Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 4 Post-Free Results

The question we're all trying to answer with the recent changes in Amazon's algorithms is whether or not playing the freebook game with Select is still "worth it." What "worth it" means to each author will likely be different. Picking up new readers, simple satisfaction in seeing your book out there in the hands of those new readers -- these are things that can't be measured except by your own internal evaluator. And just like the way Amazon's algorithms work, these are factors that you'll give either more or less weight to depending on your individual goals.

What we can do here is chart the tangible results and make some educated guesses as to what it all means for the expectations we set for future free runs.

Below are the 4-day post-free sales results for the 10 Steel Magnolia Press books we set free last week. You'll recall 4 of the books made it to the Top 50, 7 books got into the Top 100, and 9 into the Top 150.

(Click on the chart to open it larger in a new window.)

In addition to updating the numbers from the 2-day totals, I added some guestimated dollars at the end. In the week leading up to the free run, the Steel Magnolia authors sold 212 books and had 20 borrows total. That works out to about 33 copies sold/borrowed per day. In dollars, that's about $350 total or $50 per day.

That gives us the baseline to work from. To be doing any good from a purely financial standpoint, sales would have to improve over that $50-per-day mark post-free.

From the chart, you can see that in 4 days we've sold 800 books, had 116 books borrowed and had 100 returned. Subtracting the returns, we wind up with an average of 229 books sold/borrowed per day. That equals about $1200 total since the post-free run, or an average of $300 per day in royalties.

Remember, though, we lost 1.5 days in there by going free, so to see what actual gains there have been, we need to subtract the $50 per day we would have normally gotten on the days the books were free from the overall total. We ended our runs early on the second day, but to keep things simple, we'll call it 2 full days or $100.

So, $1200 - $100 = $1100.

Now we divide that $1100 by our 4 post-free days and get a total of $275 per day. And we can see that $275 is 5.5 times the $50 we had been making per day -- or a 550% increase.

A slam-dunk success, right?

Ah, but here's where we have to filter the results through two sets of eyes: publisher eyes and author eyes.

For Steel Magnolia Press, it's clear that using free as a revenue-generating tool can still work. Maybe not to the extent it was working in the past, but given the right promoting and a lot of luck, the post-free sales bounce is lucrative enough to repeat. At least based on these charted results.

But what about for the individual books? Using the same formula as above, let's look at how daily averages post-free compare to those pre-free.

SECTOR C - 372% increase
Warlock's Daughter - 4700%
The Rent-A-Groom - 800% 
Out of the Dark - 3900%
A Dragon's Seduction - 400%
Catering to the Italian Playboy - 1200%
Extinct Anthology - 350% 
Gypsy Bond - 300%
Vet Tech Tales - (90%)

Pretty wide ranges there, varying from 0.9 times as many sales to 47 times.

Of particular interest is Vet Tech Tales. It's on 4 Bestseller lists and in the Top 100 of 6 Pop lists. It had a healthy average of about 9 sales per day going into free. 1500 copies were given away and it ended its free run at #145. All signs that should point to a moderate post-free sales bounce. Instead, in the past 2 days its sales have come to a halt and its rank is poorer than it's been in weeks. Already it has a lower sales-per-day ratio than when it started -- all-in-all, a discouraging performance despite a nice increase in visibility.

I've heard anecdotal evidence from others who've noted this same phenomenon. This book has been on 5 free runs, and even on the couple of runs where it didn't get mentions on the major sites and had only 400 or 500 downloads, it was back to selling a pretty consistent 7-10 copies per day. This is the first experience this book -- or I -- have had with sales falling so completely off a cliff so quickly. I don't have an immediate answer as to why. I'm open to any thoughts you may have and, of course, I'll be looking for an answer too.

If that were the only book I had in Select, I would very disappointed in the result of the promotion, despite the overall success for the publisher. Something to keep in mind when you're listening to stories about various authors' successes or failures with Select free runs. Folk who do really well or really poorly are likely to be most vocal about their results.

So is there any data to help us determine just how different the results are now than they were in the Gold and Silver Ages of Select? If you ran a Select free promo back in February, what can you reasonably hope your May campaign will look like in comparison?

I happen to have data from comparable runs that will help answer just that question that I'll share with you on Friday.

Tomorrow, we'll look at whether readers really are getting tired of free books -- or is it the authors who are tired of giving them out instead?


Wyndes said...

I can't see if you have prices listed somewhere (and I'm too lazy to look up all the books), but I'd be curious if Vet Tech Tales is the only .99 book. With the change in algorithms hurting lower-priced books, maybe that's a factor in why it's not doing so well. I don't have any recent free experience to share, but I decided to try a week run at .99 for the first week of May and so far it appears to have been a huge mistake. I averaged 10 sales a day through April at $3.99, made basically the same in the first week of May at .99, and then dropped off precipitously -- down to 1/day -- for the past week. Maybe Amazon is doing something relating price and the also-buy lists, as well as the bestseller lists? (Obviously, if your more successful titles are also priced at .99, that's not the answer. But now I'm almost curious enough to start looking them all up!)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

That's a good question, Wyndes. But no, we have two other books at 99c. One's sales are a bit low, but they were that way going into the free promo and they've actually picked up since. The other is selling moderately well, although it's already starting dropping rank on the pop list. I suspect that drop is price related as its 30-day sales history + freeloads (even counted at only 10%) is better than many of the books ahead of it.

As far as 99c as a price, last month I was able to get SECTOR C to #84 and The Rent-A-Groom to #187 storewide doing a 99c 2-day promo with each of them. Sales fell slowly once the books were repriced to 4.29 and 2.99, so luckily that worked out well for us.

The alsobot recrunch after a price change (whether to free or to 99c) kicks in after about 2-3 days, and that could definitely account for more lackluster sales if your book doesn't show up on similar genre/similar price lists.

The alsobots have ALWAYS been skewed to favor like-priced books, which is why free books attract more free books into their lists. A 99c promo likewise attracts more 99 centers. All Vet Tech Tales' alsobots are now books it went free with. The real question is whether it's still on other like-minded books' alsobots.

The bestsellers still seem to be pure and unmanipulated. For now at least.