Some Thoughts on Free & Amazon

Lately, there’s been a price trick among independent authors using Smashwords and Amazon: if one made one’s ebook available to Smashwords’ distributors (like B&N and Kobo and Apple) free, Amazon might match that free price. It was the only way to offer a book for free at all, at least for independent authors.

This is no longer the case, and one of the reasons I went Amazon exclusive. In exchange for making my books exclusive to the Kindle platform, I also gained access to the ability to initiate promotions and could make my books free for five days out of every 90.

I did so this past weekend, over Christmas. Hoping to attract a few of all the new readers unwrapping and firing up their shiny new Kindles.

I think it worked.

Free is interesting. Everyone likes free. It doesn’t work as a business model, mostly; if one gives away one’s work, one has to figure out alternate ways to get revenue, and there’s already a ton of work I do beyond merely writing. People talk about somehow adding value, but I think the stories themselves have value.

To me, I think I look at free as a sort-of advertising, but one that is both content-based and pull. People mostly hate ads. They skip over them on the DVR, flip past them in magazines, huff through them in movie theaters–except when they’re disguised as previews, rather than when they’re advertising soft drinks and popcorn.

That’s because most advertising is what’s called “push” advertising. It’s usually intrusive. You don’t get the option to opt out of the ad, only to skip it.

On the other hand, even though I had to post a few more tweets and status updates than I normally like to do, a lot of people downloaded the stories because they wanted to. I think there’s a big difference in that motivation.

How many people?

More than 1200. In five days.

That’s pretty awesome.

To put all this into perspective (including why I’m going Amazon exclusive for now):

Over all of 2011, I sold several hundred copies of Meets Girl on Kindle. A decent number, I think, for a debut literary novel (and especially for one that doubles as a satire thereof). One that increases incrementally every month.

During that same period of time, I sold three through Barnes & Noble.

So I guess, when considering target markets and demographics and characteristics, I think it’s pretty safe to say that my readers tend to use Amazon and Kindle.

In addition, over six months offering my collection free via Smashwords, 150 people downloaded it in some format or other (I think a couple might have been me, when I was checking formatting and etc.).

In just five days on Amazon, more than 400 people downloaded it.

I don’t think it was a difference in promotion. I’ve never exactly been reticent about posting links to work and trying to get people reading. There’s really nothing in the world I want more, so I’m not usually shy about it. I had a link to Smashwords on the site, right below the links to Amazon.

Now, 1200 downloads doesn’t translate to 1200 readers. I’m sure there was some overlap among them. I’m sure some of the more than 400 people who downloaded the collection also downloaded other stories while they were there. It’s also worth noting there were a few sales of books that weren’t free. Only a few, but the way I figure it, one has to give those potentially new readers time to get through that other work before they try something new.

And if you happen to be a new reader, who found this site through a new download, thanks for doing so, and I hope you enjoy what I’m doing. And thanks to everyone who RTed and shared and liked the links I posted.


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