Friday, November 16, 2012

Observations from Running a Free Book Sale

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Free--Klabusta's Photostream--Flickr
I finally got around to experimenting with doing a free promo.  Naturally, I was interested in seeing if running this kind of a promo would boost sales of my other books…and also, I was just curious.  I’ve seen a ton of free book promotions and hadn’t tried doing one myself.

So far I’ve run two…a very short one, and one that’s turning out to be longer than I anticipated. 
What I’ve noticed:

You get a ton of reviews and a real look at who’s reading your books.  They talk about what they like and don’t like.  I like getting a snapshot of my readers and feel like I was casting the net wider to really get a better picture of my demographic.

You get a lot of visibility.  As unbelievable as this sounds, I heard from two different people that I’d worked with, two different summers while I was in college.  I hadn’t heard from these coworkers in twenty years…and they both happened to find me through the free book promo.

The sale does impact your other books’ sales.  But don’t get too excited.  This seems to vary.  I know that my sales for the other books did show a slight uptick. One comment from a reviewer on Amazon for Progressive Dinner Deadly: Found this browsing around. I usually hesitate to buy self-pubbed vanity releases for obvious reasons but took a chance with the good reviews and free price. I sooooo enjoyed this. Good marketing because now I'm willing to pay for the rest!

So there we have proof of actual sales resulting from the promo….if she did indeed follow through with the purchases.  :) (And please forgive the inclusion of a good review to make a point.)

You may not have as much control over how long your book is free as you’d like. Maybe you know something that I don’t, but the length of the sale might be somewhat out of your hands.  The first time I tried this, I successfully ran a free promo for a couple of days by making the book free on Smashwords.  I almost immediately took raised the price back up again on Smashwords.  Amazon made the book free within 24 hours and then raised the price after 48 hours.

This time…the book is still free.  I’ve raised the price on Smashwords (it’s been over a week now), and Amazon has not reflected the change.  I’m guessing that somebody out there…Kobo, Apple, etc….hasn’t raised the price up yet and Amazon is still matching the free listing.

Update 11-16--This morning I see that the free ebook is now full price again.  So Amazon finally either realized the book was no longer free at the online bookstore that prompted the sale, or else that bookstore (Kobo?) finally raised the price (although the price had changed at Smashwords long ago.)

Might be a better strategy if you have a couple of other books up for sale.  Otherwise, you could be missing out on income.  Jane Friedman touched on this during an interesting Reddit conversation:
It also helps if you have more than 1 book to sell—if you have, in fact, a series to sell. That way, you can use the first book as a loss leader (free or 99 cents), then charge more for the later books. But that only works if you prove yourself with readers on the first book. 
What I haven’t noticed:

Others have noted that they saw particularly harsh reviews during free promotions—a common conclusion is that readers have little respect for a product they receive for free.

I haven’t seen this.  Yes, I’ve gotten some harsh reviews during the free promos, but I’ve gotten some harsh reviews on a $6.99 Penguin ebook, too!  I can’t say that I’ve noticed a difference.  Either way….just build up your thick skin.  I take anything helpful from a bad review that I can.

Have you ever run a free book promotion?  How did it go?  As a reader, have you ever downloaded free ebooks? What was the quality of the books you downloaded?

Image: Flickr—Klabusta’s Photostream