How to Set Your Book Free on Amazon

free ebooks earth-237955_960_720This may be old hat to some of you. But we get new indie authors every day, and also Amazon changes stuff every little while. So since IU is here to help everybody, no matter where they are on their indie-author journey, I thought I’d take a few minutes to explain what it takes to get Amazon to set the price of your eBook to free.

First, let’s get the names straight. To sell an eBook as an indie on Amazon, you need to publish it via Kindle Direct Publishing, which is often abbreviated as KDP.

KDP will not allow you to set the price of your book to free. The lowest it will let you go is 99 cents, which gives you a 35 percent royalty (or 35 cents) on every sale. To get a 70 percent royalty, your price needs to be between $2.99 and $9.99.(This is if you don’t have a book with a lot of pictures that results in a delivery charge and a higher list price.)

So how do other authors get their books offered for free at Amazon? There are several ways.

  • You can leave it at full price and hope your readers have signed up for Amazon Prime. If so, they can borrow (not buy) one eBook per month for free.
  • You can enroll your book in KDP Select. This is a voluntary program that locks you into selling your book at Amazon, and nowhere else, for a period of three months. Be aware that if you don’t untick the “automatic renewal” box when you enroll your book in Select, Amazon will roll it over for another three-month hitch. Once your book is in Select, you can set your book free for up to five days during each three-month period. On your Bookshelf, look for the button that says, “Promote and Advertise.” (The IU chimp has drawn a red arrow to it for you.)
    Amazon Free Book 1
    Click to enlarge

    Clicking that will bring you to a page where you can sign up your eBook for free days (or for a Countdown Deal, which is a separate promotional scheme). Free days are available across all Kindle stores (so far) – but Amazon won’t let you schedule dates too close to the beginning or end dates of your enrollment period.

  • If your readers have signed up for Kindle Unlimited, they can borrow (not buy) up to ten eBooks at a time for free. Any eBook published via KDP Select is automatically eligible for borrows through this program.

But what if you want your eBook to be free forever and always? It’s a particularly useful strategy for the first book in a series; readers who pick up your book for free, and like it, might buy the other books. Unfortunately, your options at Amazon are going to be limited – but it can be done. Here’s how I got Amazon to set Seized, the first book in my first series, free:

  1. I published the book at both Amazon and Smashwords. Unlike Amazon, Smashwords will let you set your list price to free. I also made sure Seized qualified for the Smashwords Premium Catalog.
  2. I waited until Smashwords distributed my book to its partner retail outlets like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. If memory serves, it took less than two weeks. Then I confirmed that my book was free at each of those retailers, and grabbed the URL for my book at each one.
  3. I went into my Author Central account and sent an email to Customer Service, asking that Amazon price-match my book. In my email, I included the URLs for my book at the other sites. (There’s also a button on book pages at Amazon where you can report a lower price elsewhere.)
  4. A few days later, Seized was perma-free at Amazon.

There’s one more way you get a free copy of your book to your readers: Publish at Smashwords and have Smashwords generate a coupon code for your eBook. Set the discounted price to 100 percent off. Then give the code to your readers. They put in the code at checkout, then download the file and email it to their Kindle device of choice.

Those are the only ways I can think of to get a free Kindle version of your book to your readers. Did I miss anything?

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

42 thoughts on “How to Set Your Book Free on Amazon”

      1. Which, come to think of it, is what I did with Seized. Sorry to have left out that step.

        Smashwords coupons are good for instances when you don’t want your book to be free everywhere at once.

  1. You used to be able to do the URL posting from the actual AZ book page- Like for Space Crazy I had it at .99 and did the SW/BN freebie and then on AZ, I went to the book page and there was a little prompt for “have you seen this book at a lower price?” link where you pasted the URL. Took about a month for SC, but it’s been free ever since.

    1. Right, Kathy — that’s the link on the book page that I talked about. It used to be that appealing the lower price through Author Central got your price lowered faster, which is why I did it that way. But I think Amazon has sped up its price-matching process from the button on the product page since then.

    1. You can distribute your books to retailers like Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple through Draft2Digital. They’re a great alternative to Smashwords for distribution. However, they don’t have their own storefront.

  2. Thanks, guys. 🙂 I’ve never used D2D, but I’ve heard good things about them. I wonder whether D2D will let you price your book at free — will they?

  3. This worked with one of my books, Once Upon A Remembrance, a romance title, and it’s free on Amazon, however I emailed to let them know I had several other titles free via Smashwords and therefore everywhere else, but Amazon never dropped them to free, so doesn’t always work. 🙁 Also, if you set your Amazon title to higher than $.99 on the one you want to go free, you’ll get a rather threatening letter from Amazon to fix the price or they’ll pull the book. My experience anyway so be aware of that. And I love Smashwords. My ebooks via Smashwords outlets outsell Amazon 4 to 1.

    1. Glad to hear Smashwords is working for you, Grace. 🙂

      And yes, you need to keep the price everywhere at free or Amazon will ding you. Or were you saying that the price should be 99 cents at Amazon before you ask that it be set to free?

      In terms of their approval rate: What I’ve heard through the grapevine is that the Zon *really* cares about prices at B&N and iTunes, and not so much anywhere else. So if all you sent them for your other books was the Smashwords link, you might want to try again with links to your book’s pages at B&N and iTunes. (I find iTunes’ search engine to be pretty much useless; typically I’ll google my name and my book’s name to get the iTunes product page.)

      1. Yes, the price has to be 99 Cents at Amazon, not more, or you’ll get the letter. Barnes and Noble is my biggest “free” download via Smashwords. So maybe I will send them the Barnes and Noble Link. Thanks for that.

  4. Good info for the neophytes out there, looking to be discovered. My only question is: why would you want to have “any” of your books “permanently” free? I have used the KDP Select program to great advantage to boost the sales of my mystery series, or to periodically “juice” things up. But I, for one, hate giving away my hard work (did I mention that I hate that?), since it takes between one and two years to “churn” out a book. I realize I may be in the minority, but that’s my two cents’ worth . . . 🙂
    Good information, though, as always!

    1. I know its something I struggled with for a while as well Joe. And I think if you are just doing it hoping to be found, its not worth it but if you are using it to grow an email list and doing marketing around it being perma-free, then I think it’s worth it. I think to some degree people hope for more reviews that way as well – not my experience so far but I think in the long run it might. I just ventured into doing this last year and have seen a lot more downloads and am growing a decent email list. So we’ll see in the long run if pans out. And your right, it is a lot of hard work – often not understood or forgotten by the reader. 🙂

    2. Thanks, Joe. 🙂

      This is where you need to take off your author hat and put on your marketing hat. 😉 A perma-free book is a loss leader. The idea is to get readers to take a chance on your book so they’ll be hooked into reading more of your work. That’s why it can work really well if you have a series, and not as well if you don’t.

      I can tell you that I’ve seen sales of my other titles from giving Seized away. I even see instances where somebody went through my entire backlist and bought one of each. I love those readers. 😀

  5. ALLI members have recently found that price-matching is by no means automatic and can be withdrawn at any time. Some authors have received straight ‘no’s’. I persuaded them to price match in US,UK and Canada, but they declined to do so for India and refused to enter into further correspondence. I have a Bookbub ad coming up and to be honest I have found the experience of trying to make sure the discount is in place on the right day so stressful that I won’t be doing it again.

    1. Good for you for getting a Bookbub ad, Jane! 🙂

      I have also heard that Amazon won’t always price-match. Interesting that they’ll sometimes raise the price without warning — that, I had not heard. And I agree that keeping discount days and ad days in sync is stressful, whether perma-free is added into the mix or not…

  6. Hmmm. It seems like the coupon option might be a good way to give a book as a giveaway, either for signing up to an email list or in an actual giveaway. That is a circumstance where you want to control who is able to get a free book. How do you think that would work, based on your experience?

    1. Liz, that’s exactly the sort of situation where the coupon option is perfect.

      Another option for email signups is to have your book hosted somewhere — maybe in Dropbox or on a landing page on your website — and have your email list provider (whether it’s MailChimp or wherever) send new subscribers the link. Using a coupon simplifies that process. Either way, your new subscriber will need to know how to sideload content to their reading device. I think Big Al did a post about how to do it fairly recently.

      1. If I may interject – the problem with a coupon for a free book on Smashwords is that the reader then has to sign up for a Smashwords account. Whenever I give a coupon for a free eBook on SW, I notice the download rate is about 10%. If the book is permafree on Smashwords, no account is necessary to download and anyone can access the book. Just something to think about.

  7. I have a question. Once a book is perma-free, will it always be so? Can you change your mind and start charging for it down the road?

  8. Be aware, once you’ve let your book go free, the copyright infringers will copy your book and either sell it (no royalties for you) or give it away. If you ever want to price it again, you’ll be competing against the book stealers. No amount of DMCA letters to these criminals will stop them. They don’t care. They know you don’t have the money to come after them. Each author and publisher has to make this decision on their own, but it’s one of those things that can’t be undone. If you do it, set Google Alerts so you’ll know who is selling your book without your permission.

  9. This clarifies the details. Providing for free days for a marketing promo can help boost reads and reviews. Thanks

Comments are closed.