All over the internet you can find posts about how great and idea it is to make a book permafree, or even temporarily free, on Amazon. It is the quickest way to push your career into the stratosphere, and there are no downsides, right?
Free promotions don't help build readership like they used to, especially because not only does your paid rank not go up during a free promotion, it gets frozen. That means if you are getting sales and building traction before the free promotion, as soon as you go free your book swaps over to the free rank and you won't benefit at all from those free copies.
Something that can go wrong...
If you get TOO many free downloads all at once, amazon will remove your free ranking until you can prove to them that you had some sort of promotion like a BookBub Featured Ad and it wasn't something else against their TOS that spiked those downloads.
Another possible disaster
Some companies will target books that are free and doing well in the store to have their bot accounts spam download it. This actually relates to the problem mentioned above, because it will cause Amazon to freeze ranks. The reason those companies do this is because they are using your book as a mask to hide their illicit activities. After all, it's much harder to find a scammer if legitimate books are mixed in. Amazon might swing their hammer down on the botters and catch you in the crossfire.
The downside of this is twofold.
- Amazon might pull your ranking, and the thing is your book WAS involved in illegitimate activity even though you are a victim.
- Your also-boughts are going to be horrible.
Imagine this horror story: a bot army of 1,000 fake accounts starts spam clicking the top free books to hide their fake activity, and your book becomes a target. Along with your book, they are also hitting their own garbage books that only exist to cheat amazon.
You generate 1,000 downloads, and you think, "yay, my book is doing great!"
then the also-boughts show up for you, and they are books that are obviously fake garbage and real people don't buy. What this means is Amazon's recommendation algorithms will kick in to recommend your book to people who aren't even remotely interested in it (or worse, aren't real).
So, why do people go free?
There are two ways that free downloads can benefit you:
Exposure: This is how you find new readers, and the only chance your book has of being read is for people to have a copy. So, giving copies away is the best way to get your book out there, right?
The problem is, most people who download free books never actually read them. They just keep adding to their library and usually end up forgetting what they have downloaded. That means your book might get downloaded a TON and only get read by a handful of people.
Also-boughts: Having a strong also-bought list means your book is recommended to people who are buying similar books to yours.
When people spam click your free book, you could end up with nonfiction books about yoga in your also-bought list. Since those yoga readers aren't going to buy your fiction book when it goes back up to full price, all you're doing is actively suppressing your own work (eventually, Amazon will stop recommending books that don't sell, and if your book is being recommended to the wrong audience it can actually be damaging).
Making your book free or permafree used to be a goldmine on Amazon: readers would buy and read free books to find new authors, and Amazon would heavily reward books that went free with ridiculously good recommendation lists and other benefits.
The new world order is different, though: scammers have taken over the Amazon store, especially the free book store, and now it is much more difficult to benefit from setting your price to free than it used to be.
The one case that trumps this is a BookBub Featured Deal, because their reputation and the power of their readership is completely different. If you get a bookbub, then the also-bought list will be strongly in your genre and you will generate a TON of new readers. If you're thinking about going free, save it for something big like this.
Do I have perma free books?
Sort of. I have a couple of books that I make free occasionally, as well as some anthologies I participate in. For launching a book, though, I don't think free is a good strategy anymore.
For my recent launch, I considered making my book free for a couple of days. The reason would have been to get verified purchase reviews by asking people who read early copies to download before leaving a review. I decided against it for multiple reasons.
- That was another step for readers toward leaving reviews that they might just ignore anyway.
- Secondly, it went against my launch plan, which was to build up sales/ranking toward a peak on 10/30/2017.
- Lastly, it devalues works (many websites won't even promote a book that has been free, and starting out at that price means there is nowhere for your book to go over time) and I would rather have readers opt in to reading my book by paying a small fee (99 cents) instead of just downloading a free copy and forgetting they have it.
This is all just my two-cents on the issue. Let me know if you disagree in the comments below!