KDP Select & 5 Day Free Observations

The month of December is almost over, and the one thing that I’ve read over and over is that December Kindle ebook sales took a nose dive this month.  It showed up all over the web, but as of right now there is no explanation if this is a market blip, or something else.  I’m thinking something else called…

The 5 DAYS FREE promo.

I think it royally messed with Christmas kindle sales for authors.  The most complaints have come from Indie authors who priced their ebooks below $2.99. It provided direct competition for those who are shopping based on price.  I mean, FREE is a pretty good price, right?

The 5 DAYS FREE promo was released with the KDP Select Program earlier in Dec. 2011.  Basically, the author can promote their book for FREE for 5 days over a 90-day period.  It’s one of the perks of of the KDP Select program. During the 90-days, the author’s book is also added to the Kindle Lending Library where Prime Members can borrow the ebook for free.

There has been excessive chatter on the KDP boards about a sudden surge in promotional sales when the book is free. But the bubble bursts as soon as the free period is over, and then the book resumes its regular position. Or worse.  It’s an emotional roller coaster for an author to see their book’s sales rank at 250,000, and then watch it jump up to #147 in the Kindle store, only to fall back to where it was after the promotion.

Several authors reported that their book sales were worse than before they did the 5 days free promo.  Their book didn’t even go back to the ranking it was at before offering the ebook for free.  That really sucks.  Here’s an explanation as to why that might be:  As stated in a previous post, each author has a network of people who are willing and able to purchase the author’s book.  Most authors have approx 200 people in this network that includes friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances.

So you take your awesome ebook, and put it up for free via the 5 days free promotional tool.  You go from selling a small trickle, to a whopping 1500 books!  Exciting, right?  Well, maybe not.  It’s possible that you just shot your sales in the head.  You might notice a little statistical issue.  The people who would normally purchase your book for 99 cents, can get it for free. By using the 5 Days Free promo, the author used up his 200 people network, and now all the people who were going to buy the book have it.  And you didn’t get paid.  Now the author has to wait to see if any of these freebie shoppers read the book, like it, and bother to recommend it to anyone.  Your ebook can’t hit a second wave of readers until that happens.  And it could take time, if it happens at all.

Free books tend to attract book collectors who pack their kindles full of stuff.  Some are self-proclaimed ebook hoarders, while others are the cheap-o-ramas that leave 1 star reviews because they don’t like your name.  Both types are interesting folks who lurk under bridges and bake bones in their bread.  (Fe fi fo fum – Billy Goats Gruff!) Okay, maybe not that extreme, but I think the hoarders are funny.  They are preparing for the Apocalypse by stuffing their kindles full of free stuff.  Meanwhile, I’m wondering where I’d plug in my Kindle at the end of the world.  I don’t think stuffing a candle into it will work.  I’m not a visionary, I guess.

Anyway, as for KDP Select and the lending library, it’s still too early to tell how that’s going. We should know shortly. Either way, there have been reports of slumped ebook sales all over the web this month.  Which is majorly weird because holidays are times when people are stuffing their ereaders full of books.  As for B&N sales – mine tripled this month.  Not sure if it’s cause everyone jumped ship over there at PubIt! or what.  That makes me think that this isn’t a market blip, but an Amazon blip.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with ebook sales on Amazon in January.


About HM Ward

New York Times, Wall Street Journal, & USA Today bestselling author.
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5 Responses to KDP Select & 5 Day Free Observations

  1. Jill says:

    I just want to give my opinion on the free books. While I don’t consider myself an e-book hoarder (that is hilarious BTW!), I do like to download a lot of different books while they are free. I think it’s beneficial when an author already has a few sequels out. That way, when I read the free one and love it, I go ahead and purchase the other books in the series. This is just my experience with free books but I get what you are saying (in general.)

  2. You are brilliant! And this post was awesome! It’s funny how Jill started off by saying she wasn’t an ebook hoarder, then described her behavior (which was exactly what your definition of ebook hoarding was) ! Ha ha!

    (Warning: This is lengthy, but please forgive it. I am just so angered about this Select stuff. Please bare with me.)

    If what you suggest is true about the slump in ebook sales due to KDP Select, then I think I believe you. Hmm. And common sense suggests that Amazon knew the sales slump would happen to authors outside of Select due to the free ebooks there. That way they could kind of punish those that didn’t sign up AND promote Amazon Prime with one stroke.

    I don’t know if you’ve read this thread left by a Select member on 1-2-12. One commentor said there are now 5 million authors signed up in the program and they can expect to earn 10 cents from each download. I don’t know if that’s truth or myth now, but it sounds pretty dismal. One writer on this thread said their book was borrowed 5 times. They said they actually sold more BEFORE than the number of borrows they’ve received through Select.


    Anyway, one of them said it hurt that people wouldn’t spend 99 cents on his ebook but 1,400 downloaded it for free. That proves my point. All this person, for example, is doing is admitting their work isn’t even worth 99 cents. Instead of revamping the damn ebook, he hit rock bottom by giving it away. Why would anyone BORROW a book that only costs 99 cents????

    It should tell the author they don’t want to spend any money. Hence, they are NOT going to spend money on the 2nd book in a series, they are going to search for another free ebook, of which there are millions now. A large chunk of self published KDP Select authors have buried (sp?) themselves in a hole in which they will not be able to get paid for their work. They were already on 99 cents and now they’re on FREE. Where else are they going to go from FREE? It’s the bottom now. Nowhere left to go. Guess they’ll start paying Amazon customers to read their books. I’m serious! I wouldn’t be surprised.

    P.S. Again, please excuse the length of this post. This whole Select topic angers me because I feel it has an impact on the entire industry. I feel like everybody is watching this, and SP authors just screwed up royally by joining Select without even trying to negotiate a better contract or anything.

    Also, I don’t want to sound mean but this is how I feel: I don’t feel very proud to be a sp writer lately. I’m proud of my own work, but I’m starting to feel ashamed to be lumped in with this large group of people (you know who I mean) I feel are desperate and amateurish (sp?).

    I can now see clearly one of the reasons why Amanda Hocking may have jumped ship to be with a traditional publisher. You don’t earn much money but at least she’s rubbing elbows with professionals like Meg Cabot and Stephenie Meyer- writers who will not beg to give their work away for free. Nor do they have to. Nor will they ever.

  3. antaeusq says:

    Free’s a promotional tool. Consider your goals before you embark on a promotion. Free can help spread your name and work to new readers, to provide a network effect to move other works, or it can help you climb a chart with nothing else to show for it.

  4. Free as a promotional tool makes me raise an eyebrow. Its not the best means of spreading your name about. It can actually be damaging as it negatively affects your brand. There have been tons of post to date in KDP forums about people doing very well with the free promos, but I’m not seeing many people profiting from it. I’m sure someone will be screaming at the top of their internet lungs as soon as it happens.

    • antaeusq says:

      I’m glad the promotional days are limited on Amazon. Otherwise, it would be a quick race to the bottom for that platform. Metering how much we’re allowed to give away helps maintain value for everyone. I appreciate what you have to say about damaging a brand by giving away products. People tend to equate value with price, which is unfortunate.

      I’d say, experiment, be cautious, and pull back if something’s not working for you. Ultimately, people will judge your work on the basis of quality, especially since they will spend most of the time in your story and not contemplating price.

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