In March and April I experimented with Amazon's "KDP Select" program. One of the main advantages, they say, is that an author can plan several "Free Days" promotions. The concept seems clear, and it follows a well-known advertising pattern. When a new Starbucks opens, they offer free samples, hoping that one taste will bring customers back again. In the same way, offering some of one's books for free promotes more readership, and the effect carries over when the promotion is finished. Readers who sample one book are expected to be more willing to purchase other volumes by the same author.
Did it work? To a certain extent, it did, but I have a few doubts. Enthusiasm ran high for the books I offered for free. A few readers chose to download "The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux" during the free promotion. Sales for that particular title doubled over the next six weeks, although the total for that 20-year-old book was not exactly overwhelming.
The larger effect, however, had to do with the next promotion, where downloads of "A Scratch with the Rebels" were ten times as numerous. And after that, the promotion of "Beyond All Price" took off for the stratosphere. Downloads mounted into the hundreds, a multiple of 100 books downloaded for every one of the "Dilemma" downloads. So it works, right?
Maybe not! The enthusiast did not last. By the time I opened the give-away offer for "The Road to Frogmore," readers appeared to be tired. Give-away numbers fell off again, down to about 25% of the previous offer. But what was worse, regular sales started to fall off, too.
Now I understand that there are readers out there with good intentions but poor follow-through. They snatch up a free book, planning to read it, but somehow, it just never gets opened. I've done that myself. So the reader who has now downloaded three books but not started any of them may be disinclined to add a fourth to the "good-intentions" pile. OK, fair enough. You probably lose interest in a cup of coffee that has been allowed to get cold, too.
But I wonder if there isn't something else going on. I recently reviewed my own reading patterns in my Kindle library and I find that the more I pay for a book, the more inclined I am to read it, regardless of content -- something about belonging to a generation that was taught that you get what you pay for, perhaps. (Which is why, perhaps, people are still willing to pay more for a Starbucks coffee than they are for a similar beverage at McDonalds.)
At any rate, I'm not going to be offering any more free promotions in the next few months. My experiment distributed a grand total of 985 free Kindle editions, which is about as much as I can afford to do. That should be quite enough to keep those readers busy for a while. Now we'll test the rest of the theory--the part that says, "The more books people read, the more they will want." (Books, like coffee, can be addictive.) I'll be keeping fingers crossed for improving sales figures on my newest books.
My two recent publications, "Damned Yankee" and "Yankee Reconstructed" are obviously connected to one another. They are the first two volumes of a series based on the fictional Grenville family of South Carolina. Volume one is set in the Civil War; volume two covers the years immediately after the war. (And yes, volume three is already in the works. I've finished one draft of the first sixty-percent of "Yankee Sisters." ) Faithful readers can expect the third part of the series to appear sometime in early 2017. And if you haven't met the Grenvilles yet, now is the time to start reading.
One final reminder: the jury is still out on Amazon's "Kindle Owner's Lending Library" program. My books have been enrolled for the past six weeks, and I am pleasantly surprised to see how many people have joined the paid-subscription plan that allows them to read as many books as they like. The reports that come to me show only the number of pages read, not the number of readers, but the page totals are higher than I expected. The benefit there, from my point of view, is that I get paid something for each page read. It amounts to only a fraction of a cent per page, but it's still an income generator.
So I encourage you to keep reading, in whatever fashion suits you best. If you are a "Prime" member, you can download one Kindle volume for free every month. If you join the KOLL subscription plan, you can get as many books free as you want. And if you are not the joining type, please remember that most books on Kindle cost less than a large drink from Starbucks. That $3.99 to $5.99 book will last longer than your Starbucks double latte, and without all the calories!