Finding Silver Linings in Goodreads Giveaway Changes, and 3 Alternatives

by David Wogahn, @wogahn

It seems like indie authors are under siege. First Pronoun, the free eBook distribution service, closed. Then Goodreads announced their free paperback giveaway promotion tool will no longer be free (as of tomorrow, January 9).

I know how upset some authors are about the latter change. But I imagine there are other groups of authors and publishers who see a silver lining.

  1. Producing a quality paperback is more expensive than publishing in eBook format. For those self-publishers who publish in eBook format only, and who want to get in front of the largest audience of avid readers in the world, a high bar has now been lowered.
  2. One of the arguments in favor of KDP Select is being able to give your Kindle eBook away for free, ostensibly to help encourage reviews and build your audience. The new Goodreads program has no such requirement, only that your book is available on the KDP publishing platform.
  1. The program seems to have lost its effectiveness for some people. As shared with The Verge by Lesley Conner of Apex Publications, “We aren’t going to spend the small marketing budget we have on a service that we’ve already noticed isn’t that effective.”

A couple of years ago I read about one self-publisher’s giveaway strategy in the Independent Book Publishers Association Independent magazine: offer one book and do this continuously, well after the release date. Goodreads would give an offer like this the same marketing push as a Giveaway for a new release offering multiple copies.

Could this be a contributor to the ineffectiveness cited by Apex Publications and many others? I think so and I doubt it was Goodreads’ intention that the program be used this way.

2 reasons why I am not concerned

The level playing field perspective

I’m always disappointed when marketing opportunities favor traditionally published books over self-published books for no reason other than the name of the publisher. Anything that provides equal opportunity for self-publishers is a good thing in my mind.

When the Kindle eBook giveaway program was announced in May of last year, the cost was $119 and it was available only to traditional publishers. Self-publishers were excluded.

This new program is a win for self-publishers.

The P&L perspective

How much does it cost the indie or self-publisher to manage today’s Goodreads giveaway? One of my clients was charged $799 by a vanity press for an “Advertising and Giveaway on Goodreads w/ Resubmission & Cover Copy Polish.”

As originally envisioned, authors/publishers would give away several copies of a paperback. Based on this, here is the math for a 10-book giveaway:

  • Cost of print on demand books. For argument’s sake, let’s say those are $3.50 each, plus tax and shipping (to you), for a total of about $45.
  • Cost of supplies and postage to mail 10 copies to a U.S. address via media mail. Let’s assume an average cost of $3.50 each, or $35.00.
  • We’re at $80 in hard costs excluding the time to manage everything.

I realize that under the new policy these costs will be added to the program’s starting price of $119, but at least now the self-publisher isn’t required to invest in a paperback. And if you only give away your eBook, then your investment is essentially the same, assuming you value your time.

A side note about international giveaways: With the new program, it isn’t a question of whether the program will expand to other countries, it’s a question of when. That’s why the announcement says, “New Giveaways created on or after 1/9/18 will initially be open to US residents only.” (Emphasis mine.)

When it finally does roll out for international markets, an eBook giveaway will be a lot less expensive to run because authors and publishers won’t be required to mail paperbacks.

3 alternatives

  1. Consider doing an Amazon giveaway instead. You’ll pay for the cost of your Kindle books, but there is no fee like there is with the Goodreads program.
  2. Try using LibraryThing’s giveaway program. Amazon has a minority investment in LibraryThing but that wouldn’t seem to be enough leverage to force a policy change.
  3. There are many blog tour organizers that offer books to readers on behalf of authors. Most charge a small fee, but it is often less than $119 and there is a higher probability of reviews being posted. Here are 5 random listings pulled from the 40 profiled blog tour organizers in the 9th edition of the Book Reviewer Yellow Pages (disclosure: I am the publisher):The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages: A Directory of 200 Book Bloggers, 40 Blog Tour Organizers and 32 Book Review Businesses Specializing in Indie-Published Books

The real test comes once the fee goes into effect. There is little doubt in my mind that the sheer number of giveaways will decrease; the question is whether the new program will be effective enough for those paying to be in it. I for one will be surprised if the new program isn’t more effective.

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David Wogahn is the publisher of The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, published annually since 2009, and the president of AuthorImprints.com. He is also the author of Register Your Book, a Lynda.com publishing course, and a past instructor for IBPA’s Publishing University. Learn more at BookReviewerYellowPages.com.

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17 thoughts on “Finding Silver Linings in Goodreads Giveaway Changes, and 3 Alternatives

  1. I know DLP isn’t paying for a giveaway on Goodreads, not when it used to be free. I’ll have to look into Library Thing’s giveaway. Net Galley is way too expensive (and also not that effective – we’ve tried it.) It’s crime to charge someone to give something away for free.

  2. I’m not at the stage of having a book to give away, but I found this all really interesting. I didn’t realize that Goodreads was making such big changes. Thanks for sharing the options too.

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