Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Early Results from a Free Book Promotion

A month ago my blog Free or Not to Free—THAT is the question addressed my assumptions about what would happen when I offered the Kindle version of the first in my Seamus McCree series for five days for free. Here is a summary from that blog:

My hypothesis goes something like this: For every 1,000 downloads, say 10% read the book. Of those, say 10% become fans and read the entire series. At current pricing, it costs them $15 to buy the other four books. Under those assumptions, each 1,000 downloads will result in $150 of sales ($100 of royalties). Plus, I expect I’ll end up with more read Kindle Unlimited pages, and I hope the publicity will spur sales of other books in the series to people who have read and liked my novels but not been motivated to buy the next in the series.

To estimate the effect of the giveaway, it’s necessary to develop a baseline: what might have happened had I not offered the five days of free downloads. During the thirty days before the five free-promotion days, I had no promotions in effect and sold a walloping nine Kindle books. Kindle Unlimited reads during that period totaled a paltry 3,637 pages. Total earnings for those thirty days: $42.

Results of the promotion

The ad cost $150 and resulted in 5,961 downloads of Ant Farm. During the promotion, Ant Farm reached #1 bestseller for free Kindle ebooks in the Suspense and Private Investigator categories, and #22 overall.

Given the nearly 6,000 downloads, my hypothesis proposes I should gain long-term earnings of $600 from Kindle books sales. In addition, I expected to significantly increase the number of Kindle Unlimited Pages read. The chart below shows the results for the thirty days starting with the first day of the promotion.

Kindle Sold
KU Pages Read
Estimated Total Revenue
Ant Farm
Bad Policy
Cabin Fever
Doubtful Relations
Empty Promises

My expectation was and still is that the hoped-for $600 earnings from Kindle ebooks will occur over a long period (and therefore be difficult to measure precisely). However, I have already earned about 40% of that amount.

I also theorize that “binge” readers of Kindle ebooks belong to Kindle Unlimited because it makes economic sense for them to pay $9.99/month rather than buy individual books. If that assumption is correct, KU pages read resulting from the ad will be front-loaded relative to purchased ebooks. The first thirty days of KU reads produced an estimated $414 (at $.0045/page). The rate of pages read quickly reached 2,500 a day, eventually increased to as many as 5,000 a day and has dropped off to 2,750 a day. I’ll be interested to see how long the tail of the distribution is. Also fascinating to me is that many KU readers don’t bother downloading free books; they prefer to read them through KU. That’s great for me because the 30,000 pages of Ant Farm they have read generated over $139 of income for me--nearly paying for the ad!

The ROI on my $150 investment has already exceeded 400% —clearly a terrific investment. As a bonus, the number of Goodreads reviews and ratings has increased, pushing the series total to more than 200 ratings, averaging 4.32 stars. Amazon ratings have also ticked up a little (the series now has 148 reviews averaging 4.67 stars). Several new people have joined my mailing list.

Considerations and Unknowables

A single ad. I decided to run only a single ad for this promotion besides announcing the free days in my newsletter. Had I purchased other ads, I would have generated more downloads at an increased cost. As the results for the month before the promotion illustrate, without promotion, sales of the series die. I chose to save those other advertising possibilities for future promotions. Their mailing lists will have considerable overlap with the one I chose, but each has unique subscribers, and periodic promotions will (a) reach new readers, and (b) remind others of the series. Time will tell.

Amazon-only ebook distribution. My overall sales strategy is predicated on granting Amazon exclusive rights to sell my electronic books. There is no way to measure what might have happened with a similar promotion had the electronic books been available on all platforms, but unavailable on KU. I have noted in earlier blogs that when my publisher used a wide distribution, non-Kindle ebooks ran about 25% of Kindle sales. My KU revenue runs 53% of ebook sales. That percentage will increase after this latest promotion. Single-sourcing electronic book sales with Amazon has been a good decision for me—so far.

Diminishing returns. This promotion was the first time Ant Farm was offered free, other than the free books provided at the book’s birth as a Kindle Scout selection three years ago. I plan to make Ant Farm free again in the future, and I’m anxious to learn how effective periodic promotions will be. As more people have the opportunity to download the book, returns should diminish. The 6,000 readers represent a small percentage of the potential market for the series making it uncertain how steeply the returns will diminish.

Uncontrollable. There are many things that can affect my results I cannot control for in this experiment. I didn’t check the moon phase, whether Mercury was in retrograde, or another astronomical phenomenon. I don’t know whether mid-May works better or worse for a free promotion than other times of the year. I have no ability to test whether changing the sales copy for the free promotion could have resulted in more downloads or sales. So many unknowns, so little certainty.

My experiments will continue.
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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.

An earlier version of this blog first appeared on the Writers Who Kill blog.