Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Does Free Cost (pt.2)

I’ve been studying the publishing and marketing world for roughly ten years now, since before I put my first book out. One fairly recent phenomenon I’ve been watching closely is the number of authors giving their books away free. I don’t mean a few promo copies. I mean by the thousands from retail websites.

A few years ago, I read of an author who became well known to readers by offering one of his books free in ebook format. He said the result was that his print copies of the same book soared. It established him as a writer worth reading. (I don’t remember his name. Sorry.) Of course, he didn’t just make it free and leave it at that. He promoted it well as free. He was also already a successful blogger with a ton of readers already reading his words free, so it was a natural transition to offer a full book free.

I can easily see how this would work. Readers want to know what they’re getting when they spend money. It used to be they trusted that if it was in print, it had gone through a heavy selection process, was professionally edited, and instantly had value. (That was more or less true. In earlier times.) These days anyone can put a book into print. If they’re savvy, they can make it look like it came from a “real” publishing company instead of one an author started to make it look like it did. I find no fault in authors who do so. Hey, I did it, too.

With small press and indie publishing getting so big, though, it’s getting harder to convince a reader a book is worth a try. (Unless it’s on a “bestseller” list and don’t get me started on that one!)

I fully understand small name and midlist authors trying to push into the market however they can. Still, I worry about the prevalent surge of free books.

In the first place, how many business people give part of their products away free? You don’t see furniture stores doing so, in hopes customers will come back for their paid pieces, as well. You don’t see plumbers offering their first call free in hopes of return calls (I don’t mean estimates. I mean actual work.) So I’m unsure why artists should be expected to do the same before readers will check them out. Heck, a plumber spends an hour or two fixing a problem, right? Why not give that first hour or two away? An author spends months on a book (with any hope), and like the plumber first spent years learning and perfecting her craft (again, with any hope).

Maybe that’s it: a plumber must be certified. And too many authors can just throw a book out there these days without worrying about craft, or even grammar, heaven forbid.

Still, many of us do spend months or years learning first. Many of us do spends months, or even years, on one book. If we aren’t willing to give it away free, we’re fighting an uphill battle against those who are willing.

I asked on my Facebook page yesterday what readers thought about free books. I wanted to know if they expected a quality difference. I wanted to know if authors had seen any actual sales resulting from their giveaway books.

By and large, readers weren’t concerned about quality difference in free and paid books. They did tend to say they would buy another work from that author if they liked the free one well enough. So, a positive result on the side of free.

On the other hand, I didn’t get any feedback from authors saying their sales improved after the giveaways. One was hoping the free ebook would translate to print sales. My best guess is it won’t. Most who buy ebooks tend to want to read them that way. Even if it’s a picture book, kids are using iPads and color Nooks to read. Once they have it that way, why buy it in print? I’m sure it can happen. I imagine it won’t often.

I have a free preview of the full copy of my children’s book, Stanley: A Raindrop’s Story posted on my publishing site. As far as I know, it hasn’t resulted in print sales online. I do much better hand selling the book.

Still, I’ve been watching as writing friends post their books for free and end up with a huge amount of downloads, resulting in a few sales of their other non-free books. I can’t yet decide whether it’s worth giving away a book I spent months writing, editing, marketing, and money on promo, etc. After all, most ebooks cost less than one fast food meal. Do readers feel it’s not worth the chance for that? Some of my ebooks, the shorter ones, cost less than a coffee shop cappucino.

Competition is the name of the game, however, and the surge of authors giving away free books and selling for $0.99 makes it hard for me to compete. The more authors who do this, the harder it gets on all of us. I’m torn. Do I jump in and offer one for free to be competitive, or refuse and make it harder on myself while I’m trying not to make it harder on other authors who don’t want to give their work free?

A conundrum. But maybe I’m overthinking (I tend to do that). I’m already shooting myself in the foot by refusing to put my ebooks on that A store I won’t use. No point in hitting the leg, too. And I’m worth reading (forgive the pat on the back, but those who have given my work a try have agreed).

So, a trial. I’m offering my first book  FREE. At least for a short time.

cover-2ndedition-5in100As of now, you can download Finishing Touches from  FREE. Within a few days, every other retail site should also change the price to free.

I do ask, in return, that you consider leaving a review for it from wherever you download it! After all, I spent four years on this book in between raising kids and military moves. (How’s that for begging? LOL)

You can also find it at for your Nook or Nook app, Kobo, Diesel, iTunes, and very soon on Apple and Sony.

A note: I have a sequel in progress for this book and when finished, I plan to put the two of them together in one print book. It won’t be this year. Three other book projects are nagging at me for this year.

So, what does free cost authors? That remains to be seen. I hope it turns out better than what free usually costs.

If you’re an author with free books, I’d love to hear from you. How is it going? How are sales for your non-free books? Are you getting reviews from your free books?

Readers, chime in! What are your thoughts on free ebooks? How likely are you to buy other books from authors if you enjoy them?


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