How (Not) to Run a Book Promotion in 2020

Here comes Labor Day, but what happened to summer? I can’t be the only reader missing those long lazy afternoons on a beach or deck with a good book. So I decided to run a one-day giveaway for my novel Zapped: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery, set in a  quaint seaside village and a posh waterfront compound just before Labor Day.







It should have been simple. Zapped (published by Boom-Books) is distributed to Amazon directly and to Apple/iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, Nook/B&N, and other e-booksellers by PublishDrive. Both Amazon and PublishDrive are happy for publishers to run promotions on free/bargain sites like BookBub, FreeBooksy, and (my choice) The Fussy Librarian.

Like it or not, everybody knows that most e-books are bought on Amazon. So Amazon makes book promotion simple for titles that are sold exclusively through its pay-to-play Prime/KDP Select /Kindle Unlimited channels, and more complicated for titles that are also sold by Google, Apple, Nook, and others. Likewise, PublishDrive makes book promotions simple for titles where it’s the middleman for all sellers, and more complicated for titles that go directly to Amazon from the publisher.

I booked my slot with The Fussy Librarian: Zapped would be FREE for one day — Friday, August 28 — on all five sellers they link to: Amazon/Kindle, Apple/iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and Nook/B&N. Their website advises: make sure you include Kindle! But Kindle won’t list a book as FREE unless (1) it’s sold exclusively on KDP Unlimited/Select, or (2) Amazon’s bots discover the book is FREE on other sellers’ sites and opt to match it.

The original indie e-book aggregator, long before PublishDrive existed, is Smashwords. I prefer PublishDrive because they’re more flexible and upscale about format. But PD would only steer me through a free promotion for books exclusive to PD — i.e., if they, not Boom-Books, handled Kindle distribution. In contrast, Smashwords’ website offers guidelines on doing a free promotion that includes Kindle along with all other booksellers, with no exclusivity:

  1. Lower the book’s price on Smashwords to FREE, and on Kindle to 99 cents (their minimum);
  2. When it shows up FREE on the Apple Books, Google Play, or another website, copy the link;
  3. Go to the book’s Kindle page, click the link where you can notify Amazon of a competitor’s lower price, and send them the FREE link so they’ll match it.

On the Sunday before my Friday promo, I lowered Zapped‘s price to FREE on PublishDrive. I followed Smashwords’ guidelines rather than PublishDrive’s recommendation to set up one of their promotions because I needed Kindle to price-match, which was likely to take days  and require the price change to appear permanent. By Monday night the FREE PublishDrive price had shown up on Nook and Google — but NOT on Apple, which kept the old $5.99 price, or Kobo, which for some mysterious reason lowered it to $1.18.

I went ahead with Steps 2 and 3 anyway. Nothing changed, except that my email inquiry to PublishDrive bounced back Tuesday morning with a robo-reply that their old support address no longer handles customer inquiries. Their online chat-bot only can answer a small number of keyword-based questions, and its “answer” is a link to a keyword-based article. I couldn’t find any customer service contact info anywhere on PublishDrive’s site, but with some difficulty I finally dug up a current Customer Support email address.

LESSON 1:  PublishDrive’s customer support, which was clumsy but enthusiastic when they started out as a small European company, has almost disappeared since they grew into a Delaware corporation.

Tuesday afternoon I sent my third email asking PD to either force a change in the Apple and Kobo prices or help me set up the promo they offer with those two sellers.

Wednesday morning I got an email from PD saying they had manually changed the prices and advising me in future to use their offered promo. Not a viable option since I wanted Kindle to price-match . . . but Kindle still hadn’t done that. Taking the advice of a blog post (sorry, I don’t recall whose), I phoned Kindle’s Customer Service. Sean answered almost immediately, asked me for a link to a competitor’s FREE price, and did the requested price match (though he warned me it may take a day or two to show up on Zapped‘s Amazon page).

Lesson 2 (from Sean):  Don’t rely on Kindle’s link on the book page for price matching. Use the Customer Service email to send the request and links directly to the people who’ll make sure it gets done.

That’s where things stand as of Wednesday. I’ll report how it all comes out as soon as it does.

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