Unlike print, selling ebooks happens entirely online, and some of the best ways to promote ebooks are also online. Several companies offer websites, social media posts, and/or email alerts to tell people about free or cheap books. The services are free to subscribers but usually, authors have to pay a fee to include their books.
Not how but why?So, why would an author make a book free, let alone pay to advertise that its free? Well, for one thing, you can get reviews that way, and reviews sell books. But even better, if the book has at least one sequel, giving the first book away can make sense. The Sixth Discipline has been free for quite some time, but its number of downloads has been going down lately because it has so much competition.
In May of 2013, paid $60 to include the listing for The Sixth Discipline in a Bookbub email. They included the links for the US Kindle store, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, and Diesel. I got the Kindle numbers right away, but since the other numbers all came through Smashwords, it took a lot longer to find out, but altogether I gave away about 20,000 copies of my book: about 14,000 Kindle copies and the rest split among the other platforms.
Bookbub promotions now start at $99 for books that are free, and go way up from there, depending on the price of the book and the genre. But price aside, the problem with using Bookbub now is that it's very difficult to get a slot.
Bookbub is the premiere email promotion service and it's going great guns because they figured out that:
- New ebooks from major publishers are overpriced, so people are always looking for deals
- They can make money as an Amazon affiliate (if a customer clicks on a link to a non-free book from a Bookbub email, the link has a code embedded that tells Amazon to credit Bookbub a teeny-tiny percentage of that sale. Teeny-tiny adds up when multiplied by thousands.)
- Readers will use their service if it's free and they make sure the books they're telling readers about are well-written
- If you deliver high enough numbers, authors and even major publishers will pay a lot for your service
Of course, giving away 20,000 copies of a book doesn't do me a lot of good, except it's Book 1 of a two-book series. In the months that followed the promotion, I sold about 1,200 copies of the sequel No Safe Haven. This points out one huge limitation of giving away a book. Not everyone who downloads it will read it. A lot of people see "Free" and click the button, but don't read the book. I've done it plenty of times myself, so I know. You figure "Get it now, while it's free, and read it later," but later might never come. Unlike books available through a subscription program that limits how many books you can have at a time, free downloaded ebooks have no expiration date. In fact, plenty of people download books without checking whether or not they would want to read it.
And while The Sixth Discipline has mainly very good reviews, not every single person who reads it will want to read the sequel. This means for every hundred copies of Book 2 I sold, I had to give away well over a thousand copies of Book 1.
However, Bookbub is now so popular that they can be very, very choosy about the books they list. They make a lot less on free books (a lower author fee and no affiliate percentage), but they always include one or two freebies per email, to keep their readers happy. But even the free ebooks have to have lots of good reviews and a professional-looking cover. And with major publishers wanting to advertise sale prices of backlist books, and a gazillion self published authors trying to get some traction, it's very hard for a self-published author to get a slot with BookBub.
Where else can you go?There are plenty of other services; none have the impact of BookBub, but they can be worth the time and money to use. I recently tried out a few of them: Book Gorilla (affiliated with Lendle), eBook Daily, Free Booksey, and eBookSoda. All of them offer varying services at different prices. For example, Book Gorilla lets their subscribers choose how many books maximum to be included per email, with 12 as the smallest, so it costs more to be sure your book will be one of the first 12 in your genre. They also vary as to range, in that not all of them will post all your buy links. Book Gorilla and eBook Daily show only Amazon links, not iBooks or B&N.
My results (your mileage may vary)Freebooksey: ($70) 1,187 Kindle copies (this overlaps eBookdaily.com. so it's hard to separate them), 102 on iBooks, 68 on Nook, and 1 on Kobo (note I also had one Kobo sale of the sequel shortly after, which suggests the Kobo folks don't have as many free books to choose from and actually read the ones they can get)
eBookDaily: (free) 267 Kindle copies (this one is a bit different as they rely on a Facebook page to get submissions from authors and they post the book they select to their website, and tweet it, as well as email it. There is no scheduling mechanism.)
Book Gorilla: ($150) 490 Kindle copies
eBookSoda: ($27) 68 copies on Kindle, 3 on Google Books, 3 on Smashwords, 1 on iBooks, and 5 on Nook
So, Freebooksy won this round in total numbers with eBookDaily winning in terms of cost/benefit (hard to beat free). Freebooksey has a version for sale/cheap books called BargainBooksy, and I might try that for another book if I decide to put one on sale.