Amazon’s KDP Select Promo Books – Free? or Folly?

Listing an e-book on Amazon for Free – a benefit of enrollment in Amazon’s KDP Select program – can be fun, and stressful. There’s also heated debate over the practice of authors giving their books away.

Why would someone work hard to write a book, pay for editorial services, design and pay for cover art, then turn around and give their work away for free?

I’ve heard from both sides of the fence, and during one heated discussion on a social media site, someone added that “real” publishers don’t even do this.

Dear reader, I avoid public conflict as much as possible on social media, so when I heard this, I calmly put my pink light-saber of engagement aside and backed off from that flame war waiting to happen. Then I came here to blog about it, instead!

Has anyone ever heard of Harlequin/Mills & Boon, mega-imprint of sweet and spicy category romance? HMB still offers FREE books to customers as an enticement to get them to subscribe to their monthly reader club – and have been doing so for decades. Here’s a Free books offer card from back in 1991 for your review:

Claim card for reader to get Free books and a 20 inch necklace as a gift!

They were even giving away jewelry!

And here’s a current offer card for 2013 – they’ve upped the ante to 2 FREE gifts along with 2 free books:

And how about those folks at the Doubleday Book Club? They offer books to potential subscribers at discounted rates. Five books for 99 cents is their current promo to get readers to commit to buying more discounted books – and they’ve been doing promos like this for decades.

The other day I walked into a Barnes and Noble bookstore and rock me, Amadeus! There was a bargain table of discounted books by NYT Bestselling authors up for grabs. On sale! Bargain priced! Oh my hell. How can this be happening?

Well, it does happen. A lot. Every day. For years I’d subscribed to the above reader clubs and am familiar with what’s out there as far as book clubs, subscriptions and enticements go. Exposure to these book clubs as a reader/subscriber also helped guide my promo efforts when it came to marketing my own books.

Exhibit A: This is the book that went Free in late December/early January. At this time, it’s 99 cents, sale-priced on Amazon, but it’s normally $2.99.

 After its spin on the Free list, I kept it sale-priced at under a buck because it started selling well, and I want as many people to read this Maui romance at the bargain price that it’s listed. I’ve been criticized for pricing this novel-length book at 99 cents – but again, I’m a booklover, reader, writer and I know that I stand a better chance of readers taking a risk on a new author by offering an enticement.

Exhibit B: When we published the 2nd book in the collection, Doctor, Doctor enjoyed a nice gallop around the paddocks of Amazon’s bestsellers list for Humor>Doctors and Medicine at a price tag of 2.99.  It’s not been placed on a Free promo, and the price has not increased, or been reduced.

What does it mean to launch books under an Indie flag? It means I’m the writer, publisher, marketer, promoter, retailer/book-seller and captain of my publishing destiny. I have to drum up sales on my own. I don’t have a built in subscriber base for my books, yet here’s this opportunity to sell my books in the same market as other, more well-known authors.

The downside to this gig is how to get my books to stand apart from books put out by the big guns.

One of the tools is price. My books stood to be shelved next to other well-known authors books that were priced in the 3.50 to 5 dollar range.

What I didn’t have are audio-book and paperback versions of my Indie works like other publisher-backed authors have. As I’m an unknown in the great scheme of things, I didn’t have a problem pricing my book less than, for example, a USA Today bestseller.

I felt comfortable pricing my e-books in the 99 cent to $2.99 range. As a side note, I chose the Amazon store to place them in because my contracted (erotica romance) books are there as well. The thought of also getting paid for book borrows was a nice plus to keep my Indie books exclusive with KDP Select.

Another e-book promo strategy was KDP Select’s Free promo days. Love it, hate it, agree, disagree or are indifferent to it, it’s there. Big name publishers and small-press/digital publishers are now letting authors in on this strategy, too. Free promo days can bounce an unknown author’s book onto the same page alongside books by other well-known authors.

Serialized books and collections seem to benefit from this. If an author offers the first book in his/her series for free or at a discount, the reduced cost gives some readers an incentive to give the book, and the unknown author, a try. If the reader likes the first book, they may consider paying for the second in the series. Or not.

Again, no guarantees in this business.

Years ago a lovely lady with no business experience tried her hand at her own cookie company start-up. To raise interest in her scrumptious cookies, she went around one day giving her cookies away. Passing them out. That woman is known as entrepreneur Debbi Fields.

By giving samples of her luscious, thick, chewy-gooey chocolate chip cookies away, she whet the public’s appetite for more. I remember standing in line in her newly opened San Francisco shop at Pier 39. The line went right out to the sidewalk, and those rich, buttery cookie smells were free! Here’s a Mrs. Black‘s chocolate chip cookie to treat your eyes to. (I dust the cookie doughball lightly with cinnamon before baking)

“We’re talking books here, not cookies, Lelani,” you sharply remind me.

It still comes down to having a product that we want to sell, yes? When shoppers go to a brick and mortar store and see items on sale, the savings may tempt them to browse through other items. When shoppers see sale items in front of the store, other items in stock can and do catch their eye.

An author doesn’t need a degree in business to market. A reader doesn’t need special training to know what they like in a story. But offering freebies and discounting books to move and sell is a practice that publishers and book sellers employ all the time – and have been doing so for decades.

There are a lot of readers that avoid Free books like the plague and won’t download them. There are readers that are skeptical of 99 cents books. No problem. They just don’t buy them.

Going Indie is not the answer for every author, but one benefit I saw to being Independent was that I could control the price tag on my books. I could put them on sale if I wanted to, or give a book away during controlled spurts.

But (putting on my book-seller’s hat) pricing isn’t enough. Price alone doesn’t sell books!

It’s quality, category pick, genre, book visibility, word of mouth, writing-style, timing and reviews. It’s luck, book cover, book title, blurb, theme, reader budget and yes, reader whim! So many factors that can help sell a book…or keep it from selling.

The market is so dynamic right now it doesn’t hurt to try new things. Strategy-pricing is a tool at an Indie’s disposal. Yes, there’s a sea of Freebies, but prior to e-readers, there was a sea of unsold paperbacks that, after their prime months on store shelves, would get remaindered and sent back to the publishers (at the publisher’s expense!) so booksellers could make room for new releases. Today’s Indie author can have his or her e-book on virtual shelves indefinitely. Wheee!

There are readers out there armed with the power to amass thousands of books, free and paid for. They’re wielding their e-readers like deadly weapons, feeding their Frankensteins.

Okay, being serious now…tapping finger on chin… Giveaways and free books can stimulate interest in an author’s work, or a particular book, or a line of books, or a genre. Stimulating interest is not easy, either. I’ve done book giveaways on my blog, and on other authors blogs – with no takers. The fact is, if there’s no interest, an author will struggle to even give his or her book away.

Thoughts: Book lovers find the means and the ways to buy books, even with a feast of Freebies saturating the market. No doubt some readers will cut back on book purchases because of the availability of Freebies, but it boils down to each individual reader’s choice and preference to do so.

Till next time, thanks for stopping by and as always happy reading, and writing!

This entry was posted in Erotica, Fiction, New Books, Promoting, Romance, Romance Writers, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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