“Free” on Amazon Doesn’t Always Mean Free — and what to do about it.

Does this irk you as much as it does me?  You’re browsing the free titles in your favourite category, spot a new cover, click on it to read the blurb, swing your fingertip or mouse over to click the Buy button…and learn it’s not free at all!  There’s a price attached to the book, even though it’s in the free category!

Worse, you don’t notice the price until after you’ve hit the one-click button.

You might have assumed, as I did for the longest time, that certain countries don’t get the book free, that the author has dictated that only xxx countries get it free.  Or that you in particular don’t qualify to get it free for some mysterious reason you’re afraid to ask about.

Actually the real reason is nothing close to either of those possible explanations. 

Unlike every other bookstore in the world, Amazon does not allow authors to set the price of their book to free.  It has to be set at 99c or higher…and there are penalties for setting a book’s price higher than $9.99 — but that’s a whole different story.

In order to have a book’s price set to free on Amazon, an author has to first set the price to zero everywhere else.  Then they have to collect the URLs for the book on every retailer, and for every country where that retailer sells books, that Amazon also sells books to.  All those URLs showing the free price in every country for every store have to be built into a PDF (as there isn’t room in the Amazon email box on the site that authors must use to communicate with Amazon).  Then the PDF is attached to the email box.

Then Amazon get to decide if they want to price match the other stores, in all the countries.

Sometimes the answer is no.  The book remains at 99c or whatever price the author has set it at before they asked for free listings.  The book is not listed for free, is not added to the free categories.  It remains a “pay for” book on Amazon alone.

I don’t hear of this happening very often, but it sometimes does.

But often (and always, in my case–I’ve never been turned down…yet), Amazon will price match and list the author’s book for free.

But here’s the tricky part. 

Amazon can’t seem to keep the books listed for free.  In my few conversations with real live people at Amazon, I’ve learned that there is some technical difficulty in listing free books that causes certain servers to glitch and revert back to the price set on the author’s dashboard.

It’s not even all the servers for that country.  It’s just the server you happen to be using.

Eventually, like apples stored too close together, the rot spreads, and more and more servers in more and more countries will flip back to the paid price, even though the book is still showing in the Free categories.

An author, noticing this (or having received complaints from readers), can email Amazon and ask them to revert the price back to free (along with all the tedious URL listings for all the countries on all the retailers).  Amazon will again decide if they want to do that, and if they do decide to price match again, will change whatever setting it is they change to make the price free.

But there’s no guarantees that this amendment will “take”.   In my experience, the more often you ask for an adjustment back to zero, the shorter the time the free price will hold before it starts kicking back to paid.

What you can do about it.

  1. You can complain to Amazon.  It’s possible they’ll look into it, but it’s also possible that they’ll just explain to you about the glitching servers and tell you to have a nice day — especially if you haven’t provided them with URLs from other stores showing the book free there.And that doesn’t get you the book for free…at least, not right now.
  2. If the book you want is not in Kindle Unlimited, then it will be on other bookstores (in 99.99% of cases — I can’t explain why the odd author or two only put their books up on Amazon, yet don’t use KU).  The best and fastest option you have to acquire the book for free, in this case, is to head to one of your other favourite retail stores (you do have one or two, don’t you?), and download the book from there.None of the other stores put such roadblocks in front of authors over making their books free.  If an author wants to give away a book, they let them…and they don’t change the price back to something else because their algorithms can’t cope with free.The book will be free on the other bookstores.  It has to be, or Amazon would not have price-matched in the first place.
  3. The third option, which takes longer, and may or may not get you a free copy, is to email the author and nicely let them know their book is no longer listed for free on Amazon.  (If you let them know you understand about the difficulties of keeping a book free on Amazon, they’ll not get defensive.)If you ask them where you can get the book free elsewhere, the author may give you a list of retailers, or may well give you a copy right there and then–or refer you to a BookFunnel page where you can download it. This last one is a nice option all around, because the book ends up in your BookFunnel library.And thanks to you, the author has the option of contacting Amazon and trying to get the price reverted back to free.  Staying on top of Amazon free pricing is a nearly full-time job, and having a reader point out a price has flipped back is a time saver.
  4. My favourite option (ignore my personal bias), when the book in question is by one of our SRP authors, is to head to Stories Rule Press and get the book there.  We don’t seem to have any issues with keeping a price at zero.   🙂

If you’re curious, we do list all the free books on SRP in one place.  It’s here:  https://storiesrulepress.com/free-library/.  This will direct you to the free pages on each SRP authors’ site.

These free pages also include books currently taking part in BookFunnel giveaways, which aren’t permafree, but generally run for a calendar month each.


Scroll to Top