I promised to follow up with a more detailed post regarding my recent free book giveaway – so, here’s the skinny…

On the 30th July I ran a campaign with the fine folks over at Bookbub. I shifted (or, more accurately, they shifted) a little over 60,000 copies of Panic, the first novel in the Leopold Blake series of thrillers, and the title hit the number 1 spot in the US Kindle Store, hovering around the top for five days. A lot of authors have been questioning whether a campaign like this will make any difference to paid sales since Amazon started penalizing affiliates for pushing too many free titles, so I’ve got some results to share with you that may or may not give you an answer.

First of all, here’s a breakdown of the effect the giveaway had on paid sales:

Panic (Book #1 in the Leopold Blake series) Paid Sales

Average sales per day before the promotion: 2
Average sales per day during the 7 days since the promotion ended: 28

So, nothing too spectacular there. But, what’s more interesting, is how my other title performed during and after the campaign. Here’s another breakdown:

Departed (Book #2 in the Leopold Blake series) Paid Sales

Average sales per day before the promotion: 3
Average sales per day during the 5 day promotion of Panic: 29
Average sales per day in the 7 days since the promotion ended: 34

On its best day, the 24 hours following the end of the promotion, Panic sold 55 copies. On Departed’s best day, the title sold 48 copies (again, within the first 24 hours after the promotion ended). Overall, I’ve made around $1,300 in the last 10 days. The Bookbub advertisement cost $140 (now $180).

Panic enjoyed a bestseller ranking of 3,400 and is now hovering around 8,000. Departed topped out at 2,900 and is now holding steady at around 5,000. Both titles have been in roughly the same ranking position for the past few days. Both books are in the top 50 or top 20 of their categories (each title has several categories of varying competition).

But what about other benefits? As well as increased sales, I’ve had the following:

Increased web traffic to my blog and author website – taking this blog up into the top 500k ranking on Alexa (which is nothing to be sniffed at).
60 signups to my “New Releases” email list
11 new book reviews (mostly 4 and 5 stars, a couple of bad ones)

So, all in all, that’s a definite win for Bookbub. But what does this mean for free ebooks as a selling tool?

While I’ve had some solid numbers, the results are hardly “blow me away” spectacular. This is hardly surprising, considering the sheer volume of free books out there, but it does mean one thing for authors – if you’re going to use free books to help you gain exposure, you’re going to need to shift A LOT of copies. I mean, you’re going to have to hit the top 20 in the overall charts if you hope to have any chance of a noticeable boost in sales afterwards. I know this because I also ran a free campaign for Departed last month, and only shifted around 6,000 copies – netting me around 10 extra sales the following week. That’s right: 10.

So in conclusion – free promotions do still work, but there is a massive caveat. If you’re not hitting the top 20 and shifting tens of thousands of copies, you’re going to be very disappointed with the results. I suspect many authors will start pulling out of KDP Select as a result and exploring options with Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, etc. And I think this is what Amazon wants to happen, to reduce the number of free titles to a more manageable level and make it less enticing for authors to give away their work – after all, how is Amazon going to make any money if all its Kindle customers have stopped paying for books?

I’ll be interested to hear from anyone else reading who’s had any experiences with free books – Authors, have you had any successful or disappointing results recently? Readers, what’s your opinion on free ebooks? I’d love to hear from anyone with a view on anything I’ve written here, just drop a note into the comments section below and let’s see what you’ve got to say!

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