After some consideration, I decided to try a book giveaway. It began last Thursday and lasted through Monday. I really wasn't sure what to expect, considering I've heard so many varying results and I haven't personally given a book away in almost a year. Admittedly, when I used this technique last, I received the famous "bump" in sales. But the option was new then, and free e-books were new to Amazon customers. Eventually, Amazon reconfigured their algorithms and the value of free diminished considerably.
In the meanwhile, many authors have heard the success stories and rushed to give their books away in the hopes of nabbing a better overall ranking that will propel sales after the giveaway ends. For some it works, for some it doesn't. Across the board, it seems to not work as well as before, and requires a great deal more effort to pull it off successfully. There are fewer sites where you can promote your giveaway and -believe it or not- some of them actually charge you to promote your free book. It ain't cheap, either.
I went into this giveaway armed with this knowledge but determined to do next to nothing. I wanted to see if free had any real value of its own anymore. I only contacted one site that advertises free e-books, and that was after the free run had already begun. I'm not sure if they ever posted it, but I doubt it. The ultimate result was that my short story The Last Heist was downloaded a whopping 100 times, or thereabouts.
I know, it makes me chuckle, too. The last time I gave a book away, about a year ago, it was downloaded 14,000 times. That was without any promotion or advertising. But even then, I doubted the long term practicality of this technique. I could already see diminishing returns. That was when I decided not to do it anymore.
Okay, on to the results.
I know what you're thinking: He only gave away 100 books. That couldn't possibly have helped. Maybe. However, my sales have actually risen ever so slightly. Granted, I haven't tripled or quadrupled sales like so many stories we've heard, but on average I've been selling a few more books each day. It's not a lot, but in the long run that number may be significant. A few books a day might be a hundred or more in a month, and represents an average of about $200 in income. Well worth the price of 100 copies of a short story, in my opinion. Especially if the new sales numbers persist.
Can I conclusively say my sales have increased because of this giveaway? Not at all. My sales have been steady since November. A slight increase over the last week may be part of a natural cycle or part of my growing audience... but having only given away 100 copies of a short story and seeing my numbers grow slightly is encouraging. It's possible that I gained a small amount of exposure, and have seen returns based on that. If nothing else, I think this experiment might be worth trying again.
I'm still inclined to say that giving away thousands or tens of thousands of free books is foolish, and almost certainly damaging. Many readers have learned that free often does not equate with quality, and some even refuse to buy low-priced e-books at all now. This is a fine line we have to walk, because as unknown Indies, most of us can't go head-to-head with Stephen King or John Grisham. Our low prices attract new readers, but also label us as the equivalent of a "bargain-bin." So ultimately I'm happy that I didn't give away too many, and I'm thrilled to see that sales of other titles have risen, if only slightly. I can't necessarily correlate freebies to sales, but if nothing else I know I didn't really do any damage.
I will probably try this again with another short story. I don't expect to do this with a full novel. Not even the first in a series. If several hundred people are willing to buy my novels each month, why would I give them away? But if these results are consistent, I can definitely see a value in giving away shorter, less expensive works to lure buyers toward pricier titles. Your mileage may vary, but as for myself, I'm happy with what I've learned.