Monday, June 06, 2016

Permafree

Whenever I have a chance to bend Amazon's ear, I make a few pitches. The top three always are:
  • I'd like to see cumulative sales figures, for both units and royalties, in KDP and Author Central reports.
  • I'd like to be able to automatically split royalties with co-writers.
  • I'd like the ability to make ebooks permafree.
Currently, it's a PITA to make a book permafree on Amazon. You have to make the ebook free on some other website, then keep alerting Amazon about those competitive prices by cutting and pasting URLs into the "tell us about a lower price" link:


It can take weeks for Amazon to price-match and make a title permafree. It's irritating, especially since I'm doing it for the benefit of Amazon customers and my own fans. (More on that in a moment.)

I understand that Countdown Deals are part of the reward for KU exclusivity, and those 5 day freebie slots are valuable. But thousands of authors are bypassing this already by using Draft 2 Digital and Smashwords to make freebies on Amazon's competitors.

Note to Amazon: That's self-defeating. If I want to make an ebook permanently free on Amazon.com, I also have to post free ebooks on Kobo, iTunes, Nook, etc. How does that benefit Amazon at all when I allow your competition to get my free titles?

Here's a suggestion: Allow KU unlimited titles the option of being free for a full year, provided they are free only on Amazon.com. The books are going to be free anyway, but this way, Amazon has exclusivity for those freebies.

I have only used permafree twice, and I've published over 60 titles on KDP.


I blogged in detail about this HERE.

I only give away about ten copies a day of this title. But the people who download it are fans and potential fans who want an easy checklist of all my book titles. Win for me, win for readers, win for Amazon.

So why did I have to upload it to six other ebook retailers and then send Amazon price-match alerts several times a day for two weeks in order to make it free?

The second permafree I've done is recent. I'm currently putting the finishing touches on the tenth Jack Daniels thriller, LAST CALL, and it ties into an old short story I wrote called THE AGREEMENT.

Why not give away THE AGREEMENT as an extra to people who read LAST CALL? Doesn't that seem like a fun extra?

What I once would have done is add it as bonus content to the end of the novel. But then readers could get irritated, because the book ends at 95% completion when they they were expecting more. So instead, I wanted to put a link in the book, giving them the option of reading the aforementioned story for free. 

Which meant jumping through hoops again just to give my fans something extra.


I decided to use it as a promo item as well, so it includes an excerpt from LAST CALL, if any readers want to get a sneak peak.

Now, if that was all there is to this story, I'd just suck it up and not whine in public. But, unfortunately, these two freebies are only available to Amazon US readers, because I haven't been able to make them free on Amazon stores in the UK, Canada, etc.

That's really not fair to my fans in other countries. It's like giving some of your children extra dessert, and telling the others to sod off. (See? I used a UKphemism! Why can't they get these titles free?!?)

What do you writers think? Do you want to be able to make titles permafree on Amazon? 

Let me hear from you in the comments.

34 comments:

Mark Edward Hall said...

Absolutely. I recently---and for the first time---made two of my short stories permafree. Like you, I had to jump through hoops to get it done. Short stories don't do well in KU anyway, so why not just give them away. I've been getting about fifty downloads a day on Amazon, and as many as seventy or eighty on the other sites.

I think it's a good strategy because I've seen an uptick in my novel sales. At the end of each short story I advertise my novels and point them to Amazon. (Links aren't allowed) It's too early to tell what sort of impact this will have in the long run, but at the moment it seems to be working. A new audience is becoming aware my work. This is a good thing. I wish I'd done it before. I'm thinking about pulling more shorts out of KU and giving them away.

It's too bad Amazon is so anal about all this. They could make it so much easier.

Rob Blackwell said...

Absolutely. I'm all-in on Amazon. All my books are Kindle Unlimited. I've been thinking about making a novella permafree, but to do that, I have to make it free on other retailers -- places where I'm not even trying to get traction. It just seems stupid.

Maybe Amazon could limit your number of free titles? Like everybody gets 1 or 2 but that's it? I don't know. Seems to me there should be some way to do this in a reasonable fashion.

John Ellsworth said...

I'm publishing this week a prequel to my Thaddeus Murfee series. I plan to make it permafree (and lose out on the KU boost) because I want to try for readers on other retailers.

Do you know what? If Amazon would me put my book in KU and permafree it, I would pay Amazon per download for each freebie they let me give away on their site. I would deduct it as an advertising expense. Amazon gets paid, my readers win, and my backlist gets a boost from the permafree reads. Everyone wins.

Please, Amazon, let me pay you to give away my books...

rcharbon said...

The first two of your bullets are infinitely more important to me. I have no interest in giving Amazon exclusivity.

Christy said...

You have to make it free in all territories at iBooks and GooglePlay, then you have to email KDP the link to the iBooks and GooglePlay territories, then you have to explain to KDP that the links are country-sensitive, so they need to forward them to their KDP desks in each territory. And you may need to explain it a few times. And eventually, they'll make it free in a few more territories, but not all. So, you have to go through and do this, territory by territory. FWIW, when I went wide with a perma-free, I found that my Amazon income stayed the same, while the other distributors together equaled Amazon's income. So Amazon is now only 50% of my monthly income stream, because my income doubled.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

There are too damn many free books as it is.

How is an author supposed to make a buck if anyone with any intelligence can fill up their tablets to the brim with free titles? (Granted, most of those authors are hackers who think it is special to see their rating go up, like free differentiates.)

"Oh, you get recognized," the twits say.

No it just means they lose a real sale, weakens the whole market. A lot like the old hussy argument. Why buy the egg if you get the omelette for free?

Rant over.

Joe Konrath said...

The first two of your bullets are infinitely more important to me. I have no interest in giving Amazon exclusivity.

The fourth thing I always say to them is that they need to get rid of exclusivity.

Joe Konrath said...

There are too damn many free books as it is.

That logic doesn't hold up.

Books have always competed for readers' time and money, not only against other books, but against all forms of media.

And as long as there has been media, there has been free media.

Why buy records when the radio is free? Why pay for a movie when TV is free? Why go to a bookstore when the library is free?

Free isn't the problem. Discoverability is the problem. There are three million ebooks on Amazon.com. How do you let readers know about your books?

Pricing--including the ability to make books free--is one way to stand out.

Brian Drake said...

I asked Amazon to make a book free in an email, and they took care of it quickly, pointing out that they didn't like to do that (not in those exact words, but the meaning was there) so I shouldn't ask too many times. Of course, as soon as I uploaded a change to the manuscript, it went back to paid. I've left it there for the time being.

Edwin James said...

Like Brian says, email them and they sort the price matching without the multiple submission stuff. Wish I'd known that in 2013 when I was at #4 and heading to #1 only for the price match to switch off...

Adrian said...

Walled gardens have walls. Too bad the most popular e-readers are each tied to a particular online store. Too bad you can't just stash the free content on your website in a standard format (e.g., EPUB) and give out short links that people could put into their e-readers to download them. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others all want to be in the middle of everything. It's almost as though the readers belong to the retailers rather than the users who "bought" them.

Tim said...

Frustrating situation for readers in Oz, although I will probably pay the $1.40 anyway. I enjoy the Jack Daniels books (thanks Joe!). We don't even get a wish list feature fire books on the Australian site....

Patricia Lynne said...

I would like to be able to make a book premafree on Amazon without having to jump through hoops. Always wondered why they don't let authors do that.

Walter Knight said...

I recently got the rights back to my books from a publisher going out of business. That meant Amazon required me to republish because Amazon would not just send me my royalty payments. Amazon said they were afraid of fraud from such changes. However, republishing destroyed the years of momentum I'd gain from Amazon's algorithms.

Now my books are invisible, again. That harms my sales and Amazon. Amazon did respond to my complaints, but there was no changing them. I got to keep my reviews, though I'd like to get rid of about a third of them anyway lol.

Iola Goulton said...

Lack of universal permafree is also annoying for us foreigners when authors advertise their books as "Free through Kindle Unlimited", which we're not allowed to sign up for.

As an aside, I noticed last week that if you want to return a Kindle book, one of the options Amazon gives is "Found A Better Price Elsewhere". I wonder how many people have to return a book before Amazon will price match?

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Yes!

Lambert Nagle said...

I have just had to pull my hard-won BookBub slot as Amazon have refused to price match for free with Kobo,(after I wrote two emails practically begging them to enable me to honour my contract with BB). I don't qualify for a paid BookBub listing as the thriller genre is so competitive and only the self-pubbed books with many more reviews than mine qualify.

Joe Flynn said...

Yes. Flexibility is always important in marketing. Amazon might at least give the idea a try. If some drawback crops up, something no one anticipated, new conditions might be applied or the program might be terminated. What's the harm in trying?

Tom Barber said...

My experience was the same as Lambert's above (free on Kobo, Amazon refused to price-match even after a cordial email exchange). Perma-free has always been a solid tactic for me and keeps a decent flow of new readers coming in between bigger promotions with Bookbub, but they seem to be trying to stop it to get those books into KU.

Though KU has worked well for me, this recent clampdown seems unnecessary. Many of my readers downloaded my first book for free and then bought the rest at a decent price-point and will continue to purchase others. They get a free punt on a new author, Amazon get 30% of the rest of the book series sale and we get 70%. No-one loses here.

Gary Ponzo said...

Joe, I'm dubious about the value of giving away free ebooks altogether. Currently one of my Nick Bracco books is free on Amazon and it's #60 overall and #1 for Mystery, Thrillers and Suspense, yet I haven't seen any upward movement on any of my other Nick Bracco thrillers. Maybe it's more of a long term play, I don't know. I've never seen much spillover.

Carradee said...

Why do you click "report lower price"? Just e-mail 'em. If you go through the help menus, they have a section specifically for such price-matching requests. You can get it done within days.

Jill James said...

I tried for 18 months to get a Christmas short story permafree. Did lower price thing. All my friends helped with the lower price button. I emailed, several times. Nothing. I finally took it off everywhere and made it my goodie for signing up for my newsletter.

Anonymous said...

If you're an author into erotica, try a new genre: Transgender/Transexual, cuckolding or male feminization.

Just do a search on Amazon for: feminization of males.

Here is a sample of titles:

"Caught in the Act: A Tale of Male Chastity and Force Feminization" by Mistress Benay.

"My Best Friend ... My Secret Sissy!" by Arya Martin.

"Turned into a T-Girl" by Tabatha Dallas.

"My Hot Wife - A cuckold, Male Chastity, Female Led Relationship, Feminization Story" by Barbara Deloto.

"Caught by His roommate's boyfriend: Avery's Feminization" by Amanda Mann

"Popped and Knocked - Gender Swap 10-Pack" by Jezebel Fox


I wonder what their sales are.

Denise Baer said...

Right now, I can't find it in me to give away my books. There are countless writers who talk about the benefits of building an audience this way, but I just can't do it. Amazon and Goodreads giveaways are as far as I go to give away books.

BRYAN HIGBY said...

Thanks for all the freebies Joe and the killer stories. Loved Rum Runner the audio book. I'd kicking around some more Jack Daniels OzValt Grant conclusions for Sleeper Towers Fall and the CODENAME Chandler follow up to RUN LIKE MAD. Excellent! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I discovered Joe and many favorites through free books. Truthfully, he gave away too many for free at the time, but I am now a fan and buy everything. Keeping one novel or novella free is a great way to entice new readers. I understand it is hard to give away your baby for nothing, but is it better to keep it at $4.99 and have no one read it?

Kathryn Meyer Griffith said...

YES! Amazon! PLEASE LET US MAKE OUR EBOOKS PERMAFREE WHENEVER WE WANT...without making them free on all our other sales venues first and jumping through the hoops.
JUST AS IMPORTANT!: DROP THE EXCLUSIVITY CLAUSE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!!!!!! I am wide with all my 22 novels but I would resign up for Kindle Unlimited in a second for some or all of my books IF I COULD DO THAT AND STILL STAY WIDE!
COME ON AMAZON...do this for us Indies!ISN'T IT ABOUT TIME?

Anonymous said...


Yet Again, Giving Away Free eBook Increased Sales Of Author's Books:

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080714/1150181670.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100303/1430578394.shtml

Gary Ponzo said...

Anonymous, although I appreciate your contribution, these two articles you posted are from 2008 and 2010 and that was light years ago. I think today's environment is a bit different. This is just my opinion. I'm sure there are many current examples of free books leading to a bump in sales, I just haven't seen it myself. I'm sure there are variables I'm missing somehow.

Anonymous said...


@Gary Ponzo: How is today's "environment" different? Are readers behavior and buying habits different? Has there been a titanic shift in reader's attitudes with ebooks? The basic tech is still the same, namely the internet, blogs, Amazon and Kindles. If the new environment is now over-saturated with ebooks, how is that changing reader's behavior and buying habits? If anything a larger number of ebooks and more varied ebook content should increase the number of ebook consumers. I think the number of ebooks being published has always been fairly large, yet readers still seem to find ebooks that they like, and authors still seem to make money.

Keep in mind that people who get your ebook for free would most likely have not acquired, looked at and considered, or bought your book at all - At least they get exposure to your book which is crucial. They also might like it and recommend to a friend, furthering more exposure for you. If a reader had a choice between two ebooks for sale, one is an ebook by an author known to the reader, and the second book is by an unknown author and also maybe in another genre that the reader doesn't normally read, which ebook is the reader most likely to buy? The ebook with the known author I bet.

Many people who become fans of an author's work will support them by buying their work, even if they can get it for free. If they want to see more of your work, they know they should support you. Of course not all readers will buy, but enough will. I believe that allowing free ebooks is an overall net positive outcome for an author, especially a new author who is not a James Patterson or Michael Crichton with big name recognition. With the low price of ebooks anyway, this is not a really big deal. If you have not seen a bump in sales, maybe you just need to keep writing more, just as Joe wrote about before.

There is also this relevant book:

Free: How Today's Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing by Chris Anderson - 2010.

Kevin Hallock said...

I share others concern about the number of free books and wonder about its utility. (The first short story in my series has been free for a long time and I have seen little if any benefit from people downloading it.) However, I think permafree should still be an easily-implemented option because it is one of the perks of ebooks and indie authors don't need additional publishing hassles.

Ben Rehder said...

Yes. Absolutely. Most of my books are in KU, except for my two permafrees.

Rob Cornell said...

I'm kind of ambivalent about this. If you'd asked me a year ago, I would have said yes. But I've noticed that permafree doesn't work as well as it used to. Readers have so many dang free books clogging up their Kindles, they'll never get to them all.

Still, I suppose the option would be nice to have. Although I don't like your idea of a locked in year. Maybe 90 days. If permafree didn't work out so well for you, having to wait a year to course correct would suck the big one.

P.D. Singer said...

I would really not like to have Amazon have even more ways to try to lock me down. I have some titles that are in KU and some that aren't, and the ones that aren't make more money than the comparable KU titles. If there weren't reasons to leave those few titles alone, they'd be wide too.