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Authors face change as Amazon tightens affiliate policy on free Kindle books

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Amazon is changing a policy on affiliate links to free Kindle books, and the changes are likely to have a big effect on the way some self-published authors achieve success online.

In the last few years, entire websites aimed at promoting free Kindle books have sprung up. Their business model is primarily referral fees: When a visitor to one of these sites clicks on a link to Amazon to download a free ebook, but then buys other products on Amazon within 24 hours, the original site gets a percentage of those unrelated paid sales.

Amazon is now cracking down on this. The company notes on its website that as of March 1:

“Associates who we determine are promoting primarily free Kindle eBooks and meet both conditions below for a given month will not be eligible for any advertising fees for that month within the Amazon Associates Program. This change will not affect advertising fees earned prior to March 1, 2013.

1. At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks

2. 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links.”

The new policy will primarily affect the largest free Kindle book sites — Ereader News Today, BookBub, eReaderIQ, Pixel of Ink and Free Kindle Books and Tips. Some self-published authors fear it will also affect downloads of their titles. Self-published authors who make their books available to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library are also allowed to run special promotions where they can give their books away for free for a day, to drive sales. And many self-published authors use the free Kindle bestseller lists to gain publicity for their books.

“This is definitely going to make life for Indies [self-published authors] much much tougher,” one author writes on the Kindle Boards. “After all, we depend on these free runs for the ranking and therefore sales boosts. Without the free book sites, how will we reach those people who want to download free books?”

Is Amazon starting to emphasize paid Kindle books?

The self-published author David Gaughran sees a trend in Amazon’s attitude toward free Kindle books. He wrote to me in an email:

In mid-March last year, Amazon began trialling new versions of the algorithms which decide the ranking on Popularity Lists before settling on one iteration in May which no longer counted a free download as a paid sale, but as one tenth of a paid sale. This had the instant effect of greatly reducing the “post-free bounce” which many self-publishers had been witnessing after a KDP Select free run.

On top of that, towards the end of last year, Amazon began experimenting with hiding the Top 100 free behind a tab (they are usually listed beside the Top 100 paid books which gives tremendous visibility). They haven’t decided to make that change permanent yet, but the very fact they are experimenting with it is a possible sign of things to come.

But Gaughran isn’t too worried: The existing free Kindle sites “will need something to feature, and we could see the 99-cent price point become hot again as self-publishers move from free-pulsing to price-pulsing.”

Big free book sites plan to change their policies

Michael Gallagher, who runs the site Free Kindle Books and Tips, writes in a blog post that he expects a lot of free Kindle book sites will have to shut down. While he notes that Amazon’s new 20,000 free Kindle book-per-month threshold sounds like a lot, he estimates that clicks on his site’s affiliate links result in about 50,000 or so free ebook downloads a day.

Gallagher’s not shutting down his own site: He’s changing its name to Kindle Books and Tips and will focus more on tips and bargains on “quality” content and less on free content. He’s also going to start accepting advertising from self-published authors. “I am lucky in the fact I didn’t quit my day job, but there are many other individuals and companies out there who have built a business around the promotion of free Kindle book offerings,” he writes, and “this move by Amazon will put many of these people out of work starting next week.”

Greg Doublet, who runs the site Ereader News Today, told me in an email that he thinks Amazon’s changes will be good in the long run: “it will get people not to rely on ‘free’ to get their books. It was a matter of time before something like this was bound to happen.” He says he’s been making changes to Ereader News Today in order to comply with Amazon’s new rules, and like Gallagher is emphasizing more bargain books and fewer free books. “Maybe 99-cent books will become the new free,” he said, “and authors will start to earn more money for their efforts.”

31 Responses to “Authors face change as Amazon tightens affiliate policy on free Kindle books”

  1. justquestion

    I agree with you Rusty, I WANT to pay an author I like because I want to make sure they can continue writing books that I can read. I think free samples are a good idea and occasionally maybe a free book that is the first in a series makes sense, but no more than that.

  2. There are so many free kindle internet marketing courses popping up, I’m not surprised. This is creating a lot of spam books in the free kindle space. By spam books, I mean to say books that are researched purely based on titles that might sell, then outsourced to the Philippines and written poorly. Then they order a quick book cover for $5, and push to get a bunch of quick cash via affiliates via KDP under different pen names. I think Amazon can tolerate this for a time for the sake of promoting Kindle, but as we see, they are already beginning to narrow the boundaries. In the end quality always wins.

  3. Vikram Narayan

    A few years ago, we launched a free book site – – where you could get books from our participating authors for free. Then Amazon launched its KDP Select Free days and we felt threatened for a few months. Who would want to get free books from our site when Amazon is awash with free titles? But the reality is that most of our author giveaways land up being successful. And the readers who get the book are grateful for the book and often review the book.
    Now, Amazon is reducing the importance of free book giveaways. It makes it that much more important for Indie authors to figure out ways to give away review copies of their books.

    Vikram Narayan

  4. It’s a “Who Moved My Cheese” moment, but then again, we’ve always needed to be braced for change with Amazon. The smart ones will already have their tennis shoes on and be ready to move.
    I’m just relieved that this month, it’s not the indie authors, as a whole, who are going to have to shuck and jive. It’s like Hunger Games and someone else’s name was drawn.

    L.L. Muir

  5. joyce-menna

    im no looter..i’m severely disabled , housebound, and live on a disability check that barely covers rent and utilities…I have no one to run to the library for me and free books are the only ones I can afford…so what you’re sayin rusty is that im a thief and not entitle to pass my endless hours of solitude and pain escaping into a good book…..oh the cable company is gonna love that one….

    • I don’t think anyone wants to take away the comfort you find in a good read. I have been contacted by readers in the same situation asking for discounted books which I gifted instead of discounting. It’s the right thing to do. In fact – however – as my daughter pointed out just yesterday our local library has stopped giving away free tickets to the local zoo, the tickets were intended to benefit the under privileged – why the stop? Because the under privileged had no time or transport to get to the local zoo. The free tickets were being used by those who could well afford to buy the tickets.

      As Scott pointed out and I echo: “ Im just amazed that some people thought you could build a sustainable economy on ‘free.”

    • Scott Nicholson

      yesterday there were 55,000 free Kindle books available. It’s been running over 50,000 a day free for some time now.

      On any given day, more than 1 in 20 Kindle books is free,,,

  6. Vincent

    Koa, you have an extremely over-inflated sense of the KDP program and the importance of Indie writers. Amazon counts the millions of books people upload to the site and uses them as a selling point, that’s all. They want to be able to say, “We have 80 million books available for the kindle. That’s what sells the device. It also has a much better ring than “We have a bunch of low quality, free ebooks that the authors struggle give away, so come buy a kindle.” Besides that, the majority of the money Amazon makes off book sales comes from published novels, not indie novels.

    Also, the NOOK is done. I don’t know if you missed it in the news this week, but the founder of B&N is trying to buy back the physical stores and dismantle the NOOK and sell it to another company, most likely KOBO.

    • I am aware of the problems with Barnes & Noble. As for having an “extremely over-inflated sense of the KDP program and the importance of indie writers”…that was the exact same logic that major record labels had many years ago in regards to struggling musicians. Look at that industry now. History repeats itself.

  7. JohnTree

    I don’t have a problem with Amazon “cleaning up” the bottom end of the pricing system for Kindle books, as long as they also work harder on addressing the inequalities on the top end as well. When I can have a paperback shipped to my home at a price that is cheaper (sometimes significantly more) than the same content in a DRM-protected file (which prohibits lending the book to friends, as I can with the paperback), I have no interest in getting the Kindle version.

    I am willing to accept the limitations that are inherent with ebooks, as long as the price benefits that should also be inherent are realized by the customer as well. This is why I spend so much time on the Discounted Kindle Books sites/forums, as I refuse to pay full price for a DRM-wrapped title – no matter how much I want to read it.

  8. I am both an author and a reader. When I read a free book, it introduces me to that author’s work. If it is well done, then I move up to their paid books. There’s nothing wrong with a few freebies, but then have additional books available for a price.

    • I think a free chapter should be enough to introduce a reader to a writer’s style, after all when we sold our work to major publishing companies such as Kensington to Warner submission requests were sample chapter and out line. If that’s enough for someone who paid me thousands up front it should be good enough for someone who’s paying $ 5.99 or less.

  9. People who read mostly or exclusively free books are looters. It equates books to newspapers without advertising. It trains people to view author’s work as being worth as much as dirt. Worse for the author, you are cultivating the wrong kind of reader, one who will likely not pay you for your works when they are not free. I think Amazon has rightly started to realize the difference between a bargain read and a free read. Whole different reader mentality.

    • There is nothing wrong with free samples but customers shouldn’t demand whole free books. You can walk into fast food Chinese and ask for a free taste of a dish and they will give you one. But if you ask to eat a free meal so that you can determine if you like the place, they will laugh at you. Where I live, many paperback books are the same price as that meal, sometimes less. It took the cook 10 minutes to prepare a dish going into a buffet. It takes an author 6 months to 1.5 years to write a well edited book. Why should the author be paid less than the cook? That’s why I say, free books value the author’s work the same as dirt. Reading a sample of the book is different.

  10. Tony H Bennett

    I have recently published my first book on Amazon. Now feeling disappointed as I feel that no one would read it due to the large mass of books that are now free. So, I feel to get anywhere I would have to write my books for free. Free books and free work from authors allows Amazon to make nice profits for themselves.

  11. Mary Howerton

    I don’t think it will last. Too many of us readers bought our Kindles for the free indie titles we could access. Once they realize they have angered a large chunk of their consumers, they are bound to reconsider.

    • Exactly why I said, “there went the Kindle sales”. This is the best opportunity for Barnes & Noble to fill in the void. I don’t think they are smart enough to take advantage of this situation but if they did, they may actually get somewhere.

      One of the reasons Kindle sales took off was because folks knew they could get FREE books. Even if people hesitate on actually buying books, (the economy has hurt everyone), many of these people will still lock onto other Amazon services because they have a Kindle device.

      We will just have to se how this plays out. But I feel that once word gets out and free book sources start to dwindle, then the attraction to the Kindle Fire and readers will be tarnished.

  12. As an author, I’ve not minded giving away tens of thousands of books to my readers as part of my “advertising campaign.” Nor will I mind getting a few pennies per copy if 99 cents becomes the new free.

    Amazon always has a larger plan at work, and, logically, intends to make money for itself as well as its suppliers (read: authors). It may be rough waters for authors for awhile – we’ve been here before! – but I continue to have faith in the concept that, as Joe Konrath (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing) frequently writes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

  13. RP Dahlke

    Hi Laura, I’m an Indie published mystery author, and I promote mystery and suspense authors (only) with All Mystery e-newsletter. I’ve resisted the temptation to build my business model based on FREE e-books because in the back of my mind I knew the day would come when Amazon would close this window. No, it hasn’t yet, but it’s so easy for Amazon to change their way of doing business–and they can close down the free days for indie authors in a day. Authors and businesses need to be creative in their thinking in how to promote books. And thank God, with the internet, it’s easier than ever!

  14. LighthousePublishing

    We use many of the sites listed above to announce our book’s Free Kindle days. Right now we post on more than 15 sites. Those sites work well for fiction but not as well for nonfiction. I suspect customers are grazing for free novels and that’s fine. Like any other business the key component is quality. If authors write a great book readers will find it – free or not.

  15. Richard Sutton

    No surprise here. Amazon can’t protect the name Kindle from other commercial uses beyond the actual device, and their associates programs have been alive for many years, not just for freebies. We operated a retail non-book site that used to generate a useful amount of fees sending our own customers to Amazon’s associated items. It resulted in a sale on Amazon, so of course, we felt we deserved a piece of the action. However, the freebie thing is different. I think Amazon isn’t out of line wanting third party sites that are associates, to also generate some paying business for them. Eighty percent seems pretty generous to me. That means that Amazon wants to see at least 20% of the referrals actually buy something. Considering it’s their products, and their retail site, I don; think that is out of line. Mr. Gallagher might want to consider also referring customers who pay for books, not just the Freebie Crowd. At some point, the authors are going to want to have more to show for their work than just loads and loads of giveaways. More than just being the talk of the moment because you don’t charge for your books.