The Amazon KDP Select Free Event is officially dead.
This is perhaps not news. Amazon has been changing and adjusting its algorithms all year. As with many things Amazon-related, it’s difficult to know what their true motivation is. (Beyond profit, of course. Everything Amazon does is designed to sell merchandise, so you have to figure their changes to algorithms follow that model, but, given that free events used to sell lots of books, it’s hard to know how this benefits Amazon.)
Regardless, free downloads of books in KDP Select went from being counted as a full sale to one-tenth of a sale to . . . no one is sure what, but not even a tenth of a sale.
I ran a free event for “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” last month. My goals were twofold. All of my sales had fallen into torpor and needed some stimulation, and, I was launching Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale, so I was trying to raise its visibility.
In a five-day stretch, I got 1967 free downloads of “Sleeping Beauty” — not bad for a non-BookBub or ENT-featured event. After the book went back into the paid store, it sold eight copies. That’s four-tenths of one percent.
I also sold eight copies of Beauty & the Beast after the event. So much for the rising tide lifting all boats.
Back in March, when I ran my most successful free event, “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” had about 2500 downloads, which then resulted in 16 sales and 11 borrows. (The numbers were considerably better in the U.K., but this time I got almost no traction in Britain). That’s a little over one percent.
Other authors had reported better numbers from their free events, and it was pretty evident that there was a snowball effect — the more downloads you got, the higher the percentage of sales to free copies moved you had. My numbers were respectable but not outstanding.
Last week, I ran a second free event, this time for State of Grace. The Wolf Dasher books seem to have a different audience than the modern fairy tale ones, so I wasn’t too surprised that “Sleeping Beauty” didn’t do a lot to improve the Dasher novels.
In three days (as opposed to five), I saw 1769 free downloads. Again, pretty respectable for a book not featured by one of the big services. Since it went back into the paid store, I’ve sold three copies of it, and one of the sequel, Red Dragon Five. That’s two-tenths of one percent.
The one caveat to all this is that, while State of Grace was free, it fueled downloads of “The Darkline Protocol”, which is permafree. So, since the two books were in the same series and both free, they helped each other get more downloads.
State of Grace saw one other benefit — it picked up another review, a four-star one. But otherwise I didn’t see a whole lot of action from giving the book away for free.
Here’s why this matters. The key for every author’s success — whether they are traditionally published or an indie — is visibility. The free events in Select used to offer that. Your numbers shot up as a result of free downloads, and then you went back into paid with some momentum,which helped sell books for 30 days. That made money for authors, and it made money for Amazon.
But the new system doesn’t work that way. You gain visibility while you’re free, which increases downloads. But once you are back to charging, the vast majority, if not all, of that visibility is lost. Thus, free is not working anymore.
In one respect, Amazon should be lauded for making this adjustment. The old system had been conditioning readers not to pay for books. Why buy it when it will eventually go free? That would have been no good for Amazon or the authors who publish through it.
Moreover, Amazon has launched its Kindle Countdown Deals program, which allows authors to put their books on sale without sacrificing their royalties. So Amazon is definitely trying to find ways to sell books and cut authors in on a piece of the action.
These are both good things. But it leaves us indies trying to crack the code on how to maximize the program again. Because, whether we give our books away for free or put them on sale or charge full price, the key to success is still visibility, and Amazon is a very, very, very crowded market.
With the holiday shopping season almost here, it’s going to be very interesting to see what works and what doesn’t.