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Advertising and Marketing

Are KDP Select 5 day free promotions still worth running?

By: Ginger on October 15, 2021

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

By: Ginger on October 15, 2021


The self-publishing landscape shifts and transforms itself so regularly that it’s always a good idea to test the waters and try new things. What was once best practice often becomes less effective, and if you are afraid of change then you’re in danger of being left behind. For many reasons, I see more and more authors dipping their toe into the wide waters, eschewing Amazon exclusivity for a chance to reach a different audience. Many of those authors flocked to KU when it was new, to the point where it actually seemed like a bunch of those other big eBook retailers were on the brink of collapse. But what once may have seemed like a no-brainer to some now feels more like a pair of handcuffs they’re anxious to cast off. Many of the things that made KU worth trying at first were negatively altered with each new iteration, and while some features have stayed the same, like the 5 day free promo, their continued effectiveness is questionable. Today, Ginger takes a look at whether that particular promotion is still worth using.


One of the appeals of making your books exclusive to Amazon is the ability to run a 5-day free promotion as part of KDP Select. But does this venerable promotional tactic pack the same punch it used to?

Talk to any self-publishing veteran and they’ll be able to describe the history of Kindle Direct Publishing in the same way paleontologists talk about dinosaurs. There have been so many changes in recent years, and they’ve each dramatically changed how to be successful selling books on Amazon.

Just as you’d describe the Jurassic and Mesozoic periods separately, authors talk about the glory days of pre-KU self-publishing, and how drastically the landscape later changed with the introduction of “KU 1.0”. In fact, just as many authors began to adapt, others were discovering loopholes in the system that gave them an advantage, which led to a series of KU changes over the years. Some of those changes were dramatic enough that authors had to almost start from the beginning, adapting once more to the new age that was forced upon them.

So it’s no surprise that the tactics needed to be successful on Amazon today are very different to those that delivered success back in the earlier days. However, one tactic that has remained in use since the very beginning is the “5-Day Free” promotion, which is available exclusively to those authors with books in KDP Select.

But is a 5-Day Free promotion still as impactful as it used to be? And, if not, why do authors keep relying on it?

How does a 5-Day Free promotion work?

When you self-publish a book, you have the option of making it part of KDP Select – exchanging a 90-day period of exclusivity with Amazon in return for being able to ‘lend’ your book to Kindle Unlimited subscribers and receive payment for every page they read.

In addition, Amazon offers two exclusive promotional tools – a Kindle Countdown Deal, and a 5-Day Free promotion. You can choose to run one of them (but not both) at any point during your 90-day exclusivity period.

If you select the 5-Day Free promotion, you choose the dates on which you’d like your book to be free, and that’s what happens. The price is set to $0.00 for that period, so readers “buy” the book the usual way (it just doesn’t cost them any money.) Your book will also still have the “Read for Free” button, so Kindle Unlimited subscribers may select that to read the book like they normally do, allowing you to continue to get paid for every page they finish.

The benefit of giving away your book for free is to get it out there, into the hands of eager readers. There’s a community of millions of Kindle owners who never pay for books, and you’re technically not losing money by giving them your book for free because they’d have never paid money for it in the first place.

However, Amazon’s recommendation algorithms don’t differentiate between books given away for free and books that are sold, so a successful free promotion is a powerful way to wriggle your writing deep into Amazon’s digital ecosystem and have it pop up all over the place in recommended reading sections.

It used to be so powerful, in fact, that it was the only launch and promotional tactic that I’d rely on! Back in the old days (sounding like an Amazon archeologist again) I used to be able to run a 5-day free promotion and see it swell my book sales by such an enormous amount that I could support my family off royalties for the next few months while I wrote the next book in the series.

But as time has gone on, many authors have joined me in complaining about how the impact of a 5-day free promotion has diminished significantly. Amazon’s decision to replace organically generated reading recommendations with paid ads has meant that all the places your free promotion would help you get seen in are now pushed way down to the bottom of the product pages. What used to cause a swell of new readers now barely causes a ripple; leading many of us to wonder:

Are Amazon’s free promotions still worth it?

Well, here’s why I think they are.

1. Free Promotions are a great gut-check for the success of your book

Generating profitable, paid book sales isn’t easy. Hell, even giving your book away for free isn’t easy! So, one of the benefits of running a 5-day Free promotion is that you’ll be able to get a good feeling for how commercially successful your book will be at scale. If you run the same promotional strategy (for example, I promote my 5-day Free period with a trio of newsletter blasts) you’ll be able to compare how many downloads each book gets; letting you know how hundreds or thousands of readers feel about your book. It’s inspired me to create new covers and write new blurbs when a book didn’t hit as hard as I’d have liked it to; and that means when I started spending money on advertising, I was already one step closer to getting a positive return on my investment.

2. They still generate Kindle Unlimited page reads

Free promotions are a great way to give your book away for free – but for subscribers in Kindle Unlimited, your book is already free! In fact, the “Read for Free” button is featured prominently above the “Buy Now for $0.00” button; meaning Kindle Unlimited subscribers drawn to your book page through promotion or advertising still end up often “paying” for the book by borrowing it through their Kindle Unlimited subscription rather than “buying” it as a free book. This means a 5-day free promotion can still end up generating royalties – especially if you write in a well-represented KU genre like romance.

3. They still populate your Also Bought and Also Read sections – for whatever that’s worth!

One of the reasons a 5-day free promotion used to be so effective is that it would place your book alongside others that people who’d downloaded it had read. Therefore, a few days after your free promotion ended, you’d see your book appearing right below the fold on hundreds or thousands of product pages; which was the best advertising money couldn’t buy! While those two ribbons of content have now been moved to the bottom of the product page – rendering them useless as advertising – there is still a tangible relationship between your book and the dozens of books recommended in the Also Bought section – and this can be a goldmine for keywords and author names to vacuum up when you’re ready to start advertising. While it’s frustrating not to get the same number of sales from this tactic, the information you can still glean from it (you know what? Let’s call it ‘intelligence’ since it sounds cooler) can still be invaluable as you develop an advertising and marketing plan.

All that being said, the major drawback to a 5-day free promotion in the current era of Amazon is that they’re largely ineffective unless you promote them via a newsletter, or through advertising. If you don’t, giving your book away for free is almost as challenging as trying to sell your book, simply because of the sheer weight of new books being promoted the same way!

And considering you don’t see the same return on investment as you once did, it can be pretty disheartening. A lot of authors I speak to have abandoned spending money promoting their free books, simply because they think it’s more effective to spend that money on advertising (and hopefully be able to recoup some or all of their money.)

At the end of the day, that’s a valid concern and one I think Amazon has kind of failed to address. They lured us all into exclusivity with them through the promises of KDP Select, but now that they’ve scared off the competition, it feels like we’re being left to fight for what scraps of profit remain.

However, despite that, I still cling to 5-day free promotions as one of the cornerstones of my self publishing career, and I tend to do it for a reason that I think might make sense to a lot of you:

It helps my book get read.

Amazon is a beast these days. Self-publishing is more challenging than ever, and it seems like more and more writers are struggling to break even or make a profit. However, I don’t think any of us got into this business purely to make money. We could have bought a hot dog cart and made more more money more easily.

At the end of the day, we’re writers – we want to reach people, to speak to them through our written words, and hopefully make some kind of impact on their lives. Sure, it’d be nice to pay the mortgage by doing so – but how many of us would quit writing entirely, even if we knew we’d never make a living from it?

I imagine the answer is very few. We’re writers. We write. Maybe we’d change what we write, or where we publish it, but for writers the very reason we do what we do is to have our books read; and for those of us who have managed to figure out consistent performance with a 5-day free promo, there’s simply nothing out there which provides the opportunity to put our books in the hands of so many readers so easily.

My most successful promotion saw me give away 11,000 copies of a romance novel in just five days. For even fairly successful self-published authors, it would take months or even years to sell that many copies. Now, I’m sure not everybody who downloaded a copy read the book in its entirety; but I still know I reached thousands of new readers through that free promotion, and in my mind each one of those readers has the potential to be a cheerleader for my books in the future.

We write books so that people can read them. Free promotions remain, in my estimation, one of the best ways to achieve that.

What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments section below!

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About the Author

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

Ginger is also known as Roland Hulme - a digital Don Draper with a Hemingway complex. Under a penname, he's sold 65,000+ copies of his romance novels, and reached more than 320,000 readers through Kindle Unlimited - using his background in marketing, advertising, and social media to reach an ever-expanding audience. 

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  • You’re not going to be surprised to see me say this, but…

    If just getting your books into the hands of readers is your primary driver, you should absolutely be looking at being Wide. Your most successful giveaway was 11,000 copies; I can give that away…and then keep going. I’m not restrained to just five days. I’m not restrained to just Amazon. I’ve given away a hundred thousand+ copies of just one of my permafrees, and I have two.

    Free book giveaways (permafrees in Wide parlance) are THE best way to advertise as a Wide author. It doesn’t work like it used to on Amazon, but it does still work wonders on the Wide storefronts.

    Just some thoughts from the Wide seats. 😉

    • I want to go Wide so badly, but still overwhelmed with everything. Struggling to get 3rd book written. I wish I could get someone to sit next to me when I do go Wide because it takes me SO LONG to learn how to navigate every website. I’m intimidated by the Wide workload when I go to transition. Mind is willing but body can’t keep up like I used to.

  • I just made 100% ROI on a 5-day free (within two weeks). Got plenty of new reviews and ratings. The increased income is still continuing, I’m just not counting it as part of the promo now.

    If you know how to leverage it, it works just fine.

  • Also, free books can drive audio sales if the book is whispersync’d. If you do audio, this is a fab marketing tool.