The Power of Pricing and eBook Free on Amazon

I’ve had a wild ride at Amazon ever since they dropped the price of Almost Perfect, book one of my contemporary romance trilogy, to free. I know a lot of you have been asking how the heck did I pull this off. Anyone following the e-book revolution closely knows an individual author self-publishing an ebook isn’t allowed to price their Kindle edition at Amazon lower than .99¢ Publishers can do it any time they wish, but for authors, it’s at the sole discretion of Amazon whether or not to offer an ebook free. So, how did I do it?

Motivation for Pricing an eBook Free

First, let’s look at why I would even want to give my hard work away free. Almost Perfect is a full-length novel, not a short story. It was a Rita Finalist and a readers’ pick at Affaire d’ Coeur for Best Single Title Contemporary the year it came out in print (originally published by NAL Signet Eclipse) . Why would I give it away?

What prompted my quest, which quickly turned into a mission, was an email exchange with my friend Marsha Canham, who writes good old-fashioned swashbuckling romance. Durning Smashwords’ annual Read an eBook Week, Marsha decided to opt for the 100% Off coupon on her Regency romance adventure, Swept Away. Amazon got wind of it somehow, and dropped the price of Swept Away to free because of their policy to match their price to the lowest price available. Marsha screamed in objection and shot them an email explaining it was a coupon, not an actual price reduction. Amazon agreed to raise the price back to $2.99, but it took 24 hours.

Marsha’s objection quickly turned to amazement when her numbers started climbing. On the free ebook, she saw a staggering number downloads in one day and hit #1 on the Free Kindle list. But that wasn’t the only number that rose. The sales on her other three ebooks started rising too. Then, even better, the free price ended but the downloads did not. Because of that one day free at Amazon, Marsha has sold thousands of ebooks. Her numbers continue to rise.

Since I was about to upload the whole Perfect trilogy at one time, I decided, “Hey, I wanna try free and see what happens.”

My Strategy Going In

My plan was to make book one of the Perfect trilogy free for the first week. For Just Perfect and Too Perfect–books 2 & 3 in the trilogy–the price would be $2.99 and $3.99. After the first week, the plan was to raise the price of Almost Perfect to .99¢ for a while, then raise it again to $2.99.

I’m very active with the Backlist eBook Authors, a group of established, print-published authors who are releasing their out-of-print novels as ebooks. Several of them agreed to help me get the word out on Twitter and Facebook when the ebooks went live. So, I had my pricing strategy and my campaign ready to go. Oh, if only life were that easy.

Amazon’s Rejection

As mentioned above, Amazon doesn’t allow authors to price an ebook below 99¢. Neither does B&N if you upload your ebook through PubIt! So I thought, “Well, I’ll just make it free at Smashwords then Amazon and B&N will price match like they did to Marsha.” Nope. I even tattled on myself and reported the free pricing and had friends do the same by clicking the “report a lower price” button the the product page. Amazon ignored us.

Frustration Builds

I thought Amazon would pay more attention when Almost Perfect shipped to Apple and Sony through Smashwords’ Premium Catalog, because then it would be free at those outlets. Here’s when my plan started to unravel. Apple accepted Almost Perfect as free — but you can’t copy and paste a URL to an iBook in order to “report a lower price” to Amazon. So, I changed tactics. I tried emailing Amazon to report the free iBook. Amazon sent me back a form email that said it was at their sole discretion, blah, blah, blah. Basically, no.

Worse, Sony didn’t accept Almost Perfect. Yikes! Sony only took books 2 & 3 in the trilogy. So, I was freaking out, thinking I’d have to give up on my quest for free or Sony wouldn’t take Almost Perfect at all.

A Breakthrough

I happened to be emailing privately with Mark Coker, owner of Smashwords, about another matter, and I mentioned I was about to admit defeat. He said, “Never give up!” Then, he contacted Sony and asked them why they didn’t take Almost Perfect when they’ve taken so many other free ebooks from Smashwords. Sony not only decided to accept Almost Perfect, they featured it in Free New Arrivals. Go Mark Coker! I emailed that information to Amazon. They went from a form rejection to saying my request had been forwarded up the chain of command and they’d get back to me. That was on a Friday.

Rock ‘n’ Roll at Apple

Books 2 & 3 in the Perfect Trilogy hit #1 & #2 at Apple

About that time, the whole Perfect trilogy exploded over the bestseller lists at the Apple iBookstore. Almost Perfect hit #1 in free ebooks, while Just Perfect and Too Perfect hit #1 & #2 in Paid Romance! I was selling — not giving away — but selling an average of 200 ebooks a day at Apple. At Amazon, I was selling a fraction of that.

You bet I emailed that information to Amazon, but it was the weekend, so no reply.

Victory at Amazon — Let the Party Begin!

Finally, after 3 weeks of trying and me driving all my friends nuts with my frustration, Amazon agreed to drop Almost Perfect to Free. That kicked in about 2:30 last Tuesday afternoon. All my friends who’d been waiting for me to give the word started blasting out Tweets and FB post. The power of an organized social networking campaign was amazing to watch. Daily Cheap Reads also featured the trilogy, which I’m sure helped as well.

Almost Perfect started climbing instantly and hit #1 in Free Kindle within a few hours. Just Perfect and Too Perfect also started climbing, not as fast, but steady, and they have not slowed down.

Amazing Sales at Amazon and Apple

Almost Perfect has been free at Amazon for nearly a week, and for nearly three weeks at Apple. Here’s where the whole trilogy stands:

  • Almost Perfect #1 in Free Kindle for six days straight.
  • Almost Perfect #1 in Free Romance at Apple for nearly 3 weeks.
  • Just Perfect ($2.99) and Too Perfect ($3.99) have risen to #6 & #7 in Paid Contemporary Romance at Amazon, where they have been holding steady for several days. They are both in Top 100 in Kindle storewide, fairly far down the list but they continue to rise.
  • At Apple, Just Perfect an Too Perfect peaked at #1 & #2 in Paid Romance, then dropped to #2 & #3 when Nora Roberts’ Chasing Fire hit #1. They’ve stayed at #2 & #3 for several days.

How Long Should an eBook Stay Free?

From talking to other authors, about a week is a good stretch, so I plan to change the price of Almost Perfect from free to .99¢ Wednesday. That price should kick in on Friday — but it’s hard to say for sure. I’ll watch my numbers and do an update report.

But What if You Can’t Pull Off Free?

Let’s face it, Amazon isn’t going to give in to every author who requests this. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a similar campaign with one of your ebooks priced at 99¢. I’ve also seen authors have good results bundling 2 or 3 of their ebooks together and pricing them from $3.99 to $5.99. I did a 99¢ campaign in March with Falling for You, book one in my Pearl Island trilogy, and had very good results.

What Did I Learn?

Other than “persistence pays,” what I really learned is the power of an organized social networking campaign. I had this planned out in advance, and I had my support group of friends waiting to help. As authors, our efforts have more power when we’re tweeting and posting about each other’s ebooks, rather than endlessly drumming our own. But I’ll save details on how to coordinate an effective campaign for another post.

Until next time!

Julie

PS: Grab your free copy of Almost Perfect at Amazon, Smashwords, or the Apple iBookstore while it lasts. Just Perfect & Too Perfect also available at Amazon, Smashwords, and iBookstore.

11 comments

  1. Beth Orsoff says:

    Congrats Julie! And thanks for sharing. I do wonder what Amazon’s response will be if lots of authors start doing this. It’ll be interesting, that’s for sure!

  2. Jack Flynn says:

    Great strategy! Admittedly, I’m a reader, not a writer so my take on the subject is slightly different. Of course I’ll download a free ebook by an author I like, but the real potential for sales growth is in people who don’t know the author and give the free book a shot and upon finding they liked it, they buy more books by the same writer.

    I do this. If I get a free kindle book then like the author, I usually end up either buying more of the ebooks or more likely (at least for me) buying more books in paperback.

  3. Loved all the detail you shared, Julie! What a wild ride. I am in awe of your persistence :)

  4. Jacquie D'Alessandro says:

    Great article, Julie! Thanks for sharing the info and for all your support!

  5. Great article. I just wish now I hadn’t freaked at the 24hrs free at Amazon and let it ride a little longer LOL

  6. Susana says:

    I downloaded your book but I haven’t still read it. It’s next on my list and this is a great idea. I, as a reader, download books for free from Amazon’s page and when I found a good book , many times from an author I don’t know (I am sorry to tell you but you are new for me) I buy others by the same author or if it is the first from a series I always buy the complete series. So, I think this is really a great idea for reaching for new “fans”. What I think we as readers owe the authors who give one of their books for free is to give our comments on Amazon’s page on exchange because it will help to have a good number of stars.

  7. Jules:
    You are very generous to share all your knowledge with us.
    It takes a lot of time to write an article like this.
    I’m pleased that your sales are stacking higher and higher.

  8. Paul Silver says:

    I am amazed at your incredible success in being number one on Amazon. That is really fantastic…great job! I only just learned about being able to offer a book on Amazon in a post of another blog. When I learned about it I searched for more information on putting an e-book on Amazon and I found your article. It is an inspiration to me that maybe, just maybe one day I will be successful promoting books on the Internet! Thanks!

  9. Thank you for sharing your experience! I will be bookmarking this blog entry for future reference. All the best on your sales!

  10. Hi Julie, very insightful post. Thanks for sharing.


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