For weeks now I’ve been reading about perma-free books jumping all over the charts. For those that don’t know, perma-free books are books permanently listed as Free.
Authors can do this by listing their price permanently free at another retailer and then having Amazon eventually match that price. Authors can’t make their book free themselves on Amazon except by enrolling in their KDP Select program and then they’ll only get 5 days over a period of 90 days.
Why Would Someone Give a Book Away for Free?
At least that’s the idea. Lots of books that are free probably shouldn’t be. The best way to make a perma-free book work for you is if you have additional titles that readers can buy up. After all, after they finish reading your free book, what will they buy? And that’s even if they bother to read it; most perma-free books never are.
Most successful independent authors have a perma-free book, and it’s a main contributor to their success. It drives up sales on their other titles, introduces new readers to their books, and attracts people to their websites.
So How Many Free Books Are On Amazon?
Estimates range from around 20,000 all the way up to just over 60,000. How is that number obtained?
There are a two ways you can see how many books are free on Amazon, although they won’t give you a perfect picture:
- $0 Search: Do a search of the Kindle eBooks priced from $0 to $0. The reason I know of this is because of a thread I saw on kboards a few days ago. I find this very interesting because when that author searched the books she got back 41,753 books. When I did that search a week later only 9,520 books showed up.
- Free Search: Go to the Kindle Store and type in “free” and do a search. I get 63,796 books showing up, although I have a feeling that not all of those are free. After all, I scroll down a little and there’s books listed for $2.99 or more. Now there are 400 pages when this search is conducted, and the vast majority of books on them are coming up as free. There are 60 books on a page. One page has 9 books listed that aren’t free. So that’s 15% of the books on that page. If you do the math that search has about 9,500 books too many then, and should really be 54,227. Still lots of free books.
Now if you compare that with how many books on Amazon are selling, well, the free books don’t seem like that many. Even if Amazon only had a million books the free books would represent just 5.4% of that.
So What’s the Recent Perma-Free Shakeup?
- Rankings Jumps: Books that were hovering around a certain area for a long time are suddenly moving about. Let’s say you have a book ranking as #1 in the Arthurian sub-genre of fantasy. I had one ranking there for many weeks until ‘sales’ started to level off. Many authors are saying how that book will go from #1 to #20, #60, or higher. Some are even reporting a book doing better, although I don’t know if this is something to complain about.
- ‘Sales’: ‘Sales’ are showing up and then disappearing. Authors with perma-free books get free downloads, referred to as ‘sales.’ You can see these on your KDP sales report, and the number usually goes up quite a bit each day. Some authors have mentioned seeing a jump of 100 sales suddenly, and then those sales just going away.
- Paid Sales: I’ve had several countries report one of my perma-free books as having a sale. This shouldn’t happen. Other authors have also mentioned seeing real sales, so there could be a glitch with this. Or it could just be a normal part of the perma-free sale reporting process.
- Disappearances: Some Amazon perma-free titles are just disappearing right off the shelves for a few hours or even a day, and then suddenly reappearing, maybe at a different rank, or sometimes the same. This is probably the most worrisome development. After all, many people wait months before Amazon finally price-matches their book to free. It can be quite disconcerting to see a book disappear off the free charts.
- Ranking Loss: Some books are losing their ranking entirely, even in categories that don’t have 100 titles. This is happening most with erotica books it seems. This is almost tantamount to a book disappearing. I can understand a perma-free book getting knocked off the Top 100 free list if the sales slip. But when there’s not even 100 books in the category?
- Keyword Loss: Many authors have reported that their book no longer appears in keyword searches. Let’s say I’ve got a historical romance. I type in ‘historical romance’ into a search of Kindle Books, and my book doesn’t appear when it used to. This sure makes it hard for that book to ‘sell,’ doesn’t it?
- Perma-Free Loss: Some authors have reported their book losing its perma-free status entirely. I haven’t seen this as much, so perhaps it could be through an error. If you change the price on another site like Smashwords then Amazon might pick that up and you’ll have to start all over.
Theories Why Amazon Perma-Free Books are Fluctuating
- Hacking: Some have suggested that Amazon might have experienced a problem with hacking. This is a possibility, but since the problem has now been going on for more than a month this can probably be ruled out.
- Glitch: Lots of authors are suggesting that Amazon is having a glitch with its perma-free books right now. What this could be is anyone’s guess.
- Category Manipulation: I think some authors might be putting their Amazon perma-free book in inappropriate categories just to get themselves on a list. I’ve had no problems losing categories myself, but other authors have. It could be that Amazon will still list your book as perma-free, but perhaps they’ll stop listing you in the categories. I don’t understand why they’d want to do this, however.
- Change: There could be some changes coming, perhaps with the free books listed on Amazon. This is what I think is happening.
My theories on what this Amazon perma-free change could include:
- Amazon getting rid of perma-free books by authors with no other titles;
- Books that have no ‘sales’ in a month losing their perma-free status, categories, or rankings;
- Negotiations with Smashwords to come to an agreement on perma-free books, which I think would only decrease the amount out there;
- Shoddy perma-free books rife with errors could be removed;
- The elimination of the Free Categories entirely;
- Washington Post ads for each perma-free Amazon book.
Yeah, I think that last one’s pretty unlikely as well. Anyways, it just goes to show how much confusion is reigning out there, and when that happens all kinds of theories get thrown about.
This perma-free mayhem has been going on for more than a month now. Hopefully it’ll stop, and hopefully there’ll be no big changes. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
And don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on your own perma-free adventure!
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