Three Weeks After a KDP Select Free Event

It’s been three weeks since the free event I ran for “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale.” That seems like a good time to have another look at how successful (or unsuccessful) the event was.

Sleeping Beauty Mark IIAs you may recall, I offered the book for free download through Amazon’s KDP Select program for three days. To help get the word out, I spent $95 in advertising for guaranteed listings on various websites that announce free books. Over the three-day period, I garnered 4130 downloads across all Amazon’s sites.

Sales were strong the first weekend the book was back on sale, particularly in the UK. After having sold a total of only four books in the first half of the month, the final 10 days saw 151 total sales (101 of which were in the UK) and 24 borrows through Amazon Prime (10 of which were in the UK). That 10-day stretch alone was a monthly sales record for me.

However, since the first week, there has been a steady decline of sales. I didn’t get nearly as many in the last three days of that 10-day stretch as I did during the first seven. Sales in April have not been as impressive. In general, I’m getting one to three a day. A week ago, I had a no-sales day for the first time since before the free event. It picked up again over the weekend, but the pace has been snail-like.

So far this month I’ve got seven US sales and four borrows, 11 UK sales and two borrows, and a single sale in Canada. Nineteen sales and six borrows is pushing the now-second-best month I’ve ever had for sales. If the pace continues, it’ll be a nice month in terms of total units sold compared to any month prior to March 2013.

But that’s not a sustainable rate of sales, especially since “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” is a short story and only retails for 99 cents. At a 35% royalty, 19 sales nets $6.65. If the borrows come in at the average of $2.00 they have been, that’ll be another 12 bucks. Not exactly enough to pay rent.

I’ve spoken with a few other authors who have experienced similar dropoffs in sales numbers after successful free events (who were more successful than I). They believe this to be the normal pattern.

So it seems you do a free event, market it to make it successful, and that gives you a sales bump that steadily declines back to your pre-free numbers after about a month.

That’s pretty disappointing. If one has to manufacture sales constantly by doing free promotions, it makes it hard to see how to create a bestseller with any other method than total luck.

It also strongly suggests that short stories are not a viable publishing model (if indeed they ever were). Assuming the numbers hold, I spent $95 to gross $100.65. That’d be okay if the sales levels sustained for longer than a week. Because they didn’t, the ROI needs to be higher. That means the book has to retail for more than 99 cents, and the sales numbers have to be at least comparable.

Looking at it from the glass-half-full perspective for a moment, this model does favor authors with multiple books. If one were to run a free event for a different book each month, that could, in theory, create a regular cycle of strong sales without overexposing one title.

That’s a lot of work, though. It’s not that I’m unwilling to do it. I am in this for the proverbial long haul. It’s just disheartening to think one gets such a short period of benefit for the amount of hustle involved.

I’ll be running a free event for Red Dragon Five in two weeks. I’ll report the success of that here and further test the sustainability theories involved.

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