May 08, 2012

The Kindle Experiment

Out of curiosity, and/or in my capacity as a tech blogger, last month I decided to experiment with enrolling a couple of my previously published novels in Amazon's KDP Select program for 90 days. Books in KDP Select can be loaned for free to Amazon Prime members, and you can also make them free to purchase for 5 of those 90 days. The downside is that you agree to make your book digitally exclusive to the Kindle platform while it's part of KDP Select.

As is often the case, it's not clear how well this plays with the Creative Commons licensing for my novels; even if I agree to make my book exclusive to Kindle, other people can make it available for download for free. But I did remove the two books in question -- my thrillers Invisible Armies and Night of Knives -- from the other paid market where I've made them available, Apple's iBooks (where they've only sold a tiny handful anyway.)

Then, as an experiment, I made Invisible Armies free for a Wednesday-through-Friday period, and Night Of Knives free for Saturday-through-Monday. The results were striking. I thought each would maybe get 500 downloads. Instead, 9,108 copies of Invisible Armies were downloaded over that three-day period -- circa 1,000 on Wednesday, 3,000 on Thursday, and 5,000 on Friday. All that while just barely cracking the Top 40 of Amazon's Free On Kindle bestseller list. It turns out that people really like free stuff.

Well -- some people, and some free stuff. That's Amazon USA. Only 84 free copies of Invisible Armies were downloaded on Amazon UK over that time. Then, over the next three days, Night of Knives was downloaded a relatively-mere 1509 times in the USA, more than I expected but far fewer than Invisible Armies, and 75 times in the UK. (It's perhaps worth noting that the dead-tree version of Invisible Armies got far more of a publisher push and sold much better in the UK than in the US, while Night of Knives wasn't published in the US at all, so I would have expected both to do disproportionally well with the UK audience.)

Results? About 25 extra sales per book, relative to my usual monthly baseline, and about 40 library loans so far. Shrug. Still, it's always nice to have another 5,000 readers, assuming that approximately half the people who downloaded the free books will actually start to read them.

  • If you make your book available to Kindle readers for free, a surprising number of people will download it.
  • However, that number is highly variable, even between similar books by the same author.
  • Based on this very limited data set, a midweek release is better than a weekend release.
  • Free downloads will enormously outnumber subsequent sales or loans.
  • The Kindle ecosystem is vastly more popular in America than in the UK.