As usual, my plans for writing business posts gets disrupted by various conversations I’ve been having out in author world. In this case, by someone’s assertion that permafree no longer works as well as it used to.

Part of the assertion was that they gave away thousands of books and only had like five or so (I’m paraphrasing, can’t recall exact numbers) readthroughs to book two. So, obviously, the strategy no longer works.

And I had to admit, I immediately grew skeptical. Not because said individual’s experience is wrong – it’s a lived experience, they can’t be ‘wrong’ per se. Sort of like saying that you can’t flip a coin and get tails a hundred times in a row. Someone out there probably has done it.

It just isn’t usual.

Now, before I get into the breakdown of why I was skeptical, let’s talk about some things that I believe are going on from my own experience.

Overall Permafree Trends

Firstly, permafrees and $0.99 sales don’t seem to be doing as well as before. The people who collect free books are getting giant libraries, so not only are there fewer free books being picked up, the readthrough from them seems to be dropping.

Secondly, permafree book 1’s are a tactic. For greatest effectiveness they should be paired with other parts of a promotional plan for best results. As an example, every time I turn off AMS ads for the Adventures on Brad series, my overall sales drop. Even if the AMS ads don’t track the sales super well, I still do notice the change in my overall revenue.

Brand building and general promotional awareness development is necessary.

Thirdly, I still haven’t seen a wide promotional tactic that is as anywhere as useful as permafree book 1’s.  If you know of one, do let me know!

Interrogating the Question

Alright, I said I’d mention why I was skeptical immediately upon hearing the complaint about permafrees not working. It’s mostly because the single comment lacks context. In fact, a LOT of comments on social media lack context, so evaluating the usefulness of any particular piece of information has always to be taken with a grain of salt.

Huh. Weird saying. Of course you want salt – it makes things taste better. Does that mean that the advice gets better if you’re skeptical? … that tracks.

Yes, I haven’t had enough coffee.

Anyway, here’s the things that popped up into mind immediately:

  • what genre are they writing in? Sub-genre even. This is rather important since it might indicate a problem in that genre/sub-genre.
  • do they have stats on their ‘normal’ readthrough rates? Complaining you have low readthrough rates from a permafree tactic means little if your normal readthrough rate is horrendous.
  • It’s one reason why the Hidden Wishes series isn’t permafree. Readthrough to book 2 is just not high enough to make it worthwhile.
  • is the second book cover in line? (this can be noted in the above readthrough rate issues sometimes)
  • do they have links to book 2 in their backmatter of book one?
  • how did they promote the permafree? Was it via one of the permafree newsletters or via social media or to their existing fanbase? Each of these creates different expectations.
  • are they utilizing any other promotional strategies?
  • what timeframe are they using to view when this promo strategy works? Are they continually using it?

Personal experience, readthrough definitely jumps in the 2nd month after a good (i.e. large number) of books are given out; but there’s always a tail. In fact, because there’s a tail and if you are promoting regularly, it can be hard to tell where people are coming from individually.

Someone who picked up the book 3 months ago might just be reading it now, and buying book 2.

Those are just some initial thoughts. It’s worthwhile being skeptical, trying to dig into data like that. Sometimes you get the answers by just poking around their author / series page, sometimes it’s too rude to ask. Other times, said speaker doesn’t even know to ask those questions themselves to evaluate if a particular tactic works.

But context and details matter when analyzing efficacy of tactics. Don’t get caught out, and yes, grab the salt.

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