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Are Amazon Ebook Giveaways a Scam?

14 May 2016

From author D.L. Orton at Query Shark Bait:

On March 1st, 2016 Amazon.com announced that Kindle ebooks would now be eligible for Amazon Giveaways, and the Indie Publishing (aka Self Publishing) World cautiously celebrated (i.e. we drank our morning coffee with a bit more zest.)

After running a handful of ebook giveaways (seven as of today), it turns out that the initial caution was warranted. If you’re an author, publisher, or book publicist planning to use Amazon Giveaways to get more ebooks into the hands of avid readers AND increase your Amazon sales ranking, set that coffee cup down and read on…

. . . .

[M]y Amazon Giveaway book sales had no effect on either “bestseller” list ranking: “Paid in Kindle Store” OR “Free in Kindle Store,” and ALL the websites that track book sales (including Amazon.com, Author Central, NovelRank.com, ebookTracker etc.)  show NO sales reported for the giveaways.

Amazon does not address the sales ranking issue anywhere in their official How It Works for giveaways or in the FAQ, nor could I get a straight answer from KDP about WHY my sales were not being reported.

. . . .

Here’s what KDP Support (read the email) had to say about that:

I asked:

1) Is this correct: NO book sales from giveaways show up on the dashboard “Units Ordered” until ALL OF THE BOOKS in the giveaway have been claimed? i.e. NONE of the books will show up until ALL of the books in the giveaway have been “redeemed”?

The reply:

“1. Yes, that is correct.”

Link to the rest at Query Shark Bait

Here’s a link to D.L. Orton’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Amazon

58 Comments to “Are Amazon Ebook Giveaways a Scam?”

  1. I’m so glad I no longer rely on free for anything. I don’t feel it’a long-term strategy for success.

  2. “No sales reported.” I guess the confusion hinges on the interpretation of the word “sales.”

    Since the items were not offered for sale and the items were not purchased, it would suggest there was no “sale.”

    Was someone giving the (false) impression that a redeemed giveaway item would be treated as a sale?

    I regularly put up items for the KDP “Free Book Promotion” feature. (up to five days during the term of the KDP Select agreement) I don’t know if I am receiving any benefits for converting “sales.” If I am, that’s great! But I’m not counting on it.

    • I don’t think this is referring to the Select free days, but the ‘giveaway’ that you can do for any item on Amazon. Whoever is doing the giveaway does pay for the item. Even if you’re giving away your own ebook you still pay for it.
      I could be wrong, but that’s the program I think this is discussing.

      • Thanks for the point of clarification, Kara. The comments below are also enlightening. (two so far)

        Ironically, there are service companies that will buy an author’s books to prop-up their standing on best-seller lists.

  3. TL;DR: Amazon doesn’t make it easy for authors to buy their ranking.

    Holy cow! Alert the media!

    I was just at BEA. Does this mean that the hundreds of thousands of books given away for free by publishers don’t go toward that book’s NYT bestseller ranking?

    Why can’t I buy ten thousand of my own Amazon books, give them away, and be #1 in the Kindle Store!?! It’s not fair!!!

    • Just curious Joe…

      If I run a KDP Select FREE deal, my book shows up on the “Free in Kindle Store” bestseller list. (Cost to give away 1000 books: $0).

      But if I don’t want to be glued to Amazon’s foot (so I don’t sign up for KDP Select), the only way I can set my book price to “free” is to run an Amazon Giveaway. (Cost to give away 1000 books: $700).

      On top of the cost, my “free” book does not get sales credit on the “Free in Kindle Store”, nor does it count as a sale at all (except Amazon gives me back by 35% royalty a few months from now.)

      …so, does that seem “fair” (and worthy of ridicule) to you?

      I understand that once you’re famous, getting your books into the hands of interested readers is not as much a concern, but those of us at the bottom of indie publishing heap aren’t as fortunate. Without giveaways, I sell 3-5 copies of my ebooks a MONTH (and I have a PW Starred Review and a number of book/author awards, so at least a couple of people think I did something right.)

      Rather than writing the article to complain, I was attempting to inform. Amazon claims that giveaway sales are “just like regular sales,” but they are not. Giveaway sales don’t even count as “free sales”.

      I’m sorry you found my post so laughable. Perhaps some day I’ll be in your much bigger shoes (so I can join in on the chuckles.)

      • Okay, since you’re curious…

        If I run a KDP Select FREE deal, my book shows up on the “Free in Kindle Store” bestseller list.

        That has a cost: KU exclusivity. The potential benefit is increased visibility and readership. Note I said “potential” not “guaranteed”.

        But if I don’t want to be glued to Amazon’s foot (so I don’t sign up for KDP Select)

        Okay, so you don’t want to pay that KDP Select cost. I don’t want to pay $100,000 for a Tesla. Should Tesla drop the price to $5,000 so I’m happy?

        the only way I can set my book price to “free” is to run an Amazon Giveaway. (Cost to give away 1000 books: $700).

        So you gave the Amazon Giveaway a try…

        my “free” book does not get sales credit on the “Free in Kindle Store”, nor does it count as a sale at all

        And you don’t like the benefits you received after paying that cost… so it’s a scam? Like Elon Musk is trying to scam me out of $100k to get an electric car?

        does that seem “fair” (and worthy of ridicule) to you?

        It is very worthy of ridicule.

        I paid $700 for lottery tickets and didn’t win! It’s a scam!

        I paid $700 for a BookBub ad and I didn’t earn an ROI! It’s a scam!

        I tried to buy my way onto the bestseller lists and it didn’t work! It’s a scam!

        Do you see what I’m saying here? Not getting the hoped-for benefits from a promotion–especially when your expectations are entirely realistic–is silly. Seriously, should I be allowed to spend $30,000 on Amazon Giveaway and have it automatically catapult me to #1? Do you really think that would be a smart way to run Amazon rankings? Did you consider that point before your blog post?

        Informing authors, and warning them against bad deals is a good thing. Amazon Giveaways aren’t a bad deal. You didn’t feel the benefits were worth the cost. Fair enough, and your data is more than welcome. You also apparently dealt with someone in customer service who didn’t give you clear and precise answers. It happens.

        But you yourself said Amazon doesn’t mention rankings in their FAQ on this subject. Why would you expect results that weren’t even addressed? And in what world does a giveaway guarantee anything other than money out of your own pocket?

        I understand that once you’re famous, getting your books into the hands of interested readers is not as much a concern

        No, you don’t understand at all. I sell my books 1 at a time, just like you. And I’m just as concerned about it as you are. But I don’t have a sense of entitlement, or unrealistic expectations for promos, or a fierce belief that Amazon has to run their company the way I want it to.

        Without giveaways, I sell 3-5 copies of my ebooks a MONTH

        Here are some things you might try:

        1. Write more.
        2. Write better.
        3. Write in different genres.
        4. Experiment with different prices and platforms.
        5. Change titles and cover art and descriptions.
        6. Don’t spend hundreds of dollars on books that are selling 3-5 copies a month.
        7. WRITE MORE.

        Amazon claims that giveaway sales are “just like regular sales,” but they are not.

        They’re like regular sales in that you get your royalty. And apparently if all of your giveaways are redeemed, you get the ranking boost you’re looking for. What more do you want? And what would happen to the system if you got what you wanted?

        Think about that. Think about every author and every publisher buying whatever ranking they want to. How is that a good thing?

        This is a marathon. Not a sprint. You’ve released 1 novel and 1 novella in the last 13 months, and you’re irritated that you can’t buy your way to a better Amazon ranking.

        I didn’t become famous buying ads and complaining they weren’t working. I got famous after 500 rejections, writing 3 million words, visiting more than 1200 bookstores, taking huge career risks, and eventually publishing more than 50 titles. And also getting really, really lucky.

        I’d bet you’re just as determined as I am, and you’re probably a better writer. Success took me 20 years of fifty-hour weeks. You’ll be able succeed much faster than I did. Because of Amazon.

        Be deliberate. Be self-aware. This is a long game, with no guarantees. The harder and longer you work, the luckier you get.

        Since you were curious. 🙂

        • @Joe says: “And apparently if all of your giveaways are redeemed, you get the ranking boost you’re looking for.”

          WRONG. The book does NOT get ANY ranking credit (or sales credit). NONE. It’s as if there was NO book sale at all (except that KDP promises to reimburse you the 35% royalty on the books.)

          @Joe says: “What more do you want?”

          Credit for a book sale on the “Free Kindle Books” list.

          • It’s not a scam unless Amazon offers something it doesn’t deliver. They don’t do that.

            They do fail to deliver something an author wants. So what?

      • Hi D.L.

        I’m not Joe, and this is no snark at all from me. I’m not sure that Amazon intended for you to spend that much, and I’m sorry if that cost sets you back.

        I work for a newspaper, and we run giveaways all the time. In light of our experiences, I thought from the get-go that Amazon was doing with the following with their giveaway:

        1) Taking away the back end work of moderating how many times someone can enter a contest, if you only want one entry per person. Also,

        2) Choosing a winner at random, or at a set interval, e.g, “The first person to enter, the 100th person to enter, or the first five people by 12 pm on Tuesday.

        3) Handle any taxes, which Amazon is set up to deal with and most indies would not be.

        4) But very importantly, give participants a reputable and trustworthy source to register their entries with. By extension this gives an indie credibility. Is this a real writer? Is she going to spam me? Oh, she’s on Amazon, so okay then.

        As Amazon said, “Participants can enter your giveaway with confidence knowing that it will be run as described, prizes are real and will be delivered by Amazon, and their information will be protected.” That’s huge, especially for customers concerned about cybersecurity.

        I would not have thought of trying to give away 1000 books with this method. If I’d wanted that kind of giveaway I would not have involved Amazon at all, I would just set up a download link on my own site, preferably in connection with Mail Chimp or AWeber [sic] or similar so I can get the readers signed up for a mailing list.

        I think Amazon intended for you to do similar, but using a contest with limited prizes: the first 20 people to enter by 12 on Tuesday can win 1 book, or a trilogy boxset, etc. (that example is a variant of contest types that we run).

        If Amazon implied (or flat out said) that doing the giveaway as you did would result in higher sales rankings, then I could see why you’re put out. But if you think about it, you bought the 1000 books yourself, and for the sake of fairness those shouldn’t count as sales. Otherwise, that would be a type of scam we’d see more often.

        Anyway, I think that’s why they don’t address sales ranking in their FAQs; they were expecting you to use the giveaways for the purpose I outlined above.

        I notice they said that the prize would have to be redeemed in 24 hours, and for our contests we sometimes put limits, too. Primarily so that if someone does not redeem their prize it could go to the next person who would otherwise be the loser.

        So I think what happened here is that you thought of giveaways as meaning one thing, when actually it meant something else. It doesn’t look any scams were intended here at all.

        • Thanks for the thoughtful (and non-snarky) comments.

          Just to be clear, I did not give away 1000, books, only 100 (so I could compare it to the new Goodreads ebook giveaways.)

          I understand that since the ebooks were free (i.e. the author paid for them), you feel they shouldn’t go on the “paid” sales list, but can you give me a good reason why Amazon shouldn’t include them on the “free” sales list (just like all the KDP Select free books)?

          • Why should a book you bought and gave away count toward your free ranking? It’s not actually a free book: you paid for it.

            And why should it count toward your paid ranking? If it did, anyone could spend a few grand and boost their rank. That wouldn’t be very fair.

            It’s as if there was NO book sale at all

            Bingo. You just made my point.

            There was no book sale at all. There were only promotional copies sold to the author, who gave them away.

            The NYT deals with this all the time. There are people who scam the NYT List by sending out thousands of buyers to buy copies of a certain book at reporting bookstores.

            Do you think that’s a good thing? Is that fair? Is that a legitimate representation of how well a book is actually selling, when the author is buying her own copies?

            Why do you think you should get any sort of ranking boost from that? Especially when Amazon never addressed it in the FAQ?

            @Joe says: “And apparently if all of your giveaways are redeemed, you get the ranking boost you’re looking for.”

            I apologize. I transposed two separate issues. I was attempting to respond to your point:

            So if you give away 50 books and ONE PERSON does not redeem his or her book, ZERO sales are reported on your Sales Dashboard. Ever.

            Had I been of sound mind, I should have written: And apparently if all of your giveaways are redeemed, they show up in your Sales Dashboard, which is what you were looking for. Though, honestly, I don’t understand why it matters. I understand tracking sales and promos, but if it shows up on Month-to-Date-Unit-Sales isn’t that the tracking you’re looking for?

            I also messed up here:

            Not getting the hoped-for benefits from a promotion–especially when your expectations are entirely realistic–is silly.

            I was going for “unrealistic”. As in: “expecting to improve your ranking by buying your own books is unrealistic.”

            With a Giveaway, the books aren’t actually free, like they are with a KU Countdown. The author paid for those books, so they don’t count toward free ranking. And it wouldn’t be very fair if those booksales–made by the author–counted toward sales rank.

            So they don’t count for either. Make sense?

            Amazon Giveaways aren’t a scam. You just didn’t understand what their purpose was, or how/why they work like they do. Fair enough. Honest mistake. It could happen to anybody. But when you blog disinformation with clickbait headlines and lots of exclamation points and charts and bold red typeface, and PG links to it, you should expect discourse.

    • I guess Amazon counts the books from their imprints that are given away each month as a Prime perk. Those books always end up in the top 20 or so, usually much higher. Of course, we aren’t their imprints. :/ I wonder, does the author get paid for each of those giveaways? (I’m talking about the 5 or so books that are put up each month and as a Prime member, I get to choose one from that five.)

  4. Title is a question, so nope …

    I notice my Amazon ebook tracker shows ‘sold’ and ‘free’ units, so I kind of thought they’d be treated differently.

    Not sure why the OP thought ebooks that people would only bother to ‘check out’ if they were ‘free’ should count as sales.

    • @Allen F said: “Not sure why the OP thought ebooks that people would only bother to ‘check out’ if they were ‘free’ should count as sales.”

      Possibly because “KDP Select” books that are given away for free DO COUNT toward “Free in Kindle Store” bestseller sales ranking.

      • Possibly because “KDP Select” books that are given away for free DO COUNT toward “Free in Kindle Store” bestseller sales ranking.

        Because they’re free.

        Amazon Giveaways are bought by the author. It makes 100% sense that they should only count as sales when they are redeemed.

        • The DO NOT count as sales when they are redeemed!
          Amazon takes your money, returns the 35% royalty, and that’s it.
          Did you read the post?

          • They DO NOT count as sales when they are redeemed!

            If Amazon returns your 35% royalty, they are indeed counting that sale. How else would you get that money if they didn’t count it?

            But that sale doesn’t effect your rank. And it shouldn’t, for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Buying your own books to influence Amazon ranks would be bad.

            In the legacy publishing world, authors can buy books from their publishers at cost for giveaways. Rather than pay full price for one of my books and get my regular royalty rate, instead I get that book at the publisher’s cost, and don’t get a royalty rate.

            Amazon is charging you full cost, and paying your royalty when that giveaway is redeemed. Makes total sense, and is completely fair. As Jamie mentioned, this allows you to legitimize your giveaways and contests, trading the cost of those books you bought (minus royalties) for the benefit of recognition from a giveaway promotion, new readers, and positive word of mouth.

            It’s the same thing publishers do at BEA when they give away hundreds of thousands of books. That isn’t as scam, and it shouldn’t count toward sales figures or bestseller lists.

            • So do you think authors in KDP Select should also NOT get sales credits for their free books (as they currently do)?

              I think authors outside KDP Select DESERVE the same treatment as authors inside the program (when it comes to giving away free books).

              I’m sorry you don’t agree.

              • I don’t understand your comment. Free books don’t get sales credits.

                Free books in KDP Select get counted, and every book given away counts toward free rankings.

                No one “deserves” anything other than basic human rights. I wouldn’t count treatment by publishers or retailers in that category.

                I don’t know how else to say that Amazon Giveaways don’t count toward rankings on the Free Bestseller Lists because those weren’t actually free: they were bought.

                Bought books shouldn’t appear on the free lists.

                I was just at CVS Pharmacy, and they asked me if I had a CVS ExtraCare Card so I could get the Jack Daniels I was buying for $2 less. I didn’t demand to get that two bucks off because I deserved to be treated the same way as those who had ExtraCare Cards. That’s silly.

                If you want the two bucks off, you get the card and all the perks. No card, no perks.

                If you want the perks of KDP Select, enroll in KDP Select. No enrolling, no perks.

                Do I like the fact that Amazon demands exclusivity? I do not. I have told this to countless Amazon employees, to their faces.

                But I didn’t use words like “deserve”. Amazon is allowed to make their own rules, and I’m allowed to opt in or go elsewhere.

                If the benefits of KDP Select are worth the cost (exclusivity) to authors, authors will voluntarily join. If you don’t find the cost to be worth it, you won’t get those particular benefits.

                That isn’t fair or unfair. It isn’t a scam. It isn’t authors getting screwed.

                If you really want to know what it’s like to get screwed, sign a legacy deal.

                • Read your KDP statement. The title of the 6th column is “Net Units Sold or KENP Read**[1]” and the number of FREE “sales” is listed in that column.

                  Paper books bought by the author in an Amazon Giveaway count toward sales ranking (PAID sales ranking, even though the winners get the books for free.)

                  Unfortunately, Amazon is the only game in town, so there really isn’t any choice (except to write off their huge reader base). I chose to speak up so that other authors could learn from my experience and make more informed choices.

                  Clearly I’m an idiot.

          • The DO NOT count as sales when they are redeemed!

            Of course they do. Amazon has to book a sale. This typically happens under GAAP when the goods are delivered.

            Amazon could do it two ways.

            First, they could collect revenue and book a liability. When the book is downloaded, this liability becomes a sale. (Yes, my terminology is very loose.) This is how gift cards work.

            Second, they could wait untill download, then collect revenue and book a sale. This is how the typical Amazon consumer purchase works.

  5. Well, you could say that for certain authors, Amazon Giveaways are an attempted scam that failed.

    Thank you, Amazon, for preventing that.

    On the value of the Giveaways — yeah, giveaways are going to benefit Amazon more than any individual vendor, just as the Black Box deals are more about Amazon than the individual items sold. For the author, free books are about exposure, nothing more. If you give away free books, and you don’t see a sales bump afterward — either you gave the books to the wrong people, or your book isn’t worth talking about.

    Because that’s what book giveaways are supposed to be about: somebody reads the book, loves it, and tells all their friends.

    • Um. I’ve done Goodreads giveaways with no appreciable sales bump. If the Goodreads audience is made up of the wrong people, I’m in trouble.

      Free doesn’t work for everyone. It has never worked for me, not even when 2,000 people downloaded the first book in my series a year and a half ago.

      My January 99 cent sale on Bookbub? Still paying dividends.

      • Chiming in: Free doesn’t work for me either. 99c sales have only recently worked a tiny bit for me (not enough to continue on a regular basis).

        • Free doesn’t work for me either. I am promoing a book now–free download, no mailing list, goes direct to the download site. Not one downloaded. Changed the ad today, try again. It’s all an experiment. YMMV.

      • Meryl: actually, no, I don’t think Goodreads giveaways get books into the hands of the right people. It gets books into the hands of what the publishers used to call “book grabbers.” (That is, people who show up at conferences or hang out with publishing folks, and grab all the books they can get free, who don’t intend to review or recommend, or even necessarily to read them. They just like free stuff.)

        And there’s nothing wrong with providing books to book grabbers if it doesn’t cost you anything. As a matter of fact, many people who succeed at free promotions usually do give a heck of a lot of books away to freebies junkies.

        The key is to realize that there are two different types of free promotions:

        One is to give out freebies in huge, saturation quantities (such as with permafree, though there are other ways) which you hope will hit a very small proportion of people who will actually do you good. This is not an advisable strategy if you have to pay for the books, unless you have a really huge budget for something that will have no immediate return.

        The other strategy is do the hard work, and hand sell the book to individual people you want to read it, and then give them the book free. When you do that, you have a much higher level of positive response.

        Of course, there are a lot of strategies that are somewhere in between. For instance, you may not personally hand sell one particular person, but you build up a rapport with a small and personally engaged audience (such as your blog audience, or in an online community) and you simply offer them free copies of your book. You don’t flog it, you don’t make it a contest — it’s not for book grabbers or to attract freebies hounds. It’s about your relationship with these people. You recognize that they are doing you a favor by reading your book.

        Because the right people are those who don’t give their attention easily. They don’t read something just because it’s free. And they don’t talk about something unless it gets their enthusiasm.

        And, because they are hard to get to, they are people who haven’t already used up all their value with their friends by spamming and flogging things. So their friends actually listen to them.

        Free, unfortunately, is not easy.

  6. I did an Amazon giveaway of the second book in my series while the first is on a free run. Looking back, there are some things I would have done differently. For some reason, I thought Amazon posted giveaways to a separate page, the way they list the Kindle Countdown Deals. They don’t–Amazon sends you a link to enter the giveaway that you can then post or e-mail. I wouldn’t have done the giveaway if I had known in advance I would have to do all the legwork of advertising. I tried advertising the link on my Facebook page but cancelled that when people with suspiciously fake names started liking my post and not entering the giveaway. I then advertised on another site and had many more legit entries. Because I was overly optimistic with my math, I ended up with some copies at the end of my giveaway. I think I have one more left to bestow on some lucky person 🙂 All in all, I ended up fairly pleased with my Amazon giveaway, as I garnered new followers for my Amazon page, etc, just in time for my next release.

  7. I agree with some of what the author says but I also agree with some of what Joe says. The giveaways are nothing more than a tool. I’ve had acceptable success. My book rankings have risen when I’ve given away print copies. Giveaways do not change ebook rankings.
    When I do a giveaway, it opens, I tweet, I FB, and every book is gone within 5-10 minutes, sometimes in as few as 2 minutes. I’ve chosen random numbers – one out of every three, one out of every ten, one out of every twenty. Doesn’t matter. The books are snapped up.
    How do I judge effectiveness? An uptick in the sales of my other books. So far so good.

    • Glad to hear that you’ve had some success!

      I have the next book in the series coming out in July, and as I talk about in the post, I’m hoping to turn some of those free books into pre-orders for the next book.

      Thanks for sharing.

      • What I find surprising is that my print book rankings increase after giveaways but my ebook rankings do not. Makes no sense. I like to give out print books because I’ve found some people really love a print book.
        As it happens, I agree with you – a sale is a sale is a sale. Plus- big plus here – anyone can host a giveaway of anything or any book. So… I could host a giveaway of 10 copies of a book written by another author, say, a book I love and want to share. Why shouldn’t that increase the rankings of that book?
        A sale is a sale is a sale. And yeah, when authors buy 1000 copies of their own books, no matter how scammy or scummy, it DOES increase their sales ranking.

  8. I don’t understand how could you write this post. Basically you’re telling us you tried to scam the Amzon rankings by buying a whole lot of your own book and you’re mad because you couldn’t do it? I think it’s appalling for Amazon to EVER count giveaways as sales! That way it would be not about who can write the best book but who has the more money to cheat the rankings. How can you support that? It was a scam going on a while ago a guy opening as many Amazon accounts as he could and buying his own book. It got shut down because it was a SCAM! Even the New York Times is careful to massive buyouts of print books to cheat the bestseller list. How can you rant about not being given the opportunity to SCAM all your fellow (just as un-famous, but maybe with less of a budget) authors?

    • @Emma: Are you familiar with the “Free in Kindle Store” rankings at Amazon? Do you feel that people giving away their book via KDP Select are scamming the system? If not, why should book giveaways sponsored by Amazon not include those free books in the rankings?

      Amazon GIveaways for ebooks are now available to all authors in the US (and winners in the US). If you feel strongly that this is wrong, perhaps you should contact Amazon?

      • The free kindle ranking is not an issue, if your book is free it doesn’t matter if you’re in KU.
        Do I think Amazon counting KU downloads as a sale in the PAID ranking is unfair? Yes. I don’t think Amazon is going to listen to me.
        But, if all you want is give books to readers for free and have it counted in the free ranking why don’t you just set the book at free with price matching (you can do it also for a limited time and then have they bring the price back to its original level). If you’re in KU you can wait for the Kdp select period to pass, opt out for the time of your promo, and then jump back in.

        So why spend 700$?

        From your post it doesn’t seem you spent those dollars to appear in the free ranking, it seems you were aiming for the paid ranking, which again would be a scam.

        • Ps. The only “fair” thing I would ask of an Amazon giveaway is to make reviews done by the receiver of the book as verified purchases (not sure if they do I don’t think so) as the meaning of verified purchase is to make sure that the reviewer actually had access to the book, but that’s all…

      • It also says in the email from Amazon support you posted: 6. If your Kindle book is gifted as giveaway, it counts towards a sales rank only if it is redeemed within 24 hours

        That’s horrible! And leaves the window open for scamming the ranking… Author’s only hope is that readers will always be too lazy to redeem the book right away…

  9. FWIW, I just tried this and the giveaway book has absolutely no effect on rank and does not show as a sale on your report tab in KDP.

    As noted by others, however, you do receive a royalty (70% in my case) and the royalty is credit as soon as the book is redeemed regardless of whether or not you have other copies yet to be redeemed for the same giveaway.

    Also as noted, Zon does not promote your book giveaway – your best bet is #amazongiveaway and your own means of promotion (FB or whatever).

    Considering there is no charge for the giveaway aside from buying the books I’m not sure why it’s not a good deal – a 99 cent book can be given away for 70 cents a copy (30 cents royalty back). I gave away a $6 ebook a minute ago and got credited ~$4 back. So I got 885 people to see a book that cost me under $2 to give away.

    Not bad…

  10. I teach. The biggest part of any learning curve is NOT knowing what to do, it’s knowing what not to do. And what not to expect.

    As an Indie, I’m thrilled to know the limitations of this feature. Knowledge is always a good thing, especially when it costs money.

    • Knowledge is always a good thing. But when you are blogging data for the benefit of your fellow authors, it is important to inform your opinion, and ably defend your intent.

      I’d be perfectly legitimate if I said, “Gravity kills! Laws of physics prevent men from floating to destinations, and instead lead to plummeting, injury, and death!”

      Am I really teaching anything about gravity? Am I saving fellow humans from hurling themselves off of cliffs, hoping to land safely in Las Vegas?

      DL didn’t understand the data she collected, and misrepresented what that data meant.

      I wouldn’t cram lit firecrackers in my mouth and then write a post called “Are Fireworks Trying to Blow Off Your Face?”

      Amazon is not scamming authors with Giveaways. They’ve set up the system correctly. Giveaways aren’t supposed to effect ranking (free or paid) and they aren’t a consolation prize for people who aren’t in KDP Select.

      Now if DL’s post had been called “Amazon Giveaways Aren’t Easy to Track, Which May Dilute Their Effectiveness” I’d be 100% on board. It would be better for authors if Amazon reported every giveaway redemption on the Sales Dashboard (assuming they don’t; I’m taking DL’s word for it).

      It would also be better for authors if Amazon gave them a lot more info, like when readers stopped reading a title, how long it took them to read it, did they uy the next in the series, etc.

      But Amazon is notorious for not sharing data. We don’t even have a cumulative sales button.

      Pointing out Amazon’s flaws is helpful, to authors and to Amazon. If you think Amazon folks don’t read Kboards, or blogs like this one (or mine), you’re wrong. They do. And they listen.

      But it’s more effective to point out real issues (Giveaway Sales aren’t reported as clearly as they could be) vs imaginary issues (I did an Amazon Giveaway and got scammed out of a better ranking).

      As a teacher, you know that correct interpretation of data is extremely important, as is how that data and interpretation is presented.

      • I ran two Amazon Giveaways. The ebooks popped up as sales on my KDP dashboard when the giveaway ended and the winners were confirmed. In fact, I got all excited when I saw SO MANY SALES! of that title before I realized what caused the spike. 😀 Whether those books were actually downloaded, I don’t know– Amazon only stated the confirmation. As others above have noted, I got my 70% royalty for those sales (that I bought myself), so the net cost of the giveaway was small. I didn’t go to the book’s page to check its ranking, so I can’t comment on whether or not the ranking changed. In line with others’ experience here, I didn’t get any bump of sales from the giveaway, but I did get a whole boatload of Amazon followers. It remains to be seen how much value that will be.

        • Kathlena: How do you know you got a boatload of Amazon followers? Have you figured out a way to view them (or even get a count of how many there are?)

          • On my giveaway, I asked that people follow me on Amazon to enter (the other options were for entrants to follow on Twitter or watch a short video). My Giveaway page link shows how many people entered, which translates into that many Amazon followers. Of course, I don’t know how many people “unfollow” afterwards, but presumably most don’t bother. It’s not like they’re going to get spammed.

      • -grin- As a teacher I know full well the need to be 100% accurate in what I say. But…we’re talking personal experience and blog posts here! And accurate or not, this post has sparked a lively discussion. To say that I have learned a great deal from it is a massive understatement. Never having tried an Amazon Giveaway, I had no idea what to expect. Now I do. 🙂

  11. We could cut through all this stuff and make it much more efficient.

    Amazon could just auction off sales rank positions. Each author and publisher gets to bid on behalf of a given book once each day. Rank the bids. High bid gets #1, next highest gets #2…

    Each day there is a new auction.

  12. DL, clearly you aren’t an idiot. You just tried some experiments with tools Amazon gives you and you reported on the results. With your own thoughts and opinions about them. Thank you.

    And Joe, I love you, but lighten up. (I say this knowing you will not lighten up. Nor, do I suppose I really want you to lighten up. I love you the way you are. But it just seems like a nice intro to…)

    We all haven’t been in the trenches as long as you, fighting the good fight and learning the “rules” of battle. Some of us might not keep our helmets on because they get hot. Some of us might not have learned to duck down when we move through the mud. And yes, some of us even might light a cigarette and put the others in grave danger. That’s part of war too.

    I liked DL’s post and felt it was really informative. I didn’t mind the clickbait title (that’s why I clicked on it and learned). If we’re going to get into a big truth in blog titles argument, your head line for “Attack of the Bibliography!” really didn’t need a explanation point and really should have been “Where I Discuss How Others Have Been Publishing Bibliographies and Decided to Follow Suit” since there was no attack.

    DL reasonably questioned whether the giveaways were a scam in regard to her personal expectations for what she might get out of the program. You’re arguing she shouldn’t have those expectations (like higher sales rank). Okay. But to be honest, I’m new to this game and I wondered the same thing. Hey, if I buy bunch of free books and give them away, will that help my sales rank?

    And yes, I kind of thought that… hmm… if Amazon lets me do this, then I guess anyone could buy sales rank. And when I read DL’s piece, I thought… hmm… I suppose Amazon isn’t counting them as sales because it would be too easy to buy sales rank.

    But DL has no obligation to think through every global implication of Amazon’s policies according to what is fair and proper for millions of customers and vendor, etc, etc. You kind of contradict yourself since you say, Amazon can do whatever they think is best for Amazon. Well, DL, and us other writers trying to figure out the game, try to do what we think is best for our interests. We might not be worrying about what would happen to the New York Times best seller list if people could buy their way onto it. (Which, by the way, they can. So we ain’t living in a pure world. And I’m not going to be shocked if it turns out Amazon has all sorts of tools to favor specific books they want to push up the sales rank. And I would be shocked if big publishers aren’t playing games behind the scenes to boost the sales ranks of certain books they want to push, like having robot accounts.)

    When I published up my first book, I gave a free copy to a friend and the friend wrote a very nice review of it so I would get my first review. (The friend had already read a beta copy.) Amazon promptly cut the review. I guess the fact that it was reviewed so quickly (and positively) from a gifted download or something. Okay, so I found out friends aren’t supposed to review your books. I’m sorry. I’m a criminal. I suppose what I did was terribly unethical to the global system of honest reviewing on the internet (which we know is one of the most sacred trusts mankind strives to protect). In my defense, my friend really liked the book and innocently offered to write the review. But okay, when it was cut I learned my lesson and felt embarrassed. I studied up more on what was Amazon’s official review policy. And I totally understand why Amazon has to be aggressive about monitoring reviews by friends and family. That’s good. But I hadn’t really thought through all the various business and ethical implications when my friend offered to review it.

    I don’t think DL was trying to scam the system. I think it’s a reasonable question, if I buy these books, do I get credit for them as sales? Does it help my ranking? I paid for them, people got them, what’s the problem?

    You make a very good point about why Amazon shouldn’t count the sales the way DL thought they might be counted.

    And guess what, DL defended herself, she argued back and I learned a lot. It was great to hear speculation about the proper way to use the program, if there is such a thing.

    But it’s still not black and white. From what I’m hearing, hard copies DO COUNT on sales rank. Is that right? If so, why? Because Amazon makes a lot more money on them? Because Amazon wants to build up the POD machines. Or is that wrong too?

    If it’s true that print copies of books given away through Amazon’s program do count to help your sales ranking, is it unethical for writers to take advantage of that to try to boost their sales rank? (Until, presumably, Amazon fixes that loophole.)

    Anyhow, I learned a lot from this discussion and I thank you both.

    • +1

    • DL reasonably questioned whether the giveaways were a scam in regard to her personal expectations for what she might get out of the program.

      Personal expectations don’t defne a scam. If so, then any program could be labeled a scam if anyone’s personal expectations were not meant. It’s the nature of the program, it’s costs, promises, and their delivery that make comething a scam.

      • DL never said conclusively that it was a scam. Thus the question mark in her post headline. Nor did I get the impression she was focused specifically on attacking Amazon, simply questioning what was their policy, and what was the thinking behind it, and if it was really fair. (Particularly since she got mixed messages from support. It’s a little weird they require all the gifts to be collected before registering them.) Amazon does make mistakes and some of their policies are confusing. She might have been slightly provocative in saying “scam,” but I got her point.

        The thing is, I appreciate it when people write, in detail, about all the stuff they are trying out and share information. Some of Joe’s attacks on her post seem to imply she shouldn’t be talking unless she can talk about it the right way. Or that she was attempting to do something unethical, which certainly wasn’t the case.

        DL has no obligation to carefully mince every word as if she was making a legal case against Amazon. It’s hard enough to write a post, without second guessing every phrase. I thought she started a good conversation but that it got sidetracked by Joe’s aggressive (as usual) point of view. Look, we get it, we need to write more and focus on creating good books and publishing. Fine. But it’s still interesting to see how give aways and stuff effect sales, even if you only have a couple books done.

        I’d like more information about how Amazon’s gifting program works and less moralizing about the right way to be a writer. Self-publishing is about freedom, and that includes the freedom to write just a few books and try to market the hell of out them. Joe’s probably right, and that might not work well, but then I’m glad when writers share their experiences. He didn’t question that the information she was giving was accurate, just that her opinions about it were “wrong.”

        • Some people may hate this reply but so be it. I write a lot of books. I write well. It don’t much matter. Unless you get lucky (oh dear G-d don’t tell me luck has nothing to do with it because I’ve been in this business since I was a kid- writing is a family business) you are buried. The golden years for self-pubbing were maybe 2007 or 2008-2013. Been downhill since then.
          What do I mean by luck? Serendipity – Right place. Right time. Right genre. Right reader. How good does a book have to be? Not all that good. The book just has to push the right buttons with the right people to reach a tipping point. Ain’t no use chasing trends because you will almost always be a day late and a dollar short.
          What this blogger is trying to figure out is what works. How to use the tools/resources available to us. Yes, ranking matters. I don’t care what anyone says. Visibility matters a whole lot. Visibility might just be everything. The more visible your book, the more readers are likely to think – Hey, I’ll give this book a try. Looks like it’s pretty popular. Other readers are buying it. Must be some reason other readers are buying it. This book must be something special.
          I’m sorry, Joe. I really respect you. You have achieved a great deal and you are generous and supportive of indie authors. It’s not specific to you, but I am tired of hearing– write more good books. There are some amazing prolific indie authors/voices out there and those authors can’t buy a reader.
          Right now, IMO, this is not a happy situation for indie authors. Amazon is not the end all and be all. It’s one screwdriver in my toolbox. That’s all it is.

        • He didn’t question that the information she was giving was accurate, just that her opinions about it were “wrong.”

          Her opinion that Amazon was running a scam was wrong.

          • I’m not sure it’s wrong until I have all the facts. If Amazon credits more expensive print book giveaways (which cost more and cost extra for shipping), and presumably print book giveaways on Goodreads, as sales (or free sales) and simply doesn’t do the same on cheaper ebook sales, then Amazon has no higher ground to claim that what they are doing is consistent, or fair. They aren’t stopping people from buying sales rank, they’re simply making it more expensive. (And that’s kind of sounds a little like a scam.)

            AMS is also a little bit of a scam (in my opinion). From everything I read, it is virtually impossible to set it up so your advertising pays for itself in sales. (If I’m wrong, someone please correct me.) HOWEVER, if you are willing to pay enough, you can certainly get some sales. If you have enough money you can buy enough impressions and clicks and push up your official sales rank. (Losing money in the process.)

            Now, that obviously applies to any advertising. With enough money thrown at advertising, say Facebook, Twitter, Google etc., you can theoretically get some movement on your sales rank. Money can buy attention. (And Amazon certainly offers special placement on webpages for pay to big publishers, moving them ahead of indies.)

            Obviously, Amazon can’t ban advertising to make sales ranking more “fair.” (Nor would they want to, because advertising helps them sell books.) However, since AMS, by all accounts that I have read, is not a good value compared to other types of advertising, it does seem a little bit like a scam for Amazon to offer it, since they know newbie writers are going to throw money (because it is very easy to set up an account) at it and fail to get fair value for their advertising investment.

            Now, is that illegal? No. Is it unethical? Not really. (Buyer beware.) But is it fair to say it’s a little bit of a scam? I think so.

            Hopefully, Amazon will tweek AMS and make it a better, fairer option. And, arguably, maybe it’s better to have the tool than not to. But it’s silly to pretend Amazon prevents writers from being able to buy sales rank. They don’t. (At best, they make it a little difficult.) And it’s important newbie writers understand that AMS is probably a waste of money. They sure won’t hear that from Amazon. And that’s why I appreciate the information DL gave us about the giveaway program. And I’d say the jury is still out on it, scam-wise. Doesn’t seem fair for Amazon, of all companies, to penalize digital giveaways in favor of print.

            • I’m not sure it’s wrong until I have all the facts.

              It’s wrong to accuse someone of a scam without all the facts.

              HOWEVER, if you are willing to pay enough, you can certainly get some sales.

              That’s not a scam. It’s how advertising works.

              But it’s silly to pretend Amazon prevents writers from being able to buy sales rank.

              Nobody buys sales rank. Thay pay for promoti that results in sales that are then ranked. Big difference.

              Amazon isn’t running a scam with give aways. It doesn’t matter what the author of this article feels. It doesn’t matter what she expects. It doesn’t matter is she wraps her ideas in an oipinion. She’s wrong.

              • You saying it’s not a scam doesn’t make it a fact. That’s simply your opinion.

                Even if it wasn’t a scam, it’s not wrong for someone using a companies services to question whether it might be a scam, which is what DL did.

                You also keep dodging the issue of whether Amazon is counting print book giveaways as sales which can push up ranking. That’s something that’s important to know before coming to a final conclusion scam/no scam.

                Many people feel that Authors Solutions is a scam, while technically what they do is legal. (As determined in a couple court cases recently). The scam part of it has to do with whether they ware being fully honest with the writers they fleece and whether they are over charging them for services.

                Amazon has a special responsibility to the services it charges writers for promotion since they are also the distributor. This is where anti-trust issues come into play. Amazon may not have a monopoly on all publishing in the United States, but it comes very close to having a monopoly on self-publishing.

                Taking a cut from writers sales of books (distribution), and charging them for promotion of said books (advertising) creates serious conflicts of interest.

                At minimum, it sounds as if Amazon’s fact sheet for the giveaways doesn’t make it clear that these giveaways don’t effect sales ranking. Amazon could clearly state giveaway sales don’t affect ranking. Amazon makes it very easy for writers to publish. That’s great. They also make it very easy for writers to throw money at advertising with AMS and now giveaways. They absolutely do have a ethical (and legal) responsibility to make sure what they are offering has some real value, and that they are clear to writers about what to expect when they spend their money.

                If they are selling something, say advertising, that has substantially less value than advertising elsewhere, and they know it, then it falls into the definition of scam. (Ethically if not legally.) If they are aware that writers are spending money hoping to improve their sales ranking, and Amazon knows it won’t and also knows it isn’t clear (since writers are complaining) then, yes, it’s a scam.

                And if there is in fact a double standard where more expensive print giveaways are credited as sales, and digital downloads aren’t, then Amazon needs to explain why that is the case, other than to force writers to pay extra to buy ranking.

                This simply is not as black and white as you would like it to be.

            • The giveaway program sounds very much like any other giveaway I’m familiar with. It has a particular value and purpose, which I enumerate in my first post. There’s no scam here.

              From a reader’s perspective, you want to know that the “best free books” list is based on reader activity, not on which author could afford to buy the most copies of her own book.

              Unlike many indies, DL could afford to buy 100 copies of her own book and give them away. Konrath could afford (let’s suppose) 1,000 copies of his own book and give them away. Stephen King (I’m certain) could afford to buy 1,000,000 copies of his own book and give them away.

              Who do you think would dominate that list then, if it worked the way DL expected it to? Indies or tradpub? Right. Also the value of that list would be degraded for readers and by extension, Amazon.

              The way the list currently works, you have a shot of getting on it. And if you buy an ad that many people see, and they go to Amazon and buy your books, that’s also fair. That’s how any other business works.

              For any other product, the business reporters I know would consider what D.L. did to be a scam, although I’m convinced she was sincere and did not intend any such thing.

              If my newspaper bought up copies of our paper and gave them away, then tried to sell ads based on that number, advertisers would consider us to be scammers. We enter contests that require having a certain circulation size; we would be disqualified if we used her method.

              My experience with giveaways meant I cheered when Amazon offered them to indies. DL’s post showed how the program looks to people who are coming in cold to the concept. Her post is valuable because she’s probably not alone in her misinterpretation.

              The lesson is not, “Amazon is scamming us,” but rather, “Amazon giveaways work under certain parameters.”

              it does seem a little bit like a scam for Amazon to offer it, since they know newbie writers are going to throw money (because it is very easy to set up an account) at it and fail to get fair value for their advertising investment.

              That doesn’t make it a scam. That makes the newbies naive, which is different: the newbies are accountable for learning how the business works. We’re all adults here so I don’t see any reason why any author should not be expected to learn how the system works.

              You did the math on AMS and are staying out. Someone else’s variables may mean the math works in their favor. Either way it’s responsible to check first, and you were right to do so. But the person who doesn’t? That’s on them.

              What happened here is that someone was hoping to find a solution to a problem. It sounds like her hope caused her to miss the cues that this droid wasn’t what she was looking for. That happens to everyone. No bad intentions required.

              • “You did the math on AMS and are staying out. Someone else’s variables may mean the math works in their favor. Either way it’s responsible to check first, and you were right to do so. But the person who doesn’t? That’s on them.”

                I don’t mind the money I spent experimenting on AMS. (It wasn’t much.) And overall, I think it’s better to have the option, than not have it. I actually had fun using it.

                However, I read a lot about this stuff and I have yet to find ANYONE who says they’ve had success with it. Certainly in terms of making an actual profit from the sales compared to the advertising spent. (I’d love to be wrong about that.) That’s why it’s critical for writers to feel free about sharing information about their experiences without being attacked for “accusing someone without all the facts.” Or lectured that they should just focus on writing more books.

                It’s not enough for Amazon to simply say, “Buyer beware.” They have all the data. Is AMS providing a real value to the writers using it? If it isn’t, they should keep tweaking it until it does, or they should end the program. They do have a corporate responsibly to provide value for services. All the more because they are the big gorilla in self-publishing.

                There are plenty of little companies offering “promotion” of ebooks on twitter and on their websites. Very few of them actually result in any real sales. Clearly, writers should do research before spending money on such services. But it’s perfectly reasonable for writers who spend money on them, and don’t get any sales, to warn others that they might be scams.

                Obviously, Amazon’s giveaway program doesn’t rise to the level of some of the twitter scams. And it clearly has some promotional value (perhaps a lot). But it is perfectly reasonable to raise questions about it, and simply saying writers should do research before using it doesn’t let Amazon off the hook.

  13. Thanks to those of you who added thoughtful comments, informative feedback, and insight on the challenges of being an indie author. Even if I didn’t reply to your comments, I noticed, and you rock!

    It’s always easier to throw insults and make snarky comments than it is to add value, and if you spent some time being civil and pensive, I would love to have you join in future conversations at my blog. (And hey, drop me an email and let’s chat!)

    The journey is the reward.
    No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.
    Trust the karma.

    (And thanks a bunch to Passive Guy for giving me a platform and being so nice about it!)

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