After hearing some success stories with Amazon KDP Select program, in May I finally decided to enroll GOLD TRAIN, STEPFORD USA and GREEN DESERT. I got some borrows, but borrowing wasn’t my goal.
It appeared that the program was effective for the previous authors when they made their books free for up to 5 days. Usually, lots of copies would get downloaded during the free period, which made the book jump in the Kindle rankings. After the book came off the free period, it would retain the imprint of its free ranking, which would make the paid ranking jump as well. At least, this was the theory.
But the reality proved different…
Before I go into the story, I want to say that regardless of my feelings about the program, I am very happy and grateful that thousands of readers were able to download and enjoy my books for free. The most important thing for any writer is to be read. I wish all my readers a wonderful journey through the tantalizing world of Jade Snow! Enjoy!
And here is my story.
I made Green Desert, a Jade Snow Prequel set in Iraq, free for 5 days during the Memorial Day period. I didn’t expect too much, because it is just a short novella, and those don’t sell as well as novels. Although, as 5 star reviews from readers demonstrate, it is a darn good one! Green Desert promo was to be my test. I decided, if I liked what I saw, I’d run similar promos for my other books.
In five days, close to 1000 copies were downloaded in the US, UK, Germany, Spain and Italy. There were no downloads from France.
An awesome surprise was that I quickly received 3 unsolicited and unexpected, but very lovely, FIVE STAR reviews on Amazon. 2 of them also posted on Goodreads and Shelfari. On top of that, one of the satisfied readers added Shelfari book extras for Green Desert. Thank you, thank you, thank you! As a side benefit, for the first time I discovered Shelfari for myself (how out of the loop am I?).
The bestseller rankings jumped quickly and kept climbing. The highest I saw (I didn’t watch them all the time and only recorded some) were these:
US: #1780 Free on Kindle; #26 in Mystery/thrillers/ women sleuths
UK: #760 Free on Kindle; #16 in Mystery/thrillers/ women sleuths
DE: #1283 on Kindle; #25 Krimis (Mystery); #31 Thriller
ES: #700 on Kindle; #9 Policiaca, negra y suspense (Mystery/thriller/suspense)
IT: #811 on Kindle; #11 Gialli e Thriller (Mystery & Thriller)
Find out more about the GREEN DESERT free promo here!
I decided that 5 days was way too long, and as Green Desert was winding down, I made STEPFORD USA, Jade Snow Book 1, free for 2 days.
My first unpleasant surprise was that the promo didn’t start on time. It was about 5-6 hours late in the US and more than 12 hours late in the UK, which cut into the promo time. As a result, there was less exposure, and rankings suffered as well. The other countries were even slower. I finally emailed Amazon regarding the problem and they assured me they corrected it. A fellow author, who was running his free promo at the same time from the UK, only had his book listed free in the US. His book was never made free in the UK, which was his primary market. Needless to say, he was quite disappointed.
Despite all the delays, Stepford USA quickly shot up in rankings and kept climbing. Over 2200 books were downloaded in the US, UK and Germany. There were no downloads at all in Italy, France and Spain (I’m guessing, because of the “USA” in the title).
I didn’t get any new reviews so far, probably because it is a much longer book, although several nice readers wrote to me that they were enjoying the book and would definitely write a review. Thank you and looking forward to that! :)
These are the highest bestseller rankings I noticed for Stepford USA (again, I didn’t follow them all the time):
US: #193 Kindle FREE; #29 Mystery & thrillers; #9 Mystery; #8 Women Sleuths
UK: #358 Kindle FREE; #14 Mystery & Thrillers/ Women Sleuths
DE: #259 Kostenfrei Kindle; #5 Krimis & Thriller/ Krimis (mystery); #50 Populare Belletristik (popular fiction)
So far, so good!
Find out all about STEPFORD USA Free Promo here!
Meanwhile, Green Desert came off the free promo, and that’s when I had my biggest, and VERY unpleasant, surprise.
Not only the new paid ranking didn’t reflect the free ranking, but it actually was worse then the book’s pre-promo rankings! Due to how the Amazon rankings algorithm works, because Green Desert was off the paid shelf for over five days (it took extra 5-6 hours to get it re-listed) and no PAID purchases were made during that time, it lost its prior position. I realized that something changed and Amazon no longer took into account the free rankings in order to compute its paid rankings.
But as after-promo sales started, Green Desert ($0.99 or UK/Euro equivalent) initially went up to #35,000 paid in the US, then tapered off as sales slowed down.
So the theory that free rankings help improve paid rankings had to be thrown out the window. In the end of this article I’ll discuss what is behind this, what’s really happening with KDP Select, and how it affects you.
When Stepford USA came off its promo, I was already prepared for the aftermath. Sure enough, after the book re-gained its paid status ($2.99 or UK/Euro equivalent) its ranking suffered, too. It was all of a sudden in the #400,000 category in the US. Then sales picked up and in 2 days it was #20,000 in the US for a brief time.
I think an explanation is due here: Again, I didn’t watch the rankings all the time and this was the best I noticed. But I was told that it probably went much higher than that, because at one point dozens of books were downloaded in the US alone within a couple of hours. Then, as fewer books were being downloaded, the familiar scenario of sales tapering off together with rankings occured.
As I observed all this, I decided it wasn’t worth running the free promo for GOLD TRAIN. At the same time, Amazon placed Gold Train on sale. Regular price was $3.99, sale price $2.99. One would think that sales should have picked up because of this. But interestingly enough, once I started the free promo for Green Desert and Stepford USA, sales of Gold Train, which was my bestseller at the time, stopped cold turkey on Amazon. It’s like all the energy was zapped out of Gold Train in favor of the other two books. Or was it because the reader now expected Gold Train to be available for free as well?
Ironically, Gold Train sales actually picked up on B&N, Kobo and Sony, where the book is priced at $4.99.
1. I believe that Amazon has done a lot for the writing community. On balance, Indie authors and publishers have to be grateful to Amazon for pushing the envelope, for opening up the market and for the ease with which Indie titles can now be listed on digital shelves. The company deserves big credit for evening out the field.
2. However, in its relentless pursuit of the market share, Amazon is becoming ruthless, elbowing out competitors and insisting on exclusivity through its KDP Select program. The danger is now that it may become a monopoly, which in the end will hurt both Indie and Big 6 authors.
As a result, Amazon has been in a war with Barnes & Noble, as well as independent retailers. B&N and others have threatened to ban some Amazon authors from their shelves.
3. An important piece of the puzzle: I have found out that in the spring Amazon changed its KDP algorithm, so when the books come off the free promo, they lose their standings and have to compete anew to regain it.
Here is the reason Amazon changed its algorithm: The Big 6 publishers were unhappy that Indie authors gained standings and visibility by simply making their books free for a few days and then transferring those rankings into paid category. That hurt sales and rankings for the Big 6 books. So, Amazon bowed to pressure and changed its rankings algorithm to favor the Big 6, essentially taking away the only effective promotional tool Indie authors and publishers possess.
4. Amazon’s KDP Select is essentially a race to the bottom. If the readers are trained to receive books for free, they will hold off buying until the title they want goes free. Therefore, authors who value their work, perhaps because it’s worth it, get punished.
The worrying trend is: Amazon pushes everyone into this race to the bottom, thus devaluing all authors’ work.
5. If you tried KDP Select, you know that in order to enroll, you have to de-list your book from other retailers. This may result in a loss of future sales, as well as your ranking with those retailers. Plus, re-listing later is a huge hassle. That alone makes you think twice before enrolling.
And with the recent change in KDP algorithm, is KDP Select worth it?
On a much more pleasant note, many thanks to all my readers for downloading and reading my books! It means a lot for any author to be read and appreciated. If you liked my books, please consider reviewing them on Amazon, Goodreads and elsewhere ( I will also be re-listing on Smashwords, B&N Nook, Sony, Apple and Kobo in October). You can find all the buy links at my Book Store.
My books are on Goodreads, so if you have an account, consider posting there, and also on Shelfari.
Always remember that you can make an author’s day by writing a simple review!
Thank you very much and see you on pages of my books!
P.S. Some time after this post, STEPFORD USA, GREEN DESERT, and especially GOLD TRAIN, started hitting some bestseller lists, albeit briefly. Read more about this, and about my KDP Select experience 2013!
Publishing Paradigm Shift. What is Better: KDP Select or Broad Distribution?