Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is the Amazon KDP Select Program Dead? A Fresh Case Study

I have a friend named Farsheed Ferdowsi, and he’s a good writer.

A damn good writer.

Last weekend, he used three of his “free days” in the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Select program to try and boost the sales of his international thriller, Mushroom in the Sand.

In advance of this, he spent a lot of time preparing.  He fine-tuned his genres/categories so that the book, if downloaded in large numbers, would be listed on as many of the Amazon subgenre bestseller lists as possible.  Meanwhile, he placed ads in BookBub and Freebooksy to appear during those three days to maximize exposure. 

The book went free at 12:01 a.m on Friday, October 18th.  To help him out, I tweeted the news that the book was free several times to my 60,000 Twitter followers.

The downloads took off like a rocket.  By Friday night, the book was already #1 in several categories, and continued to climb in others.

Over the weekend, the novel had over 25,000 downloads!

Here is a summary of its bestseller list performance in Kindle Store eBooks:

#1 in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers – all weekend
#1 in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Conspiracies – all weekend
#1 in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Military - all weekend
#1 in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Espionage – all weekend
#1 in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Terrorism – all weekend

With performance like this, I don’t have to tell you that Farsheed was excited to see what would happen on Monday morning when the book went back to paid status.

Well, the novel has now been back on the paid list for three days, and has sold a grand total of...are you sitting down?

14 copies.

That’s right, 14 copies!  At $5.95, the royalty payments will amount to about $60.  This doesn’t begin to even cover the costs of the two ads he placed.

Now, before you start thinking, “Maybe it’s not a very good book” or “maybe the subject matter is boring” etc. let me stop you right there.   This is a novel about what would happen if Iran actually develops a functional nuclear weapon. You can’t get much more timely subject matter than that. The story is fast-paced and extremely well-researched.   Readers of spy novels and thrillers love it.  The book has earned 50 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4.7 stars.  I know for a fact that Farsheed has never bought reviews or even exchanged reviews with other authors—every one of those 50 reviews is legitimate, from ordinary readers. 

As an author who has a fair amount of experience in publishing, I can only come to one conclusion about all this, which is pretty obvious.  I personally don’t think it’s worth giving Amazon exclusivity and removing a book from B&N, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, Sony, Flipkart, and all the other ebook retail sites (which is required) to be included in this program.

What do you think?


  1. My question, how many other books has he written? And have their sales improved since the he gave away the one book? I use free book I get on Amazon to discover new Authors and if I like the book I got from a Author I will buy his others. I also don't read a book the week I get it. I look from time to time to grab a few freebies for when I really don't have a book I want to read I have a few sitting there in my TBR area on my Kindle. I think it might take a little time to see the true results of a free period.

    1. You could be right, Matt. At this point, Farsheed only has the one title on KDP.

  2. Mike, I'm inclined to agree with you. I did a free day almost two weeks ago of my first book, Lazar's Intrigue, and the number of downloads exceeded my expectations, but I haven't seen an increase in sales of ANY of my books as a result. My suspicion is that there's a huge community of readers now who know they can download a plethora of free books to their Kindle any day of the week, mostly because of these free day offerings, and they will never have to pay for another book again.

  3. I'm very glad you posted this, because I was considering doing just this thing for my first and newly self-published book "Sideshow" and was concerned about removing it from other markets. I see how this program could be detrimental. I think the more platforms your book is available on, the better, right?

  4. I think giving away free books works best as a promotional tool when the book is part of a series or if you have a bunch of other books available. I'm sure there's also a possibility of word of mouth producing extra sales but a lot of that has to do with how active the book reading community is on the web rather than an issue of KDP in particular. I think people aren't as excited about ebooks as they were when this whole self-publishing thing took off. The novelty was always going to wear off.

    Moody Writing

  5. There's an adage. People who 'buy' free books, don't pay for books. From the research a Publisher friend of mine has done, the model that appears to work best (for a single title) is that a cheap price 99p is great for a first book. Following books can be more expensive. Give your short stories away - not your novel.

  6. I am continually surprised by friends and relatives who mostly read free books. They even tell me they don't buy other books the author writes even if they liked the book. They just move on to the next free book. This is a scary trend for authors.

  7. I tried KDP Select last year and had some success, but since then, the program is no longer as effective. I now have multiple short stories as free ebooks that I use as "breadcrumbs" to hook readers toward my novels. I will no longer use KDP Select again. I also used BookBub, but dropped the book down to $0.99. BookBub was very effective, and I sold over 1,000 copies (my other book sold over 800 copies).