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.
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.
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.
2018 Update: A lot of authors say free books don’t work anymore, because “freebie seekers” don’t ever buy or review. I disagree – giving away a free taste or sample gives you the opportunity to build a relationship. Most authors are trying to sell their books to strangers, which doesn’t work in any business. The value of free books is to get people on your email list so you can start turning them into fans with a smart autoresponder series – something virtually no author is doing well. Just because everybody is doing it wrong, doesn’t mean the strategy doesn’t work.
I don’t need to give away free book anymore, because I’ve built a large platform of supportive fans and can launch a book successfully with just one email. But I still use them to reach new readers and decrease resistance. You can learn more about it in my free publishing guide:
FREE PUBLISHING CHEATSHEET
Go from zero platform to #1 bestseller in 90 days or less with my book, Guerrilla Publishing. Download now for free and get access to my new companion workbook and book launch roadmap (this is advanced stuff you won’t find anywhere else).
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Giving away free books is just that, giving away free books. Statistically, most people don’t read their free downloads, especially when they’re enrolled in KU, unless they already really love the author they’re downloading a book for… in which case, why give it away for free? I have never seen ANY benefit from giving away books, unless it was the lead book in a lengthy series. Also, you absolutely do not get any money for books you give away because they’re downloaded like a bought book, whereas KU pages are only counted from borrowed books. I consider it all a loss unless the book is being used to build a newsletter or FB group, such as a permafreebie available on Bookfunnel or something like that. Then the loss falls under advertising costs instead of just being a total waste.
Yes, you’re not wrong.
Free books aren’t a magic bullet, but they can be very valuable for reaching new readers; ONLY if they love the cover blurb, download the book and engage, it keeps their attention to the end, and you have a strong optin offer to your email list or the next book in the series.
Even then conversion is low, so you need massive numbers with promotion; bookbub works the best but you can adstack other sites.
I gave out about 7000 books over Christmas. No boost in page reads or sales.
BUT – I reached 7000 new potential readers, and it didn’t cost me anything, and it was pretty easy to do. Compare it to facebook advertising, where you’re probably losing money to reach a fraction of readers, which will mean less reviews.
Free books are the inbetween because YES other things work better, as long as everything is dialed in perfectly and you have a big backlist. But they’re better than doing absolutely nothing or constantly losing money because you can’t get any reads/reviews (I’ve picked up a couple dozen new reviews since this promo, not a ton but it helps).