Friday, January 20, 2012

The Free Book Bandwagon

Free: Without Cost or Payment - say what?

I know we've discussed the topic of free books before on Novel Spaces, but I'm starting to see the benefit of offering significant deals, including offering a title for free - every now and then.

I've wondered why authors or publishers would only charge $1.99 or $.99 for their titles (actually I have a couple of books offered for $2.99 - and my publisher will offer one of my titles for $1.99 this summer), let alone give them away for free. Just like shopping for clothes or renting a car, we all enjoy a deal, and price does matter. We still charge $20 and $15 and $10 for books and they do sell, especially if a reader really wants that particular book. But when readers are browsing online nowadays, thinking about taking a chance on a title that piques their interest, they are considering price more than ever, especially when they can get immediate gratification and have it delivered at the click of a mouse.

The question has been, does lowering that price or offering it for free devalue our works? After all, though we are in this for the love of it, it is a job, a career, and we want to make money so that we can live. Ya gotta eat! We want our hard labor, and our blood, sweat, and tears to pay off monetarily, literary masterpiece or not.

When it comes to ebooks, especially books that are only in the ebook format where print book versions are not available, and/or ebooks that have been out for a few years, to offer it for free for a short period of time can mean that readers who have not read our titles can have an opportunity to try our works and perhaps come back for more.

The concept of giving to receive may or may not come easy to some authors when it comes to offering books for free. Are the long terms benefits worth it? Or should we just give away ebooks every now and then because it's the good natured thing to do? I keep printed copies of my books in my car and hand them out for free, quite often. Not to mention giveaway promotions. It becomes an investment in the belief that the reader will tell someone who will tell someone, and so on. But free books on a major website like Amazon is something different.

I'd be interested in hearing what my fellow authors think. Are you ready to hop on the gratis bandwagon?


Sue Guiney said...

I do struggle with this. I think that sales wouldn't really be significantly increased unless you sell very, very many at a greatly reduced price, or free. the people who get the book cheaply probably won't then tell thousands of others about it and convince them to buy it at the regular price. I think it starts to work when you have a list of books to sell, ie give 1 away in the hopes that the reader will like it enough to buy the next one at full price. Next year, my 3rd novel will be published and maybe we'll do it then. but I do remain skeptical. I already give away so many to charity or random people, and there is already so little money made in this game, though, that I really am at a loss. I'm lucky that I can trust my publisher to be sensible about it all.

KeVin K. said...

Some authors give away free short stories online -- short stories that relate to events in their novels or feature characters from their novels -- as a marketing tool. The idea is to intrigue new readers, capture their interest, and to a lesser extent reward those already loyal. I think this is an excellent tactic.

Low prices make sense if you can count on volume -- or if you don't care about money. The fellow who sold a million ebooks on Amazon was a millionaire several times over who wrote one draft then paid others an estimated $7000 per title to edit, format, and package the novel. He had to sell 20,000 copies to break even. $7000 is chump change to him, but a lot more than I'm willing to invest.

Given realistic sales expectations and a clear-eyed look at what you've put into creating a novel, I think cover prices in the $2.99 - $4.99 range are not only reasonable but smart.

Charles Gramlich said...

I just don't know about this. I do download books that are free on kindle to my kindle, but so far I've read very very few of them, and almost all of those were older SF/fantasy books I wanted to read. I think I'm kind of unlikely to read others that I've gotten free as part of these kinds of giveaways, not because I don't want to but because I don't have the time. I've hit saturation point on free books as far as having them on my kindle, and I imagine others will at some point to. If we don't have time to read the free books, because there are so many, then we are unlikely to buy more of that author's work.

Jewel Amethyst said...

There is one author who did this with several of his books with the expectation of getting a following..aka name recognition. I don't know how it's working out yet. However, I can see a first book in a series offered free or at reduced cost roping enough readers in to purchase the sequel at full price.

Lynn Emery said...

One size does not fit all. From observing other authors it can work, not only on the book that is free for a limited time. But they report spill over to other books, very healthy numbers. Also consider that making lists on Amazon, even free, will push your book into the "readers that like X also bought this..." suggestions that Amazon routinely gives us when we return to the page to browse. It's called "discoverability", and it's gold. Worth more than contests, ads, blog tours, etc.

As a reader I got hooked on a trilogy after reading the first book the author gave away for free. Bought the boxed set. Had to know what happened! Must have worked with more than just me, too. This author started routinely making 4 figures each month, and he was unpubbed before.

I'll report on my free venture when I post in a few weeks!

Chicki said...

I decided to give Amazon KDP Select a try this month and signed up my first novel. In one day I had 10,000+ free downloads, which means my book was now in the hands of 10,000 new readers!

The best part was once the free day ended, the paid buys started rolling in. Since Jan. 7th, the book has had 1,200 buys and 295 borrows (for which Amazon will also pay me.)

I wouldn't offer a new release for free, nor would I offer my one and only book for free if I were a new author. But, for me, the KDP Select program has been a terrific boost in sales for a book that released 18 months ago!

Marissa Monteilh said...

Thanks for your feedback, everyone. I might try the Amazon KDP Select for one of my older ebooks. Thanks, Chicki for sharing. It looks like it just might be worth it!!