Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Early Results from a Free Book Promotion

A month ago my blog Free or Not to Free—THAT is the question addressed my assumptions about what would happen when I offered the Kindle version of the first in my Seamus McCree series for five days for free. Here is a summary from that blog:

My hypothesis goes something like this: For every 1,000 downloads, say 10% read the book. Of those, say 10% become fans and read the entire series. At current pricing, it costs them $15 to buy the other four books. Under those assumptions, each 1,000 downloads will result in $150 of sales ($100 of royalties). Plus, I expect I’ll end up with more read Kindle Unlimited pages, and I hope the publicity will spur sales of other books in the series to people who have read and liked my novels but not been motivated to buy the next in the series.

To estimate the effect of the giveaway, it’s necessary to develop a baseline: what might have happened had I not offered the five days of free downloads. During the thirty days before the five free-promotion days, I had no promotions in effect and sold a walloping nine Kindle books. Kindle Unlimited reads during that period totaled a paltry 3,637 pages. Total earnings for those thirty days: $42.

Results of the promotion

The ad cost $150 and resulted in 5,961 downloads of Ant Farm. During the promotion, Ant Farm reached #1 bestseller for free Kindle ebooks in the Suspense and Private Investigator categories, and #22 overall.

Given the nearly 6,000 downloads, my hypothesis proposes I should gain long-term earnings of $600 from Kindle books sales. In addition, I expected to significantly increase the number of Kindle Unlimited Pages read. The chart below shows the results for the thirty days starting with the first day of the promotion.

Kindle Sold
KU Pages Read
Estimated Total Revenue
Ant Farm
Bad Policy
Cabin Fever
Doubtful Relations
Empty Promises

My expectation was and still is that the hoped-for $600 earnings from Kindle ebooks will occur over a long period (and therefore be difficult to measure precisely). However, I have already earned about 40% of that amount.

I also theorize that “binge” readers of Kindle ebooks belong to Kindle Unlimited because it makes economic sense for them to pay $9.99/month rather than buy individual books. If that assumption is correct, KU pages read resulting from the ad will be front-loaded relative to purchased ebooks. The first thirty days of KU reads produced an estimated $414 (at $.0045/page). The rate of pages read quickly reached 2,500 a day, eventually increased to as many as 5,000 a day and has dropped off to 2,750 a day. I’ll be interested to see how long the tail of the distribution is. Also fascinating to me is that many KU readers don’t bother downloading free books; they prefer to read them through KU. That’s great for me because the 30,000 pages of Ant Farm they have read generated over $139 of income for me--nearly paying for the ad!

The ROI on my $150 investment has already exceeded 400% —clearly a terrific investment. As a bonus, the number of Goodreads reviews and ratings has increased, pushing the series total to more than 200 ratings, averaging 4.32 stars. Amazon ratings have also ticked up a little (the series now has 148 reviews averaging 4.67 stars). Several new people have joined my mailing list.

Considerations and Unknowables

A single ad. I decided to run only a single ad for this promotion besides announcing the free days in my newsletter. Had I purchased other ads, I would have generated more downloads at an increased cost. As the results for the month before the promotion illustrate, without promotion, sales of the series die. I chose to save those other advertising possibilities for future promotions. Their mailing lists will have considerable overlap with the one I chose, but each has unique subscribers, and periodic promotions will (a) reach new readers, and (b) remind others of the series. Time will tell.

Amazon-only ebook distribution. My overall sales strategy is predicated on granting Amazon exclusive rights to sell my electronic books. There is no way to measure what might have happened with a similar promotion had the electronic books been available on all platforms, but unavailable on KU. I have noted in earlier blogs that when my publisher used a wide distribution, non-Kindle ebooks ran about 25% of Kindle sales. My KU revenue runs 53% of ebook sales. That percentage will increase after this latest promotion. Single-sourcing electronic book sales with Amazon has been a good decision for me—so far.

Diminishing returns. This promotion was the first time Ant Farm was offered free, other than the free books provided at the book’s birth as a Kindle Scout selection three years ago. I plan to make Ant Farm free again in the future, and I’m anxious to learn how effective periodic promotions will be. As more people have the opportunity to download the book, returns should diminish. The 6,000 readers represent a small percentage of the potential market for the series making it uncertain how steeply the returns will diminish.

Uncontrollable. There are many things that can affect my results I cannot control for in this experiment. I didn’t check the moon phase, whether Mercury was in retrograde, or another astronomical phenomenon. I don’t know whether mid-May works better or worse for a free promotion than other times of the year. I have no ability to test whether changing the sales copy for the free promotion could have resulted in more downloads or sales. So many unknowns, so little certainty.

My experiments will continue.
* * *
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.

An earlier version of this blog first appeared on the Writers Who Kill blog.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Protect Yourself with Financial Notifications

Yesterday I was reminded why setting up financial transaction notifications can save you a lot of hassle and maybe a bunch of money. My better half, Jan, opened her computer to discover email notifications from one of her credit cards for a series of credit card purchases she did not make.

The purchases began around 1:18 am our time and within minutes totaled $900. Because these purchases were overseas, they triggered the credit card company to put a temporary hold on the fourth and fifth purchases (but not the first three). They sent Jan a text alert. Because it was in the middle of our night, her phone didn’t ping, and she only noticed the alerts after she saw the email messages. She called the fraud group at the credit card company and will receive a new card.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), if you report your card lost before any charges are made, you have no liability. Otherwise your liability is capped at $50. If you didn’t lose your card, but your number was stolen, you again have no liability. Even though your liability is limited, the hassles can be large if you don’t catch the problem early.

For fraudulent ATM withdrawals or fraudulent debit card use, timing is important. Under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, if your ATM or debit card is stolen, you have no liability if you report the theft before it was used. If you report it stolen within two days of learning of the loss or theft, your liability is limited to $50. If between two days and sixty days, your liability increases to $500. If more than sixty days pass, you will bear the entire loss.

And consider the hassles if fraudulent debit card withdrawals mean if (say) your mortgage payment bounces. Who pays the bounced check fee, the extra interest charge? How long will it take to straighten out your credit report after the mortgage company notes the late payment in your file?

Transaction alerts allow you to catch bogus charges quickly. If you wait until you receive a statement to check for issues, days and weeks may have passed and thieves will keep using the stolen information until it stops working. And if you’re someone who doesn’t bother to reconcile your bank and credit card statements, you could suffer permanent losses.

How do you set a transaction alert?

Each financial institution has its own methodology, but they are similar. As far as I am aware, you can only set notifications online. Here’s how it works for Chase credit cards:

Once you sign-in to the online account, find the vendor’s “account services” or equivalent. You can find it for Chase in a drop-down menu on a “Things you can do” link. Other providers have it as a tab across the top or bottom of the welcome page. Under the account services, Chase has “Profiles and Settings,” which includes “Alerts.”

Chase allows you to set up alerts sent to an email account for any purchase transaction more than whatever amount you choose. In the past I chose $1.00, but now I use $0.01. I want to see any transaction because thieves are known to try out a charge for pennies to see if the transaction succeeds. If it does, they then use it for a very expensive shopping excursion. I also set an alert to notify me of any balance transfer to my card. Banks and credit cards and banks have several other categories of events that will trigger alerts if you want (payment date approaching, minimum account balance, minimum remaining credit limit, etc.). I don’t use them, but you might find some helpful.

I can hear you say, “But I’ll get so many emails.” For my peace of mind, it’s a small price to look through a few more emails and delete them when I recognize the charges. Every so often a bogus charge happens and stopping the thieves as quickly as possible saves me a later hassle, and it also saves us all money in the long run. Just because we don’t suffer a personal loss does not make financial crime victimless. We all pay for the thievery in the higher prices we’re charged.

Questions? Leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them.


James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.