The issue of whether you should offer free ebooks for Kindle seems to have many authors scratching their heads. Yes or no?
But with 59 million Google search results a month for find free Kindle books on Amazon, there is definitely a reading market out there for you to leverage.
While I have read many times that some authors are worried about giving away a book for free, it is worth remembering that free books are not a new idea at all.
In fact, it is a very old marketing ploy and one that the book publishing industry has been using for almost ever and a day.
In my work as an English teacher, I am offered a lot of free textbooks every year. When I was a teacher trainer, it was more than 100 free textbooks each year. Getting the right people to use or recommend them is what drives textbook sales.
Hence, teachers, principals, school owners and public servants in the education sector are all targets for free books, as they are all in a position to recommend that students buy these books.
In other words, give free copies to people that can influence your book sales.
It is not dissimilar for fiction publishers. Thousands of copies are sent out to advance readers, newspapers, television stations, radio stations, or in fact, anywhere a little promotion or influence can be garnered.
Advance copies are also sent out to newspapers to try to get the reviews that you see printed on the back of many mainstream published novels.
So what about self-publishers?
The opportunity Amazon gave to self-published authors with KDP Select was a very logical initiative. Five days during every ninety days are available for free ebook promotion.
So, why not use it and do what publishers have been doing forever to promote your kindle ebooks? But of course, you have to enrol in KDP Select and grant Amazon total exclusivity over your ebook, which many self-publishing authors resist.
If you are not in KDP Select and you open publish, there is no restriction on how you can use free ebooks.
Both Smashwords and Draft2Digital allow you to set your selling price to $0.00, and unlike Amazon, do not restrict the period you can offer your ebook for free.
In fact, you can make an ebook permanently free. This is particularly useful for series starter ebooks.
Remember, this should be viewed in perspective.
Yes, there are those readers who will crawl over broken glass for anything free. But with millions of people owning Kindle e-readers now, and many more using free Kindle reading apps, a few hundred ebooks given away is not very many.
Take note, though, that when you make an ebook free through Smashwords or Draft2Digital that your ebook listed for sale on Amazon will not be available for free on Kindle.
The only way to offer free ebooks on Kindle is by enrolling in KDP Select and granting exclusivity for your ebook to Amazon.
Yes, but not as directly as for mainstream publishers.
By offering free ebooks on Kindle, or through Smashwords or Draft2Digital, you are hoping to get your ebook into the hands of book bloggers, book reviewers and readers who may post a review of your book on either their blogs or if you are lucky, on Amazon directly.
Gaining some new readers is all well and good but isn’t finding influencers better?
If you think about this, next time you plan on offering your ebooks for free, wouldn’t it be a better idea to notify some of these influencers in advance?
By leveraging social media, you can do this. Try to connect with as many book bloggers, book reviewers, avid readers and small press publishers on social media as you can.
But be careful to find bloggers and reviewers who are interested in your genre. If you publish science fiction, don’t expect romance book bloggers to be interested.
Then build a list of those you can notify just before you have a free ebook offer. Ask nicely, and don’t forget to include a link to your free ebook so it’s easy to find.
So does free ebook promotion work, whether on Kindle, Kobo, Apple or B&N?
What free promotion does is help in building name recognition. “Oh him? Yes, I just read one of his books.” It doesn’t matter how the reader got the book, word of mouth is gold.
Think also about how you acquire books to read. It’s not just books that you buy that you read.
Perhaps a book borrowed from someone or a library. A book you found at work. A book you found in your attic or in a second-hand bookstore.
Maybe you have downloaded an ebook from Project Gutenberg or you use the offer of a free ebook each month with Amazon Prime.
Or perhaps, a free book from the Kindle Store. When and why do you download free books?
Do you react to a daily email offering a list of free ebooks?
I can only relate my experience over the years of using both KDP Select and open publishing to offer free ebooks.
Yes, free ebooks do help boost visibility, name recognition, attracting new readers and of course, helping gain a few reviews and real sales.
Series starters offered for free are by far the most productive, and profitable, and can often be left permanently free.
As with all things, however, moderation is the key.
In the end, you want real sales, so don’t get carried away with offering free ebooks for extended periods of time without having a clear idea or plan about what you want to achieve.
Free Kindle books on Amazon should only be one small part of your overall book marketing plans.
It is also worth considering that fewer people buy a Kindle device now because of the popularity of smartphone or tablet reading.
On top of that, more and more ebook readers are using Kindle Unlimited so they have little reason to be attracted to a freebie. The same goes for Prime members, who get a free ebook every month with their membership.
It’s becoming a tough market now, so always diversify your book promotion activities as much as you possibly can and continue to look for new opportunities.