Thursday 28 February 2013

Lessons in Indie Publishing: Free books and the mystery of Amazon rankings

Six months ago I indie published my first backlist series (Matty Horse and Pony Adventures) and worked very hard indeed to promote the titles, especially since I donate all the royalties from this series to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.  I took part in the Amazon free promotions to gain attention for the books and encourage reviews.  I'm not sure how successful this was, but after months of work the books are selling steadily in the UK,with few sales in the US and other territories.  When the books were on free promo I contacted the various sites that will highlight this and listed the books.

Very recently, I published another backlist title called Beware of the Horse and offered it free for 2 days. I did no promotion whatsoever for this on Day 1, other than tell my partner.  To my utter astonishment, the free offer resulted in downloads in all Amazon territories (a first!).  On Day 1 the book was listed as No 22 in teen literature fiction e-books in Top 100 bestseller category

and already has one review (4 star)  and in the UK, it made No 9 on the Kindle children's ebook (animals) category for Top 100 free bestsellers.  These categories are updated HOURLY.

I'm utterly baffled.  I should hasten to add that although listed in the best seller category the books have been downloaded a total of 255 in all territories, so not even in the 1000s.  But obviously I am thrilled that it made those lists because it brings the books to more people's attention when they are in those Amazon  categories.  Is it the cover design?  Chapter titles?

So what is the lesson I have learnt?  Well, when I started to write this post it was about the value of free promos - what is the point?  There is a thought-provoking blog post about this topic by Russell Blake over at which discusses how useful the KDP Select free program is for authors, and whether or not Amazon has changed the algorithm so free downloads count as even less towards ranking on the popularity lists.

"From what I can tell, free now has 5% or less of the impact on ranking than it originally did, meaning that if you don’t land in the Top 40, you won’t see any bump in sales. I believe this is because Amazon dislikes free as much as many authors do. It served its purpose, but now it’s hurting sales and has created an environment where a certain segment of readers no longer buy books they might have, preferring to download free books instead........On December 27, there were 43K books free. You’re reading that correctly. 40 might see a post-free bump in sales. The other 42,960 titles won’t, and the authors either wasted their time or saturated their own market and diminished their likelihood of selling anything."

This got me thinking.  Can you saturate your own market?  I believe you can.  Can offering free books harm rather than help actual sales?  I will be monitoring actual paid sales of my latest title with great interest.  So far, it's still in the top 40 for paid ebooks in its own category and the US sales to date are more than any of my 6 other ebooks combined.  I'm puzzled, but not complaining.  And I'd really like to know what has happened that has achieved this result so I can duplicate it!

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