The issue of whether or not to offer free ebooks is often the subject of discussion online, and to help you decide whether it would be a good plan for your self-published book, here's a great case study by historical novelist Clare Flynn.
Last September I took the plunge and made the ebook of my first novel, A Greater World, permafree (i.e. permanently free). I was following the advice of Nick Stephenson in his excellent “Your First 10,000 Readers” course in order to build my subscriber list.
Before this, I was selling a small but steady volume of both my books, I had a mailing list of 260 subscribers (mostly people I knew) and 27 Amazon reviews for each book (US plus UK).
When the book went permafree, it had 32,000 downloads in the first two months, mostly from Amazon. This was achieved with advertising to a few promotional sites or lists at a total cost less of than $100.
- My mailing list doubled.
- Reviews for the permafree book, again Amazon US plus UK, have grown to 140.
- Sales of the second book, Kurinji Flowers, doubled in the first month of the permafree, then kept on growing.
In the same month, I published my third novel, Letters From a Patchwork Quilt. Other than announcing it to my subscriber list and a bit on social media, I did no promotion at all in the first month, but sales took off immediately. I then did a Countdown promotion in the month of December and sold in one month nearly three times more of that book than of my total sales in the whole previous year.
Both Kurinji Flowers and Letters from a Patchwork Quilt are in Kindle Select. Before October, my KENP pages read were nothing to get excited about. Since A Greater World went free, the page reads for Kurinji and Patchwork took off almost overnight and now represent a healthy further boost in revenue.
Impact of a Free Ebook on Print Sales
Another knock-on effect is in paperback sales. Before the permafree, I sold only a few books each month. Since October, paperback sales have increased. Most popular is the permafree book, which hardly sold at all before and now is my best line. It seems as though people read the free download, then go on to buy the paperback too – or buy it for friends.
I'm also getting emails from subscribers to my list and comments in reviews confirming that readers of A Greater World are going on to read the other two books, despite the fact that they are stand-alones, not a series. Several people have emailed me to say that they read all three books in succession.
Two weeks ago I pinned a post to my Twitter page with a video advertising the free book and linking to my website. The jury is out as to whether it will impact downloads, but I am getting lots of retweets and traffic to the site. I now need to optimise the page to capture more sign-ups to the mailing list. I've never done anything else to promote the permafree, but will probably try (again) for a BookBub in the near future.
I'd always resisted giving a book away, as it seemed to be inadequate recompense for all the effort that went into crafting it, but the loss of income has been more than compensated by the gains on the other books, on the paperbacks and on the borrows.
All in all, in the four months since going permafree on one book, my total sales are up twenty-fold on the preceding four months. Not a bad return!
Technical Tip: How to Set Up a Permafree Book
To set up I made it permafree on Nook, Kobo and IBooks using Draft2Digital plus dropped price to zero on Smashwords where I was already listed. Once they were all showing as Free I emailed Amazon and asked them to match. I told them it was part of my marketing strategy and I aimed to build sales of the other books which are both in Select. They replied saying they would consider it and decide within the next 2 weeks – but in fact they matched within 24 hours.
OVER TO YOU If you've had a good experience of going permafree, or have you not found it as beneficial as Clare? Please feel free to share your advice via the comments box.How making my 1st #selfpub book free boosted my sales by @ClareFly Click To Tweet