Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
Why Would You Buy a Book if You Got It for Free?
Confession time. If you got a free eBook, would you also buy it? I doubt you would or that you have done so at any point. Yet I find it amazing that when authors self-publish, they think that a Kindle Free eBook Promotion will bring in sales and new fans for their work. It’s counterintuitive.
I can only imagine a couple of scenarios where buying after getting something free would work. If the reader who downloaded your book is a good friend or family member, they might do it as a pity buy. That’s not the most relevant type of sale, but it’s a sale nonetheless.
It also works when a product or service is one with high potential for repeat sales. For example, if you get a free cookie and you like it, you’d be inclined to actually buy it and continue to buy more of them in the future. But your book isn’t cookies. After readers have acquired and read it, they’re probably not going to repeat the purchase of that book now or ever.
So you are forfeiting sales by freely giving your book away for free.
What About Free eBooks as Reader Magnets?
The argument is often made that giving away a free eBook as a reader magnet is justified. Once the person is on your list, you can email them about other books you have available or that you plan to publish. This is why authors of book series have such an interest in reader magnets for book marketing. It makes sense theoretically.
But email open rates have been declining over the years. If you get 20 to 30 percent open rate these days, you’re doing okay. Not great in literal terms, but okay in today’s marketing environment. Plus, opt-in rates are abysmal, hovering in the low single-digit percentages of visitors to your landing sign-up page.
When I gave away copies of a shorter eBook as a reader magnet, I also found that some would sign up, download the free content, then unsubscribe. They just wanted a freebie.
Do Lots of Free eBook Downloads Equal a Successful Marketing Campaign?
If the platform you’re using to fulfill your eBook promotion reports that you have lots of downloads of your free eBook, does that means your campaign was a success? And does that positively impact your sales?
Again, we have the problem of buying a duplicate of something that the buyer got for free. An actual sale is less likely.
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Hoping that the free eBook giveaway will prompt a swell of reviews on either Amazon or social media can be a stretch. Readers could take their time reading, reviewing, and sharing on social media. Some readers may never review or share, especially the freebie seekers.
When I’ve done Kindle Free eBook Promotions in the past, I received no accompanying bump in paid book sales or reviews. My sales returned to normal almost immediately after the promotion ended.
Similarly, I’ve ranted before about how some self-published authors play the best seller game with their free Kindle book giveaway promotions. They juice their “sales” numbers by offering a free eBook, land in the Top 100 or higher “Free,” not paid, lists on Amazon, and call their books “best sellers,” even though they gave them away for free. Cheaters!
Can Number of Free Downloads Be Correlated With Book Sales?
Sure, you could correlate number of downloads with number of sales received. Just a couple of problems from a statistical standpoint.
The biggest problem is that Amazon and KDP don’t report the source of book sales to authors. But you can guarantee that Amazon knows the exact path that a buyer took to buy your book. They also don’t report if any of those Kindle Free eBook downloads converted into sales. We can only hope that one day Amazon will decide to share some of those stats with us.
You may have reports from any non-Amazon free eBook promotion sites you use that tell you how many people took advantage of your free eBook offer and downloaded your complete book. But that’s where the stats trail may end. You would not know if that person actually bought the book later, because of Amazon’s limited reporting. Chances are they probably didn’t or won’t.
Correlating your daily book sales on KDP Reports to the days you might be running either KDP Kindle Free eBook promotions or non-Amazon free eBook promotions could also be wildly inaccurate. I’ll go into Star Trek Mr. Spock mode and say it’s not logical. Would a reader buy your eBook the same day they downloaded the free one? Would seeing an offer for a free eBook, not just a sample, prompt any reader to say, “Hey, let me pay for that book I can totally get for free!” C’mon, people!
Bottom line for your bottom line is to use free Kindle or other eBook giveaways strategically and sparingly. Remember, about 1 percent of your author platform or fan base will buy your book. With that low ROI, you can’t afford to give away too many copies of your eBook.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Heidi Thorne