Saturday, May 19, 2012

Something For Nothing?

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum Marketing. I sold 150 times as many books last Wednesday than I usually do on Amazon Kindle. I say sold, maybe moved units might be more germane. For they were all free of charge to the, um purchaser.

I wasn't doing it as any promotion. The book, an anthology of flash fiction, has already been out for 9 months. The organiser of the inaugural flash fiction day asked if me and others would consider making our anthologies free as part of the events of the day and I said yes. Without imagining any consequence of just such a move, for I simply wanted to contribute to the day dedicated to promoting the profile of the flash fiction art.

I had to seek his advice as how to make one's book free, since I'd never done it before. First thing was I had to enter the book into KDP Select, which was something I'd also studiously avoided as I couldn't see its relevance to my work. After that the process was quick and easy, but I'd been advised that the timings of the 24 hours of your offer were taken from the US not the UK. I resolved that in order to ensure that the full scope of the 24 hours of National Flash Fiction Day were covered by the offer no matter where you were in the world (sorry Australasia, not sure if I covered you entirely), I actually set it up for two days, the 15th and 16th May.

So the offer went live sometime on the 15th May. I made not a single plug or announcement of the offer on the 15th, since to me it really concerned the 16th May's festivities. (I covered the 15th to ensure people in the Uk could get it for a full 24 hours of the 16th, being 5-7 hours ahead of the US). There was a link from National Flash Fiction Day's own website, but again it was trumpeting launch day of the 16th. And yet lo and behold lots of units moved on the 15th. Mainly in the USA it has to be said.

So what did that suggest to me? These purchasers could only have come by the book and the offer by trawling for that day's free books. Perhaps they did this every or most days at least. Perhaps they do it once in a blue moon when they need something to read and America being so large, this was the cohort who just happened to be looking on this day and in categories pertinent to my book. I wondered if those same people surfed on the 17th May, using their same search requirements of genre and the like, whether they would have bought the book for its modest price of $2.89.

Once the day of the 16th dawned, then the British take up of the offer started to catch up to the US one, though US sales continued to tick over. That was unsurprising since National Flash Fiction Day, though international, originated and centred in the UK. I even appeared in the upper reaches of the charts of Literary and short fiction on Amazon Kindle UK, which was nose-bleed territory for me. I'd never even bothered to consult them before. I was just below the likes of Victor Hugo which seemed fair enough to me.

That started me thinking about the whole question of promotion through freebies. My book appeared in the free chart and would no doubt disappear within 24 hours once the offer had ended. Therefore how much of a boost could that inject to its profile? I suppose if one were able to link it in to other things such as a press release, a video or live reading it might engender a bit more sustainability. But otherwise, nice as it was, I couldn't quite see the long-term benefit.

But then there is the greater boon of my work being introduced to 150 new readers. Even if only 5% of them were to read and review, that would represent an enormous and lasting boost to the book's profile on Amazon. But of course I have no way of knowing who these purchasers are to gently nudge them via social media. Particulalry those Americans who bought before the offer was advertised. I do have more idea of some who might have interacted through National Flash Fiction Day's site, plus of course my own endeavours via social media.

So what are the benefits to promotion from day long giveaways? Apart from getting your work into the hands of more readers, I'm not sure there are any useful ones. And while any writer welcomes more readers, I do wonder if the way of Amazon and Kindle shopping means there is a tranche of readers who maybe only want something for nothing?

In many ways I have no problem with that. Many of the stories in the anthology first appeared on my blog where they were therefore available for free. If a writer only writes to be read, then maybe we should give our work away for free (although there's still no guarantee that the book will reach an audience, though the evidence above suggests it probably will). But then what price art and artists in this? A writer is to make no money from their endeavour? Maybe that's how it is to be, a return to the days of the tribal storytellers around the campfire, entertaining their kinsfolk but maybe only for the price of their meal cooked on the spit.

We write because we love it right? That we choose to spend time at the keyboard rather than go out drinking with mates or seeing a movie. Do we expect to be remunerated for our time? I do think that art suffers when it is entirely drawn into a commercial nexus. That is when the main considerations have to be about commerce rather than artistic content. But maybe I'm deluding myself. Here's an earlier post on the issue of art and artists.

I'd love your responses to this as I'm genuinely rather baffled by the whole experience.