At the recommendation of a few (more) successful author friends, I signed up Nick Stephenson's Your First 10K Readers program. I'd recommend this program in an instant, although I will say it's probably more well-suited to indie or hybrid authors who are able to control their own pricing because one of the main strategies of the program is the perma-free book. (There are lots of other strategies, too, and I'll happily wax on about them if you're curious. Just let me know.) According to Stephenson, perma-free helps gain readers, newsletter subscribers and fans -- all which help with sell-through to other books. My books weren't exactly flying off the online shelves, so why not?
I'm going to talk numbers and specific examples here in the interest of providing real-life examples. Yep numbers and more numbers.
Step one -- Give away the first book in my 2-book series to newsletter subscribers, but keep it priced at $3.99 on retail sites.
I released book 2 of my series in December 2015. From the release of book 2 to January 15, when I made book 1 free, I sold 270 books across all Amazon stores. This included a $0.99 promo of book 1 and a $1.99 promo of book 2 for release week. Not too shabby.
On January 15, I changed my website and started offering book 1 free for newsletter subscribers and supported this with intermittent Facebook ads for a month. I gained 150 new newsletter subscribers, but I looked at my sales for Feb and topped out at a whopping 16 sales, including 8 sales of book 1 at full price.
I gave it until March 15 and ran another Facebook ad. This time I gained another 20 subscribers over the course of a week, but I didn't feel like I was getting the ROI I wanted, so I stopped the ad and had a think about my goals. I've got 3 books out, but I'm relatively unknown. To build sales, I have to gain readers. The end.
Which led me pretty quickly to Step 2. One March 26, I made book 2 free across all retailers.
In the last 5 days of March, I had 608 downloads of book 1 and sold 11 copies of book 2. I did no promotion or advertising.
But, I sure did in April! I did one free cross-promo with other romance authors and a paid promo through Fiverr and had 6162 downloads of book 1! My book hit the Top 20 in Free Romance on Amazon US and hit #78 overall in the Free store. However, it was in full-price sales that I really saw a jump! I sold 137 copies of book 2 -- which is more than it sold in the first two months it was out.
I've seen good numbers on iBooks and noticed less impact on Nook and Kobo.
May has been lighter, in terms of both sales and downloads, but I've scheduled my paid promo for later this week and am looking forward to seeing a jump.
Does free work for everyone? Probably not. Do readers question the "value" of free? Everything points to yes -- from my unofficial polling of readers to my own experience as a reader. But, is free worth considering as part of your marketing plan? In my experience, I'd have to give it a resounding yes!