How to earn a lot of money giving your books away for free (Kindle Unlimited Pricing Strategies)

EDIT: This article is based on the assumption that you get paid (via KU pagereads) for the free downloads you get on free promotion days with KDP select.

In the comments, someone mentioned that you don’t get paid for free days. I checked KDP’s contract and they say “You will not receive any Royalties on your Digital Book during a free promotion.” However, I wonder if this means normal sales royalties… and if you do get some credit for page reads under KU/KDP select on free downloads. Even though the answer is “probably not”, doing a massive free campaign does get more visibility and did significantly boost my page reads, so I’m leaving this post up until I have definitive proof either way. Keep in mind it might be critically flawed.

 

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Recently I published my first fiction. I’m no stranger to book marketing, so it’s doing pretty well. Previously, I encouraged KDP and free downloads because I was fighting obscurity. I figured, if 5,000 people downloaded my book for free, even if I lost money, it would be OK because I needed those early adopters to review my book and boost ranking. Because 5,000 people is nothing. I want 50,000 people to read my book.

But I misunderstood a pretty significant and amazing feature of Kindle Unlimited, which is this: you still get paid for your free days.

You get paid based on KENP – normalized page reads. It’s a flat rate. They pay everyone the same. I think right now it’s about 0.0042.

Last week I ran a massive free campaign, and got a few thousand downloads. Right now, my KENP is about 5,000 page reads a day.

If that keeps up, that’s $22 a day, or $660 a month.

For one book, my first book, that’s more than enough for me. I’m more concerned with visibility than earnings – but with KU I can have both.

I get to give my book away and get paid for it – and I’ll probably earn much more than most other authors who try to sell their books at 99cents, or 2.99; those authors who refuse to give their book away because they feel authors deserve to earn money (you don’t – authors don’t deserve anything, unless they write stories readers actually want to read.)

I’ll have 5 books out before summer. I could theoretically reach 25,000 page reads a day, or $3,300 per month. That’s enough for me to call myself a full time writer.

And I love this strategy, because:
A) I still get to make my books free or cheap, to thank readers and reach more new readers.

B) I don’t have to do much in the way of marketing or promotion, other than advertising the free book days and getting tons of downloads.

C) For example, I could run a BookBub ad and get a thousand sales and make good money, or I could run the same ad for a free book, get ten thousand free downloads and probably make triple the money and reach far more readers.

You don’t make the sale value, but you still make money on the page reads, and you have far more readers.

Setting goals

The other thing I really like is that, to some extent, I can control this strategy. It’s hard to plan stuff like “I’m going to sell X amount of copies” because it depends on pricing, conversion and visibility.

But if you break down the number of page reads you need to get per month to support your writing, it’s easier to do the math.

I’m getting 5000 reads per day right now, if I can sustain and build that up to 10,000 reads per day a month, I’d be making about $1200 a month. Not a fortune but enough that I could focus on writing full time until I’d doubled or tripled it with more content.

My books are about 200 pages.

1 read, from 1 reader = 200.

50 reads per day = 10,000 a day.

So I need 1500 people to read my book each month.

Selling 1500 copies of your book, even at 99cents, would be really hard. But getting that many downloads isn’t.

I got about 5000 free downloads during my free days with some promotion (but without any of the big ad sites).

Out of those 5000, 1500 will probably read all the way through.

But if I DID run an ad on BookBub or something, I might get 15,000 readers a month, and earn potentially $12,000 (from FREE downloads and reads).

The problem is, it isn’t sustainable, and you’d really need a new book every month or so to keep it up (which is what I plan on doing anyway).

But it’s elegant as a business model. Keep price low for visibility, boost your free campaigns like crazy, get a ton of free readers for a high page read count, and earn. Plus, KDP gives out bonuses at the end of the month to authors who get LOTS of reads, so that’s extra money if you can get it.

What if Amazon changes?

They will. Of course they will. But it’s your product. You need your product to be where ever it can earn the most money, right now. Later, this strategy may not work. I may be talking about some other strategy that works better. But right now, this is the easiest way to build your platform and earn some money as an author.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Katherine Hayton

    I’ve found free days can actually make my KU page reads go down rather than up. A lot of KU subscribers will “buy” a free book rather than borrowing it and using up one of their 10 slots. If that happens you don’t get a royalty for KENP because it’s not through KU and KOLL doesn’t apply on free days at all. It’s still worth it for the flurry of purchases at full price when the free days end but your high KENP may be coincidental rather than causal.

    • Thanks for the tip – you could be right, it’s not fair to recommend my results after just one book. I might learn something different when I have more data.

  • Lawrence Ambrose

    That’s pretty puzzling, Derek. If they purchase your book as free, you don’t get page reads (that wouldn’t make any sense). You only get book reads if people are inspired to borrow it after seeing your free promo. I wonder why they would, since it’s surely simpler just to hit “buy”?

    • OK, you’re right. I should have researched better. “You will not receive any Royalties on your Digital Book during a free promotion.” Since my page reads soared after a free promotion, I assumed that was the reason.

      And free lists and paid are separate so a bunch of free books shouldn’t impact rank or sales at all (although it still seems to help anyway, my sales rank is always better after free days; maybe because I’m proving my page’s conversion, so Amazon rewards me).

      I’ll edit this article… I still think free is the best strategy to build a platform quickly, but I may switch to other tactics soon for actual sales.

      https://kdp-eu.amazon.com/agreement

      • Lawrence Ambrose

        Well, regardless, you may be onto something. That is, there may be a causal connection between free and increased page reads. My experience is that when I do a Countdown sale that reads during the discounted sale go down – as per Katherine H.’s experience below – but then I believe I’ve seen increased reads following the sales. Anyway, I plan to experiment with free again (last time was a couple of years ago, and I only two books published, so the dynamics could be different with 13). Thanks for continuing to be the warrior of marketing, D.

  • Susanne Lakin

    Yeah, Bookbub is the ticket. I did a free five days for book 2 in my 3-book series. I’ve had about 600,000 page reads in the last ten days (five of those days were my free days) of all three books in Select. I am now averaging 80-90,000 page reads a day, with 50,000 free downloads. It’s really the way to go. One friend made $7k the month she did this with one of her books. I’m expecting well over 1 million page reads over a 4-week period. This is the best system, to me, for earning good money on book sales on Amazon.

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