Friday, November 11, 2016

Free is Good - Right?

Have you noticed the latest marketing advice aimed at writers? Experts are promoting the concept of offering free books to gain readership. In theory it sounds good - even logical when one considers how authors gained readers in the past. 

Before the popularity of the Kindle and other e-readers I'd hazard to say the majority of us discovered a new author via our public library. If the book proved to be entertaining we'd seek out additional books by the same author and when said author released a new book a good many of us would rush to the nearest bookstore to purchase it rather than wait in line for it to be available at the library.

The publishing world, however, has changed. E-copies rival print and many authors are self-published. Responsible for their own marketing and promotion means wearing two or even three hats and continually searching for new ways to increase readership and ultimately book sales. 

Changing Amazon algorithms aside, what worked six months ago most certainly does not have the same impact today. Take for instance the 99¢ ebook. Once upon a time that low price guaranteed sales, but as more and more books flooded the marketplace sales dwindled and free books have become the norm.

But free is good, right?

Yes and no. Like so many readers I subscribe to a number of email lists such as BookBub. Their purpose is to notify me of discounted and/or free books.

The good news is for the past good many months I've downloaded three to five books per day. Yes. Three to five per day. I've enjoyed these free reads and discovered a handful of new authors I simply adore. The downside for the majority of authors, however, is far too many of these free books remain as of yet unread.

Let me repeat that. "Far too many of these free books remain as of yet unread."

Even more interesting is that single free book designed to entice the reader to become a book buyer is no longer a one-off. Of late, many authors (especially my new favourites) are offering ALL of their books for free. To be fair they're doing it one book at a time, but they're doing it on a regular basis. 

Like clockwork.

Sometimes they offer box sets. For. Free! As a reader I feel as if I've won the lottery. The author part of me, however, questions the wisdom of this strategy. 


I'm far from the smartest reader in the library, but these repeated freebie offers suggest patience is a virtue. Holding off on making a book purchase can and will save me money because I've come to expect these talented authors to offer their books for free. And that's sad.

Is this latest marketing craze backfiring on authors? Is it conditioning readers to behave like Pavlov's dogs and view free books as the norm? Where is the incentive to purchase a book when so many are made available for free and what does free say about the value of books? 

What's your view of free books? Is it a good thing for readers? A super marketing tool for authors? Or somewhere in between?

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  1. As a reader, free is good, right? Not really. Because if we readers only download free books, authors will make NO money. And, think about it, how long would a plumber stay in business if he did all of his work for free?
    As an author, it saddens me. Yes, when an author lists a free book, their sales tend to increase for a few days after that, maybe a week. But, that's short-lived. Then, it's back to reality with low to no sales because readers have moved on to the next "free" book.

    1. I totally agree with you, Patricia. Free books have a purpose, but I have strong convictions regarding the current mood of readers. Are they willing to remain loyal to the author or move on to the next free book? My instincts (as well as my royalty statements) suggest the latter.