Is using free as a tool to drive sales a sustainable model? I don't believe so. I also don't believe that makes a difference as to whether I choose to use it now or not. I've pretty much heard all the arguments for and against "free," and you know by now where I stand in the debate. Still, there's one argument that keeps coming up that I simply can't get my head around: That because "free" is not a long-term strategy it doesn't make sense to use it in the short term. That, somehow, sales ranks that are earned through any channel other than "free" will be stickier and that organic growth is better.
Sure, "free" could stop being effective tomorrow. The 99 cent price point lost a lot of its effectiveness last year. However, that in no way negates the effectiveness of "free" today. And while books may well pulse up and down the charts, why would anyone deny themselves short-term gain? Yes, I'm familiar with the dollar-costing strategy for financial portfolios and I recognize the gamble one takes in chasing the stock market either monthly or via day trading, but book sales respond differently and to different triggers.
"I won't do 'free;' I'm after long-term sales," is a statement I hear a lot. First of all, I have to ask what "long term" means. Sales over years, months, weeks? What's the ultimate goal? 5000 sales? 50,000? If I can make inroads into that number faster by using "free," how is that not a good thing for business?
"Pulsing up and down the chart is no way to establish yourself for long-term sales." Perhaps this would be a valid concern if books actually swung between extremes. Some probably do. So I took a look at my books' rankings over the last 6 months (well, 4 months for Vet Tech Tales since it only released in December) to see how they've fared. (Note this is anecdotal evidence at best, and my 3 books do not a trend make. Charts screen-captured on April 5.)
The first chart is for SECTOR C. I put it into Select on January 4 and set it free January 6. Despite it being priced 99 cents through January 5, you can see that it was taking wild swings in its pre-Select days and was maybe starting to gain some traction in December due to some advertising in early December and again in late December. Since being in Select, it's rarely dropped below a #20,000 rank and, as you can see, each time it does, I've pulsed it free to keep its sales fairly even. Price since January 9 is $3.99.
I couldn't (or rather, wouldn't) pulse the book free again this past quarter because 1) sales at Apple were building nicely and 2) that long free run from early Nov to early Dec was only supposed to be 3 or 4 days at the most. I couldn't get it unfree, and that was frustrating.
Now, Spoil seems to be the poster child for the folk who point to post-free sales as being nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan surge. True. But the stickiness for Spoil seems to be around the #40,000-80,000 rank on its own at Amazon. Organic growth on this book is slow. If I can triple or quadruple its sales artificially for a short time and then still return to the level where the book was before going "free," what's inherently wrong with that? And how is that different from actively promoting the book through advertising, reviews or social media?
Why do some folk not see that non-"free," organic promotions can build on the successes of "free"? Why do some folk believe the two are so very mutually exclusive? And why would anyone say that just because moving 300 or 1000 or 2000 copies of a title in one month isn't sustainable into the next months that they'd overall rather NOT sell those extra copies?
I'm not being snarky when I ask. If there's truly a solid business reason for not chasing short-term sales gains through pulsing free promotions, I really do want to know the reason and the logic behind it.
I'll be at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention from April 10-16 but I've got the March Sales Voyeur post scheduled to run on Wednesday. We're also running a Spring Fling at Steel Magnolia Press on Monday, April 9, where we'll be giving away 7 of our titles, including 3 of mine. Do you know how much that timing hurts? I'm not sure I can survive just twice-daily checking of the post-free stats :o).