Free and discounted ebooks can be a powerful tool for increasing sales, but only if readers know about the deal.
That's where ebook discovery services come into play. These mailing lists can put your free or discounted books in front of tens of thousands of interested readers.
We've gathered the data on eight popular services so you can compare pricing, audience, and features to find the right platform for promoting your free and discounted books.
- The Criteria
- The Services
- Pricing and Value
To be included in this comparison, a service must:
- specialize in free or deeply discounted books
- offer genre-specific pricing
- maintain a median list size of at least 20,000 readers
- disclose the number of subscribers for each genre
That last point is of critical importance: without knowing the number of impressions authors can expect their book to receive, there is no way of evaluating whether the service justifies the expense.
Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy are sister sites. Freebooksy promotes permanently and temporarily free ebooks to their audience of over 230,000 readers, while Bargain Booksy promotes discounted titles to more than 170,000 subscribers. Deal of the Day features are available to distribute ads to a combined audience of Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy subscribers.
Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy recently lowered some of their fees, giving them a competitive edge in several genres.
Requirements: Books must be free for Freebooksy, and between $0.99 and $5.00 for Bargain Booksy. Professional writing, editing, and cover design are required. Amazon reviews are preferred. Deal of the Day ads must be Kindle Countdown deals or must be priced at $2.99, and must have a minimum of 20 4-star reviews on Amazon.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Attractive mailings with a limited number of books. Notification of acceptance usually happens within two days.
Best Categories: Bargain Booksy's nonfiction categories are great values, particularly the Cooking, Travel, General Nonfiction, and Self Help categories.
BookBub is arguably the best-known service on the market, dominating the ebook discovery landscape with its huge subscriber base. BookBub owes some of this success to a substantial infusion of capital: $3.8 million in funding in 2014, plus another round of $7 million in 2015.
BookBub promotions have limited space and high demand: only 10-15% of BookBub applicants are accepted out of 200-300 submissions daily.
In addition to its genre-based mailings, the site offers distribution to a regional subset of its list, for either US distribution or international distribution (UK, Canada, India, and Australia). These options are available at a reduced price (approximately 82% of full price for US, 24% of full price for international), however, they may also reduce the chances of your promotion being selected.
Requirements: Books must be discounted by at least 50%. Discounts (other than permanently free) must be limited-time offers, and must be the best price available in the last 90 days. Short stories and novellas are not accepted. Eligible books must meet length requirements which vary by the book's type. Books will not be featured more than once every 6 months.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Massive subscriber base. Best median value for free books; ties with Fussy Librarian for $0.99 books. High demand and stringent quality standards mean low acceptance rates for applicants. BookBub's wider distribution comes with a high price tag in popular genres, and titles priced higher than $0.99 generally offer a lower return on investment.
Best Categories: Teen & Young Adult, New Adult Romance, Romantic Suspense, Crime Fiction, Action & Adventure.
Unique Categories: True Crime, Supernatural Suspense, Historical Mystery, New Adult Romance.
Formerly BookBlast, BookSends operates its own discovery service as well as providing lists to other services like EReaderIQ (profiled below).
BookSends has an unusual pricing model in that ads for $0.99 books are priced lower than ads for free books.
Requirements: Five reviews with a high average, sale price under $3.00, and discounted to at least 50% of full price. Novellas and collections of short stories are unlikely to be accepted as paid books.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Generally good reports of high downloads and sales. BookSends may ask applicants to reschedule rather than rejecting them for scheduling reasons. Authors can use affiliate links on free book promotions. High CPM (second only to EReaderIQ, a BookSends partner).
Best Categories: At the $0.99 price point, Children's Books, Teen/YA, and Mysteries/Thrillers are BookSends' best values.
Fussy Librarian launched in 2013 with the promise of recommendations tailored to the individual reader. Subscribers can choose from 11 nonfiction and 29 fiction categories; specify their preferred language (English, Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, German, French, Japanese, Russian, or Italian); and can filter books by their level of profanity, violence, and sexual content.
Fussy Librarian has approximately 121,000 subscribers. Authors can promote their book to a second genre list at half price.
Requirements: Books must be $5.99 or less on the day of the promotion, and must have either 10-19 reviews with a 4.0 rating on Amazon (may be split across multiple stores), or 20+ reviews with a 3.5 rating. Only Amazon reviews are accepted.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Best median value for books priced over $0.99 and over. 50% discount when promoting in a second category. Content filters allow more precise targeting. Most approved books are notified within 24 hours.
Best Categories: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery.
Unique Categories: Suspense, Mystery – Female Sleuths, Mystery – British Detective.
Robin Reads lists books which are free or $0.99 and sends out daily email bulletins to approximately 120,000 subscribers. (Although the site does not separate genres in its mailers, it does provide statistics for its readers' genre preferences. Price comparisons are based on these figures.)
Requirements: Books must be well-formatted ebooks priced at free or $0.99. No minimum length requirement, but full-length books are given priority over shorter works. Professional presentation. No minimum number of reviews required.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Same fee for free and $0.99 books. Comparatively poor CPM on smaller genre lists. Less attractive mailers.
Best Categories: Mystery, Romance, Thriller.
Unique Categories: Dystopia.
EReaderIQ is an ebook tracking service which allows users to monitor authors, titles, or an Amazon wish list, and to receive notifications when the prices of their items change. They also maintain an ebook discovery service that combines its own lists with partner BookSends' database to reach more than 150,000 subscribers.
Requirements: Identical to BookSends. Five reviews with a high average, sale price under $3.00, and discounted to at least 50% of full price. Novellas and collections of short stories are unlikely to be accepted as paid books.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Charges less for books at the $0.99 price point. In general, EReaderIQ charges more than its partner BookSends, but the increase in the number of subscribers doesn't always match the increase in the fee.
Best Categories: Mysteries/Thrillers, Historical, Literary, and Action/Adventure.
BookGorilla's categories are the most detailed on the market, offering a menu of more than 260 subcategories of fiction and nonfiction to its 350,000-member audience. Subscribers receive ebook listings tailored to their preferences.
Requirements: Books must be priced below $3.99. Books over $1.99 are a minority. Discounted prices are not a requirement. Books with less than a 4-star rating or fewer than 5 reviews on Amazon are likely to be rejected. Book ads may only run once in a 14-day period.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Extensive subcategories allow superior targeting of readers. Some genres offer poor CPM at higher price brackets.
Best Categories: Mystery, Thrillers, Crime Fiction.
Unique Categories: Numerous; BookGorilla's granular breakdown of categories provides a number of unique subgenres such as Vampire Romance, Steampunk, Arts & Photography, and Fantasy Anthologies.
Pricing and Value
For each genre below we have evaluated four price brackets — Free, $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99 or higher. Each tab lists the services from best to worst value, determined by the cost to reach 1,000 subscribers (CPM). The higher on the list an option is, the better its value.
Although most services assign a genre to your book, they may honor requests for a specific genre. Only genres which have comparable categories among two or more services are shown.
Prices, categories, and subscriber counts were gathered on May 24, 2016. Consult the companies' websites for the most recent details.
Mystery and Thriller
Romance and Erotica
Memoir and Biography
Religious and Spiritual
For free books, BookBub remains the gold standard for ebook discovery services. Its gargantuan membership places it in a weight class of its own, and it is arguably the most popular of the services in our roster. That popularity also makes it one of the most difficult service to enter; high demand and increasing interest from traditional publishers leads to heavy competition for relatively few slots. But if the steep price tag is within your means and you can secure a spot in their schedule, BookBub offers a solid return on your investment.
For paid books (particular books priced at $2.99 and over), the clear champion is The Fussy Librarian. Fussy Librarian has a much smaller membership, but its correspondingly lower fees do not vary with the price of the book. With superior CPM for higher-priced books and the best CPM across nearly every fiction category, Fussy Librarian presents an outstanding value for a surprisingly low price.
Bargain Booksy ranks moderately well in fiction genres, particularly in the higher price brackets. However, Bargain Booksy really shines in nonfiction categories, where it sits at the top of most rankings. Freebooksy does not fare quite as well as its sister site, generally resting in the lower half of its genres. The popular categories of Mystery, Cozy Mystery, and Thrillers are a notable exception.
Book Gorilla performs erratically overall, offering moderate value in most categories, and bafflingly uncompetitive pricing in others. Book Gorilla is a good investment in categories like Mystery and Thriller, but compare pricing and consider alternative subgenres to obtain the best value.
Robin Reads represents fair-to-poor value in its categories, with the median cost per thousand impressions weighing in at over $1.00. Robin Reads' best category is Mystery, placing 4th out of the 6 companies represented in that genre.
BookSends / EReaderIQ are listed jointly here, as their shared membership and uniformly high price consistently place last in the rankings — sometimes with a CPM as much as 10 times higher than the closest competitor. Without exception, there are more cost-effective options for promoting your books.
Over To You
Which of these companies have you used to promote your books? What other ebook discovery services have you had success with? Let us know in the comments below.
- Marketing your Book through BookBub, Video & Podcast — Jay Artale
- How to Reach More Readers: Get Your Book Listed on BookBub — Christine Nolfi
- How to Use MailChimp and Bookfunnel to Grow Your Author Mailing List — Aimee Coveney