Sales versus borrows versus giveaways

Sales versus borrows versus giveaways

There are three main ways that my Kindle store books get to readers:

  • Sales (people pay for them)
  • Borrows (eligible Prime members borrow them from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library…KOLL…at no additional cost)
  • Giveaways (I offer them for free on promo days)

Certainly, those aren’t the only ways. The books could be gifted to someone, loaned to someone not on the account, or shared by people on the same account. I don’t have any way of tracking those, though. My guess is that those may account for a significant proportion of the people who read my books, but I can’t really track that or affect it much. I enable lending on my books…that’s about the only control I could have over it.

So, I’m curious about how the three methods I listed above compare.

People using Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) like me aren’t really supposed to give you sales figures, but what I can do is giving you comparisons without a scale. In other words, the charts below are based on the real numbers but don’t tell you what those numbers are: 80, 40, and 20 would look the same as 800, 400, and 200.

First, let’s take a look overall. I’m using the figures for March 2012, through what’s been reported to me on March 18. As the month goes on, I’ll presumably have more sales and more borrows, but not more giveaways (I don’t anticipate doing another promo day this month):

  • Giveaway: 87%
  • Net Sold: 10%
  • Borrowed: 3%

As you can see, sold is about three times what the borrowed figure is. I was a bit surprised that more people didn’t get the books during the promo day on March 15th, but I had done a giveaway for most of these titles on February 12th as well.

Now, I have one title I would consider my “front list” right now:

Love Your Kindle Fire: The ILMK Guide to Amazon’s Entertablet

It’s only been available since late November of 2011 (and I’ve updated it considerably since then), and while the sales have lost the initial bloom, it still sells relatively well.

I wanted to compare that to my “backlist” titles, which have been around for a while.

It’s important to note that it is also priced differently. LYKF is $2.99, and the other are $0.99. My guess is that having a lower price may hurt the number of borrows you have…in this hypothesis, people would prefer to borrow more expensive books, so that it seems like a better deal*.

Here’s the chart for LYKF:

Love Your Kindle Fire

  • Giveaway: 85%
  • Net Sold: 10%
  • Borrowed: 5%

As you can see, the percentage that were sold is the same…but a higher percentage borrowed, and a lower percentage took advantage of the giveaway (even though it was the first time this book had been given away).

2% difference in borrows might not seem like much, but it makes sales only twice the borrows (excluding the giveaways) as opposed to more than three times the borrows overall.

For the next comparison, let’s take my second best-selling title, and the best-selling of the backlist:

Free Books for Your Kindle (revised edition)

Free Books for Your Kindle (revised edition)

  • Giveaways: 84%
  • Net Sold: 13%
  • Borrowed: 3%
As you can see, the odds that someone is going to buy this versus borrowing it are much higher than on LYKF.
How about a slow selling title that is available in all three options?
The Collected I Love My Kindle Blog Volume 1

The Collected I Love My Kindle Blog Volume 1

  • Giveaway: 96%
  • Net Sold: 4%
  • Borrowed: 0%

While people will get the book as a giveaway, they don’t want to borrow it.

What does all this tell us?

What publishers (and anyone who puts books out there to be bought is a publisher, even if it is just one person who is the author) will want to know is, which way makes the most money?

That’s a bit hard to tell, because we don’t know how much money we will get per borrow until the month is over and Amazon tells us. I think the per borrow figure is going to continue to drop, unless Amazon raises the pool amount which is split among all of the borrows.

Let’s say it’s…$1 for March.

For a $0.99 book, the royalty when it is purchased is about thirty-five cents (it’s below the minimum price range to get the higher 70% royalty). So, you’d have to sell about three times as many as are borrowed to make more money on sales.  Hmm…that doesn’t tell us much on the overall for me.

For a $2.99 book that qualifies for the 70% range, you get about $2.08 per purchase (there is a delivery charge for books, based on their size…mathematically, 70% would be closer to $2.09, but let’s not quibble). 😉

So, selling roughly half as many would get you the same money as the borrows, again, based on a hypothetical one dollar per borrow.

The nice thing is that you don’t have to choose one or the other. 🙂

However, to be eligible for the borrows, you have to put your book exclusively in the Kindle store for ninety days…you can’t also sell it through Barnes & Noble, for example. That’s something some publishers need to really consider. I only sell through Amazon, so that doesn’t have an impact on me.

What about the massively higher giveaway figures? Am I losing all that money?


Many of the people who get a free book would never buy it. I think that’s particularly true on the Collected ILMK. People will get it for free…but many of them wouldn’t buy it, so I haven’t lost anything.

Do those giveaways help the sales?

I don’t have enough data yet…but I’ll say, I thought they might result in more reviews, and that hasn’t happened much. I have to face the fact that I’m just not a review magnet. 😉

Regardless, I thought you’d find these figures interesting. It’s a rapidly changing landscape out there, and more data will help people navigate it. After all, just drawing a menacing picture on the map and saying, “Here there be digital” doesn’t help much. 😉

* It occurred to me that I could test this a bit by looking at the most popular books in the KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library). One thing that complicates that is that many of the books in the KOLL are free, probably due to the promo days that KDP Select participants can do. Looking at the ones that aren’t free, 20 of the top 100 books in the KOLL are $0.99.  48 of them cost more than that…that’s about 29% that are $0.99. Looking at the 100 most popular paid books over all in the Kindle store, 23 of them were ninety-nine cents…which tends to refute that idea.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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