Do Freebies Work?

Embarking on a ‘career’ as an indie author is exciting and frustrating in almost equal measure. Exciting probably edges it though. In a quest to learn what makes books sell, you find millions of words flowing towards you like some massive river of information, threatening to wash you away in the current. Advice sweeps over you and most folks have things they become strong advocates of. Sometimes they are evangelical in extolling the virtues of one particular marketing tactic. One such tactic is the temporary freebie.

The idea is that you give your e-book away for free for a limited time. It’s downloaded by loads of people – because it’s free – and you shoot up the free book charts for your particular genre. In some cases, you might shoot up the main chart too. Once this free period ends, you return to selling and experience a massive boost in sales from the effect on your Amazon algorithms, word of mouth and higher visibility…or do you?

I read so many stories claiming huge success from this tactic that it seemed like a no-brainer to join in. I already had one novel published and another about to come out. The logic (and it seemed to make sense at the time) was that if I gave away a load of copies of the first one, it would help the second one sell, as I would have so many more potential customers.  My publisher also added chapter one of the new book to the end of ‘In Many Ways’ as an advert

One week before the launch of ‘Pandora’s Pitbull’, my first novel ‘In Many Ways’ was already doing well. It had reached the giddy heights of #196 on Amazon Paid For Kindle in the UK and was selling in excess of 60 copies a day. I offered it free on Monday 5th March 2012. That day was exhilarating. I raced up the Free Thriller Chart – finally peaking at #2! I also belted up the overall free chart making it to #6! Over 2000 copies were downloaded in the UK. The US and rest of the world’s response was much less enthusiastic but more of that another time. I was SO excited about what this might mean for my book once it went back on sale. I was also secretly hoping this would make the launch of my new novel really successful.


Within a couple of days, sales of ‘In Many Ways’ crashed! It tumbled back to #6000 ish in the chart and was only selling about five a day. I was gutted. Worse still, when ‘Pandora’s Pitbull’ came out on the 10th of March it went off like a damp squib and apart from twenty sales on day one, has struggled to sell more than about one or two a day since. To be fair, I have worked hard to re-promote ‘In Many Ways’ since and it has rallied a bit. Sales are back up to 20 a day and I am breaking the top 1000 quite regularly.

So, do freebies work? Honestly, I don’t know. It didn’t seem to help me much – certainly initially. Perhaps it will have longer term benefits? I would love to hear other people’s experience and see if you think there was something I did wrong or things I could do to make another offer more successful.

Another free offer…hmmm…

Peter Carroll

About Peter

Peter Carroll is a Scotsman, author, musician and wildlife enthusiast.
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3 Responses to Do Freebies Work?

  1. It’s been my experience that those who enthusiastically promote the “free days” as a promotional tool are the same people who had a positive experience with it while those who did not have a good experience offering a freebie are the first to say it doesn’t work to help sell books. It’s funny how it does work for some books and not for others. I’m on the side where having free days for my books has increased my sales dramatically as well as increased my sales for my other two books. Without the free days, not as many people would have even seen my books, let alone known they existed. I think if you are already selling well (60 books a day, as you said you were selling, is nothing to sneeze at) there is no need to have free days to get your book noticed. But if you are in the 100,000-500,000 rating range on Amazon and need promotion – free days certainly can’t hurt. I wish you the best with your books. 🙂

    • PeteC says:

      Hi Deanna and thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right about doing it with books that are not already visible enough. I was on a promo with Amazon anyway in the run up to the freebie and I think I should have stuck with that. Now the new book is out and not selling anywhere near as well as the first one, I think I might just take the chance and freebie it. Unlike the first one, there are no sales to harm!

      All the best with your writing! 🙂

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