for my purposes). However, as a comparison, over the past 2+ years that Seeker has been available for sale, it has sold less than 100 copies. So, I'd venture to say that we can confirm from this statistic that readers love free stuff.

But giving away books for free doesn't make authors any money, right?

That's where most people (in my opinion) get it wrong. Because most people are thinking in the moment, and that moment is limited to the book they're giving away free. But for those (such as myself) who have multiple titles out there, a free giveaway is a means to an end, namely to sell as many books out of the entire stable as possible.

So, let's look at my other books, shall we? First, we'll look at the next step up, the two Triple-Shot titles I have. Both are priced at 99 cents, and have had mediocre sales since their releases (less than one a month, based on the stats from my latest sales update). How'd they do this month? Each sold 4 copies. Still not as high as I'd like, but it proves to me at least that the free giveaway of one title gives a full sample of your work to a reader. If they like it, they're more willing to spend (at least a tiny amount of) money for more of your work.

Unfortunately, for my two small press Aston West novels, Heroes Die Young and Friends in Deed, I don't have instantaneous sales numbers to compare. But I have been keeping an eye on the sales rankings through Author Central, and can attest that sales for these two spiked once the giveaway started on Amazon. Whether they checked those out after checking out Seeker, and then the Triple-Shots, or just Seeker, is anyone's guess. But I'd venture to theorize that sales happened on these because of the same sampling process I mentioned before.

Only time will tell if a continued giveaway (I'm planning on leaving Seeker free until after the year's end, and then we'll see how things go) continues to yield the same results, but I plan on riding this out until I find out. And of course, I'll have to remember to come back and present an update along the way.

In the meantime, don't be afraid to try new things, even if it defies convention...


Big Mike said...

I did the same thing Todd, ref evaluating freebie give away options. I experimented with four stories: 1 in pure romance, 1 SF, 1 anthology, and 1 RS. Although the aggregate number of downloads was several thousand, I saw no translation to increased sales, not even cross over to my other titles. And I did compare across the temporal dimension. Only one that seemed to have a positive affect was an anthology, but I attribute that to the fact 18 other authors were promoting the same book.

My conclusion of the KDP and other free giveaway options is that those who download free books primarily use that option for their reading pleasant and rarely crossover to the buying category. My wife's book group selects all freebies for they're discussion.

Am I unhappy I did the experiments? Heck no. What if I didn't and there had been a promotion oasis beneath that dark land of unknowns. I agree with you, you have to experiment. Case in point, based on the significant increase from anthology giveaways I've coordinated two new ones and expect they will have a positive impact in crossover sales. Until the big guy upstairs whispers the best course, we all have to try new things and share the results, like we do on our blog. Thanks for the insight.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

T. M. Hunter said...

Anthologies can help, though as you mentioned, only if all the authors are heavily promoting the same book, at which point it comes under the law of large numbers (i.e., the larger numbers that are touched by the promotion, the larger numbers who will buy).

I think size of the giveaway title (besides all of the other unmeasurable statistics, such as quality, satisfaction, etc.) also contribute. I had several individual short stories set up as free giveaways in the past, and didn't see a lot of sales come from those. This giveaway here is around a 20K-word novella (almost as large as HEROES DIE YOUNG), so it's possible that the increased sales are from a feeling (by the reader) that they had to read more about the character...for shorter titles (I don't know how long your stories were), there isn't as much time for a reader to get sucked into the life of the character.

Of course, with mine, all of the listed titles featured the same main character...which may also help. I know of one author I read the first book in a series and didn't really care for it (and didn't buy the other books), but I tried out another series they had, and enjoyed it so much that I picked up others in that series.

And who knows? I'm an engineer by day, so maybe I'm trying to assign a scientific method to something that just can't be explained rationally and by statistics. :-)

Big Mike said...

No, I'm an engineer and Applied Math OR so I, like you, trust stats when used properly, else I wouldn't spend hours pouring over my numbers (likely too many hours).

And I think the series vs non-series is a co-variate that does have an affect. All my experiments were the latter and I've read from many that they've observed positive impacts when they give away part 1 and people are willing to buy to complete the story.

Otherwise, my conclusion has been the ROI is insignificant and doesn't justify the effort. Course that's one techy to another (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

T. M. Hunter said...

It's definitely important to determine where our ROI makes a difference. I think that's why I've cut back so much on my Twitter and Facebook usage the past several months. Certainly, years ago, both platforms were useful in terms of finding new readers. But today, with every company out there trying to use them for promotion, people have tended to tune out anything "promotion-like" and so I've found that I sell just as many (or sometimes more) books without doing the social media promotion as I do while using it.