In March of 2018, I started in on using Instafreebie to get fiction subscribers. Now, a full year later, I wanted to review the results.
Both good and not-so-good news.
Of course, the ballyhoo wasn’t entirely accurate.
The Instafreebie Model
Now, just as a disclaimer (not a claim to fame) I actually wrote the book on Instafreebie – because I couldn’t find one to read. It’s mostly based on my Errata post that I kept updating – even with the analysis that formed this post.
Right off, I still call them Instafreebie (IF), because their new name is meaningless. And points out that someone is taking them off into a new, untested direction. Technically,IMHO, they should have kept IF under its own name and just put the new stuff under their new one. (If their experiments with kickstarters is any sign, they are simply experimenting with alternative income sources. And so, they should be iterating, not new-broom-sweeping-clean.)
Instafreebie has a list of some 350K or more subscribers that they send emails to in order to push free book giveaways. Their lowest paid version is $20/month and you have to pay to get subscribers emails. So – $240 per year. (The next level of $50/mo. isn’t justified.)
They require authors to be non-mandatory on their opt-in’s by not sending their IF email traffic to any giveaway that has even a single person having a mandatory opt-in for their claim. (They changed this during the GDPR mess.)
Only about 30-40% of the IF claims on any giveaway will opt-in.
Out of this, you’re left after about 3 months with – drumroll, please – about 30% active subscribers remaining.
If you are active on your “list hygiene” (unsubscribing people who don’t open your emails, or quit opening your emails) then that 30% is all you’re going to have left. And otherwise, you’re paying for 70% of those subscribers.
As an example, IF says they sent me 8K subscribers. Under my current mail provider (mailerlite) I would need to upgrade to a $50/mo plan to pay for emailing that size list. The 2400 subscribers I expect to have within 6 months is just above their free plan ceiling – and only $20/mo.
Obviously, the trick to getting these subscribers is converting them to buyers, so they’ll cover the costs of IF and mailing them. Yet no where on their site (or in my book, for that matter) is a decent way to convert them to buying fans.
The Instafreebie Addiction
Much like social media, IF is an addiction. To really get value out of your subscription, you need to be joining all the giveaways you can and also promoting every giveaway. On top of that, you can become a “Verified Organizer” and that means you are expected to be in the top 30% of promoters for your own giveaways.
What I ended up doing was to constantly send these new subscribers to a page where all my updated, current giveaways are posted. Every week.
Meaning, I was training them to expect new free books from me, not to buy the books I’d written.
Short summary: I was paying for the opportunity to run IF giveaways and promote them.
So I hired an email coach and mentioned this. When we got back around to it a few weeks later, she agreed with me – simply quit sending weekly emails to them about the giveaways. I still have that page, and it’s still the first thing I send new giveaway subscribers to – but the top half of that page is my own new books. And many of the IF-hosted giveaways are private and filled with my own books.
Instafreebie for list building tends to make you forget about the reason you are getting subscribers – to increase your book sales, particularly of your backlist.
How I Got There – Analysis of a Year’s Worth of Subscribers
From 1 Mar 2018 to 28 Feb 2019.
The not-so-good news is that out of 8534 opt-ins, I only have about 3498 that I can tell came from IF. That’s just under 41% of that total. The breakdown says this count will stabilize into the lower 30 percentile.
That lead to the other interesting tidbit – for the last 6 months, I’ve hit a ceiling from Instafreebie subscribers – I can’t break and stay above 4K. Not if I’m only collecting bonafide subscribers.
That’s always been the way of these – you first find out who opens their mails and keeps opening them. And you weed out those who don’t.That then points to a constant sieve of new IF subscribers – like panning for gold.
Which also points to constantly having a fresh scoop of raw gravel now and then – a tiny minority will be gold. The question was how much new raw material did I need?
There are two kinds of sieves I use:
- Coarse: Subscribers who don’t open my first five emails.
- Fine: Subscribers who open nothing over 90 days.
When I ran my monthly totals, to see whether there was a particular drop, I found about 35% disappear in the first four months. 25% don’t open anything. Then another 16% drop through the end of fourth month, and around 3% during the next two months, as they gradually quit opening anything. The remaining 6 months seem to be less than one percent drop each month – so they stabilize at about low 30’s as they slowly decline after that. (This has been hidden as first 50%, then 40% by the end of the first four months it takes for the no-openers to show up.) By the end of a year, I lost 70% of my IF opt-ins.
The biggest drop was the coarse sieve (5 non-opened emails). The next biggest was the fine sieve (quit opening emails after 90 days). In there somewhere was the individuals themselves unsubscribing on their own. Between the two of them, after about four months, I’d have 40 left%. Over the next 8 months, they’d trickle down to only 30% left.
But if you don’t clean these off, your open/click rates will decline as they’ll be based that 30-ish% active. And you’ll be paying for emailing them until they eventually (if ever) unsubscribe. (I suspect this is where many have these reported huge lists they have due to insufficient “email hygiene.”)
So the good news is:
I started this list in Jan 2018 with 0. Now I still have about 3500 at this point. And I have decent open/click rates.
To stay at my current levels, I need to replace how many? The average loss per month has been just over 400. The average input has been around 460 per month. I looked into a rise in May of two-thirds and a drop in August by two-thirds. Reason? I got into and out of romance and erotica giveaways – then kept those-type books out of my organized giveaways (at least the “six-pack ab” covers.) Huge change. But I don’t write conventional romance – and those readers don’t stick around on my list. My audience is fantasy/SF-mystery or mystery-fantasy/SF. (Actually all speculative fiction, but Amazon and BISAC don’t have categories for that.)
With only a 30% retention, that average of just over 400 new subscribers per month will only keep up with the losses – barely. And to keep that amount, I have to keep paying IF, continue to be one of their verified organizers (which means being in the top 30% of the promoters), and also joining all possible giveaways.
(If I was “writing to market” and wanted to join the rest of the spammers in the Romance/Erotica genres, it would be fairly simple to “build a list” from these. But you have to write what you love, or it’s going to be just another wage-slave job. Those stats also point out that IF’s own list has lots of Romance/Erotica readers in it – about 2/3’ds more than other genres – along with next to no non-fiction readers.)
So: ain’t gonna happen. As I mentioned – keeping up my established IF approach is a form of addiction, or at best an unpaid rat-race job.
But it does mean replacing that source. I can predict in the next 3 months that I’ll have another a 25% drop in the size of my list – as the IF readers I’ve added over the last three months gradually become disinterested and quit opening emails. Because I can only catch them 90+ days after that fact.
What will be left, though will have much higher open and click rates. Closer to true fan status (I hope, anyway.)
What my Email Coach Told Me
I hired on for a couple of months of email coaching – just because I knew I was missing something.
(Cost me a lot. Forced me to study my own scene and everything I had from her since 2017. We didn’t agree on a few points. But it was worth the experience.)
Looking back through the few webinars she did back in 2017 (before she went coaching-only) she left a few nuggets of her own:
Observed Breakdowns for Fiction Author’s List – Opens/Click’s
Organic List (reader magnet opt-in’s)
Other’s Lists (Ads, and Cooperative Giveaways like IF)
Contests and Blind Promotions (promos or contests)
(The middle-ground is where my open/click rates are.)
That points to a couple of things – your highest quality opt-ins come from back-of-book ads and links. And second, that on first blush – IF subscribers are above the industry average (but they are still giveaway-types.)
She did mention as a comment one day that ads were the fastest way to list-build.
This breakdown also means that your priority has to first be getting your organic opt-in lines set up – even if you’ve been at this for awhile. (Sort your segments for 75% opens and you’ll see how many “true fans” you actually have.)
What Plan Does This Bring to Mind?
I have a three-prong plan – which follows the above:
- Build up organic as priority – updating all my 450+ selling books with reader magnets. Sure that’s a lot of work – but now I know. (And do this smart by making every book have it’s own “coupon” code so you can track what books are producing your best response. Also, that link is itself a redirect, so the landing page can be A/B tested to improve subscription opt-in’s without having to re-edit the book.
- I don’t see Story Origin replacing IF anytime soon. Because it’s simply growing in a pretty crowded field of giveaway service-providers. And its developer Evan doesn’t have a built-up list.
- I hate ads in general (and distrust Facebook in particular), but that’s where you can reach readers, so…
If ads give that big a breakthrough, then I should be able to form a large list in a few months, IF all the reports are anywhere near accurate. Again, I’ll be dealing with the same type of attrition and open/click rates as with IF. The hope is that my organic takes off quicker than expected.
Contests and Blind Promotion
- Not. Like Kickstarters, they take a lot of time to promote, and give the worst response.
More Uses for Free IF accounts
Test your covers and blurbs by studying the high-claims books after the giveaway is over.
Test your in-book subscriber ads. The more books you give away, the greater the chance of someone opting-in from the links you have in it. You just don’t fret over getting subscribers directly, when 60-70% don’t stick around anyway. Of course, just make sure that reader magnets you use there are the best quality you can – first in series, etc. You can still use the same approaches (also as before) in organizing your own (free-plan) IF giveaways. Once you get more than 10 authors on board, then ask firstname.lastname@example.org to feature your giveaway.
Testing for your True Fans
Growing a mailing list is not some simple action of dropping them into a funnel and they come out as buying fans. Not all people open their emails the same rate. It depends on your personal relationship with each of them. (Meaning: do you send out personable emails each week?)
But you do want all the organic opt-ins you can get, and treat these like gold.
That is actually closer to the idea of a “1000 true fans” buying $100 worth of stuff from you every year. (Worth doing the reverse math – a hundred purchases every week of about $2 each gives you $200×50=$10,000 – so 7,250 such fans would give you a “six-figure” income.) And why about 16K would be needed with Instafreebie-type subscribers. (As noted, you can run into a ceiling of subscribers that no one talks about.)
That little mini-analysis really shows that you can’t rely on any single stream of subscribers, but have to compile a set of streams. And then conscientiously train those subscribers into becoming real fans (or leaving.)
You can test those open/click rates on your own list to see how many “true fans” you have already.
And as I said – while this was expensive (although I still invested way more on courses and coaching during that time period) in terms of time and money (but IF is still cheaper per subscriber than almost anywhere else) I should wind up with 2500 very responsive fans for all that work. Just from Instafreebie.
If I were doing it over?
Concentrate on organic first and foremost. In-book ads and Wattpad for fiction, Medium and guest posts for non-fiction. Publish your book and tailor the chapters to show up on the free sites – after it’s published on Amazon (to avoid their ‘bots.)
Instafreebie is fine, but the limits are on their own list – and those optional opt-in’s. Again, knowing that there’s a hidden ceiling there spooks me away from it. StoryOrigin is the replacement, particularly as it has a much wider variety of tools – like cross-promoting other’s books. The core of this is building your author networks.
Then probably FB ads – cautiously.
I see no reason or marketing-intensive, low-quality subscribers from contests.
But I would make sure I have the book magnets and landing pages in place, then find all possible ways to send traffic to them. The formula is still the same – sending traffic to converting pages so they can get your offer in exchange for their email.
I hope your efforts pay off better.
Also published on Medium.