The Intriguing Results of Offering My Kindle Ebook for Free for a Day

“Free? NEVER!”

CC Image • kodomut
CC Image • kodomut

Since before launching my ebook in September 2013, I had convinced myself that offering it for free was a bad idea, and probably not for the reason you assume.
Of the many self-publishing articles I’d read and podcasts I’d listened to, a majority of them related that launching a book for free on Amazon doesn’t have the same effect that it used to.
Just a few years ago, Amazon didn’t offer two Kindle bestseller lists. They only had one and it listed both free and paid Kindle ebooks. Consequently, if you launched your ebook for free and it amassed a thousand downloads or more in a day, it’s likely you’d see your book in the Top 100 bestseller list. After the book was no longer free, it was probable that it would stay in that list, garnering you dozens if not hundreds of more ebook purchases.
A good strategy, right?
Well, it was, at least until Amazon separated the two bestseller lists. Now you can visit the Amazon Kindle Top 100 Paid Bestsellers and the Amazon Kindle Top 100 Free Bestsellers lists. I think this was a good move from a reader’s perspective, but it sullied many authors on the free ebook launch day marketing strategy.
So I didn’t launch my book for free. The return on investment[ref]… and by return on investment, I’m not only talking about money.[/ref] didn’t seem worth the cost.
Also, I felt more than justified by launching my ebook as a paid title since I’m giving away 10% of its proceeds to the Oak Ridge Disciple House. I didn’t expect to make much from the book, but how could I donate anything if I didn’t make anything?

So what made me change my mind and decide to give away the Kindle edition of my ebook for free for one day?

After seriously considering the pros and cons of offering my Kindle ebook for free, my decision came down to three motivating factors:

  • curiosity
  • experimentation
  • flattening sales

Yes, I’d lose sales, but I was curious as to just how much a free ebook day would help. As a self-publisher, experimentation in marketing is a must.[ref]But don’t experiment just to experiment. At least have a goal in mind for the experiment.[/ref] Lastly, my ebook sales had been rather flat for the last month or so, selling maybe a copy per day.[ref]For what it’s worth, I feel as if I wrote a rather difficult book in terms of consistent selling ability. It’s about a show that’s now off the air, although Netflix syndication will certainly help—just not as much as when the show was at its zenith in late 2013.[/ref]
After some goading from a knowledgeable online connection, I decided to give it a try. My enrollment in the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program was about to end, so I only had a few weeks in which to plan a free-day experiment. Settling on Wednesday, January 22, 2014, I waited with baited breath the outcome of offering my humble ebook for free for 24 hours.
My unspoken goal for the day was 1000 downloads.

The Results of Offering My Ebook for Free on Amazon for One Day

I share the following numbers in order to help others gauge whether they should offer their ebooks for free. I have no baseline for knowing whether these numbers are anemic or amazing, but that’s not my intention in sharing them. I know that I’ve benefitted from the knowledge provided by other self-publishers when they share specific numbers regarding their books. This is my attempt to pay back that kind of transparency in kind.
Total free downloads: 1274
Free ebook ranking over time:

  • 11:30am – 3254
  • 1:30pm – 1485
  • 2:30pm – 895
  • 4:30pm – 534
  • 5:30pm – 335
  • 6:30pm – 305
  • 8:30pm – 245
  • 10:30pm – 222
  • 2:00am – 185[ref]Free ebook days on Amazon go from midnight PST to midnight PST. I’m CST, thus the apparent time anomaly.[/ref]

I was hopeful that my ebook would break into the Top 1000 during my free day. Once it broke into the Top 300, I decided to experiment a bit more and sent out this tweet:

Although that bet didn’t get me to the #1 spot, it seemed like a good idea based on the number of clickthroughs I saw via Buffer’s analytics the day after. The number of clicks on my tweets is usually 1-2, not more than double the number of followers I have.[ref]Actually, this number may be high because I think Buffer might be listing the total number of clicks on that particular link regardless of what tweet it stemmed from. Since that bitly link was in a majority of the tweets sent out about the free ebook, whether from my own account or from someone else’s, the correlation between me offering to shave my head and the number of clickthroughs may not be causation. It’s nebulous at best.[/ref]
The lesson learned? Think up harebrained schemes earlier in the day so that people have more time to act upon them. Be willing to risk an acceptable level of humiliation for a goal.[ref]My hair’s exiting my head anyways … [/ref] Most of all, experiment even while you’re experimenting. Think of something creative that could help drive sales or downloads. You never know how your audience will react.

Was the Kindle Free Day Worth It?

With the help of dozens of people online, I met my goal of 1000 downloads. After throwing a small interior party, I wondered if all the excitement of the day would be for naught. In other words, would these 1274 “lost sales” help move the needle in regards to future sales, reviews, online connections, and word-of-mouth marketing?
So, here are those numbers, compiled from Jan. 23 to Jan. 28, 2014—the week immediately following my free day.

The needle did move, and it moved the one thing I was most trying to move: ebook sales. While that number isn’t astounding, it’s better than it has been, and maybe it’ll remain that way for a week or so more. I’ll also be more than thrilled to receive more reviews on Amazon, though that will take much longer than a week to see happen.

What’s the Best Thing You Can Do to Promote a Free Kindle Ebook?

Although I listed my book at 10 sites that promote free ebooks, I didn’t take full advantage of the immense number of sites out there like that. I decided to list my book for free less than a week before actually doing so, and most of these free ebook listing sites require at least seven days’ notice before posting your ebook. In other words, I don’t think these sites helped me that much, but that’s more on me than them. Be sure to check out Author Marketing Club’s Free Book Submission Tool if you plan to give away your free ebook. Just do it well in advance of your free day.
For what it’s worth, I also applied to BookBub[ref]Their pricing structure is based both on your genre as well as the cost of your ebook.[/ref] (which would have cost me $190), but was turned down.
However, there was one strategy that definitely worked for me: Twitter.
About 50 people sent out tweets regarding my free ebook. By my rough tally, their total followers in aggregate accounted for 195,387 people. If only 10% of those followers saw their tweet about my book, that’s 19,538 people. If only 10% clicked through, that’s 1,953 people. If only half of them downloaded the book, that’s close to the total number of downloads I saw.
So what does this tell you?

  1. People like sharing free stuff online.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask connections (or even connections to connections) with large Twitter followings for an RT. The worst thing they can say is no, and that’s not a big deal.
  3. Promote your book every hour. Throw in a few apologetic tweets, but couch it in terms of “I’m only doing this today.”
  4. You ought to be on Twitter.

I don’t know if this is the best strategy, but it’s one that worked for me. I didn’t pay Facebook to promote my posts. I didn’t run any Google Ads. I didn’t spend any money on this free day … because that would seem like defeating the purpose.

How I Actually Made a Little Money During My Free Kindle Day

I don’t recall where I read this tip, but it was a good one. When sending out your book’s Amazon link, be sure to use your Amazon Associate’s affiliate link. That way, even if you’re offering a free Kindle download, you can still get a small referral payment when people buy more than just your ebook. Also, use a link shortener like Bitly and a custom URL that you can easily remember. For instance, I used in my tweets. This was the URL that got retweeted. This is also a URL that uses my Amazon affiliate link.
Since last Wednesday, I’ve made $20.76 in referral fees. It’s not much, but it’s $20 I didn’t have before.[ref]I opt for the Amazon gift cards as payment, so this money goes back into Research and Development, i.e. more books to read.[/ref] Of the more interesting items purchased by those who downloaded my ebook: There Will Be Blood on Amazon Instant Video, an $89 Graco Crib, a High Pressure Adjustable Shower Head, and the $23 World of Essential College Vocabulary Book 2.
I hope that last purchase wasn’t necessary for reading my book.

Will You Offer Your Kindle Ebook for Free Again?

While I enjoyed the excitement of seeing my book rise in the free ebook rankings, I’m not sold on the idea of using free as a semi-permanent marketing strategy. It would make more sense if I had more books, or if I had a series for sale. That said, I do want to give away books on certain sites in exchange for more reviews, and I plan to do that in the near future.
Additionally, I’m bowing out of the KDP Select program in order to offer my book through more publishing outlets, like Kobo, Nook, and maybe iBooks.
Because I’m curious to see how my book will do in those markets and I’m anxious to start more ebook experiments.
Thank you to everyone who tweeted about or downloaded my ebook. Please consider leaving a review on Amazon when you’re done reading.

If you’ve ever run a free day on your own ebook, were you pleased with the results? Will you do it again? Why or why not?