Free Book Fatigue or How Useful are Free Book Promotions?

Is the market saturated with free books? Are we all suffering from free eBook fatigue? Amazon has a very convenient free book promotion program included for the writers who join Kindle Direct Publishing Select: 5 free days allowed for every 3 months your book is on KDP Select. This is one of the major perks for placing your book on KDP Select, the drawback being that exclusivity is required: you cannot place your book for sale on any other e-platform.  Is this worth it?

For many authors it is, as recently evidenced by an interesting survey covering the experience of enough authors (99) to make the conclusions worth looking at. It was reported in the eBook Author's Corner, do go over and take a look.

The overall conclusion is that "free eBooks promotions can be pure gold for authors." On the face of it, that looks real good until you realize the tense of the verb: "can be pure gold" but maybe it isn't. Indeed, many authors felt it wasn't: "free promotions may be FOOL'S GOLD".

Why? Many reasons were adduced:

1. "short-term attention, no longer term gains" : the effect in terms of increased sales not clear or proven;

2. "crowded market place": even free books don't gain you share in a market flooded with competition (there are over two million titles on the Kindle);

3. " saturated - free book fatigue": authors report success with free giveaways in 2011, not so anymore;

4. "ranking dropped": one author, Carol Davis Luce, known as the NightWriter for her series known as the "Night" mystery novels, says that her 99 cents book promotions work better than the giveaways. "The two times I had a Free promotion," she says, " my ranking dropped significantly, only to quickly rise higher than before the promotion. I strongly feel that in the past year the market has been glutted with free ebooks. Stop the insanity, please!"

Stop the insanity? Yes and no.  As proved by my own recent experience with free book promotion (I had Part One of 2213:Forever Young go free from 10-14 May, now it's available for 99 cents), it's not so clear cut. On day 4, with the help of Book Gorilla, a special site that alerts its subscribers to free promotion in areas of interest to them, my book shot up in Amazon rankings to #1 for Science Fiction Adventure and #2 in Hard Science Fiction (which my book happens to be - Amazon surprised me in ranking it this way because I had neglected to use that keyword when uploading the book on KDP, yet they mysteriously got it right!)

However that success cannot be attributed solely to Book Gorilla, other websites contributed enormously: Venture Galleries several times (here and here),Magda Olchawska and Gladys Lawson on Day 3, Boomer CafĂ© on Day 4: my heartfelt thanks to everyone! And of course I used my own blog to launch the promotion (here). And on the last day I also got a boost in the UK market from One friend even wrote her circle of pals telling them how she'd heard a story (Part One) that she couldn't get out of her head with an ending that "not only shocked her but stuck with her...the kind of story that you just can't forget." Warm words for a writer! 

Did this help my ranking in the days following the promotion? For a while, yes. But a week later, the effect had totally petered out and I was back to my "usual" ranking. Ditto for Part Two in the series (actually that's a misnomer: 2213:Forever Young is a serial novel, think of it as a collection of novelettes loosely connected between them by sharing the setting and main characters: this is a new fiction format that has emerged thanks to WOOL's success)

So does this mean it was a useless exercise? Not quite. There were actually two other side-effects that were beneficial:

1.  I gained three customer reviews in one week, for me, that's something of a record. Any author is delighted to get written reviews, it's most gratifying, especially if you consider that writing a review is always an effort and really signals that a reader was moved enough by your work to do it;

2. On my book page, the book promotion populated the gallery of books listed under "customer who bought this item also bought" (it comes right after the book description) : 97 other books are listed (that's eleven pages!), this for me is something of a record and I'm very pleased; it shows people who got it were also people who got my other book in the series, Part Two of Forever Young and are interested in science fiction (a majority are sci-fi titles) so hopefully I have found my readers...There is further proof of this as another one of my recent books, A Hook in the Sky, a boomer novel that has nothing to do with science fiction, is also included in that list.

So this shows beyond doubt that even if there is no boost in sales there is increased exposure, you're reaching out to more readers. This can only make a writer happy and it is really all one can honestly hope for from a free book promotion.

But if you're thinking of doing one, be aware that it requires a lot of work and careful planning. I don't think I could have had this success without the support of my friends, both those I know in the real world and my virtual friends on the Net. Many thanks to everyone, I'm so grateful for the support! For a free promotion to work in this age of saturated book markets, you need a lot of friends and a strong Internet presence (through your blog, Facebook, Goodreads and wherever you are). Here's a good article to help you get started: click here for author James Moushon's advice, you're getting it from someone who's an expert and a highly successful user of free book promotions. 

P.S.: This analysis is applicable to any market for products that can be fragmented in small pieces for easy consumption, from wine (a glass) to cheese (cubes) and music (one song). When the market is saturated (as may well be the case for  e-books, not all of them but for cheap ones), bringing down the product to zero level price will not budge its (very flat) demand curve.

The book, a serial novel, mentioned here: