In order to test one of Amazon's KDP Select's programs, I added a couple of my books that weren't selling well anywhere but Amazon to the KU/KOLL list. Here's what I found out about KDP Select Free Days. An author may chose any five days (all at once or scattered) in each three-month enrollment period. During the time the book in question is on the free list, the author receives no royalties for copies ordered.
Then, why do it? Well, the promise is that free downloads will allow the book will rise higher on its category best seller list, which is supposed to attract other paying customers when the free period is over. Does it work? Not this time. One of the books I entered was my first children's book. It attracted only 27 orders, and dropped to zero and stayed there when the free period was over. That's quite a change from my experiences with free books back in 2011, when my free offer attracted 35,000 orders and carried on for another 10,000 after the price increased to its normal level. I'm convinced the promise of a profitable free offer has passed its shelf-life date.
What has changed? Well, start with this. In 2011, Amazon did not permit an author to list a book for free. However, if that book was listed as free somewhere else (like Smashwords or Barnes and Noble), and if it was selling well there, then Amazon might price-match it and list it for free without the author's knowledge or permission. That's what happened to my "Beyond All Price." I deliberately listed it for free on Smashwords. After more than a month, Amazon price-matched it and put it on its daily announcement of "New Free Books." A couple of good reviews followed, and downloads took off. Almost before I knew it was happening, 35,000 copies had been distributed. I contacted Amazon, asking them to restore the original price, which was supposed to pay me $2.00 for every book sold. I figured I had just lost $70,000.00 because of Amazon's "generosity."
Even after they restored the price, the book kept selling. Why? Because at that stage, Amazon counted every free download as a sale, and based the book's ranking on that number. I have a screen shot from August 2011, showing "Beyond All Price" as #4 on the list of Bestsellers in Historical Fiction, right after "The Help," Sarah's Key," and "The Paris Wife." Sales figures and royalties kept rolling in for several more weeks before the numbers tapered off. What a bargain those free days had been!
Amazon must have thought it was too good to be true, as well. They changed the rules and pulled the plug. Now, a Kindle book can only remain free for 5 days, which is not long enough to build momentum. And the free downloads are now listed on a separate list of "Free Bestsellers" in each category. You'll see them side by side with the listing for paid books in the same category. A book from a free download appears on the free bestseller lists only while the book is listed as free. The very next day, it drops off the list entirely. And all those downloads? Now they no longer count as sales. So while a book is running a free promotion, its real sales figures are zeroes, and five days of no sales is enough to remove any book from the regular bestseller ranks. The end result? Every free promotion worsens the book's Amazon ranking, and those changes are permanent.
But the situation is getting even worse. In 2011, when I became a best-selling author, not many books were offered for free, because it took both time (about six weeks in my case) and sheer luck for a free book to get noticed by people who wanted to get something for nothing. At the time Amazon made "Beyond All Price " free, there were just a few hundred other books in the same situation. Now? With the advent of Kindle Unlimited (KU), some 700,000 titles are available for free. The chances of any one book attracting enough readers to gain widespread notice are infinitesimal.
"5 FREE BOOK DAYS" offers are not meant to attract readers. They are designed to lure writers into giving Amazon total control over the distribution of their books. My advice? Don't take the bait.