Are Amazon Ebook Giveaways a Scam?

Are Amazon Ebook Giveaways a SCAM?

On March 1st, 2016 Amazon.com announced that Kindle ebooks would now be eligible for Amazon Giveaways, and the Indie Publishing (aka Self Publishing) World cautiously celebrated (i.e. we drank our morning coffee with a bit more zest.)

After running a handful of ebook giveaways (seven as of today), it turns out that the initial caution was warranted. If you’re an author, publisher, or book publicist planning to use Amazon Giveaways to get more ebooks into the hands of avid readers AND increase your Amazon sales ranking, set that coffee cup down and read on…


Do Amazon Giveaways Help Your EBook Sales Ranking?

No!

KDP Customer Support assured me that any giveaway sales WOULD count toward ranking (see email transcript):

To be more clear and simple –> It’s also like a normal sale, so the sales rank will be impacted.”

But my Amazon Giveaway book sales had no effect on either “bestseller” list ranking: “Paid in Kindle Store” OR “Free in Kindle Store,” and ALL the websites that track book sales (including Amazon.com, Author Central, NovelRank.com, ebookTracker etc.) show NO sales reported for the giveaways.

Crossing In Time by D. L. Orton
Crossing In Time

Amazon does not address the sales ranking issue anywhere in their official How It Works for giveaways or in the FAQ, nor could I get a straight answer from KDP about WHY my sales were not being reported, even after 3 weeks of “investigation” on their part (see the email transcript). Either Amazon should count the giveaway sales as regular sales (as they claim they do), or they should update their sponsor FAQ to state that book sales ranking (free or otherwise) is not affected by Amazon Giveaways.

Here are the stats to back up my claim that ebooks sold as part of an Amazon Giveaway don’t change the book’s sales rank and are NOT reported as books sales (yes, you get paid KDP royalties, but they do not otherwise count as sales):

 

Crossing In Time Amazon Giveaway Data

Here is the sales chart from Author Central and the Sales Data based on ranking change.

And here is the data for the other book: Sales and Author Central Graph for April Giveaway (150 copies) and May Giveaway (50 copies).


All or Nothing Sales Reporting?

Although the books in the giveaway (which you pay for up front!) DO show up on your “Month-to-Date Unit Sales” (you DO get paid royalties on them), they do not show up on your “Sales Dashboard” until ALL the books in the giveaway have been “Redeemed.” (I was told on the phone that the reason my sales rank had not changed was because all the books in the giveaway had not been “redeemed”.)

Here’s what KDP Support (read the email) had to say about that:

I asked:

1) Is this correct: NO book sales from giveaways show up on the dashboard “Units Ordered” until ALL OF THE BOOKS in the giveaway have been claimed? i.e. NONE of the books will show up until ALL of the books in the giveaway have been “redeemed”?

The reply:

“1. Yes, that is correct.”

So if you give away 50 books and ONE PERSON does not redeem his or her book, ZERO sales are reported on your Sales Dashboard. Ever.Amazon Giveaways


Winning Does Not Equal “Redeeming”?

When I inquired as to why “winning” a kindle book was not the same as “redeeming” a kindle book, this was the response:

“Redeeming a gift is customers (sic) choice. We cannot force them to redeem it. They will do it if they want to do it. They can redeem it any time they want and unless they do it, it wont(sic) reflect on the reports.”

So if ONE PERSON does not redeem his or her giveaway prize, NONE of the (up to 50) sales show up in your Sales Dashboard. ZERO. When I inquired as to how I know that ANY prizes were actually distributed, or how to know how many people have NOT redeemed their prize, or if it was possible to “remind” people to redeem their prize, or even check on when people DO redeem their prizes (if ever), this was KDP’s response (see the email):

Please note, we have over a million publishers in KDP and nearly 4,449,000 Kindle books in the Kindle store. If the sales report isn’t working fine or sales not(sic) getting recorded, it will be all over the forums and our publisher would be talking about it as well. Sales report glitch is a serious issue and our technical team would be working on it to fix it within a few hours.

Amazon says: Trust us. Everyone else does.

Amazon Bestseller


 But It Gets Worse: Amazon Giveaway Sales Have NO EFFECT on Sales Rankings (EVER)!

Turns out, that even if all the prize winners “redeem” their ebooks (and the bulk order DOES show up on your Sales Dashboard), they STILL DON’T COUNT toward sales ranking (either paid OR free). I have a day where I paid for two 50-book giveaways (and had ALL 100 books redeemed within hours) and my sales ranking got WORSE!

So even if the giveaway sales show up on your Dashboard Sales, there is NO IMPACT on sales ranking. None.

 

Amazon Sales Ranking


Amazon Makes Excuses: 24 Hours to Redeem or No Sales Rank Impact

(More like NO SALES EVER)

After I ran a couple of Amazon Giveaways and didn’t see ANY IMPACT on sales ranking, I sent another email to KDP asking why not. I got back a six paragraph response (read the email) telling me how 34 equals 34, that Amazon rankings are completely unpredictable, and this:

“If your Kindle book is gifted as (sic) giveaway, it counts towards a sales rank only if it is redeemed within 24 hours.”

This is not mentioned in the Amazon Giveaway FAQ (or anywhere else that Google could find), and I’m not sure if the KDP guy just made it up, but it is patently false (unless you believe that Amazon is just paying out the royalty portion and pocketing the cash. i.e. NO ebooks are EVER redeemed within 24 hours because no books are ever distributed.)

Amazon definitely has transparency problems with ebook giveaways (and a disconnect between ebook giveaways and sales ranking), but I DO think they are giving out the ebook prizes as promised. (Unfortunately, right now there’s NO WAY to VERIFY that, and that’s a problem Amazon should be addressing. Other ebook gifts show up in digital orders, can be tracked via “Your Gift Has Been Claimed” email, and can be re-sent if not redeemed — and they count for sales ranking.)

I scrape my book rankings every day (and there are multiple websites that do the same thing. NovelRank.com is my favorite), and ALL of us have the same data: Amazon Giveaways are NOT reported as sales and have no effect on ebook sales rankings even when all 50 books are paid for, redeemed, AND reported on the SAME DAY.  


Amazon GiveawaysWhat My Data Says About Amazon Giveaways (tl;dr)

(Your Mileage May Vary)

  1. Amazon Giveaways have NO EFFECT on ebook sales rank.
  2. Royalties are paid on the ebooks at the time the giveaway is set up, but the giveaway sponsor has no way to verify that Amazon actually gives out ANY of the ebook prizes. (It APPEARS that they are being distributed, and I have no reason to believe they are not — except that no sales are recorded and no sales ranking changes.)
  3. There is no way to determine how many ebooks are “redeemed” (unless they ALL are.)
  4. Once the giveaway is over, there may be “leftover” prizes that were not given out (I had 1 – 7 remaining for each 50-book giveaway I ran.) You must download and find someone to REDEEM those gift URLs or your book sales will NEVER be reported on your Sales Dashboard.
  5. If/when all of your ebook prizes are redeemed (including any that were leftover from the giveaway), the bulk sale will be reported on your Sales Dashboard, but there will be no effect on ranking (and no reported book sales at Author Central or anywhere else).
  6. From within the KDP Dashboard, there is NO WAY to tell regular sales from giveaway sales (that do not affect ranking), and there is no way to match up bulk giveaway sales with the associated giveaway. So: 1) the sales may not be reported on your dashboard EVER, 2) the sales may be reported on the same day, or 3) the sales may be reported at some unknown point in the future (when all the ebooks are redeemed). None of these will affect the book’s bestseller rank.
  7. Amazon has a huge disconnect between ebook giveaways, sales reporting and KDP/Amazon Customer Support (who appear to have no idea what is actually happening during ebook giveaways and sales reporting).

binocularsSo Why Would Anyone Run an Amazon Ebook Giveaway?

To Get Books to Potential Readers (Probably)

Transparency and sales ranking issues aside, Amazon Giveaways ARE a decent way to get the first book in your series into the hands of readers who might not find it otherwise. I’m hoping that some of those readers will love the book and pre-order the next one for a few bucks (at which point I will make a little of the money back). For me, it’s too early to know if ebook giveaway winners turn into book series fans (or if they ever even open the ebook), but I should know more in July when my next book goes live.

To Get More Followers (Maybe)

I also require that giveaway players “follow me” on Amazon so that when I release the next book in the series (in July), they’ll get notified by Amazon. I have no idea how well that will work, but I’ll post an update after the book releases this summer.

Note: I don’t have any idea how many followers I have on Amazon, and there is currently NO WAY to find out. (Another transparency issue, Amazon?) All communication with my Amazon followers is initiated and controlled by Amazon (not me.) This is not ideal, in fact, it sucks, but right now, Amazon is the only (real) game in town for indie publishers with no platform, no superpowers, and no famous friends. Your mileage may vary.

To Get People to Sign-Up for Your Mailing List (Nope)

Also, I always put a message in the “Didn’t Win” box letting the losers know that if they send me an email or sign up for my mailing list, I’ll happily send them a free copy of the book. So far, I’ve only had one person take me up on it (out of thousands of losers.)


tips-and-tricksTips on Promoting Your Amazon Giveaway

  1. I tweeted with the hashtag #AmazonGiveaway, offered 50 prizes, 1 out of 5 wins, and required people to follow me on Amazon. Those giveaways were over in an hour or two. If I gave away 50 prizes, 1 out of 1 wins (i.e. everyone), and I didn’t require anything else, my giveaway was over in a matter minutes AFTER I TWEETED ABOUT IT (usually less than 10 minutes.) I have around 1200 twitter followers (@DL_Orton), but I have also tried this with an account that only has a handful of followers (@RockyMtPress) and got the same results: Followers don’t matter; Hashtag does.)
  2. If I did NOT tweet the giveaway announcement on twitter, I got 1 or 2 people an hour signing up for my giveaway.
  3. When I promoted my giveaway on Facebook fan page (I have around 300 followers, and I used the #AmazonGiveaway hashtag), it didn’t make any difference (i.e. facebook promotion did not work. I find that Facebook promo’s of any kind do not work, but that’s another blog post…)


freeIs an Amazon Giveaway BETTER Than Giving your Book Away for FREE?

I don’t know. Amazon makes it difficult to sell your ebook for $0.00, so setting the price at 99 cents and running lots of giveaways may be the least expensive way to get your book out to potential readers. But with a KDP Select FREE promo, your book gets sales ranking credit in the Free Kindle Rankings (and right now, giveaways get NO SALES RANKING — not even on the FREE list.)

Note: You can NOT run an Amazon Giveaway when your book is on a KDP Select free promo. The “set up giveaway” button disappears from the product page on Amazon. (I tried.)

I’ve also tried giving my ebook away at BookLikes (7 people requested it after a month of trying to give away 20 kindle gift copies), through Goodreads blog posts & group giveaway posts, Twitter, Facebook, LibraryThing etc. and almost no one wants a free ebook from an unknown author (even with lots of awards AND a Publishers Weekly Starred Review).

Total cost to give away 50 books priced at 99 cents on an Amazon Giveaway: about $35.

(I haven’t tried running an Amazon Giveaway during a KDP Select Countdown Deal. Anyone have data on that?)

Not free, but a lot less money than the new program over at Goodreads (which costs $119 to give away 100 ebooks). Also, I spend more than that promoting my KDP Select free days (but I get around 10 downloads for every dollar I spend on the top promos, so Amazon Giveaways are not a good bang for the buck versus KDP Select free days, if you have that option. Unfortunately, if you don’t want to join KDP Select, there’s no other way to give your books away for free on Amazon.)


iStock_000015439554XSmallStay Tuned

I plan to keep collecting Amazon Giveaway data (I want to see if having Amazon Followers helps with my next book launch sales), and when I have more data to share, I’ll post it here.

If Amazon manages to get the disconnect between giveaways and sales fixed, I’ll let you know about that too (and I’m hoping they’ll do something about the transparency issues with ebook giveaways as well.)

If you have data or insights on Amazon Giveaways with Kindle books, please share it in the comments!

Coming Soon: Book Promos that Work the Best ~or~ What to Do If BookBub Keeps Blowing You Off? (Like they do me.)

 

16 thoughts on “Are Amazon Ebook Giveaways a SCAM?

  1. Hi D.L.,

    Thanks for this informative article! I’m just now discovering it, however, as I was researching the possibility of running an Amazon Giveaway for my $0.99 kindle book. It’s not in KDP Select but I was considering this option to use the ‘free days’ in conjunction with the Amazon Giveaway. You stated that the ‘set up giveaway’ button disappeared when a book is on the KDP Select Free promo. Has this changed since the time you wrote this? If not, I suppose the least expensive way to “giveaway” ebooks is $0.99 each — and I’ll continue to avoid KDP Select.

    Just wanted to check. And thanks for your time and thoughts .. Danny

    • Hi Danny-
      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      Yes, you can NOT run a giveaway while a book is free. BUT, you can tweet using the hashtag #AmazonGiveaway when your book IS free, and you will get a few takers. Do note: ebooks given away do NOT count toward sales ranking, and DO NOT show up as “Verified Purchases” if the reader leaves a review (which for me, almost never happens.)

      Good luck!

  2. I want to give away my ebook AND collect the email addresses of the participants.

    Is there an online service for this? Or is it best to just build it via online forms and something like Mailchimp?

    Thank you for your help.

    • Hi James-

      Amazon doesn’t give me any useful info on who wins my ebooks (or your real books, for that matter) in their giveaways. But I have found a way to give away ebooks that DO get counted toward sales ranking AND also allow me to collect email addresses:

      1) Run a giveaway with a handful of real (paper) books. I use 3-5 books and a 1 in 100-250 chance depending on the cost of the book (Beware: the cost quoted for the giveaway for real books DOES NOT include shipping which can be 50% the cost of the books or more!)

      2} In the “You Lost” box I include something to the effect: “Sorry you didn’t win, but if you’d like a FREE copy of the ebook, send an email to giveaways@rockymtpress.com, and we’ll see what we can do!”

      I get 2 or 3 people who ask for the free book for every 100 who enter the contest (on average.) Once they email me asking for the free ebook, I gift them the ebook via an email telling them I signed them up for more free books (i.e. my mailing list.) I thought I ‘d get a lot of unsubscribes when I sent out that first email blast to the list announcing one of my “free book days” at amazon, but not a SINGLE person unsubscribed!

      For me, it works WAY better than giving away Kindle ebooks in an Amazon giveaway.

      Good luck!

  3. Question: If it doesn’t count towards sales ranking, it seems the author should just send them a free book? That said, the only thing I can find that might be damaging is that they aren’t verified purchases. Are giveaways considered verified purchases in reviews.

    • Amazon’s policy is that ANY book that a customer gets for free won’t be “verified.” So giveaway books (including ebooks and paper books), free promos (via KDP Select promos), and books “gifted” do NOT count as “verified” for reviews. Kindle Unlimited reviews also do not show up as “verified,” so LOTS of the people who actually DO read your book, don’t leave reviews that are “verified.”

  4. Thanks for reading, Mackay.

    I’m hoping Amazon will fix some of the problems soon (the ill-informed customer service, if nothing else.)

    Good luck with your writing!

    • I have a question, in the commentary on Passive Voice there seemed to be some question as to whether the giveaways for print copies (which Amazon then ships) do count as sales. Have your tried that and did you find out anything?

      • I have been told by other authors that paper books (and everything else at Amazon except ebooks) DO count as regular sales (and Amazon Customer Service told me that as well.) BUT! Amazon CS has given me incorrect information on Amazon Giveaways multiple times (from multiple reps), and there seems to be a bit of misinformation in the author community regarding AGAs. SO, my answer right now is “I don’t know for sure, but I’ll find out.”

        I just set up a giveaway with a paperback version of the book, and I should know tomorrow. As soon as I can confirm (or deny) the rankings change, I’ll post my results here, so stay tuned!

        (And thank you SO MUCH for your calm, informed, and thoughtful replies on TPV. I DO believe the journey is the reward, and the fact that you have joined me for a little bit of that journey is wonderful. )

        • As I recall, gift coupons for ebooks also help your sales ranking, once they have been collected. I sent a few gift books to friends and possible book reviewers I’m pretty sure they bumped up my ranking.

          In regard to TPV, happy to jump in. There can sometimes be a little too much moralizing about the right way to be a writer. I strongly believe that you have to test stuff out and be willing to make mistakes. And I’m thrilled when someone really digs into it and shares info like you have here.

  5. I ran a giveaway for 20 books and, silly me, I set the giveaway as random rather than all 20 books to the first 20 entrants. For whatever reason, you have to tell Amazon how many people will enter your giveaway – how could you possibly know that – so they can tell entrants what the odds are of winning a copy of the book. Wouldn’t Amazon know that data better than an author?

    Stupidly, I ‘guessed’ 500. I had just over 400 entrants. Amazon gave away 11 books and gave me a choice of running another contest for the other nine or giving me download codes for the other nine. I took the codes, thinking I could give the books to people willing to do an honest review since that’s what I’d been after anyway (it’s my only book with no reviews at all).

    One of 9 codes worked. I’ve gotten no reviews. I have no way whatsoever of even knowing if any of the books have been claimed other than the one for the code that I gave away that worked. It was a bad experience all the way around but, because I dropped the book to $.99 to run the contest, I bought at that level and earned a bit back in royalties. I’m out about $15 bucks and got a good lesson learned. No more Amazon giveaways!

    • Thanks for sharing, Anne.

      Hopefully, Amazon will change their policy and count ebook giveaways on the “Free” ranking list in the near future. It might make more sense to run them then.

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