The Long Tail

Conventional wisdom suggests giving your work away for free devalues it. The usual gang of Chicken Littles also declared that Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program was going to destroy publishing. No one would be able to make money from selling books if people could get them on subscription.

Perhaps these things are true. But as a very small fish in the great big Amazon ocean, I have managed to use free and Kindle Unlimited successfully.

LRRH Cover Lo-ResAt the beginning of the year, I ran a week-long free event for my YA novel, Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale. I believe this is my most accessible book, but it was underperforming badly, barely generating sales and garnering a mere five reviews, all of which came along in its first month of February 2015.

I set the book to run free the second week of January, bought some ads, and pushed it on my mailing list.

It did well during its free run. A bknights ad netted 347 downloads on the 12th, priming the pump for 1985 downloads when the FreeBooksy ad landed on the 15th and another 686 the day after. All told, I moved over 3000 free copies of LRRH  during the event, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but a book with only five reviews is limited in where it can advertise.

But the success of the promo isn’t measured in how many free copies I gave out. The day LRRH went back into the paid store, it sold six copies. The next two days it sold two each. And a week later it picked up a few more sales.

Yes, I know moving 13 copies in two weeks isn’t impressive, but I’m not done. That same day the book sold six copies, it generated 354 page-reads in KU. The next day was 480. The day after it exploded to 1212, then 855, then 1183. A long, slow tail spread well into February.

After giving away 3000 free copies, people were paying to read the book in solid, if not outstanding, numbers.

And they were liking it. Over the next two to three weeks, Little Red Riding Hoodie pick up nine new reviews. The worst was three stars. With 14 reviews and a 4.4-star average, I’ve got a lot more advertising options now.

And it is still being read. The long tail is definitely resting closer to the ground now, but LRRH was getting almost no attention at the beginning of the year. Now, it continues to accumulate sales and page-reads.

Free may not drive sales the way it used to, but it does drive page-reads. For the moment, that’s where the money is in the market. A solid free event creates long-tail income. I’m seeing similar results in other lines, but the data isn’t complete enough to draw conclusions yet.

Still, this is a major piece of my marketing strategy for the year, and it’s yielding results. Hopefully, it’s something I can build on.

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