Friday, February 1, 2013

More Thoughts on Free

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

4854565435_41c5a31561I’ve done a better job lately keeping up with sales figures for my books.

I know this is one thing that many self-published authors advise against.  Kristine Rusch stated:

Resolve to stop watching the sales figures in 2013. You won’t be able to tell from month to month how the year is going.
She has a good point and many other good points in her post Year-End Numbers

But I find it hard to resist.  For one thing, I was burned by a rotten month early in 2012.  I didn’t pay attention and I made only about a quarter of the income that I ordinarily receive in a month’s time from Amazon for my self-published books.

For me, lagging sales numbers mean that I need to run a sale of some sort (because I don’t advertise and I’m not really into self-promo.)

When I saw that my December sales weren’t off to a great start,  (and I had a newish book that released in October), I decided to put one of my ebooks up for free.  I didn’t advertise it in any way.  It wasn’t featured on any daily deals sites.  I didn’t tweet it, I didn’t mention it here, I didn’t put it on Facebook.

I have the same concerns that most of y’all do about putting a book up for free.  Free books frequently equal awful books.  Making books free devalues books and the book selling market. Making books free hurts because you invested lots of time and thought into the book.

But I will say this…if you’re looking for a bump in sales, you’ve got a good book,  and you have other books available for sale (particularly in a series), then you might find a good deal of success with this tactic. It does seem to move books.

I took the usual route of making the book, Dyeing Shame, free on Smashwords.  After some time (probably 4 or 5 days), Amazon price-matched it.   And the book was downloaded over 85,000 times in December.  (Yes, it briefly reached number one on the free charts.) 

I really can’t explain why it rose so high on the charts.  It might have had something to do with the fact that the book had some decent reviews previously (and real reviews….good and bad and lukewarm.)  It might have to do with the fact that my name isn’t too obscure on Amazon and is connected to traditionally published books (but…this somehow seems less-likely to me.)

Sales did start to increase for the other two self-published books in the series.  I ended up the month with a decent-enough 1,089 books  sold for the month.

What I’ve noticed for January, though, is that sales have continued and are stronger from last month.  I’ve kept the book free (why not?)  and so far I’ve had 1272 sales for the month (as of this moment...writing this post a couple of days before the end of January) and over 25,500 more downloads of the freebie. 

The takeaway from this experiment (the experiment of keeping something free for longer) is that the impact of the free book on the other books in the series may be stronger the following month (although it doesn’t seem to be terrible for the first month, either.)

I’d remarked to my husband that I was seeing good sales as the result of the free promotion and he frowned.  “You’ve got a book listed for free?  Is it a weaker book?”

I explained that it was actually a stronger book.  It was supposed to tempt readers into buying the other books. 

“You’re giving a good book away for free?”

And I know there’s not a lot of logic in that for many people in the business world.  My husband wasn’t really onboard with the whole idea.  But…it does seem to work.

Will it always work? Is this always the best course?  Is this something I’ll continue doing?  This industry is changing so quickly that I really couldn’t say.  What’s a good approach today isn’t always a good approach tomorrow.

Have you ever run a free book promo?  Would you? If you have, did you have any success with it?

Image: Flickr: Poornomore