Saturday, October 29, 2011

Free Ebooks: Good for Authors and Readers?

I always have a split opinion on the topic of free ebooks - opinions to match my personality, you ask? Maybe. This is one argument where I can't pick a side and stick to it. It's very easy to see the pros and cons of both sides, based on my own experience. 

I experimented with giving away a book this summer. Recently, I received final numbers for On Falcon's Wings as a freebie. Below are the total number of downloads per site: 21,292
Barnes & Noble: 1,312
Kobo: 51
Smashwords: 317
Sony:  114 

That's a grand total of 23,806 downloads all occurring June 6 - August 6. It would have been a shorter period, except a certain company among those listed above refused to set my price back to $2.99, so I had to yank my book from their site. In the meantime, Amazon kept the book free because it remained free on that one site.  

In May 2011, I set the price of On Falcon's Wings at Smashwords to $0.00. I offered the ebook for free, initially in the hopes that it would generate one measly review on Smashwords. Still waiting. Tick-tock. Anyway, while that review never materialized, I was able to get Amazon to move pretty quickly on matching the free offer. Here's how I did it:

When you're attempting to get Amazon to match your free e-book pricing, you want to click or have your friends click the link above which informs Amazon of the freebie. I've heard from writers who saw no effect from doing this. I made it work in three tries. Each time I saw the book go free on the sites where Smashwords distributes, I alerted Amazon. Within two weeks, the ebook went free on How did I know? Since I was obsessively checking my sales at Amazon KDP, I knew something was up when I woke up to more than 1,000 downloads on June 6.   

How good can this move be for authors and their readers? From the author side, it gives us exposure to readers who might not take a chance on us even at $2.99 or lower. If you're an author of a series, making the first book free could sell subsequent novels. I believe David Dalgish credits some of his success to this. For readers on a tight budget, you can stock up on  all the freebies you want, including best-selling authors published by the Big 6 (whose ebooks tend to as expensive as mass market paperbacks). Also, it lets you sample the dreaded unknown author without parting with hard-earned cash on what could potentially be a dud.

For me, therein lies the problem with freebies for authors and readers. Yes, you gain exposure, but you also attract readers who will download anything, including your grocery list, just because it's free. Is that the audience you want to attract, or is it readers who are genuinely interested in your book? Also, if your book is a standalone, or you have no other offering, making that book free won't help you generate revenue. Also, for readers who download everything that's free, how many of those ebooks have you actually read? In recent weeks on Kindleboards, one of the moderators mentioned she was going to read On Falcon's Wings as part of the general topic thread, but she couldn't remember why or how she got the ebook. Sigh. Thanks to sites like Pixel of Ink, I'm guilty of this myself. I have over 300 books on my Kindle now, half of which are from favorite authors whose work I downloaded because it was being offered for free. Am I going to get to those books any time soon? It's not likely, but I'll try.  As for my promotional efforts with other books, I'm looking into new ways to generate ROI.

Today, I found a site linked at Self-Publishing Review that offers an interesting take on the freebie.  Pay With A Tweet is a social payment system that rewards those who help you promote your work with a free download of that work. Provide your contact information, a link to your download and the tweet you want sent out. Information can also be posted to Facebook. It's a variation on free, but whether it offers a greater return remains to be seen. I'll let you know what I think in a followup post in a few weeks. 

Have you experimented with offering an e-book for free? As a reader, do you gravitate to free ebooks? 


Michelle Gregory said...

you make a great point about readers downloading something just because it's free. i'd never thought of it that way before.

back during free e-book month or week (whatever it was) at Smashwords, i offered mine for free, thinking i would get a review or two. nothing. not a word. sometimes i'm tempted to do it again, but i'll resist for now. i'd like to be paid for my work at this point, even if it's just a little.

Lisa Yarde said...

Michelle, the worst offenders I've seen are people who just download something and then complain cause it's not a genre they typically read. Oooh, that just makes me so mad! I've even seen a one star because an author made the story too short, when the words "Short Stories" were included in the title.

I hope free works better for other folks, but I haven't given up on teh idea entirely.

Anita Davison said...

Over 20,00 downloads is a lot - hopefully some of those readers will love your story and be prepared to pay for other works by you. I can certainly recommend the two 'Sultana' books.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks, Anita! From your keyboard to God's ears.

History and Women said...

That was a fascinating post, Lisa. It will be interesting to learn how the giveaway will help your other novels. It's a tough industry!

KG Garyson said...

I was wondering about offering my work for free to build a following. But now that you mentioned it, I'm not so sure. I agree with you on offering the first installment in a series for free. That way, readers can get an idea of the story and your skills as an author before spending money on a dud.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks, Mirella- why didn't we choose something else easier?

KG, if your book isn't a standalone or the only one you're dependent on for revenue, I say go for it. My experiment didn't work because I had all those factors - no series or related book. But you never know, some authors have built strong interest with freebies.

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