Home » Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Amazon, Pricing » Is Kindle Countdown the new Free? Keeping books visible in 2014

Is Kindle Countdown the new Free? Keeping books visible in 2014

30 March 2014

From author and regular TPV visitor M. Louisa Locke:

For the past year there has been a good deal of hand-wringing over the question of KDP Select free promotions. Have they de-valued fiction, do they attract negative reviews, do they even work anymore? As anyone who regularly reads my blog posts knows, I have been a strong proponent of offering ebooks free for promotional purposes, and free promotions have been very good to me in terms of increasing my reviews and keeping my books visible and selling.

However, I also believe one of the distinct advantages we have as indie authors is our ability to use our own sales data to respond innovatively to changes in the marketing environment. As a result, in the past year I followed a number of different strategies to keep the books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series visible, including beginning to experiment with the new promotional tool, theKindle Countdown, that has been introduced as part of KDP Select.

. . . .

Conclusions: 1) Free promotions are still very effective under certain circumstances. In fact, the BookBub-backed promotion of Maids of Misfortune in May 2013 was slightly more effective than the November 2012 promotion of this book in terms of total downloads, increased visibility, and long-term increase in sales. 2) This didn’t hold true with all books under all circumstances. For example, my free promotions without a BookBub ad had no significant effects on subsequent sales, and the first book in my series consistently did better in subsequent sales (not in total downloads) than the sequel. 3) Because BookBub is expensive, doesn’t accept every book, and now will only promote a book every six months, authors, myself included, need to continue to look at alternative methods of keeping our books visible. Which is where the Kindle Countdown becomes important.

. . . .

October 31, 2013, KDP announced its Kindle Countdown option for books enrolled in KDP Select. This confirmed my feeling that Amazon was systematically nudging indie authors away from depending on free as a promotional tool. I am not going to describe the details of the program, but I am going to report on the four Kindle Countdown promotions I have done so far and draw some conclusions about how they compare to KDP Select free promotions. Since I was experimenting, each Kindle Countdown I did went for a slightly different number of days and used different combinations of promotional ads. However, in all of them I kept the price at 99 cents throughout the promotion. The data also just represents sales in the US store, since my sales in the UK store remained minimal in all the promotions (even the one that was backed by BookBub).

. . . .

1. Based on post-promotional sales, free-book promotions are definitely superior to a Kindle Countdown 99 cent sale (at least at this point in time). Not only did the KDP Select free promotions increase the sales of the promoted book, but they also increased the sales of the other books in the series. In comparison, Kindle Countdown promotions had weaker and less consistent effects on post promotional sales of all books.

. . . .

2. Kindle Countdown promotions—like free promotions––do have a positive effect on increasing the number of reviews. But again, as one would expect, the difference in volume between the two kinds of promotions will have an impact. Nevertheless, I must note that my Kindle Countdown promotions produced a greater number of reviews than I anticipated.

. . . .

3. While Kindle Countdowns are not as effective at this point in producing sales after the promotion, at least you make some sales (and money) during the promotion. For people who have used free-book promotions and then had negligible post-promotional sales, this can make a Kindle Countdown a less risky proposition.

Link to the rest at M. Louisa Locke and thanks to Carol for the tip.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Amazon, Pricing

29 Comments to “Is Kindle Countdown the new Free? Keeping books visible in 2014”

  1. The Kindle Countdown promo I did in early March 2014 for “The President’s Henchman,” the first novel in my Jim McGill series, is largely responsible for the best sales month I’ve had in my three years of indie publishing. TPH moved up to #1 in three categories of mystery listings and #14 in the Kindle paid store.

    My next plan is to combine a Countdown and a Book Bub push. It will be interesting to see if/how much the BB addition produces.

    I’ve suggested to Amazon it would also be interesting to see how a hybrid — 2 days free, 5 days at $1.99 might work.

  2. I’ve had very good success with free promotions. So far I remain unimpressed with the Kindle Countdown promos. They’ve been far less effective and because of that I’ve gone back to free.

  3. I’m completely confused by the Kindle Countdown thing.
    I suppose I need to study the instructions but haven’t really had time. There seemed to be quite a number of rules.

  4. I’ve had no luck with free promotions at all. For one thing, I refuse to pay for advertising and BookBub requires a huge number of reviews before it will consider accepting a title for a huge amount of money. I was appalled by this.
    The free promotions I did do, got me hundreds of downloads by no carry-over sales. They also pobably got me some bad reviews.
    One of the problems I have is that my genre appeals to a niche of readers who are very loyal and supportive, but small in numbers. Giving the books away to people who don’t care for the subject is a waste of time.
    Kindle Countdowns I have used in a limited manner, primarily to “goose” sales on a slow title. It has worked modestly well, and I shall do this from time to time.

    • Thanks, your experiences are interesting and informative.

    • I’ve never considered using BookBub and I never will. This is not a never say never thing either.
      I judge the efficacy of a free promotion by the surge in sales of my other books. That tells me more than my giveaways.

      • Add me to the list of those who refuse to use BookBub promos. As for Kindle Select, I no longer enroll any of my titles in the program, period. I do just as well without it.

    • So true for me, too. In fact, I’m convinced that the same 400 people have downloaded each of my nine novels, whatever the genre and whatever the pen name and not yet even read them. No reviews and no followup through the series that I could perceive. Many of the downloads were in amazon markets like India, Brazil, etc where there is no way I’m looking to make a dent.

      Maybe it works for romance or scifi, but definitely not for my categories.

  5. 2012 was all about Kindle Select and free promos. By 2013, the efficacy of both had dropped considerably. Post-promo sales were significantly higher before, and bled over to associated books. That declined in 2013.

    As it declined, BookBub became very effective. It’s still reasonably effective if you can get into it, but it’s gotten more and more difficult as more authors become aware of it and hope to use it, and I think it’s been diminishing returns lately. I still subscribe to the newsletter, and honestly I find that for all the vetting that ostensibly occurs (and the number of authors who report their books were declined), the general quality of books included has declined. I used to get a lot of books via BookBub, but now I find the majority of my purchases occur either view BookGorilla or Amazon’s monthly Kindle deals.

    It seems this is the year of multi-author crazy-cheap anthologies. You’ve seen them: 12 novels all bundled together for a buck. For all the people who worried about 99c ebooks devaluing literature, well now they get to wring their hands about books that average out for sale at a dime and then a dozen authors share like 35c royalties while at the same time they get to append “NYT Bestselling Author” to their Twitter bios.

    Personally, I think it’s akin to the whole chasing trends that used to go on concerning genre. When The Da Vinci Code got popular, people wanted books like Dan Brown for the next year or two. After Twilight, vampires came in vogue, and then fauxrotica after 50 Shades.

    You can chase trends, or you can set them.

    • I haven’t bought a bookbub recommendation in a while. Quite a few of the titles look a little suspect. I understand the need for some sort of criteria, but I’m pretty certain they’ve caused a few review swap circles to spring up. Some writers will always be willing to game the system.
      Most readers can spot that sort of thing, but I doubt the staff at bookbub have time for a careful, book by book vetting.
      Not much you can do about it, aside from a report button next to each recommended title…

      • I buy very, very few BookBub recommendations. I find when I look at the reviews and read the samples, the books aren’t something I want to pursue further. Plus now I’m noticing repeats of the same books.

        As far as getting into BookBub? Yeah, good luck with that. I have to wonder about the people advertising 12-year-old books and books with “over 1000 five star reviews!” Uh… if you’ve got that many reviews, WHY THE HECK DO YOU NEED TO ADVERTISE IT?

        • You mean “Over 1,000 five star reviews [bought & paid for]!!” because no book is universally loved, I don’t care what anyone says.


          • I just googled BookBub to take a look-see… and I wonder how many times CH’s Hopeless has been listed on BookBub? Isn’t it already a NYT bestselling book? 😉

        • So that it will continue to sell.

        • @Kathlena
          I agree about the sameness of BookBub listings. I’m looking for more books like your book Shadowbound (liked it a lot), and I don’t see these books on BookBub or any of the other 5 or 6 lists I subscribe to. Amazon’s recommendations work better for me.

    • I think you pretty much hit it right on the head, Will.

    • I eventually had to unsubscribe from BookGorilla because I kept seeing the same books over and over in spite of having fairly wide genre preferences. (Seriously, I swear I got an offer for the same book every day for a month.) I also hated how many of the books would post reviews rather than a blurb of the book’s contents. It was very rare that I’d click through just to see what a book was about.

  6. I tried to schedule a Kindle Countdown and had it cancelled by Amazon, because my book “was available elsewhere”. I had never even uploaded this book elsewhere! All my protests went to no avail. My book was stuck for three months without any free days, without the ability to re-try a Countdown. I unenrolled all my books that I still had in Select from the program.

    I’m not the only author where this has happened.

    I’m DONE with Select. Amazon only ever accounted for 25% of my sales anyway.

  7. I just don’t get the strategy of giving away tens of thousands of books to prompt several hundred sales… and I seriously mean I don’t understand the concept behind it. But lots of people do it, so I’m plainly missing something. If someone would kindly post the business plan, as it were, on how this works I’d be very grateful. Or post a link? Thanks!

    • The basic idea, I think, is to draw readers into buying your series. Build up a series of books, offer the first for free, and people who like that will come back and buy the rest of the series. Of course, you want to have several books out there first, so it’s a long-term strategy.

      Another benefit of the giveaway is that it pushes the book up the best-seller list, exposing it to readers who buy books that way. This used to be more effective a few years back, until Amazon discounted the benefit of giving away a lot of books.

      That’s why the big thing now is to bundle your novel with others in the same genre and offer that for .99. The reader gets a dozen books. They pay for it so it avoids the “Amazon free” penalty, and there’s a chance that it can rise up the best seller list. If it gets on the USAToday or New York Times list, you can brand yourself as a “New York Times bestselling author,” like this author did. (She did it by contributing a novella to the collection, too. Not surprisingly, she makes most of her money selling her book marketing products).

      • Thanks Bill (and Will). This is pretty much what I thought was happening, but some of the info and posts kind of confused me. For instance, people talk about “combining a KDP Select Free and Bookbub Ad” as a matter of course. But Bookbub is very difficult to qualify for, right? So they’re talking about applying for and getting a Bookbub promotion, which are expensive, before also enrolling in KDP?

    • Try not looking at it as “to prompt several hundred sales.”

      It’s not always about sales. Sometimes it’s just about hoping more readers find one’s work. Not everyone is in it for the dollars.

  8. After steadfastly resisting Select, I enrolled my two thrillers in November, mainly lured in by the availability of the Kindle Count Down Deals. The deciding factor for me was retention of the 70% royalty during a Count Down Deal.

    After a couple of very good years, sales had been flagging badly since July/August 2013, and I wanted to revive them if possible. I had run BookBub promos in the past with very good results, and I was excited by the prospect of combining the BB promos with the Count Down Deals.

    I ran my first combined BB/KCD in December, and my second a few weeks ago. Neither disappointed me, and both returned over 4 times the cost of the BB promo, and generally boosted sales of all titles in their wake.

    I intend to continue this strategy into the future. With the release of my third thriller last week, I should now be able to implement it every other month.

    I like the fact that I’m now able to price the promo book at $.99 to take advantage of the lowest tier or BookBub ad pricing, and simultaneously retain the 70% royalty. That assures a good return on the promo. I also like the fact that the KCD allows you to change prices with much more precision. My experience is that ALL of the boost in sale rank occurs on the day of the BB promo, and the promos consistently land the promoted book in the Amazon Top 100 for a day or two. My newest strategy is to limit the promo to the day of the BB listing, and change back to the full $4.95 price when the book is the most visible. I’ve found that the book drops out of the Top 100 at just about the same rate whether I leave it at $.99 for several days or immediately revert to full price, so by changing more quickly (and while the title is at it’s greatest visibility), I effectively ‘scalp’ some revenue that would otherwise be lost if I delayed the price increase.

    Different strokes for different folks, but BookBub and KCD been ‘bery, bery, good to me.’

    • If I could just refer you to my post above, and Bill (and Will’s) reply, can you please clarify something? Yourself and other authors talk about combining KDP Select and Bookbub promo’s often, but this can’t be that easy to do, correct? You have to first apply to BB to have your book accepted, which is difficult, before then somehow co-ordinating the KDP promo to run concurrently. Or are we talking about a different kind of BB paid advert? Thanks for your time and help.

  9. I’m so on the fence about this.

    Last summer I had some staff members at KDP who weren’t paying any attention to what they were doing remove several of my books from Select, claiming they were not in compliance with exclusivity requirements (they were), lock me out of my KDP account, and of course it took DAYS to sort this out and get my books up for sale again due to KDP’s legendary customer service. It was catastrophic, but could have been slightly worse, as I finally got it straightened out hours before my first BB promo ran.

    After seeing how careless KDP staff was, and how much like bashing my head against a brick wall it was to get my account restored and my books restored to Amazon, I swore I’d never use Select again. It’s just too much to ask, to risk that some desk jockey at KDP who can’t be bothered to read the emails I’m sending him could completely shut down my business for no reason.

    However, with more books coming out this year, I might try Select again. As my backlist grows and I’ve got more revenue streams from more series, I could take the risk with one series at a time if the potential rewards were great enough. So…maybe I’ll go back to Select. Maybe.

    I used to have pretty good sales on B&N, but they slowed down recently as B&N continues to lose ebook readers to other companies, so I wouldn’t mind doing exclusivity with some books again in the future, as long as KDP’s staff blundering through my account with their eyes closed couldn’t completely pull the plug on my sales.

    (By the way, I had KDP seriously screw up things on their end three times in nine months, each time costing me large sums of money in lost sales. I have zero faith in their ability to NOT screw over my sales at this point. So Select looks like the world’s largest risk to me, even with great results some people are having with Countdown.)

  10. Why do authors refer to books they give away as “sales”?

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