Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.
It was announced this week that Goodreads will now charge authors or publishers who want to run a giveaway on the Goodreads platform.
I’ve long been an advocate of Goodreads giveaways, as I’ve seen that they can boost book purchases for a reasonably small investment. How it would work is you’d set up a giveaway on the Goodreads site, let it run for a few weeks or a month, and then you send out the copy of your print book to the winner. In a successful giveaway, a number of people who entered to win would have also added your book to their “to read” list on Goodreads. This strategy rarely led to an immediate bump in sales, but rather led to a healthy level of ongoing sales, as those who marked your book as “to read” would eventually go out and buy it.
Giveaways on Goodreads were a good way to spread the word about your book for a relatively small cost — just the cost of the book and postage.
Now, though, Goodreads is charging for authors or publishers who want to run a giveaway on their website. For a mere *cough* $119 USD, you can have the priviledge of giving away copies of your book to people on Goodreads. If you’ve got money to burn, you can pay *cough* $599 USD to also have the priviledge of “exclusive placement” on the Goodreads giveaway page.
Who the fuck has that kind of money laying around? Other than the big five publishers, of course.
There are some beneficial changes coming when this new pricing scheme is implemented. Now, the person who enters to win won’t be given the option of adding the book to their “to read” list — Goodreads will automatically go ahead and do it for them. (As a reader, I know that if I enter to win a book, it doesn’t imply I’m captivated enough to go out and buy it, so I’m not a fan of this automatic feature.) As well, if someone has your book on their “to read” list already, they will be notified if there is a giveaway for your book. That’s good, I guess, but the purpose of running a giveaway is to get more people to add it to their “to read” list, not necessarily to give it away to people who have already bought or are about to buy your book.
So, what’s going on here?
According to Goodreads, the new features (which are mediocre at best) are being implemented in the new giveaway system in response to requests from authors and publishers. They’re not clear exactly what authors and publishers have been requesting, but I highly doubt they were asking to pay through the nose for a feature that used to be free.
What I suspect is that the “Big 5” publishers are angry (yet again) that their books are being swamped by the glut of indie published books. Book selling can be a low-profit business, so these Big 5 publishers need every advantage they can get over the small publishers and indie authors — and what better advantage than to squeeze them out of the Goodreads giveaway system? Somehow, the Big 5 successfully made this pitch to Goodreads.
Really, though, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Goodreads is also looking for a way to capitalize on their platform. Goodreads makes money on advertisers on their site and they may even make money on referral links if you click the “buy” buttons on book pages. In the modern world of internet businesses, they’re not squeezing every dime out of their users like they’re “supposed” to. So, why not take one of their biggest and most popular features — the giveaways — and charge a fuckton of money for it?
I also suspect that they dislike the glut of erotica in their giveaways and are hoping to squeeze some of us out. I know that I’ll never post a giveaway again as long as they’re charging for it — and neither will my publishing company. If anything, this has the stench of an attack against erotica (read more about the booksellers’ war against erotica in my earlier post).
So — prohibitive cost aside — let’s look at what this wonderful new giveaway system on Goodreads brings to authors, publishers, and readers.
The help section reveals a couple more nasty details about the new giveaway system:
- Giveaways can only be made available for US residents. For publishers and authors outside of North America, postage to send to the US can be prohibitive. In the past, I’m sure most of these individuals or companies made their giveaways available to their own country and nearby countries — so this clause only raises the price for foreign publishers and authors. As a Canadian, I object to not being able to make giveaways available in my own country. Also, now all non-US Goodreads users are banned from entering giveaways until this policy changes.
- You can do giveaways for ebooks (yay!), but they must be ebooks that are available on Amazon. This is telling. While Amazon has owned Goodreads for a few years, they had promised to let it run independently as it always had. Apparently, that’s not good enough anymore and Amazon is bringing Goodreads under the Amazon umbrella. (In fact, you pay for your Goodreads giveaway with your Amazon account.) You can certainly expect more changes further down the line that make this beneficial to Amazon-exclusive authors and difficult/costly for widely-published authors.
Goodreads’s/Amazon’s claim for the price is that it reflects the marketing value that is provided by running a giveaway. In my opinion as an author, that is pure and simple bullshit.
While I have long advocated Goodreads giveaways as an effective marketing tool, that ends as of yesterday. There is no value in listing a giveaway on Goodreads.
The effectiveness of giveaways on Goodreads have dwindled over the years. I still remember my first one that I listed four or five years ago — I had hundreds of people enter to win and hundreds of people add my book to their “to read” list. For my last few giveaways, I had hundreds of people enter to win, but only dozens add it to their “to read” list. Readers on Goodreads are in it for the free books — which is totally fine, I’m not lambasting that — but if your aim is to sell books, the effectiveness of a giveaway on Goodreads has dwindled.
As well, as part of a giveaway, winners are requested by Goodreads to post a review. In my experience, this happens less and less frequently. Years ago, if I sent out three books, I got three reviews from winners. Nowadays, if I send out three books, I might get one review from a winner. (Part of Goodreads’s new system is that they will remind winners to post a review — I doubt that’ll change the follow-through rate.)
I also suspect that Goodreads/Amazon is slowly pushing authors who want to do giveaways over to Amazon itself. I have not investigated giveaways on Amazon (so some of my assumptions here may be wrong), though I know giveaways on Amazon are a thing now, it’s something you can do. If the prices are cheaper than on Goodreads, or if they’re even free, then that is part of the grand design — they’re planning to integrate Goodreads and Amazon into (eventually) one thing, and they’re starting by shunting all the indies over. I wouldn’t put this past Amazon — the writing is on the wall for Createspace with the introduction of KDP Print. I’m holding off on transitioning to KDP Print until they offer the same level of service that Createspace does or until they force me over. The writing has been on the wall for Goodreads for quite some time now.
So, back to giveaways. what’s next? What is an author or publisher to do?
You could run giveaways using Rafflecopter, but unless you’ve got a wide network already, you’ll end up with few entrants. The benefit of the old Goodreads system (before it began to lose effectiveness) was that new readers could discover you, which won’t happen with a Rafflecopter giveaway marketed to people who already are fans of your work.
You could use Instafreebie to give away a free book to whoever clicks a link. This could be effective for series starters (provided you have the sequels out already), but from what I’ve seen, I think the Instafreebie thing came and went already — they were a craze for a while and now fewer authors and readers are using it.
What we need is an indie-friendly giveaway site. Not like Instafreebie where you give away hundreds or thousands of free copies of ebooks, but a site like the old Goodreads giveaway system. And to make it extra-effective for marketing, after someone enters a giveaway, the system should have a pop-up asking the entrant to sign up for the author’s newsletter. That would be effective promotion — the #1 avenue for marketing is your author newsletter, and if the giveaway system would integrate with MailChimp and auto-add people (with consent) to your mailing list, then that would be awesome.
(If you’re a computer programmer and like that idea, I claim no copyright on it — steal my idea and make it happen!)
For now, though, goodbye, Goodreads. I wish I could say it was nice knowing you.
Edited to add: Also, the fact that the post on Goodreads announcing this change has been closed to comments shows that Goodreads knows they’re doing the wrong thing — but they don’t want to hear about it.