When the Amazon KDP Select program first came out towards the end of 2011, people couldn’t say enough good things about it. Some authors were making a killing and getting their books widely read. It seemed that KDP Select was going to be the savior of indie authors everywhere.
Now, just over a year and a half later, things have changed.
For those who want to know the details of Amazon’s KDP Select program, please go here.
Basically, the way KDP Select works is that an author agrees to limit a Kindle ebook (print books do not apply) to Amazon for 90 days at a time.
In exchange for exclusivity, Amazon KDP Select provides the author with a couple of real advantages:
a) Paid borrows. You book becomes available for the Kindle Prime lending program. Kindle Prime members can borrow one title a month. If they borrow one of yours, you get paid, somewhere between 1-2 dollars. With my books priced around three bucks, I consider a borrow a sale. Not bad.
b) Promotions. This is the biggie—or used to be. For up to five days per 90 day period, you can promote by making your Kindle ebook free. The advantages of doing this are that your book is downloaded (hopefully) by thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of new readers and you will rise up the Amazon free lists, to have your book displayed alongside heavy hitters. Your book may also appear in the coveted ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …’ section at the bottom of Amazon book listings. Although Amazon guards their algorithms closely, you are credited about 1/10 of a sale for each free download (as of this post). So, if you give away 5K books, that’s 500 sales, and you (hopefully) will enjoy a post-promotional sales bounce. This bump can last for several weeks after the promo, increasing visibility. Another benefit is that you are reaching new readers and some will write a (hopefully positive) review and, God willing, buy your other work.
The grim truth though is that, since its inception, the KDP Select program has become less effective as more authors use (abuse?) it and readers troll for free ebooks, leaving the paid ones on the digital shelf.
A little over a year ago, when I ran a two-day freebie for my thriller Sendero, I gave away over 7K copies and enjoyed a post-promo bounce of about 100 extra sales and borrows in the two weeks that followed. I also sold more paperbacks. For me this was a significant bump because my book was pushed well past the 100 sales mark (most indie authors sell less than 100 copies of their book) and these were new readers–not friends and family. Some of them were in the UK, a market I had not broken into. Pretty exciting for a new author. Total strangers around the globe were reading and buying my book.
Now, just over a year later, a similar freebie for Sendero generated about half those numbers all around. BUT it did sell copies of my new book (Who Sings to the Dead). Having multiple books is considered key to using the KDP Select program effectively and I personally wouldn’t run a KDP promo without it. Running a promo with only one book in your arsenal may not be a smart strategy.
Today, on any given day, it is estimated that there are over 4K free ebooks available. There are websites dedicated to promoting them. If you want to run an effective promotion, you really need to advertise it. That costs money. With my last promo I didn’t break even with my advertising costs.
Also, very few freebie downloads actually get read. Empty Kindles are getting filled. The estimated number of reads is around 1 per cent. There may be a lot of truth that something for free is not highly valued.
And, as readers become accustomed to free ebooks, many simply wait for a promo and don’t buy. Like the Internet in general, we all expect free content.
If you’re a small indie author, it’s a tough call. Your book can languish, unnoticed, amongst the other two million (a number that is rapidly growing) ebooks on Amazon. In the big scheme of things, with all the millions of Kindles out there, a few thousand free books are nothing, especially if you are reaching new readers.
So, if your book isn’t moving, why not give it a push with KDP? If you do, and you’re a small indie author, best to expect modest results.
Things to consider if you are running your first KDP Select promo:
a) A promo that generates less than 5K downloads is believed to be ineffective with very little post-promo bounce. You may have to run yours for several days to achieve this.
b) Avoid running promos on the weekend and don’t have them finish on a Friday or on the weekend. I know, I thought people would be buying books on Saturdays and Sundays too, when they are relaxing and ready to read, but just the opposite appears to be the case. Readers tend to buy ebooks mid-week—when they’re at work! At lunchtime.
c) Run promos towards the end of the month. This will help Kindle Prime borrowers “see” your book at the beginning of the next month.
d) Important! If your ebook is listed for sale elsewhere, it needs to be taken down. This process can take a few weeks so, if you are planning a KDP promo, allow enough time to notify other etailers. I know one indie author whose promo flopped because she didn’t. She had already notified many sites that her book would be free on Amazon and it wasn’t. Ouch.
e) Don’t over-promote. If you run freebies too often, people won’t buy and will simply wait for the next promo.
f) Advertise: sites like KindeNationDaily and Bookbub (and there are many others) have promo ads you can take out. Without them, it can be tough to get the kind of traction you want.
g) Promote only one book (e.g. first in a series). If readers want to read your other work, they have to loosen the purse strings. Personally, I lean towards this.
h) Use a promo book. I have a collection of short stories I have run for free. Although this doesn’t generate a lot of free downloads, readers can sample my work and I do see sales and exposure on my other two books. If I were a supermarket, I would be loss-leading.
Another strategy, and one I’m going to use in future, is to feature a book at rare intervals for a promotional price of 99 cents. Although this will not generate the number of downloads a free promo will, each sale will be an actual sale and the book will go to a genuine reader.
Who knows what the next phase of indie book promotion will be? We are writing in a time of such rapid technological change that what was a hit a year ago is now collecting dust. But it’s not getting any easier getting your book noticed.
I forgot to mention the best sales strategy of all: write a great book that people want to read.
¡viven los escritores!