Going Permafree on Amazon: My Reflections After 100,000 Downloads
[note] Note from Laura: This is a guest post by Bryan Cohen, author of 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts. At the end of the post, be sure to visit Bryan’s blog and find out more about his work, as well as to enter his contest where there is $1000 to win! [/note]
Enough was enough. I’d read those blog posts one too many times. You know the ones. The posts by authors with a massive fantasy series or a YA series who made their first book permanently free on Amazon, also known as permafree, and sold thousands of copies of their subsequent books as a result. I didn’t have a fiction series, but I wanted to see if it could really work.
For those of you who are unaware of the permafree practice, here’s a little explanation. Amazon price matches books found on other bookseller websites like Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. While you can’t make a bookperma free on Amazon directly, if you make a book free on some of the other websites, you can get a few folks to notify Amazon of the price difference. Amazon will likely price match your book toward the end of the next month and voila, you have a permafree book on Amazon.
The Reasoning Behind Going Permafree
I’d recently published my first online course through the website Udemy called “How to Work for Yourself” and it was going very well. I wanted to see if I could boost the numbers even more by offering a link to the course in a companion book. I created a parallel book that contained supplemental content to the course. It wasn’t very long at around 20,000 words, but I felt like the content was strong enough to carry a book on its own. The other trick up my sleeve was a beautiful cover created by my friend Candice, who’s a professional book designer. I used the same title as the course, “How to Work for Yourself,” and went about the permafree process.
It took about three weeks for the book to go permafree on Amazon after posting the book on Apple and Kobo and using the permafree thread on KBoards.com. After corralling some reviews from my students, I pushed the course using a combined strategy of KDP Select websites, plugging the book on Twitter and posting it on bargain hunting websites like SlickDeals.net. I also did a few paid ads, but the standby free-book-pushing-website BookBub would not accept my book on account of its short length and subject matter.
Cracking the Kindle Free 100 List
I thought the book would be a success. I imagined it would have a chance at entering the hallowed ground of the Kindle Free Top 100 list. It had the title, the cover and some good reviews to boot. But I never thought it would be 100,000 downloads big.
When the book pushed into the Kindle Top 100, I pulled out all the stops. Facebook ads, constant Twitter posts and plugging the book to the followers of my website. When the other bargain hunting websites picked up on the book, it shot through the roof. I couldn’t control getting the book on those sites, but I’m sure that spreading the deal throughout the Internet made an impact on whether or not it got picked up.
When the book cracked the Kindle Top 20, I was amazed. Thousands of downloads for the book were coming in every single day. In August alone, there were close to 40,000 downloads of my little-book-that-could. The book stayed in the top 100 for several weeks before dropping out. It has yet to leave the Kindle Top 500 since.
So, aside from my huge download numbers, how were the results? I would say they were half exciting and half disappointing. I received over 80 reviews for the book in total, and while there were some trolls, most found the book to be somewhat helpful. I didn’t get quite as many sales of my Udemy course from readers of the book as I would have liked, but I definitely got my brand out to more people than I would have without the free book. My other books didn’t get much of a boost from my permafree sales, but then again, they weren’t all that connected to the “How to Work for Yourself” subject matter. I have the satisfaction of seeing hundreds of people having highlighted key passages in my book, but I also noticed that the highlights dwindled as the book drew to a close.
I’m glad I tried out this grand experiment. I feel like I learned a lot about what giving free books away at a massive clip actually means to my brand.
Here are a few tidbits about what I learned from going permafree:
- Most people who download a free book won’t read it and will never contact you. That has to be expected. Some readers treat free books like Pokemon. They’ve got to catch them all. But they don’t have to read them all.
- Some people who read your book are only there to complain. I had more than a few trolls looking to take me down in the reviews or comments of reviews. That’s just how it goes. The one-star reviews, when buoyed by enough other reviews, did nothing to slow down downloads. When you’re gathering reviews for your book, permafree or not, try to get as many as you can to keep inevitable one-star-trolls from taking you down.
- Connect your book to other books, to your website and to anything else relevant. While my focus in the book was bringing readers toward my paid Udemy course, I’d really love to see how the book would do with a paid sequel already published. I think that if novelists with a series can get a beautiful book cover design, an exciting title and about 25 hours of promotion in, they could probably get thousands to tens of thousands of sales of subsequent books.
This will not be the last time I try perma free, but the next time I will go into the process with a lot more understanding about how it all works. There’s a great feeling that comes along with getting your work onto the Kindles of over 100,000 people. I think that someday, they might even all pay to read me.
About the Author
In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars” Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter! Click the next link to check out the rest of Cohen’s blog tour!
Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format. His other books include 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, The Post-College Guide to Happiness, and Ted Saves the World. He has published over 30 books, which have sold more than 20,000 copies in total. Connect with him on his website, Build Creative Writing Ideas, on Facebook or on Twitter.