The Google Play Controversy & The Opportunity Of FREE

Not long after I posted an article about Google Play, the airwaves were abuzz with horror stories about GP’s pricing policies. As noted in my article (and many others), GP reserves the right to discount books without notice or permission. Note: Many authors know to increase their usual book prices on GP to avoid triggering Amazon’s price-matching policy. If you missed it, Author Ruth Harris added a GP pricing strategy in her comment on my post.

FREE_205_OpNow we’re hearing that GP is also making books FREE without notice or permission, and it’s creating bad blood, with some authors removing their books from the platform completely. Read the KindleBoards thread. Note: My understanding is that when GP discounts a book to free, they still pay the author any commission they would have earned if the book was sold at full price. It’s understandable that authors resent GP’s pricing manipulations, but if you can live with it and you’re into free, that’s not a bad deal.

I believe the real missed opportunity here is that GP is NOT notifying the author of these forced free days – they don’t understand how aggressively we market our cheap-and-free book promos. Maybe they’ll smarten up, maybe they won’t. But before you run screaming for the exits, make a decision that’s right for you. If you hate anyone messing with your stuff, give GP the boot. If you like living on the edge and consider the whole thing an adventure, stay put or climb on board the GP crazy train.

It’s clear that authors who are successful and earning well from their titles do not need to deal with Google Play, but for those of us grappling with discoverability – and who are not anti-free book promos, GP is still an option. But be aware that if your books are available on GP, you’ll need to monitor pricing carefully. If GP puts your title up free and you don’t want it to continue, you can simply delete the title.

Note: Amazon MAY email you when they become aware that one of your titles is offered at a lower price on another platform and before they move to price match, but they may not. I’ve been “warned” about lower pricing on B&N, but never about a lower price on Kobo.

So. If you’re on the fence about free book promos, low-cost pricing, and selling on multiple platforms, I’ve included blurbs and links to three excellent posts – hope these help!

Why Free Is Your Best Marketing Tool And How To Harness It
One of the best articles I’ve ever read about the real power of free. Per Penny Sansevieri, “I had an author who did a freebie last year who gave away 37,000 copies of her book over 2 days. The day after the promotion ended she sold 1,300 books. Now, you may gasp at that 37,000 number but consider this: the old way of thinking is viewing these as lost sales. The new way is to view this as a conversion number. The higher the number, the better the conversion

Now, we all know that some people just love downloading free. They’ll never read it and probably never become a fan. Then you have the folks who downloaded it thinking it was something it wasn’t. They open the book, thinking it’s X when it’s really Y. You don’t want those people, either. But then there’s the core readership.

Out of a big number like 37,000, that may only be 1,000 readers. Again you may gasp, but stay with me for a minute because what I’m going to show you will blow away several outdated marketing theories. You only care about that sliver of readers. The 1,000 who will open the book, read the book and (if you’re lucky) write a review. Why? Because that’s how you start building those Super Fans I mentioned previously.” Read the rest of this article on HuffPo.

Who’s Afraid of Very Cheap Books?
I love the points David Gaughran makes about low book pricing. Per David, “A common meme in publishing is that cheap books are destroying the world or literature, and that low prices are undermining the viability of publishing or writers’ ability to make a living. I’ve long thought this position is nonsense – a narrative which plays on misplaced fears of change and a confusion of price and value, which is also based on flawed assumptions and analog, zero-sum thinking. And, if anything, the opposite is true …” Read the rest of this article on David’s blog.

Breaking Free – What Happened when I left KDP Select
This article is a stellar example of the power of book sales on multiple platforms. Per Nick Stephenson, “I talk to a lot of authors who have a strong opinion on the relative merits of signing up for 90 days of exclusivity with Amazon, and the words “shackled” and “dungeon” come up a lot. It’s the same for free days – half of authors think they’re a God-send, the other half would rather cut off their own limbs with a rusty spatula than offer their work gratis. And that’s cool, I don’t have anything against people having wildly different opinions – and there are plenty of authors making a decent income without touching free promotions, and there are plenty who swear by them. But I like to look at the cold, hard numbers before coming to a conclusion, as everybody’s mileage seems to vary.

The two main strategies for free books I see most often are:

  1. A variety of titles signed up to KDP Select, with rotating free promotions on each book. This is pretty easy to do with the 5 free days you get to play with under the KDP Select contract.
  2. Titles NOT in KDP select, and up on other vendors, with the first book in the series permanently free. This is also pretty easy to do.

There are pros and cons for both approaches, but last month was the first time I’d tried option number (2). I’ve had a bunch of emails and comments asking for me to report back on the results, so here’s the skinny …” Read the rest of this article on Nick’s blog.

Readers, what do you think about free book giveaways, low pricing, or making your books available on multiple platforms? Please leave a comment and share!

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8 Responses to The Google Play Controversy & The Opportunity Of FREE

  1. Pamela Beason June 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Another excellent post, Molly. Personally, I despise “free” because 1) with so many authors doing it, many readers expect to get books for free and 2) by not charging for our product, we authors are essentially telling the world that our work is not worth paying for. In what other field do people expect to receive products without paying for them?

    I know that offering the first book in a series for free can be an excellent sales strategy and I have used it, too, but only because I feel forced into it by the current market. All of the “free” promotions serve the booksellers far better than the authors, especially those who have not yet written a whole series of books. The strategy makes it nearly impossible for new authors to gain audience awareness without giving away their books.

    • Molly Greene June 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

      Thanks Pam, your argument against free is understandable and one many of my author friends agree with. But I also know authors with one one or two books who’ve never used free and are doing well using occasional low-cost promos. Don’t ask me how! I’m on the fence. I’m not opposed to free so I’m sure I will try it at some point – Toby Neal recently ran a Bookbub free promo on the first book in her series and got 60,000 downloads – just like the old days of 2011. Heady stuff, when you think of all the new readers she probably turned loose on the rest of the 8 or 10 books in her series.

      • Pamela Beason June 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

        I have a BookBub promo for 99cents, not free, coming up on July 1 for THE ONLY WITNESS. Outrageous pricing, but they (unlike other sites) show you the statistics before you commit, and they seem to have a dedicated readership. I’m willing to pay for advertising and do a fire sale if I have good reason believe the strategy will actually pay off in the long run. So often the downloads stop only one or two days after the free offer, because so many of those readers are just off to the next free book. (I should know, I have dozens of books on my Kindle I haven’t even looked at yet…)

        • Molly Greene June 17, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

          Good for you Pam, and it will be great to hear your results. Bookbub is expensive, but it’s the one promo we hear about that consistently brings results – even if you only sell enough books to cover the cost of the promo, you should still get crossover sales to your other books. I’m excited for you!

  2. Jon Jefferson June 17, 2014 at 12:29 am #

    Free days can be good, but couple that with tiered peicing. With how easy it is to self publish you can set up a variety of offerings at different price points. Low cost and free are introductory, then some stories at a slightly higher price point and then others at a higher tier after that. This gives the reader choices and allows them to explore your work at their commitment levels.

    • Molly Greene June 17, 2014 at 8:24 am #

      Thanks, Jon, sounds like a great plan!

  3. John Chapman June 17, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Free works well for my co-author and I. Back in early April 2012 I made the first book in our series free for two days. We gave away 2,800 books and in the three days following sold eight times the number of books we sold in the previous two years. ‘Our fortunes are made,’ we thought but then mid-way in the month Amazon changed their ranking system and it no longer became as effective.

    We persevered with Kindle Select for another six months but then withdrew from the program. We put the books on Smashwords and through them to iTunes, B&N, Sony and Kobo. We set the first book’s price as free. After a while Amazon price matched.

    Since then our book has been in the top 20 of technothrillers at Amazon for 34 months. It’s a big book and takes an average reader about 20 days to read. Each time it’s promoted I see a peak in the other books sales after that 20 day delay.

    It’s taken time but we are now starting to turn a profit for our work.

    • Molly Greene June 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

      John, thank you so much for sharing! Yours is a wonderful story and it helps everyone out there (like me!) who’s plugging along, writing books and wondering what the heck to do to sell them. It boils down to persistence, trying new things, keeping an open mind, and improving craft, and writing, writing, writing. Thank you again and huge congratulations on your success.