The unexpected effect of the “perma free” strategy on my productivity

dreamstime_m_42093656In a post entitled Time for a Pivot? I detailed a shift in my marketing strategy for 2015. In 2014, all my books were in Amazon’s KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) and I used the 99 cent Kindle Countdown KDP Select tool as my primarily form of promotion. In December 2014 I took all my books off of KDP Select in order to sell them in a variety of bookstores (Apple, Nook, Kobo, GooglePlay), and for these first six months of 2015 I have been using the perma free strategy (making Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, permanently free) as my major promotional tool. I also committed to writing more short stories, getting audiobook editions out for the next two novels in my series, and writing a short story for a new science fiction collaborative project called the Paradisi Chronicles.

While the table below demonstrates that this shift in strategy worked—in terms of maintaining my monthly income—the unintended consequence and perhaps the most important positive outcome from my shift in strategies is revealed in the last row of the table. My writing productivity quadrupled.

January to June 2014          January to June 2015
1 4 books on sale all in Select 5 books not in KDP Select 1 perma free
2 Total Sales and Borrows 21,200 13,626
3 Ave per month 3,500 2,200
4 Total royalties $36,000 36,500
5 Ave per month $6000 $6000
6 Free books 10,000 129,000
7 Promotions 5 KC (including 2 BookBub) and 1 Free promotion 1 BookBub of permafree book
8 Words written 2 short stories 18,000 words Draft of novel 85,000 words

How did this happen?

First of all, let’s look at the numbers. In the first six months of 2014, I had three novels for sale as ebooks (Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons) and a boxed set of those books, with print editions for the novels, and an audible edition of Maids of Misfortune.

In the first six months of 2015, I had three novels for sale (Uneasy Sprits, Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof––the 4th book in my series), Victorian San Francisco Stories (a collection of short stories) and my boxed set. I also now had audio book editions of Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and Victorian San Francisco Stories. This meant that even with the loss of the ebook version of Maids of Misfortune as a source of paid income, I had two more ebooks available for sale and several more audio books as a source of income.

Second, while I had lost the income I was getting in 2014 from borrows from KOLL (Kindle Online Lending Library) because none of these books were in KDP Select in 2015, I had picked up sales from Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay that made up for that loss of income. For example, January thru June 2014 (before the Kindle Unlimited subscription service was started by Amazon) I averaged 370 borrows a month from KOLL — about $700 a month in income. For 2015, with none of my books making money from borrows, I made on average $1000 a month (which included sales in the Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay stores as well as the Kindle store).

Third, while I sold more books in the first six months of 2014 than in 2015 (see rows 2 & 3), a lot of those books were discounted to 99 cents as part of Kindle Countdown promotions (my main promotional tool in 2014). This explains why I was getting the same income for selling fewer books (averaging 1,300 fewer a month in 2015; see rows 3, 4 & 5). In 2015, I was giving away a lot more of copies of one title (see row 6), but I was also selling all my other titles at full price.

Which leads to the fourth and main point. Those Kindle Countdowns took time. As you can see from row 7, in 2014 I did a promotion every single month. And while this strategy produced more book sales, promotions took a lot of my time — which I could have used for writing. I had to schedule each promotion a month in advance, often with multiple promotional sites. The week the book was on sale, I engaged in daily activity on social media to further the promotions, and in order to determine the profitability of each sale, I spent additional time in record keeping to track average sales before, during, and after the sale.

While the time I spent in 2014 yielded income, it also meant that I only got two short stories written during that six-month month period (a total of only 18,000 words). In contrast, in 2015 I spent much less time on promotions. I had a one-day Book Bub promotion of my perma free book, Maids of Misfortune in January and I ran several Facebook ads for that book whenever the number of downloads per day fell. That’s all.

And the short story in the Paradisi Chronicles I said I wanted to write? It became Between Mountain and Sea, a full-length novel (85,000 words) that I wrote between February and June of this year. A much higher rate of productivity and an unexpected bonus from my shift to the perma-free strategy for my series.

So, have any of you authors noticed perma-free freeing up your writing time? If so let me know.

And for the rest of you, why don’t you go and check out Between Mountain and Sea, the fruits of my greater productivity, which is now available for pre-order. You will notice this book is in KDP Select because I am anxious to see how the new “payment by pages finished”​ process of Kindle Unlimited works. Stay tuned!

M. Louisa Locke, July 21, 2015

13 Replies to “The unexpected effect of the “perma free” strategy on my productivity”

  1. I started doing perma-free about three weeks ago. At first I did an event at Facebook, for which I could only invite 500 people. Then, I scheduled an Ereader News Today ad, which pulled in about 3000 downloads. Now, I just do tweets occasionally. The number of downloads is up to 3600. I am seeing some sales of my other books, and also some borrow pages are showing up. I have no idea how to calculate what the borrow per page amount is. Anyway, that book was my first book and not going anywhere. Now it’s making readers notice my other ones. I may pull some off them off of KDP Select and offer them at the other venues again.

    1. Morgan,

      Thanks for the input. I have been happy with the fact that I am getting sell through in other stores–particularly on Apple and Nook–but it is possible that the uptick in revenue in borrows of your other books might translate into enough sales that going off of select isn’t necessary. It could be an interesting experiment to say, take books 2 and 3 off after a month or two–to see if the additional sales are greater than the revenue in borrows you were getting.

  2. That was very interesting and informative Mary Louisa. Could I ask you about your boxset? I have a boxset ready to go, but I’ve been advised that they add little value. 1. Did it pay you to have a boxset? 2. Do you think it eroded possible sales of the individual titles? 3. What was/is your pricing strategy for the boxset – 3 for the price of 2 or something else? Thank you. JJ

    1. I think it is worth it for several reasons. One, with a series, there is always the chance that someone who liked the first book, might not go on to read the rest, or might not be thrilled about the second but be intrigued by the third. Or they might say, I will get the other books later, but then forget. A boxed set means that for a bargain (and that alone for people is attractive) they commit to all 3 books. So while you might lose money from the person who would buy then all eventually–you are gaining money from those who might not follow through and buy them all. What has surprised me is how many still buy the boxed set once I made the first book in the set is free. But at 6.99, they are still getting a $3 value so that seems worth it to many. In fact, I just looked and I made $600 over the past 3 months–so it might be that the perma free is making the boxed set more visible. It also makes a decent gift for someone, which I point out at holidays–which is why I stick with the picture of cover with a bow. Finally, it does give you something you can discount to 2.99 and still get your full royalty level.

      My pricing strategy was just, 6.99 gives them value, but wasn’t so high as to be prohibitive. I personally tend to resist buying things for over $7…so that was my instinct. Not very scientific!

      1. Thanks for that comprehensive reply. I really don’t understand the advice I got, so maybe I’ll go ahead with the boxset anyhow. btw I noticed that your boxset is priced at $9.43 right at the moment. That seems a long way north of $6.99.

      2. JJ, the price I see when I look at this list is 6.99 so I can only guess this is the result of you checking a book when you reside outside of US. I can’t even see prices of books when I go to UK site when I am signed in to US site. I wouldn’t worry about it. 🙂

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