The Power of Free

May 29, 2012 | Opinions

kdp-selectI think we’re all familiar with the influence of free stuff on our buying decisions. It’s a standard practice, of course, where a business gives something away in order to attract more sales. The same is true for books; in this case, Amazon’s KDP Select program.

The basic idea of the program is an interesting one in that it allows ebooks to be borrowed like physical books, but what I suspect a lot of authors use it for is the 5-day free promotions. My question, which I believe is the most important one, is whether those free promotions actually encourage sales.

Let’s ignore the fact that making a book exclusive to Amazon effectively shuts down other sales avenues for now, and look solely at the potential of the KDP Select program.

Time Limits

The initial problem is that there’s only five free days out of ninety. This has two net effects:

  • Authors who want to make a book free forever can’t do it.
  • Authors who don’t use up all their days before the end of the ninety day block feel like they have to use them or they’re ‘wasted’.

The first is, unfortunately, a marketing constraint that plays directly to Amazon’s bottom line. If they didn’t have a time limit in there, hundreds of authors would make one or more of their books free for good and use Amazon as a convenient delivery system – meaning Amazon provides resources without being paid for them. The second creates a sense of urgency where there should be none, and it could interfere with a book’s marketing potential.

Marketing Damage

You may be asking why someone would make one of their books free. Surely the whole point is to get people to give you money, right?

Of course it is. But if you’re selling a product, you need to think about the big picture, and the big picture is always all about the sales; what maximizes sales, what gives the greatest boost to profits. If we already know that giving something away for free can attract more sales, then a restriction on free stuff can damage your marketing efforts. Amazon’s policy is a blanket one, covering many different genres and sections, and if an author in a particular genre already knows that one free book in their lineup will draw more sales to the others, then they’re pretty much out of luck. They can’t make that marketing decision on Amazon, even though it will lead to more money for them.

‘Wasting’ days is an issue as well, because it results in hasty and ineffective marketing. An author who joins the program a week before the current block is due to end may rush to make their book free for the five days, and see no benefit from it.

Using the Power of Free Stuff

These free promotions can bring in new readers and sales, but it has to be the right kind of free. The bottom line is this:

It’s not enough to just make your book free and expect people to come looking for it.¬†You have to use those five days as part of a greater marketing campaign.

Offering your book for free is a powerful thing, but it’s not the start and end of a promotion. You need to put it in context. Ask yourself: how many other authors are out there today, telling the world that their book is free and you should try it out? If everyone around you is doing the same kind of promotion, then what about yours is so different? How can you distinguish yourself?

Here’s a sample marketing campaign, running over the course of a month and designed to promote the second book in a series.

  • Week 1: Post the book cover and release date. Try for interview or guest post on a popular blog.
  • Week 2: Post artwork of locations from the book, along with teaser lines.
  • Week 3: Send out advance copies (ebook and print) to review sites, with info on the following week’s promotion. Offer something extra to the sites’ readers to celebrate the launch.
  • Week 4: Run a seven day promo and raffle off a Kindle to readers who retweet, like, +1, repost, etc ending on the launch day. Make the first book in the series free on that day to encourage sales of the second one.

The power of free is only a tool that authors can use to boost sales, not an end result. Getting into the top hundred in the Kindle free section is not an achievement and authors get no royalties from it. A free promotion should do one of two things: increase the sales of the book or other books, or increase exposure in order to cause an increase in sales. Authors need to learn how to handle it wisely and make the best use of the allotted time in every ninety day cycle, otherwise their readers may become accustomed to getting their work for nothing.