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Breaking Free – What Happened when I left KDP Select

by Nick Stephenson in Books and Writing

“KDP Select is evil”. “Free promotions are pointless”. “Nick, you’re an idiot”. These are things I hear on a daily basis, the latter usually being something I say to myself when I’m looking in the mirror. As for the first two, I talk to a lot of authors who have a strong opinion on the relative merits of signing up for 90 days of exclusivity with Amazon, and the words “shackled” and “dungeon” come up a lot. It’s the same for free days – half of authors think they’re a God-send, the other half would rather cut off their own limbs with a rusty spatula than offer their work gratis. And that’s cool, I don’t have anything against people having wildly different opinions – and there are plenty of authors making a decent income without touching free promotions, and there are plenty who swear by them. But I like to look at the cold, hard numbers before coming to a conclusion, as everybody’s mileage seems to vary.

The two main strategies for free books I see most often are:

  1. A variety of titles signed up to KDP Select, with rotating free promotions on each book. This is pretty easy to do with the 5 free days you get to play with under the KDP Select contract.
  2. Titles NOT in KDP select, and up on other vendors, with the first book in the series permanently free. This is also pretty easy to do.

There are pros and cons for both approaches, but last month was the first time I’d tried option number (2). I’ve had a bunch of emails and comments asking for me to report back on the results, so here’s the skinny:

Income Report: All Books in KDP Select

kdp select

The graph above shows sales for April 2014. The large spike in the middle of the month was income generated from a Bookbub free promotion (30,000 free downloads). The resulting sales spike was pretty awesome, but sales dropped back down to normal pretty fast. This is normal for me, and it’s happened most times I’ve run a free promotion.

Income Report: Titles on Other Vendors + Permafree

non KDP

The graph above shows sales for May 2014. You can see a pretty dramatic difference here. Again, for the sake of comparing apples with apples, this was another month where I had a free promotion with Bookbub. You can see clearly that, while immediate results were lower than before, the residual effect is lasting much longer (and has carried over so far into June). Overall, the total income from the promotion is about the same, but the sales increase is far more consistent. And this is a good thing – I’d rather have a bunch of sales spread across a month, rather than just a couple of days. It helps with boosting visibility with Amazon’s algorithms (which largely discount anomalous spikes in favour of consistent performance) and helps keep things going when I’m not actively promoting or advertising.

Next month’s figures will be more illuminating – I’ll be able to see just how long the sales boost lasts. I’m expecting things to drop off pretty quick, but, so far, things are looking good. More importantly, this strategy has really opened up the UK market for me, as well as Nook and iTunes (Kobo is a bit of a graveyard). I’m looking forward to my other 3 titles dropping out of Select, so I can get them up on the other sites too. The non-Amazon-US avenues are now accounting for roughly 50% of revenue, which is cool, as I’m less vulnerable to sales fluctuations in one market – I’ve got others to back me up.

So, my advice? I’m still a fan of free, but I’ve found that having books out of Select is (so far) having a positive effect. With KDP Select free days, I can drum up $1,500+ of extra cash in a 48 hour period, but that’s relying almost entirely on Bookbub, and things go back to normal almost immediately. And I can’t guarantee that the ‘Bub is going to feature me every month. With books up on other vendors and a permafree title to keep readers coming in, I’m seeing much more consistent results – and I can use the smaller advertisers to keep the permafree’s performance “topped up” when it starts to drop, removing my reliance on Bookbub to a certain degree.

Another ancillary benefit of permafree is email signups. With a link to my New Releases newsletter in the front and back of my book, I’m getting a lot of clicks – and a lot of signups. An extra 70 or 80 per day at the moment, which adds up pretty fast. It’s getting to the point where I can sell 50 – 100 books at full price from each email (once or twice per month), which also helps keep things going.

Whatever strategy you decide to adopt, it’s definitely a slow build. Nothing happens overnight, and the long term view is important. And don’t be afraid to switch things up if something’s not working. Now, I’ve spent far too much time playing around with excel sheets and graphs, so I’m going to actually write something. If you found any of this useful, please send me a sack of money (or diamonds). Or, better yet, drop a comment below if you’ve had any strategies work particularly well for you – I’d love to hear about them.

Actually, both would be nice.

If you want a step-by-step guide to getting started on your email list, go download “Reader Magnets”. This free ebook will show you how to put this process in place and start building your email list – click below to grab your copy:



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