Episode 44 – KDP Ads, ISBNs and Author Value

people like this. Be the first of your friends.

Note: Sorry about the last update that appeared to be in French. Someone got into our WordPress install and posted some nonsensical content. We have since deleted that content. The funny thing is, neither Bryan or Jim speak French. 🙂
After two weeks off, Jim returned to the Sell More Books Show with a loud, sound-filled clang. The dynamic duo discussed tips related to product funnels, long-term strategy, and turning fan devotion into a game. They also chatted in-depth about the Gravity lawsuit, authorpreneurship tips, free books, Amazon Marketing Services, and the latest Author Earnings report. This show’s Question of the Week: Do you feel like giving away books for free devalues your work and the work of other authors?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • How to create a smarter product funnel
  • Why indies should think long-term
  • One way to inspire fan devotion
  • Why the author of Gravity hasn’t gotten paid
  • 10 tips for authorpreneurship
  • Why Jim says fun is key for authors
  • What free books mean for the value of your books
  • How to create advertising on Amazon
  • Why the latest Author Earnings debunks countless studies
Question of the Week: Do you feel like giving away books for free devalues your work and the work of other authors?

get show updates

  • Check out lawyer and author Courtney Milan’s post about the Tess Gerritsen situation and Tess’s reply in the comments. It’s very enlightening and shows that this is indeed something authors should take seriously. http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2015/02/02/hollywood-still-not-causing-end-of-world-for-authors/

    • Bryan

      Thanks for sharing, Leslye!

  • I have no problem offering books for free (the first novel in my series is permafree, plus I’m offering a free prequel to people who sign up for my mailing list), so I definitely see the value in using “free” as a marketing tool (and my income/sales took a HUGE leap when I made that first book permafree). That said, I definitely understand people’s fears about the devaluation of creative content. I think a lot of people are looking at the music and movie industries and just waiting for the same thing to happen in the book industry… I know a lot of people who wouldn’t DREAM of, say, stealing a candy bar from the store, but don’t think twice about downloading a song or a movie from a torrent site. I’ve mostly resigned myself to the fact that, in the not-so-near future, I’ll probably have to be a little more creative about how I make money from my writing, haha. In the meantime, I’m using the marketing tactics that make me more money in the here-and-now, and “free” is a big part of that.

    • Bryan

      Good points, Ember. Thanks!

  • I still have ISBNs left from years back. I use them for my paperbacks. I used to use Lightning Source to get the books into Ingram’s catalogue, but I moved everything to Createspace a couple of years ago. I still use my own ISBN numbers even when CS offers free ones. I just like to keep everything tidy and the books published by my imprint.

    As for free. I have four series, all four use a permafree book 1. Does it devalue my work? Well, what is the value of my work to begin with? Is it 1000 sales multiplied by the royalty ($3) = $3000? Or is it 150,000 sales (due to permafree gaining visibility) multiplied by $3 = $450,000? Free increases the value of my BRAND as a whole. I don’t see individual books, I see series as 1 BIG story or product, and ALL four series as my brand.

    Without free, I would still be doing this as a hobby for beer money.

  • Free books bad? Nope. Not a bit, assuming you have a lot of books in the present/future. It’s a proven method, as we know from visiting the grocery store. Indy authors releasing a book is like throwing a pebble into the ocean. No one is going to notice unless you do something to bring attention to your product. Since balloon animals and sparklers are out of the question, a free book is a good place to start.

    As for ISBNs, I bought a pack of ten for my books. I’m not sold on giving up on the idea of purchasing them in the future yet. When I look at my business model, I’m always looking at future-proofing my efforts. Yes, ISBNs may not be necessary, but they may, for reasons other than being used by now. When I get near the end of my ISBN lot, I’ll have to revisit their usage.

    • Bryan

      I want balloon animals! Thanks, Pete :).

      • My balloon animal talents end with making a single link of sausage. Or an orange. Depending on the original shape of the balloon.

  • Jacob Williams

    Remember when facebook ads were extremely effective? Don’t be foolish and miss the train with Amazon ads. Right now, most authors haven’t heard of this marketing platform yet. Fortune favors the bold my friends. I’m all in.

    • Me, too. I only have one book in KDPS right now, but right now it’s big fish and small pond.

      The only part that bothers me is that it tempts people away from purchasing the very book that they are about to buy. I think it’s bad form from Amazon.

      I also wonder if they only put the ads on books that aren’t in KDP Select… 😉

      • Jacob Williams

        Create a separate campaign that only targets your own book. Target your book to itself. That way you can bid a high CPC rate. Very low chance someone will click to a book they’re already on. This will allow you to always get the impressions. Which, you don’t have to pay for.

        Like so!:

        • Jacob Williams

          “…not one piece” http://bit.ly/1KtdcBY

        • Bryan

          Very cool idea. Have you noticed any sales increases?

          • Jacob Williams

            No sales increases. I’ve only had 4 impressions. Just now upped my bid from $0.10 to $0.25.

            I was targetting 22 items. I upped that to 66 items.

            Knowing the ROI on this is valuable information to me none-the-less. Currently, I make around 0.20 per referral from my YouTube videos. (Total Royalty / Total Referrals)

            I’m assuming people already browsing on Amazon have an Amazon account and they’re intending to buy a book on Ruby programming. That case is not so with everyone I refer from my YouTube videos.

          • I don’t understand. You advertise on your own pages to keep other ads off, right?

            Do you also advertise on other book pages with another campaign to actually try to make money?

          • I tell you what is really smart about this. It stops someone else advertising on your book page. I don’t WANT people advertising under my buy button. Maybe Amazon think they can get us all to pay protection money by buying that space ourselves?

          • Jacob Williams

            Yes, but I’m not really paying anything to protect it. Not many people will click on an item they’re already on.

          • Then why bother?

          • Jacob Williams

            So other books aren’t advertised.

          • That was my guess, but you were talking about sales and impressions further down.

        • Why do this?

      • Say goodbye to your money– Ex beta tester.

        • Bryan


          • ALSO, when does it get fun for ME to buy a bookbub promo to send customers to AMAZON’s advert button? Think of all those impressions the PPC ad brigade are getting from MY bookbub money! Hopefully they get no clicks, because clicking would mean someone NOT clicking on the buy button I PAID for.

            Jim is totally right. This is FAIL all the way around… I hope.

        • Mark, can you share your experience?

          • Not much to say really. I had 1 book in select at the time. Amazon asked me to test the PPC ads. I said yes. Spent $600, and received $28 in return. Never had a worse return in my life. 1000s and 1000s of impressions, and very few clicks. Almost no sales. I don’t know any tester who has good things to say about this.

          • How do you choose who sees your ad? I’m looking at books today, and there’s some crappy looking book in the ads that have nothing to do with what I’m looking at AND it’s in a different category AND in a category that I would never read and never have. It’s contemporary fiction and biographical, and I’m looking at fitness books!

            Did the author screw up or is it really this random?

          • I continued to browse around, and I’ve noticed dark fantasy books in the advert when I’m viewing high tech hard sci-fi. Why would I ever click on that book?

            Also, the covers in the ads are even smaller than the also-boughts on the kindle sales pages (slightly better on a print book page). So it better tell the viewer what type of book it is immediately, even at the tiny size.

            Also, there’s not much room for the title, so it’s very truncated on a kindle sales page, no review stars shown on print or kindle pages, either. I suppose that’s a blessing for some, a curse for others.

            Sometimes, but not always, the ad says ‘sponsored.’ I wonder why that’s not always there.

          • YOu choose to show an ad on book pages similar to the book you’re advertising, or in similar categories. I had over 88,000 views on one of my ads… 3 sales. That is not only terrible, it was common in this beta

          • This makes no sense for them to take this out of beta in this form. The only people who made money is them. Maybe they think they can lure in the traditional publishers to drop in millions, because indies aren’t going to. My solution makes sense, and would work.

          • I like your idea, JIm. It would be especially powerful for times when you ‘add to cart,’ since you’re still in shopping mode at that point. I don’t think I’ve ever bought another item after buying a kindle book.

            BTW, I just randomly clicked on Anthem (by Ayn Rand) and got an add for a ‘dark comedy’ mystery set in Houston’s Chinatown in the 90s. Nice work on the ad placement by someone.

          • Jacob Williams

            I made money from it. I paid 0.25 and made $4.99 in sales. (100% conversion! Lol, I need more data.)

            Perhaps it’s worth it if your book is highly targeted. A nonfiction that solves a precise problem.

            Also, a higher priced book helps. The lead already knows the book is $4.99 before they click. That helps a lot. I don’t have to pay for people that are just clicking to see the price and running away.

  • Gillian

    I think free books are amazing for the new author who has more than one book. I currently have 4 books in my series. I wrote the first novel in the series specifically to give away. I wrote it with super strong, likeable/hateable characters and ended it with a cliffhanger, which had readers excited for book 2. These excited readers have read all 4 books in the series and have contacted me to find out when the 5th book will be released. I think free books are a good idea and doesn’t devalue the author’s work, it is a great way to get readers to know your work and trust you. I would suggest if you are going to do a free book as an intro to your work, you should to have a plan to make that freebee work for you. Some suggestions would be to put the purchase links of your other books at the back of the freebee, you can also use it to build your email list. I’m just sayin’.

    My thoughts on ISBNs: I often wonder why authors would purchase them if their books are not being sold in brick and mortar stores. If you are doing print on demand, Createspace gives them to you for free. Smashwords also gives free ISBNs. Why people? Why?

    • Bryan

      Smart stuff, Gillian!

    • Mainly because I had them for my imprint from back in 2000 before kindle, but now also because a Createspace ISBN is the kiss of death over here in England. NO ONE (shops) will give it time of day. However, by using my own I can foll the shops into at least ordering my books for people, not that anyone wants print these days anyway.

      I hate losing out of libraries though. Createspace say you get library access with their ISBN. I wouldn’t know. They won’t give me access. Anyone had tons of libraries order their books though?

      I bet the deafening silence to that question won’t surprise many people.

  • I have a free book on all platforms, but I don’t have a second freebie yet. I have 5 books at the moment, btw.

    Is the idea to give (via email or download) the second book free yet leave it up on Amazon (etc) at the regular price?

    • Bryan

      Yes, that’s the idea!

      • I’ll have to figure this thing out. I might need a special signup page just for people who read the book vs signed up via the newsletter.

        When people come to the site we show the book that’s free just like all the rest of the books, with links to Amazon, etc. But or ‘gift’ is a ‘cheat sheet’ download for signing up. People who stop by from a blog post the read on facebook aren’t really tempted by a free book. A book is a long read. 😉

        Of course, I’m in non-fiction and write about fitness, so it’s not the same thing as a fiction writer might find.

    • I do NOT think free devalues books, but instead it gives readers an opportunity to test you out if they are interested in your blurbs, reviews, etc.

      However, I do think the people who wait to ‘buy’ free books via the bookbubs, etc. see less value in books if that makes any sense. I’d like to believe they are using bookbub to find new authors and series at low risk, but I really think most are just cheap. Not all, but most.

      • Bryan

        Well, you hope to find the non-cheap, devoted folks in the midst of the pile I guess :).

        • I push the same free books all the time, but NEVER the others in the series. They can wait forever or buy them. So far, they’ve bought them.

          • Jacob Williams

            Curious. I do see the value in building an email list though. Perhaps the smart thing to do is offer a side story novel for free if they give you their email. Same universe, but much shorter, and is about a character’s backstory.

            I would definitely offer that at the end AND the beginning of the first book. That way you gather some emails from those that don’t make it all the way to the end of it.

          • If I had this to do all over again, I would write new book 1s especially to give away, rather than make the current “real” book 1s free. All my books are 100k plus words. I think a 60k book 1 might have been more sensible 😉 But hey, when I started, the thinking wasn’t about giving stuff away to gain more fans. It was about getting as much money as we could before kindle flopped!

            But seriously, I would like to write some spin-off series. I get a lot of mail asking how character x was recruited, what was he/she/it doing before the war etc.

          • It’s not too late to do that. Why not write a short prequel, make it free, and return your 100k plus book to full price?

            Although if you listen to Nick Stephenson, you should list that 100k book at regular price, but offer it up free to readers of your permafree book for signing up to your list.

          • Agreed, but to be honest I don’t have time to write little freebies like that. I might revisit the idea if the current freebies stopped working, but I prefer to write new books in my series. I write what I love to read myself, and I just don’t want to write prequels right now.

            I would never turn off my permafree books. I’ve tried various things, including that one, and sales just dry up. The permafree lends visibility to the series, especially at Kobo, Nook, and Apple. Amazon too, but less as time goes by.

          • True, but it’s not a freebie if you think about it. For the price of 60k words (your new permafree book) you get to release your current 100k permafree book back to paid.

            it doesn’t have to be a prequel if you can write a side story or something that’s standalone but still an entry into the series.

  • Perry Constantine

    Good to see Jim back, and we got a great rant from him, too!

    I don’t think free devalues my work at all. Maybe if I set my entire catalogue to free I’d be devaluing my work, but making the first book in a series permafree has led to a lot of success for a lot of people.

    If you don’t think permafree will work for your books, then here’s a simple solution—don’t use it. I don’t begrudge someone who doesn’t want to use permafree—if they’ve got a different strategy that’s working for them, good for them. But what does annoy me is the hyperbolic “free is devaluing ebooks everywhere!” Chicken Little nonsense.

    Would I like it if I could get as many eyeballs on my first books if they were paid instead of free? Sure I would. But people love a bargain. And if the only barrier to getting someone to give my work a shot is setting one measly book free, then that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

    • Bryan

      Great points, Perry!

  • jasonmbrooks

    To think that giving away our books for free devalues our work is a crazy idea. I would have to believe that people who believe this lie have an issue with an oversized ego. A $24 dollar book doesn’t make it an instant hit. A well written book makes it a hit.

    I want my work to be discovered and this is a no risk way for potential readers to take a chance on someone who does not have an established name. If I am not familiar with a self published author, I will never purchase their book at full price. I might read it for 99 cents, but I would much rather download the first book in the series for free and give them a test run. If they entertain me, they earn my loyalty and I’ll pay for the next book and keep on going.

    As a self published author, I would expect the same holds true for other readers out there. Before taking a chance on my work, they are probably more willing to take a chance on me if I am willing to make an investment in their loyalty by offering my first book (perhaps even the second) for free.

    To support what you said about ISBN numbers… I agree. Nobody should ever pay for an ISBN number because chances are your self published book will never get into a big name retailer as long as traditional publishers have anything to say about it. Though it can be done.

    I do take advantage of CreateSpace’s free ISBN program. They will assign an ISBN number and then that way my books can be and are available to libraries and online book sellers. All of the books I have published for myself and other writers are available on BAM and Barnes and Noble thanks to this program.

    But NEVER shell out hundreds of dollars on a worthless number that gets you nothing on your investment.


    • When my first two books came out CS offered free ISBNs and $10 ISBNs which let you put whatever you wanted in the publisher box. Now it’s free, which shows CS, or supply your own. I paid $10 no prob, and would again, but not $150 to buy my own.

  • Michael Coorlim

    Hey guys, glad you like the gamification idea. I can’t speak for CC, but I handle mine manually, tracking reader contributions in a spreadsheet. I have no idea how I’d automate the process, but it doesn’t take too much time to keep up with; the outcome is worth the effort.

  • ❤️Marie Long❤️

    I have had bad experiences in the past with giving my full-length novels (book 1) away for free. Out of the hundreds of books I gave away, I only had about 1-2 people buy the next book in the series. I had the book free while I was doing KDP select (I had put the books back in select because I had zero sales on other channels when the books were made available everywhere) and spent tons of money on promo and everything. I also had links to my other books as well as my website in my free book. I did not have a mailing list at that time, but I did later on, but still to this day (since 2012) have not been able to get any more sign ups, unless I do a giveaway of some sort. But once the giveaway is over, those people unsubscribe.

    Anyway, I am probably the very few 1% of people who have not seen positive results with free full-length novels. I may try 99-cents, but I’m still skeptical of the results. Moreover, I still have a hard time giving away something I spent years to write. In this instance, I tried with everyone else was doing and failed miserably, so I know that giving away Free novels just wasn’t for me.

    What I started doing was writing a bunch of stand-alone short stories which take place before the events of book 1 of one of my other series. I give those away for free. It takes me little time and investment to write, so I don’t feel as torn like I did when I gave away my longer novels that I spent years on. And readers would still get a satisfying story and a sample of my writing. Unfortunately, I am still getting the same results doing it this way, too. To date, I’ve given away thousands of these short stories, and only get 1 sale of book 1 every 2-3 months (usually from Amazon, even though my books are available everywhere). I have promoed the free books, as well as book 1 (I even have a link to book 1 in the free books), but I am careful not to spend too much money on promo for them at this point. It’s obviously been an ineffective tool for me, and I’m losing time and money over it. I would rather be writing my next book.

    Do I think Free is devaluing your work? I don’t think it is in some cases. But if I spend a long time working on something, I would like to be paid for it. For something that doesn’t require a lot of time and/or effort, then yes, I think giving it away for free is fine.

    As for those Amazon ads, I almost never pay attention to them. Sometimes I don’t even notice they are there. They aren’t located ‘directly under the buy button’ (unless they’ve moved it since Feb/March 2015). It’s located directly under the ‘Share’ buttons. I’ll be more apt to click the buy button first before I click the ad beneath the share buttons. I really don’t see a problem with where the ad is. But again, I barely pay attention to ads, anyway.

    As for ISBNs, I use them in my books because I WOULD like to one day see my books in a bookstore. Whether it’s an indie bookstore or a Big Box one. And what about libraries? Won’t they reject books without an ISBN?