The value of free


I am having a very exciting moment as one of my books is currently in the top ten list at Amazon. I know, right?!

It’s in the top ten Kindle free books (at Amazon UK. It’s only #41 at Amazon US.). That means I have given away more copies of this book than all but six other books on the site. That’s a lot of books. It’s about 35,000 books, actually. If I had sold 35,000 copies of that book at full price that would be about £70,000 in royalties due to me. £70,000 would be a HUGE sum of money for me (FIRST CLASS CABINS).

So why would I just give that away?

1. 35,000 downloads of a free book is not the same as 35,000 lost sales. The book was previously averaging sales of about 10/month at Amazon (it was selling quite a lot more at Barnes & Noble). It’s been free for about a month. So I’ve actually lost about £20 (in Amazon sales. I haven’t got the figures yet for B&N and elsewhere).

2. But what about future sales? All those 35,000 people might have bought the book one day. Now they won’t have to. Well they might have done, I suppose. But I think it’s unlikely because people download free books for a lot of different reasons than they buy books. Some people only read free books. A lot of people use free books as a way of trying an unknown author. It’s easier to take risks on a book that’s not your normal genre or style if it’s free. I can’t quantify how many future sales I’ve lost by giving it away, but I’m very sure it’s not 35,000 or anything like that amount.

3. Also, there is a very odd thing about my kindle royalties which I do not understand. They seem to be paying me a (very small) amount for the freebies. Less than a cent per book, but at 35,000 copies, even that adds up to more than I would have anticipated if the book had been on sale at full price. I honestly have no idea what’s going on with this. It is a price-matched freebie, not a Kindle Select one, which may make a difference. Dunno.

4. Sales of my other books have increased while this one has been available for free. Not dramatically. Not £70,000 worth. But a bit. I am selling more of my other two self-published works than I would have expected at the moment, and I think I’m selling a few more of my Entangled books, too. Again, it’s hard to quantify how much is because of the freebie, and it’s also impossible to know how long this effect will last, even beyond the free promotion.

5. Barnes and Noble ranking. This is a big one and was the main reason I decided to do the promotion. I’d had one of my other books free for a month or so in December. It never took off like this one has at Amazon, but it did sell well at B&N. It reached an overall ranking of just under 2000. And, crucially, at B&N it maintains that ranking once it goes back to full price. At Amazon, the free and paid books are ranked separately. As soon as the book stops being free, its rank drops right back to the beginning. But at B&N it doesn’t. That’s meant that the sales of the book after the free promo has ended have continued at a steady pace. Not as many as when it was free, but a LOT more than before the promo. I’m hoping the same will be true for this second promo book.

6. Reviews. This was the other motivation for the free promotion. In the first 18 months of having Reckless Runaway on sale, it got 3 reviews at B&N. It now has 56. Similarly, when I began the promotion on Tycoon’s Convenient Wife, it had 2 reviews at B&N. It now has 13 and more are being added every day. I plan to leave the book on the promo until it hits 50 reviews. Reckless Runaway didn’t get many extra reviews at Amazon, but Tycoon’s Convenient Wife is beginning to get some more there too. Of course, when a book is free, it is more likely to be read by people who aren’t huge fans of the genre, and so there are maybe more negative reviews than you’d expect. But as long as there are good reviews too (which there are), I’m pretty happy with more reviews of any kind. I’m also getting a handful of new Goodreads reviews. The reviews will be there after the promotion ends and though it’s unquantifiable, more reviews do help sales.

7. Brand awareness. I’ve no idea how much this helps, but I think it can’t hurt. 35,000 people have downloaded a book with my name on it. Next time they see a book with my name on it, they are more likely to take a second look.

I’ve seen authors lamenting the idea that anyone would give away their work for free. I’ve seen some who even resent the idea that people can read library books for free, or pick up books second hand without paying a royalty to the author. I am not in any way suggesting that my work is worthless by giving it away. I do think I deserve to be paid. But the reality is that this is a business. It’s about the bottom line. And giving away my book is better for my bottom line. I have earned more in the last month by having a book available for free than I would have done if it had been on sale at full price. I fully anticipate that I will continue to earn more when it reverts to full price than I would have done had it not been on the promotion. It’s worked for me before (with Reckless Runaway) and it’s working for me now (with Tycoon’s Convenient Wife). I am not advocating this as a method for all books and all authors. I am just pointing out that for me, with these books, free has been worth a lot.