Is the Free Ride Really Over?

This post, by Andrew E. Kaufman, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective site and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

I’m hearing a lot of talk lately among authors that the Amazon Select program is losing steam and no longer spurring the kinds of sales it once did. Many are reporting diminished numbers and poor results after their free giveaways. Rumors are spreading from blog to blog that on May 1st, Amazon abruptly changed its algorithms (The “customers also bought” section) so that free books are now given only ten percent weight in the rankings, in effect making ten free downloads really only equal to one sale. Also, borrowed books supposedly no longer count as sales where rankings are concerned.

I don’t know if all this is true, but a lot of people seem  pretty upset. Authors are complaining that Amazon wants them to give away their books for free with no benefit to sales. They’re threatening to withdraw their work from KDP Select and upload them to Smashwords.  Others are trying to decide whether to stick it out with a wait-and-see attitude. 
Many have benefited greatly from the Select program. I am one of them. My sales are still going strong, and I haven’t seen the diminished numbers others are reporting. I feel fortunate for that, but my suspicion is that while the free promos may have given me a good bump at the outset, what’s happening now is something entirely different. I never stopped promoting once the giveaways ended, and I’ve never relied on the Select program to carry me forever. I’m not saying that others have; I’m simply recounting my own experience.
But in the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered just how long the Select Effect would last. When it began, it seemed like a mad free-for-all, literally, and suddenly the market was flooded with free books. It only seemed logical that eventually, consumers might feel overwhelmed by it all, that they would grow tired, and yes, that the value of e-books might become diluted. After all, there are so many books and so little time to read them all. There’s no telling how many free books are sitting on Kindles now—and even worse, how many of them will ever actually be read.

I’m not a gloom-and-doom person, and I suspect that even if my sales weren’t doing well, I wouldn’t be one of those complaining right now. I still choose to see the glass as half full. Many authors are forgetting that even if they give away a lot of books and don’t see an immediate boost in sales, those are seeds that have been planted, and they’re getting the benefit of gaining new readers they never had before. I’ve learned that in this business, too fast never lasts, and that slow and steady wins the race. It’s how I’ve built my audience over the years. Besides that, there’s still the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and at least for me, it’s been like having extra books up for sale—money in my pocket I wouldn’t normally have.

The thing is, I don’t think the Select program was ever intended to carry authors forever; I think it was intended to give them exposure, help get their books into new readers’ hands, and ultimately, help them grow their readerships, and I still think it’s doing that. What happens after is really up to the authors. It’s not Amazon’s job to do all the work so our books can sell—it’s ours—and it’s not much to ask if we meet them half way.

The truth is, the free ride really isn’t over because in fact, one was never offered.