Does giving away free books work? Every self-publishing author asks this question.
In my case, I think I have asked myself this question at least one thousand times.
Over the years, I must have given away more ebooks than I dare contemplate. I have used Amazon KDP Select and Smashwords and even turned a couple of ebooks into perma-free for some time.
Of course, I have tried 1,001 other means of book promotion. But after years of trial and error, mostly error, I can say this. Based on return on investment, giving away free books is an economical and viable means of book promotion.
Free can be effective ebook promotion
Why give away my work for free?
It is expensive to use Bookbub to promote your ebooks. Facebook Ads, Google Ads, Goodreads Ads, and paid book promotion sites are costly too.
But giving away a few, or a hundred, or even a few thousand ebooks costs you nothing.
But the benefits are real. Firstly, on KDP, free ebooks help push your book and author ranking a little higher. It can make your ebook more discoverable to paying readers.
Maybe not to N0.1, but when spread out over each KDP Select 90-day period, it does help stop your book ranking from sliding.
Free ebooks are a proven way to get book reviews.
It’s easy to think that a free ebook is a lost sale, but this is not necessarily true.
To find free Kindle ebooks, a reader does have to hunt just a little. But those who hunt are often book bloggers or reviewers who are looking for free ebooks to write about.
Then there are those readers who ONLY download free ebooks. Perhaps, young readers, who would probably rarely make a purchase anyway.
If they add comments or reviews about the free ebooks they read on Goodreads, it’s worthwhile.
Even better, if they post an Amazon book review; then the free ebook was a good investment.
If you have a book series, a free first in the series ebook is a cost-effective way to attract new paying readers.
The other benefit is in post-promotion sales. Don’t ask me why, because I have never figured this one out myself. But after (almost) every giveaway, my sales jump over the next few days, or even up to a week.
One possible new benefit is that a free ebook may encourage a Kindle Unlimited subscriber to read another one of my ebooks. Then it would become a paying read.
Compared to the other main KDP Select promotional tool, Kindle Countdown Deals, I must say that I haven’t found them to be as productive as free ebooks.
Probably because discounting an ebook is not as attractive as free.
So, to answer my original question. Yes, free Kindle ebooks do work in attracting sales, and it is a zero-cost way of doing so.
Make your ebook free
Amazon Kindle books are the most popular free ebooks online.
If you are a self-published author and you are enrolled in KDP Select, you are probably offering your books for free for five days every three months.
For authors and publishers open-publishing with an aggregator such as Draft2Digital or Smashwords, you can easily set the price of your ebooks to zero.
On top of these choices, do you know that you can also self-publish on Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press to make your book available forever free?
Another way to make your book free is to offer a free ebook download from your WordPress website or blog. It is a terrific way to ask for a reader’s email address to help build your mailing list.
There are so many ways to make online books free, but that is the easy part.
Giving away free books is competitive
With so many great books and now an increasing number of audiobooks available with some free book apps, it makes free a competitive market.
If you need a taste of how competitive it is, LifeWire has a list of 25 sites where readers can get free Kindle ebooks.
When you plan to offer your book for free as a loss leader, how are you going to help readers find it?
If you think readers on Amazon will jump at the chance, forget it.
Trying to find free Kindle books on Amazon is nearly impossible. There is no quick link or search function for free ebooks.
If you are in KDP Select and use the free days in the hope of giving away hundreds of copies and getting some book reviews, then good luck.
Here’s a quick calculation based on the approximately 1.4 million titles in KDP Select. If most use the five free days available, it equates to about 10,000 free ebooks being available every day.
If your reason for offering your books for free is to increase your book ranking and to attract more sales, you need to do some work.
You need to promote free ebooks
It is truly perverse. The only way to give away books is to spend a lot of time, energy, and perhaps money encouraging readers to grab your book while it is free.
A whole new industry has sprung up because of this need.
Two well-known services are Bookbub and Freebooksy. Depending on the genre of your book and the type of promotion you buy, it can cost you anywhere up to $700.
That is quite a lot of money to spend on promoting, just to allow readers to download free ebooks.
I must admit that my preference is to promote books to sell books and not to give them away.
But it is a choice. If you want to sell books or give them away, you have to promote, promote, and promote.
Then cross your fingers and hope for the best.
A better and proven strategy
Giving away free books is nothing new.
It has been an integral part of book publishing for decades upon decades to help get early book sales of a new title.
Beta readers are a vital part of the publishing process, so they get the first copies.
Their task is to check that there are no little typos or errors that the editing and proofreading process might have missed.
Publishers have and still do send out hundreds of advance reader copies before a new title is released for sale.
Most publishers send copies to news media in the hope of getting a newspaper review. You don’t think the New York Times buys new release books, do you?
The goal behind this step-by-step strategy is to get book reviews before your release date. And then try to build some hype around a new book and boost book sales in the first few weeks.
Self-publishers can and should use the same strategy. There are many ways to provide pre-release copies in ebook form for beta readers.
You can offer a pre-release ebook version download for your blog readers. For local media and newspapers, it is possible with print-on-demand paperbacks to send them a hard copy.
All it takes is a bit of planning before you rush into publishing. Keep in mind that your end aim is to get people to buy ebooks.
You can use Calibre to get your book into epub, mobi, and pdf file types to send to readers or offer as a download on your site.
For a print book, start the publishing process, but don’t release your book, only order proof copies.
By using this method, you are aiming at building hype for your book. Rewarding your blog readers with a free ebook or proof copy can only help you get book reviews.
Local newspapers often have a section promoting books by local authors. It is excellent publicity if you can get it.
The best part of it is that you are not competing with thousands and thousands of free books online.
You are targeting readers within your sphere of influence, and it has a much better chance of succeeding in getting you book reviews and real sales.
Do free ebooks work?
Yes, perhaps. But only if you have a clear plan about how it will benefit you and your book.
The best time to use them is before you publish, and maybe for a week or two after you release your book.
The only exception might be a free series starter. If you have published a book series, offering book one for free or even perma-free is a strategy that many authors use.
Using a scattergun approach with no backup promotion, such as KDPS free on Amazon, months and months later, is a bit of a wish and a hope. Another downside is that it could cost you possible sales.
As with any promotion or book marketing plan, the worst mistake you can make is not to have one.
The two most important questions you can ask yourself are why am I offering my books for free, and what do I want in return?
If you can answer these questions, then you can then monitor the success of your free ebook promotions.