To be Free or not to be Free

Last week (12th -18th November) was National Short Story Week so to celebrate, we decided to make our short horror collection, Gunning Down Romance, free. There are certain advantages to making your book free, the most important one being finding new readers, who don’t want to risk 77p/99c on an unknown author. All those people download your book and it catapults you up Amazon’s rankings, usually to the top spot, if not number one then certainly in the top 10. It doesn’t matter if your book isn’t very good, the point is, it’s FREE. Whilst your book is rubbing shoulders with Stephen King and E L James, other people who are browsing, sees your book and thinks ‘wow, that unknown author is number one? They must be great!’ So they also download your book. It’s all psychological, see. You don’t need to be Derren Brown to use mind control on people. All you have to do is make your book free.

We’d been thinking of making GDR free for a while but wanted to tie it to something. National Short Story Week seemed like a great tie-in. So we made it free on Smashwords with little effort. The problem was Amazon. Amazon is basically like a sulky mafia member who as long as you’re paying up, they will keep those  pesky vandals off your property. The problem comes when you don’t want to play their game. The game being KDP Select.

KDP Select is basically Amazon’s library. You put your book in there and people can borrow it. There’s a pot of money $600,000 that is shared out between the authors. Except as more authors join, the money DOESN’T go up. So your share of the pot goes down. Whilst in Select, your book is made free across Amazon at certain times. You can choose when. Correct us if we’re wrong on this. However, when we published GDR, we opted out of Select. We’d read up on it and a lot of authors who had enrolled their cheap books, didn’t find any benefit to being in Select – people didn’t think they were getting much of a bargain. But our biggest reason for not joining, was that Amazon demand you make your book exclusive to them for 3 months.

We don’t think so.

To us, this is like that kid at school who ‘allowed’ you to be their friend, only if you ditched your less cool friends. It feels a lot like peer pressure – ‘join us! All the cool authors are in Select. You don’t want to be the only ones NOT in it, do you?’ Sorry Amazon, but one thing we’ve always excelled at, is resisting peer pressure. We don’t WANT to join the masses. And we are the most stubbornest people ever. So your offer of money won’t work on us. We don’t like being told to do, especially by a faceless corporation. At the time GDR was published, the only way a UK author could get their book onto Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Kobo, was through Smashwords. This has changed slightly now the Nook and Kobo have arrived in the UK. So giving up Smashwords for 3 months and missing out on their vast distribution, seemed stupid. Plus the royalties on Smashwords for a 99c book, was higher than Amazon’s ‘generous’ 35%

So this was the downfall of our plan. Because we wouldn’t play Amazon’s game, they refused to play ours. You can’t make your book free unless you’re in Select. The only thing you can do, is tell them your book is free elsewhere and hope they price match. But this is Amazon. They’re not going to let a couple of nobodies tell them when to put the price down. THEY decide if and when they lower the price and THEY decide when they put it back up. So they refused. And our plan to shoot up the rankings failed. We didn’t receive thousands of downloads, we didn’t get to number one and we didn’t knock Stephen King off his podium and take a screen shot of the glorious moment.

Has Amazon made us see the error of our ways and convinced us to join the cool authors in Select? Yeah, right. What they’ve shown us is that Smashwords is more author friendly. We’ve never given in to society’s pressure to conform and we’re not about to start now. In future, all our promotions will be on Smashwords. So we’ll never shoot up the rankings, see our books at the number one spot and be able to showboat at Stephen King.

But we’re cool with that.

You see, Amazon is like this big puppet master, dangling authors off its fingertips because it knows we all need it. However, that doesn’t mean we’re going to play by its rules. So sorry, Amazon – you can pull our strings but you’ll never make us dance.

4 Comments

  1. If it’s any consolation, I’m not convinced that the KDP Select free days are really worth a great deal anyway. I’ve run a number of free days and yes, the sight of your book shooting up the charts is wonderful – but in my experience the ‘sales bump’ afterwards is pretty small. In addition, I don’t know how many of those free downloads are ever read; I’ve been guilty myself of downloading things just because they were free and never actually reading them. So if my experience is anything to go by, the benefits are small and fleeting and mostly psychological in nature.

    By the way, I bought ‘Disenchanted’ a few days ago, and definitely DO intend to read that!

    • aw thanks! Let us know what you think 🙂
      We did wonder whether there were any benefits other than shooting up the rankings and whether it does get you future readers or as you said, people who download it just because it’s free. There are so many free books out there that there isn’t enough time to read them all. So maybe there are no real benefits to a free book.

  2. I joined KDP Select because a couple of people told me it was good to do that. They were wrong, and I was wrong to follow their advise. Yeah, I got thousands of downloads and Little Nani was #1. Apart from that, my sales are stuck and, even though I have got some reviews from people who got the free book, I am sure that I will never get the thousand of reviews from those free downloads. So I am thinking that maybe I should make my book also available in Smashwords, since it seems to be much more author friendly. I am also thinking of canceling my next free promos, seeing that I don’t get any reward from them, and maybe I am even losing sales with them.
    Great post!!

    • sorry to hear it hasn’t worked out for you 😦 it’s definitely worth joining Smashwords – you get more control and reach a wider range of stores and they convert it to formats for all devices. We haven’t sold as many on Smashwords as we have on Amazon, but everyone knows Amazon and once the Nook and Kobo take off in the UK, that may change.


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