The Power Of Free

9,370. That's how many times The Silver Ring has been downloaded so far at Amazon as of 3:27 a.m. When I mentioned, just two days ago, how Amazon had made the novella available for free on Kindle, I had said only 40 copies had been downloaded. What I didn't say was that I hoped it would at least make 1,000 downloads before the weekend. Instead, that happened by the next afternoon.

Like I said, when Amazon emailed me telling me what they had planned to do, I decided to make the most of the opportunity. I spiffed up the formatting, made sure to include excerpts from The Calling and The Serial Killer's Wife, my forthcoming thriller (speaking of which, Blake Crouch just sent me his introduction last night and, among other things, he calls the book "a scary, thrilling, page-turning, race-against-the-clock novel if ever there was one, with a true shocker of an ending"), and I even dropped eBookNewser a heads up as, during the week, they feature a free e-book of the day. I knew the chances were slim that they would feature The Silver Ring, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least try. And, well, it turned out they did feature it yesterday. And while I haven't had a chance to keep an eye on the sales ranking constantly, I did make sure to try to check at least once an hour to see how high the ranking would get. And here's where it basically ended up (the US Kindle store and the UK Kindle store, respectively):

For some reason it didn't come up, but The Silver Ring is also currently #1 in the UK's horror section. (Also, it's interesting how you don't have to sell as many copies in the UK Kindle store to reach a very high ranking, but I guess that's because Kindles are relatively new to the UK, not like they are here.)

But of course, despite these numbers, there really isn't much reason to get excited. I mean, sure, they're great numbers, but just how many of those who downloaded the novella are actually going to read it? I'd say a very small percentage. People love free, especially those with e-book readers. In fact, I've heard it speculated that many people who buy Kindles will first go to the top 100 and browse there and buy books and download the free books just to fill up their nifty new device. And it makes sense. After all, The Silver Ring has been holding steady for the past day. I'm sure at some point it will begin to fall and disappear completely. And I'm sure it will be read by a small percentage of those who downloaded it. But even if, say, 5% actually read it, that's close to 500 people (and I'm going based on the fact we're almost at 10,000 downloads; we could even assume that that number will grow and grow). Even if, say, 25% of those 500 people really dig the story enough to try more of my work, that could be something, at least a start.

I should mention that there is one refund for The Silver Ring right now. Which at first I thought was hilarious because who refunds a free book? In fact, I don't think you even can refund a free book. But then I remembered seeing a sale for The Silver Ring Wednesday night; I had been keeping an eye out for when the sales started to increase figuring that would alert me to when the book went free. But when I checked, I saw it was still 99 cents. Which means that was an actual sale. And then, maybe an hour later, more and more people began to download it as the price went to free. So I'm thinking that this person, whoever they are, saw that they had purchased a 99 cent e-book that was now available for free and so refunded it. No big deal. It happens. Amazon's policy is that you can return an e-book in the first seven days, which, if you think about it, means you can purchase an e-book, read it in the first six days, and then return it for your money back. Not quite the thing I would do, but you have those cheap bastards out there. I mean, my day job is in retail and you wouldn't believe the entitlement many customers think they deserve, such as they purchase a product a full price on Tuesday, it goes on sale Wednesday, and they think they now deserve the product at that sale price.

Anyway, the real question: has the insane number of downloads helped bring in sales for any of my other e-books? Well, I think it's too early to tell. After all, it's only been two days. You have to figure you need to give that 5% time to actually read the novella first. And I think there's a good chance even a bigger percentage will because of a few things:

  1. It's short, only 18,000 words long, as opposed to a massive-length novel.
  2. It has short chapters. Thirty chapters for a 18,000 word novella, making the average chapter length only 600 words. (It's a psychological thing, you know, that shorter chapters make you read faster; many people are able to read The Silver Ring in one sitting because the chapters are so short, but if it were a straight story with no chapter breaks, it would take your average reader much longer to read; in fact, they might not even bother in the first place. Sad but true.)
  3. The formatting is professional. It might be arrogant to say it, as I do my own formatting, but it's true, especially with so many shoddy formatted e-books out there.
  4. It's a fast, fun story. Is it great? Well, I'd like to think so, but I know it's not my strongest work. Hell, I originally wrote the thing in high school and only revised it a few years ago. So it is what it is. Still, I'm proud of how it turned out and very happy it has the chance to be read by so many people.

The time is now 3:59 a.m. and, checking again, The Silver Ring has now been downloaded 9,408 times. Again, you have to ask yourself what does it mean? The same argument applies to the whole sure-your-99-cent-e-book-is-selling-but-how-many-of-those-readers-are-actually-reading-it? At this point I think the same answer applies: a sale is a sale just as a download is a download. You think traditional publishers care if the books they sell are actually read? Of course not. They just want to make money. But then again, don't we all?