Do KDP Select Free Events Still Work?

One of the things about being an indie author is the constant need to review, analyze, and alter your strategy in the face of a changing market. Since the introduction of Amazon’s KDP Select program, multiple changes have been made. Amazon keeps tweaking it, trying to make it work best for its true customer — the book buyer. To be sure, they’re interested in it working for authors too, but that’s the secondary concern. Authors are not their real customers.

This past summer Amazon made several adjustments to how free events work. Authors started reporting fewer downloads and, more importantly, smaller post-free sales bumps. That’s been concerning on two fronts. The main reason to do a free event is to boost a book’s visibility in the Kindle store. The more sales you have, the more Amazon features your book. The reason is pretty simple. Amazon wants to sell readers books. So if a book has sold a lot of copies, chances are good it can sell another copy to the reader who meets the profile of the people who have previously bought it.

In the past, free downloads helped kick a book up the charts, so that more readers could discover it. When the book went off free, it generated a lot of actual sales. That was good for Amazon and for authors.

But the metrics have changed. Amazon’s algorithms have been adjusted. And, while I hesitate to say the changes are bad for authors, they are forcing us to learn how to play the game all over again.

There are fewer downloads per free event, which lowers discoverability. There are fewer sales — so it’s been reported — after the event, which lowers profitability. That raises two important questions:

  1. Is there a new way to maximize the results of a KDP Select free event? In other words, can it still be used to give a book’s sales a shot in the arm?
  2. Is it still worth it to enroll a book in KDP Select? After all, you have to sell the eBook version exclusively through Amazon if you’re enrolled. The principal benefit had been using those free events to kick up your paid sales. If that doesn’t work anymore, is it still beneficial to enroll in Select?

Sleeping Beauty Mark IIWith all that in mind, I ran a five-day free event for “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale.” I had two major goals for this event. First,  I wanted to boost my overall sales. While I’d done well earlier this year, things had really fallen off in the summer. I was looking to kick-start my numbers.

Second, I was releasing my new novella, Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale,the first week of October. I put an ad for the book in the back of “Sleeping Beauty” and then set the free run to occur the week after the release. I was hoping to raise the visibility of the new book by giving away an older but similar book free.

I confined my advertising to only a few venues. BookGoodies.com and Bargain eBook Hunter have both garnered good results for me, and their rates are reasonable. I experimented with FreeBooksy.com. I’d not tried them before, because their rates are considerably higher. I got good recommendations on them, so I decided the money was worth it.

The first day of the event was fantastic. I gave away over 1500 copies of “Sleeping Beauty” on the first day alone. That was far and away the best first day I’ve ever had. The book hit #1 in two different categories, and peaked at #170 overall in the free store.

The results fell off sharply after that. The next day, I only had about 200 downloads. Over the next three days, I got another 200 or so.

By the time it was all said and done, I got 1967 downloads in the U.S. Foreign markets were pretty insignificant. That’s the second best I’ve ever done on a free event. So, at least for me, I didn’t find that the new system had significantly reduced my downloads, although I used a new advertiser for the first time, and I think it definitely gave me some rocket fuel.

However, there were two other significant things of note about this event. First, the rapid decline of my numbers after only one day. So far as I could tell, as soon as Free Booksy moved on to another client, my numbers tanked. So it seems the right advertising is still (if not more) critical to running a successful event.

Second, I experienced the lack of post-event bounce other authors reported. I’ve sold five copies of “Sleeping Beauty” since offering it free. In the past, if one were to count on a 2-3% bump (which is fairly conservative), I should have netted at least 39 U.S. sales. Five sales is a .025% bump. That’s a significant difference.

Other authors I’ve spoken with report they saw a very slow climb in their total sales but that they did see increases in their backlist sales. I was hoping for this result — it’s one of the reasons I ran the promotion.

B&B Cover Lo-ResTo an extent, I’ve seen it. I’ve sold six copies of Beauty & Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale since the promotion and gotten one borrow through Amazon Prime. I sold a copy of “Passion Play”, which had been totally moribund, and one copy of State of Grace. I’ve also seen a significant increase in the downloads of my perma-free short story, “The Darkline Protocol.”

It may be too early to gauge this, since it hasn’t quite been a week, and other authors have reported their gains took  time to realize. But, at the moment, it does not appear that a successful free event leads to a solid sales bump.

And if that’s the case, I need to be able to answer the two questions the new system raises. Is there a way to make free events work, and is it worth it to enroll in KDP Select anymore?

I don’t know the answer to either at the moment. Both bear further investigation.

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