Free Kindle ebooks sell ebooks in the end through a complex algorithm that Amazon uses to calculate an individual ebook’s sales rank. In simple terms, each free ebook that is downloaded counts towards the ebook’s sales ranking.
Amazon does not give precise details on their Free book promotions page, apart from this broad explanation.
“The Amazon Best Sellers calculation is based on Amazon.com sales and is updated hourly to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on Amazon.com.
Your book will drop in sales rank in the paid list from the time your free promotion begins to the time it ends. However, since sales rank takes previous sales into account as well as recent sales, your previous paid rank will influence your new rank when your book enters the paid categories again.”
A short history of Kindle free ebooks
In the very early days of Kindle Direct Publishing, one book for free carried the same sales weight as a paid sale. This created a silly situation where you could become a bestselling author overnight without selling a book.
This was changed quite quickly, however, and over time, the value of a free ebook against a real sale dropped to 50% and then later to 10%.
Unfortunately, Amazon does not give precise weighting percentages now in their help pages. Well, not that I could find anyway. All I could find was this brief mention regarding the effect of Kindle free ebooks on sales ranking.
“In the Kindle Store, the Best Sellers Rank is divided into Free and Paid lists. If you enrol in KDP Select, your book will have a ranking in the Free list during its free promotional period.
Once the free promotion is over, your book’s previous Paid rank will influence its new rank when it enters the Paid categories again.”
With so little hard information to go on, understanding how Kindle free ebooks sell ebooks is difficult to calculate.
The only measure I have been able to rely on to any degree is my own overall Author ranking on Amazon, which always seems to fluctuate in line with the number of ebooks that I give away free of charge.
Of course, I can only use Kindle free ebook promotion if I have my book listed in KDP Select. In the graph below, it is very clear that I enrolled in KDP Select in May, and exited in early late October.
My ranking dropped immediately at the beginning of November, as did my sales, as soon as I could not offer Kindle free ebooks any longer.
Unfortunately, I cannot access this graph over a five year period. But it would show the other periods when I have had all my ebooks enrolled in KDP Select and the same increase in both ranking and sales during my previous enrollment periods.
While it certainly is not hard data that can prove conclusively whether free Kindle books help sell ebooks, all I can say is that from my own experience, they do.
As you can also see in the graph above, my ranking nosedived at the end of October.
Due to this, I have now returned some of my ebooks to KDP Select. The very first free ebook I offered for free, which was a romance book, ranked very well at #6 in a very competitive genre.
This, of course, will boost my ebook’s paid ranking a little when it goes back to paid, which will hopefully lead to real sales.
Over the years, my rule of thumb has been that if I can get a free ebook into the top 10 free ebooks in its genre, sales will almost certainly follow.
One point to consider, however, is that some genres perform better than others.
While self-help, science fiction and young adult ebooks tend to do quite well, memoirs and historical novels may not.
Another consideration is that I believe Amazon Prime members can still get one free ebook per month, which may help, but I have no data on this issue.
Another factor to consider about free ebooks is the misconception that by giving away an ebook, it is losing a sale.
This is not true at all because Kindle owners who download free ebooks would not have bought it, and quite likely, won’t even read it.
But by simply downloading a copy to a Kindle or one of Amazon’s Kindle reading apps, they help give my sales rank a small boost, which in turn helps ebook sales.
So yes, it can be a good deal and it is why free Kindle ebooks can sell ebooks.
But there are some difficulties that Amazon now have in place that make it difficult or readers to find a list of free ebooks. It is not easy to find free Kindle books on Amazon, even with advanced search.
While Kindle Unlimited, Kindle book deals, Kindle singles and prime reading bestsellers are all easy to find in the menu, free Kindle ebooks are not.
But when readers search for books in their preferred genre, they will see free ebooks in their search result list. It’s a stumble upon the result method, but it still works.
So do free ebooks help sell ebooks? Yes, but it is a much harder road today than it was a few years ago.
Related reading: How You Can Offer An Easy Free Ebook Download To Readers