Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Power of Free

I am not a big patron of McDonalds, but a few days ago I received a coupon book in the mail that included two coupons for the new Cherry Berry Chiller.  Well I love fruity drinks and I love free stuff, so of course, after months of never gracing the drive thru of a McDonalds, I was stopping by for my free Cherry Berry Chiller.  It did not disappoint.  But in addition to the free drink, I left with a four dollar happy meal for my kids.  Yes, that free drink cost me four dollars.  But guess what?  I was back again a few days later with the second coupon, and again, they earned my patronage.  And now that I know how nice that Cherry Berry Chiller tastes, I’ll be back again, this time probably paying full price for the drink.
Isn’t that the aim of offering free stuff?  Many writers have adopted that method of promotion: offer free books in the hopes that the reader is hooked enough to pay for future products.  It’s a great marketing strategy.  But there is also the flip side. 
For a year I received a monthly coupon from Victoria Secret for one free underwear and ten dollars discount on any bra.  I know their aim was to get me into the store and shopping.  But instead, just got my free panty and left without purchasing anything.  From my myopic standpoint, I would say they invested more than they got in return.  But it could have been worst.
There was a running joke about the Washington Red Skins some time back.  They had been(and probably still is) having a bad decade.  A man holding Red Skins tickets parked his unlocked car in a high crime area and placed two Red Skins tickets on the dash board with the hopes of being robbed.  When he returned to the car, there were two more Red Skins tickets sitting on the dashboard.  The moral of the joke: some things are so bad, they wouldn’t even sell for free.
That is unfortunately the reality for some writers (not all) who offer their short stories free as ebooks.  Not that these books are not downloaded, but they are simply not read past the first page.  Unfortunately for those authors, their names become associated with a bad product.  And then there are those whose free books are read, but they still see no increase in sales. So how can we make offering freebies work for us? 
I’m gonna give a few tips.  But there are people following this blog who have much more experience in that arena than I do, so I’m inviting you to add your two cents.
1.      Generate interest:  Make sure the book title, cover, and first few pages can grab the readers’ interest
2.      Use the free book offer approach for the first book of a series and ensure the characters are interesting enough for readers to salivate for more of their actions
3.      Instead of the whole book free, 1st chapters preview is an excellent mechanism for getting readers hooked.  I’ve bought several books after reading the free Ist chapter preview because I just wanted to find out what happened next.  Some did not disappoint, others are still shelved, unread past those first chapters.
4.      Have a mechanism in place for readers to give you honest open feedback on the free books/book chapters you offer
5.      Never underestimate the power of contests.
Now I haven’t exhausted the list of tips, and I know there are much more ways to make offering freebies work for you.  I know I can speak for many of the Novelspaces authors when I say this, “Please share your ideas on how to make offering freebies work for you.”


Charles Gramlich said...

Not read, that's the scary thing. And with the wealth of free stuff out there, an unknown writer might get their book downloaded for free but never get read. Don't know how to break that cycle'

Liane Spicer said...

I'm ambivalent about the proliferation of free books out there. I've been blogging for five years and I've seen the response to freebie offers run the gamut from feeding frenzy to... zero interest. I think it's because of the KDP phenomenon where thousands of free books are offered daily. The value has been eroded.

It used to be worth it, according to the Kindle boards, because of the effect on sales rankings and thus on visibility. Not so any more as Amazon has shaken up its algorithm once again. The best books won't sell if people don't know about them, or don't read them because they're lost among the tons of free downloads their devices.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Charles, Liane, we as authors will have to figure out a way to escape the quagmire of "free" in order to sell books, or find a way to make it work.

I find contest, where the prize is something a little more valuable than a free book may peak interest enough for people to actually purchase books, but I've never done that.

I'm one of those people guilty of downloading free books and never reading them.

So any ideas, Liane, on how to make freebies work?

Liane Spicer said...

Wish I did, Jewel. The rules keep changing faster and faster. I'm learning that what worked last year or even six months ago just isn't working right now. The marketplace is over-saturated with free books.

Ciara said...

You have some great tips here. I do think it is important to have something else to offer if your going to give something for free.