Free Kindle Ebooks – Do They Help Generate Real Book Sales?
Does giving away free Kindle ebooks 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 an 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.
How readers find free ebooks
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 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.
But if you hunt, you can find the top 100 free titles, plus another concise list of Limited Time Offers.
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 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.
It’s an old 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.
Copy the old model
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 to build 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 KDP Select 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.
Related Reading: How To Post Book Covers On Social Media To Attract Attention
15 thoughts on “Free Kindle Ebooks – Do They Help Generate Real Book Sales?”
Hi. Interesting to read your post and glad you approve of free book give aways. When I went on the Amazon author comment system to ask about what seemed like a sudden change in the response we were getting with my mom’s book on this, I actually had people there tell me that I was dreaming if I thought there was such a thing as “free promotion.” Since — in the past — I had always had a fabulous response from the free promotions, and since Amazon does offer them to their exclusive authors, I thought that was a pretty strange response.
Anyway, I found your blog because I was specifically looking to solve a mystery having to do with how the free promotion has behaved recently. I manage my mom’s book which for a first time self-published author has done pretty well all things considered. She got a starred review from Blue Ink and was chosen also as a “book of the month” for self-published books in the American Library Review newsletter. Anyway, marking her book as free for five days every period always produced real results — lots of downloads, in the dozens and sometimes over a hundred, and always a few spinoff sales sometimes even of the paperback version. It was always fun to look at the charts in the morning and see how much activity there was overnight — until last spring.
Then for the first time we did a free book promotion and got ZERO downloads let alone sales. Same thing happened for our Labor Day promotion (we always have done long weekend/holiday promotions in the past whenever they fell within the 3-month period) and same thing now recently for our Christmas promotion: ZERO downloads. So something has changed on Amazon and I can’t figure out what. I am glad you seem to still be having good luck with the promotions. We make not a large but at least a semi-decent number of sales annually without the promotion and get quite a few page reads from Amazon prime members. We have gotten very good reader response on Amazon and Goodreads — average about 4.7 with quite a few actual reviews from verified customers. So it’s hard to figure out why the sudden drastic change.
I’m not sure what could have changed, Mary.
I haven’t done a giveaway for a long time. But I just checked Amazon and free Kindle books seem to be working the same as they always have.
A search for “free Kindle books” brings up over 60,000 results.
Also, the bestsellers still show the top 100 free Kindle titles.
So everything looks normal to me. But that’s not to say that Amazon hasn’t changed something.
This is a great blog article and I agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve tried everything over the last three years as a self-published author, and have found that stacking my free book days on KDP with promotion on Freebooksy and/or other similar sites (typically stacking multiple different sites together on the same day), leads to LOTS of downloads, lots of reviews, and an odd-week of additional sales after the free book offer ends. A high percentage of the readers then do go on to read (and pay for) books 2 and 3 in the series, so it has proven to be the best marketing tool. Running a free book day on Amazon with no outside promotion or ads leads to very few downloads. Combining outside promotion with a free book day has led to the best results. I do wonder though, do you have any sense of how many people who download free books to their Kindle actually read them? If 500 people download a book, how many actually read the free download, or do they just gobble up titles just in case they want to read in the future?
Very few people who download free ebooks read them, Marc. That’s why you need lots of downloads when you do a free ebook campaign. But it seems you have got the idea and you are going wider and promoting your KDP campaigns well.
The underlying truth is that Amazon/Kindle is a vanity press. Most of the money made is off aspiring authors. It’s takes a huge budget and a marketing machine to get books into meaningful venues, such as retail stores. Don’t kid yourself.
I paid for a relatively cheap promotion, ran my five free days at Amazon, and gave away almost 900 free books. My sales rank jumped, and I did get a paid boost afterwords, although slight. I don’t think I could have generated this many free downloads without the paid service. The free books haven’t generated any reviews, though. I’m still hopeful! I’ll definitely do something along these lines again. Thanks for the advice, as usual.
I’ve got 3 free days coming up at the end of the week. Didn’t get me any more sales last time but I didn’t have any reviews then and I’d registered it with a lot fewer promo sites. I’ll be interested to see the difference.
I have had 123 downloads from all over the world on my free promotion to my ebook on Amazon, not one person has left me a review, even though i placed a hyperlink and asked for reviews at the end of my ebook to the kindle review site.
Question: if you ask your launch team to download the Kindle ebook before the hard launch to leave reviews…do they have to have a Kindle to do so…or can they simply download to their computer or phone
After just making my first book available for free that’s a reassuring view, thank you! After the first couple of days I don’t seem to have had many hits on the book though. Even for free it seems hard to get noticed in the vast market! Would you advise running a paid ad at the same time as a free download campaign, essentially paying people to read your book, in hope of developing sales later down the line?
Try anything, Kris! Then evaluate what works best for you.
Dear Mr Haines,
Thank you very much for your posts. As a relatively newbie to indie writing I have found your knowledgeable advice to be invaluable.
Thank you, Penelope. I’m very pleased to hear you find my blog informative,
Interesting! How many copies of eBooks have you given away for free?
Is it more than the number of sales of the same book?
I have no idea how many ebooks I have given away over the years, Charles. A lot! And yes, it is far more than the number of sales I have made. But as I said in the article, it is free promotion. I never look at it as a lost sale, but a free way to promote my books, and probably more importantly, to improve my book rankings, which definitely does help in gaining real sales.
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