Amazon Giveaways • Are Ebooks Getting Shafted?

Amazon GiveawaysOr Why do Amazon Giveaways for Print Books Count Toward Bestseller Rankings But Ebooks Do Not?

This is the second post in an ongoing analysis of Amazon Giveaways for books (Kindle, paperback, and hardback editions).

In an earlier blog post, I shared some data on Amazon Giveaways for Kindle ebooks.

My conclusion: If you don’t want to join KDP Select, but you DO want to give away free copies of your Kindle books at Amazon, you now have that option (although you have to PAY Amazon for the privilege, and unlike ebooks on a free KDP Select promo, your Amazon Giveaway ebooks will NOT count toward the “Free in Kindle” bestseller rankings—or any sales rankings for that matter.)

The Plot Thickens

Today I have more data on Amazon Giveaways for PAPERBACK and HARDBACK books, and if, like me, you were expecting Amazon to treat print and digital books in a similar fashion, prepare to be disappointed:

Ebooks ARE getting the shaft.

Amazon Giveaways for paperback (and hardback) books count toward the PAID bestseller book rankings. Ebooks in an Amazon Giveaway DON’T EVEN COUNT TOWARD the FREE RANKINGS.

Here’s my Paperback data:

Crossing In Time by D.L. Orton Paperback Amazon Giveaway Data.
Crossing In Time by D.L. Orton Paperback Amazon Giveaway Data.

On May 17th, I gave away five (5) paperback copies of Crossing In Time, and every eligible entry had a 1 in 20 chance of winning (randomly chosen by Amazon) for a total of ~100 entrants. Then I ran two more giveaways with ONE paperback book each on May 20th and May 21st.

  • GiveawayEndedBook price: $12.65 (Amazon discounts it from $12.99, the price I set in CreateSpace). Amount I was charged per book: $19.40. That’s $6.75 more PER BOOK for shipping and tax. I’m an Amazon Prime member, but customers are not allowed to use Prime privileges for giveaways even if the winner is ALSO a Prime member, so the giveaways cost me $36.90 MORE than if I had just gifted the seven paperbacks. (After the giveaways were over, I received a refund for extra “shipping and taxes.” Average cost per paperback: $17.92 or 41.7% over the list price of $12.65.)
  • It took Amazon about 3 hours to “activate” the giveaways (my ebook giveaways take only a couple of minutes to go live.) I submitted the 5-paperback giveaway to Amazon at 11:33am PDT. Amazon charged me for books (plus estimated shipping and tax) at 11:38am PDT. My giveaway went live 3+ hours later at 2:43pm PDT.
  • Tweet Only Shows Part of the Book Cover
    Tweet Only Shows Part of the Book Cover

    I tweeted with the #AmazonGiveaway hashtag 4 minutes after the first giveaway went live (@DL_Orton).

  • My giveaway concluded 11 minutes later, but only 89 people entered. (Next time I’ll choose the “Lucky Number” giveaway type instead of the “Random” type so that I get all the entries I expected.)
  • Sales credit showed up on my Create Space dashboard the following day (CreateSpace gives you royalties when they PRINT the book, not when they sell it, so it’s possible to get sales credit BEFORE a book is sold (i.e. someone ordered the book and canceled before it was shipped, so CS has one lying around) or after the sale (probably the next day, but sometimes two or three days later when the POD facility is busy.) I received sales ranking “credit” for the 5 books the same evening of the giveaways (before midnight PDT on May 17th, 20th, and 21st).
  • tl;dr: Paperbacks are expensive to use in giveaways (printing cost + $6 shipping cost + tax) but the sale DOES count toward the PAID book ranking.

Giveaway StatusHardback Giveaway Data:

On May 18th, I ran a hardback (hardcover) Amazon Giveaway for Crossing In Time (distributed by IngramSpark) to test if hardcover books receive sales ranking credit for prizes in a giveaway. They do.

 

Crossing In Time by D. L. Orton Hardback Amazon Giveaway Data
Crossing In Time by D. L. Orton Hardback Amazon Giveaway Sales and Ranking Data

Crossing In Time by D. L. Orton Kindle ebook Amazon Giveaway DataBut Kindle EBook Giveaways Don’t Count

On April 25th, KDP Customer Support told me that Kindle EBook giveaways work JUST LIKE other product giveaways: they are recorded as “a normal sale, so the sales rank will be impacted.” Since then I have been attempting to get KDP CS to show me ONE INSTANCE where an ebook in a giveaway I ran received sales ranking credit for either the PAID or the FREE bestseller lists. Since I had been assured by BOTH Amazon Customer Service AND KDP Support (multiple times) that kindle ebooks bought for Amazon Giveaways DO count toward sales ranking, I have been trying to figure out why MY giveaways don’t count. (Maybe only books priced at or above $2.99 count towards sales rank? Maybe only a predetermined number of ebooks count? Maybe Amazon and KDP CS are misinformed or clueless?)

I have test data for a lot of different cases (1 ebook per giveaway only, ebook price over $2.99, ebook won, downloaded and opened, etc.), but the result is the same: Price, number of ebooks in the giveaway, winner action after giveaway, etc. does NOT matter: Kindle ebooks don’t count.

Since April 25th, I have received numerous emails from KDP Support telling me:
"I worked with our concerned team and can confirm there is no discrepancy in our reporting system. 
Please be assured that our reporting systems works fine."

and

"I've checked your account and can confirm that there is no discrepancy with the sales rank of the given ASINs."

and when I noted that no sales ranking had been affected (ever!) by ebook giveaway sales and asked why KDP Support was saying otherwise:

"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 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."

I have been calling and email KDP CS for over a month, and today I got an email back regarding my 11+ pages of data, graphs, KDP dashboard snapshots, and ongoing requests to show me ONE case where an ebook in a giveaway affected my sales rank. Here’s what it said:

"Hello,

Please accept my sincere apologies for the confusion regarding this issue.

I checked our records and can confirm that the sales rank calculation will not be affected by giveaway orders.[Emphasis mine]

Thanks for using Amazon KDP."

So there you have it:

Paperback and Hardback Book Sales via Amazon Giveaways DO Affect PAID Sales Ranking.

Kindle Ebook Sales via Amazon Giveaways DO NOT affect ANY Sales Ranking (FREE or Otherwise)! 

(Don’t let Amazon or KDP Customer Support tell you otherwise. THEY ARE “MISINFORMED” i.e. WRONG).


More Stats for Amazon Giveaways:

Setup an Amazon GiveawayIf you plan to run Amazon Giveaways for books, here is some data on my results:

  • Paperbacks: Five (5) paperback books ($12.99 list price) with a 1 in 5 chance of winning sold out in 11 minutes. Five (5) books with a 1 in 300 chance did not sell out in 7 days (and my money for the 3 unsold books was refunded.) If you want to run the giveaway in a single day (the giveaway automatically ends at midnight Pacific Time on the following day or as soon as all the prizes are claimed), I would suggest giving away 1-3 paperbacks at 1:50. If you want to run a giveaway for a week (the max) then use 3-5 paperbacks at around 1:200. Cost per Amazon follow: 8-12 cents (and you WILL get sales/ranking credit for the books.) There’s no penalty for unclaimed prizes, so go for higher follow numbers if you don’t mind giving away fewer books.
  • Hardbacks: Three (3) hardback books ($35 list price each) with a 1 in 1500 chance of winning sold out in 4.5 hours. Cost per Amazon follow: 6 cents! This worked out to be the best deal as far as cost per follow. Your mileage may vary.  I received sales & ranking credit within an hour of the end of the giveaway.
  • Kindle EBooks: Twenty-five (25) copies ($2.99) at 1 in 2 sold out in 26 hours (I had set it up to run for 2 weeks). Fifty (50) copies ($.99) at 1 in 5 sold out in 18 hours (1st time) and 8 hours (2nd time). Twenty-three (23) copies ($2.99) at 1 in 17 did not sell out in 36 hours (only 10 were claimed.) I ran another giveaway with the remaining 13 at 1 in 5 and they sold out in 35 minutes. I did not see a noticeable difference in giveaway action based on the price of the ebook ($4.99 vs $2.99 vs $0.99).  My advice: mark your price down to 99 cents and run your giveaway with 50 copies at 1 in 10 chances. If you don’t manage to give away all your books, run more Amazon giveaways (for a day) with the remaining ebooks. Wash, rinse, repeat. NOTE: You WILL NOT get sales ranking credit for the books you giveaway. (You will get your KDP royalty for each book, but that is all.) As far as Amazon (and the outside world) knows, you did NOT sell any ebooks.

EnterDetailsTips & Tricks:

  • One Day Giveaways Work Best: There are websites that list Amazon Giveaways, but most ONLY list giveaways that are expiring that day. If you want their help “promoting” your giveaway, then don’t run it for longer than one day. (If you have “leftover” books, you will get a refund for the unclaimed books. If you have leftover ebooks, just run another giveaway).
  • Publicity: Tweet with #AmazonGiveaway (and #Hardback or #Paperback or #Kindle #Book—or even nothing else except the giveaway link!) and moments later, you will have people entering. Note: Posting on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, and Goodreads did absolutely nothing for me.
  • Giveaway “Type” Setup: As far as I can tell, “Random” works the same as “Lucky Number” except you’ll get fewer entrants with “Random.” “First-come, First-served” just means everyone who enters gets a prize. You can use that if you want to give away free copies of the book to select people without worrying about gifting the book to each person individually: Don’t tweet the giveaway link, just give it out to select people until all your books are claimed.
  • Giveaway “Grow Your Audience” Setup: If you force people to watch a video in order to enter, I have no idea what sort of result you’ll get, but I suspect it won’t be good. (Anyone have any data on this?) Asking people to follow you on twitter works, but you’ll probably end up with a bunch of people who love giveaways but may not even read books. With an Amazon follow, they’ll get notified when your next book is released (but that might not do much either. Anyone have data on this?)
  • Gifting books versus Giveaway Books: If you are an Amazon Prime member, you don’t pay for shipping on gifted books. This can be as much as $6 PER BOOK in a giveaway. If you gift a kindle book, you WILL receive ranking (and sales) credit for the book. If you give Kindle books as prizes in a giveaway, you WILL NOT receive sales/ranking credit (only royalties.) Bottom line: If you know who to give the book to, you are always better off gifting the book (ebook or paper) rather than running a giveaway. If you are LOOKING for new readers, then you are paying Amazon around $6 a book (shipping for paper books) or getting ZERO sales/ranking credit (ebooks) for the privilege.

DesignGiveawaySetting Up Amazon Giveaways

Choose “Lucky Number” and then the odds of winning (1 in 50 here) and how many prizes you want to give away. Options for building your audience include an Amazon follow, Twitter follow, or forcing entrants to watch a video. Finally, enter how long you want your giveaway to run (max is 7 days for a physical book or 30 days for a kindle ebook).

 

Note: Amazon buys hardback books from IngramSpark in lots, and you won’t be able to give away more books than are currently on hand. (You can see how many that is by viewing your hardback book page on Amazon.) If that cramps your style, run a giveaway with the number of books currently available, and once those are sold, you’ll be able to set up a second giveaway with more hardbacks.

 

strength in numbersStrength in Numbers

I hope my experiences (and mistakes!) will help other Indie authors make better, more informed choices. Despite the fact that it may be a Sisyphean task (and yes, Joe, I get that Amazon owes me nothing, and that I can always take my low-ranking books and crawl back under my proverbial rock), I’d still like to believe that if enough of us Indie published bottom-feeders take exception to the unfair treatment of electronic books, Amazon will attempt to address our concerns. Call me an optimist.

In the meantime, if you have more data on Amazon Giveaways, please share it in the comments (or send it my way, and I will compile it for a future blog post).

When it comes to writing and publishing books, the journey is the reward (because it sure ain’t the money.)

Thanks for joining me.

 

4 thoughts on “Amazon Giveaways • Are Ebooks Getting Shafted?

  1. Thank you for such an informative post. I have been trying to decide if I should offer a giveaway. At least now if I do I will definitely use the tricks and tips you mention.

  2. I’ve discovered that most of the people who enter these giveaways are doing it to profit, not because they are interested in your book. I had a similar experience whereby I sold out of the 10 ebooks I was giving away in matter of hours. I was very happy until I looked at the list of winners. They were all spammy Twitter accounts that apparently automatically look for these things. I’ve also heard of people giving away a print book, and finding it for sale on ebay.

    To try to get real readers, I’m requiring them to sign up for my mailing list (which is what I really want). So far, no takers, but I haven’t used the #AmazonGiveaway hashtag. I may try that next, but the last thing I want to do is to give my book away to someone who will never be a customer, and who will then sell the thing on ebay.

    • My experience is the same as yours, Michael: The people who win the paperback (or hardback) books don’t read them (or leave a review.)

      But I have discovered a way to mitigate the cost: Put a message in the “You Lost” box telling the loser that if they email me and request a free copy of the ebook, I’ll gift the kindle edition to them. When I send them the gift announcement (send the free code to yourself and then forward it to their email), I include a sentence telling them how much I would appreciate their review and giving them a link to sign up for my mailing list (and MORE FREE BOOKS.) I get about 1 out of a hundred people who enter the giveaway asking for the free book, and most of them sign up for my mailing list (and a number of them have left reviews!

      Good luck!

  3. Thanks for sharing this! An expensive test, but great information. So, despite the opinions of various self-publishing experts, you can buy ranking on Amazon fairly easily. Not surprising since you can buy most things in a capitalistic society. As far as I can see, the only reason for Amazon to treat ebooks and print books differently is to milk more money from indy writers who want to move their ranking. (Again, welcome to capitalism.)

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