Free E-Book or Not?

tbt-frontcoverI’ve been debating whether to offer one of my books for free on Kindle, temporarily, as a promotion. I know other authors have used the tactic successfully. And I’ve given away hundreds of print books and done so happily.But I keep talking myself out of doing a free Kindle e-book. Why?

  • The free downloads on Kindle have picked up a negative association.
  • If I don’t value my books, how can I expect readers to?

Here’s a reader comment from the Amazon Kindle forum: Since I realized most of the free books are junk I’ve removed them from my kindle. I wouldn’t have written this except it bugs me that these books are showing up on the bestseller lists for Kindle. So I guess the best way is to do all my searches under the DTB [dead tree book] bestseller listings and then, if I find something there that looks good, hope that it is on Kindle also.

I’ve seen lots of posts that refer to free books as worthless. (...Aside from the fact that the free books are all garbage?) Even the readers who download them, don’t value them. They often stick them in a Someday folder, to be read after everything else. Readers place more value on the books they purchase.

Here’s another forum comment: I generally just take a quick look at the “free list” because sometimes a real book is free for a day or two as a teaser from the publisher; otherwise I don’t bother.

Note the expression real book. This reader doesn’t consider free books to be real books by real authors.

Rather than risk being lumped into that category, I’ve decided to keep selling my books on Kindle at the very reasonable price of $2.99. I may not be premium, but I’m worth something. 🙂

Readers: Do you value free Kindle downloads?
Writers: Have you had success with this tactic?

 

22 Comments
  1. LJ, I agree. To me, it isn’t worth it given the negative impression. I was discussing this last night on the phone with Ken Lewis, author of Little Blue Whales, and also my publisher. He said, ‘Dammit, my book is worth $4.99, and so is yours!’ I agree with him, and you!

    I was participating in a thread on Amazon recently, and my book, TESTAROSSA, came up. One participant said, ‘It’s not in the library and it’s too expensive. Not buying it.’ A fellow author put in, ‘I have an extra copy and I’ll mail it to you. You won’t be sorry.’ This person will never buy my book, or yours.

    There are two groups (perhaps more, but I’ll mention two here): Those who want books for free, and those who love reading good books enough to pay a fair price. I like to feel as though I cater to the latter. I’m thinking you feel the same.

    Best,
    Julie

  2. As a reader I actually don’t download many free books – except classics I’ve intended to read over the years. I’ve never really given this much thought until now but I do believe it’s because I don’t want a ton of books on my Kindle that I may never read and to download a book simply because it’s free is not my “thing”. I will admit that before the Kindle and cheaper prices, my reading selections tended to center around authors I already knew I liked. The time and money invested into a book can be significant (time more so than money when you consider the entertainment “value” of a book)

    As a writer, I’ve wondered about this very same topic. Should I or shouldn’t I? I feel validated after reading your post because I have not and don’t think I will ever offer my books for free on Kindle. However, I do give out Smashwords coupons quite often. I agree with your statement about valuing your work enough to expect some type of compensation. I also sell all three of my books for $2.99 each. I believe e-books SHOULD be cheaper than a paper version and I also realize I’m not a big named author either.

    I think it could be a boon to authors who have more than one book in a series to offer the first one for free. You could possibly find some followers of the series. But then again, I wonder if most free downloads don’t just sit on people’s Kindles, waiting for the reader to “get around” to it, if they ever do. I’m interested to read any more comments from authors who have tried this tactic and whether or not it worked for them.

    ~JC~

  3. I offer my first novel for free on kindle, nook, sony, and iBooks, and I sell its sequel for $2.99.

    I can offer my own experience here: by giving the first away, my sales of its sequel have more than quadrupled. I have received plenty of reviews saying, “I took a chance on this free book, and I liked it enough to buy the sequel.”

    Even better than the huge revenue increase, I have the satisfaction of knowing that many more eyes have found my stories. For the ability to reach them at no cost, I’m indebted to amazon, b&n, Sony, and apple.

    Now, as a reader, I’ve also downloaded plenty of free ebooks, and have only read a few of them. I don’t like most of them, but every now and then I’m pleasantly surprised, and overjoyed to find a new author.

    Dennis

  4. Hi LJ, I have never thought that authors get a good value for their work on e-thingies. Most readers still prefer a ‘real’ book; it’s part of the experience of reading.
    To give away work, just because technology allows it, isn’t very prudent. I really wish there was more for authors. Some people in general think anything that comes via the technology should be free, so they devalue it, whether they pay for it or not. Sad. E-books should still cost at least 2/3 of the price of a real book. I have Kobo e-reader service. While they have free books, they are rarely recent books, and they still cost like real books. E-books are no less real, and hard word for the author than the solid copies. Pay up, readers!

  5. Hmm I didn’t realize Amazon would let you offer the book for free. (Or maybe you are just talking Smashwords).

    I give away a free novella on my site and giving away another one as soon as the publisher’s print order page is ready. To me, there are three conditions: 1) you hope people will like your writing and buy other books; 2) you don’t care at all about money and just want to share your story or 3: it’s the first of a series as an introduction, or is a stand-alone excerpt of a longer work.

    Scott

  6. I’m against the idea of free ebooks. Like you, I think our work should be valued, but I also think it shouldn’t be overpriced. $14.99 for an ebook and I go to the library. $2.99 and it’s on my Kindle. That being said, as writer I have offered short stories for free to allow readers to get a sense of my style and see if they might like to try a full-length novel. I’m talking 6,000 words or less. That I do not have a problem with as I do want my stuff read. I’m considering unpublishing my e-short stories after a certain amount of time too, but haven’t yet come to a final decision on that one yet.

  7. I don’t have a Kindle, and I don’t know how I’d feel if I did, but I definitely feel that your price point is more than reasonable–and I am looking forward to my paper copy, higher priced BABY THIEF very much!

  8. Thanks, everyone, for your input and support. I may end up giving away a free short story on my website instead.

  9. I collect free books off Amazon whenever offered. I read the first few pages and will set it aside or continue to read. I do watch for the author’s other works if I like the freebie. I’ll pay up to $2.99 for a Kindle book. Am I cheap? Damned straight I am. I love to read, and if you’ve priced your books too high, then I won’t buy them.

    I am just one voice in the wilderness. There are lots of readers who will pay more than I would, but I’m pretty sure that those $9.99 Kindle books will soon collect virtual dust on the shelves.

    There’s lots to read out there. Personally, I can wait for the Library for the big names. I’m on week 4 or 5 for The Hunger Games. I’ll continue to wait. I can also wait for months to read the second, then the last book if I want to bother after book 1.

    LJ: If you want to do freebies, just run them on the social sites. I don’t think Amazon will let you do a free offer unless you’re a big publisher. If you can, let me know how. I wouldn’t mind running a special now and again.

  10. II love checking the amazon site for free books. I’ve found a lot of new authors doing this.

    Although I do agree that if you’re a new author, selling your book for a small fee is a good idea. $2.99 is still a great price for a good book.

  11. I don’t Kindle, but I read e-books on a couple of other devices. For what it’s worth, I’ve spent a pile of money over the years on authors whose work I read for the first time as e-books from the Baen Free Library or as short-term offers directly from the publisher or author. I would suggest making the free offer link (if you choose to go that way) from your website/blog so that it’s clearly from a professional with a track record. You can spread the word further by getting people to Tweet it or spread it by Facebook. Or whatever.

  12. Well, I am not a Kindle owner, but I do own a Barnes & Noble Nook. So I’d say don’t rule out those who own other readers if you do decide on a free promotion. Makes no sense to me to lose a lot of the promotion part by limiting it to one single model of reader. Lots of folks own Sony’s, Kobo, Nooks and other readers.

    I don’t feel like a free book is necessarily junk… it all depends. Some are total junk. But, many are promotional, and some of those I’ve read have been GREAT… in fact leading me to either buy or seek out via library ebook borrowing others by the same author or in the same series. Further, the ones that I’ve really liked, I’ve often mentioned on boards and forums, or written a review for.

    I am not about getting everything for free, but I am also NOT on the whole, very likely to spend money on work by an author I am completely unfamiliar with, no matter how appealing the book sounds. This is particularly true of ebooks, since, if I end up disappointed in the read, I cannot sell or give away the purchase like I might with a paper book. At least paper books can be donated to my local library book sale.

    However, I will often try new authors either via library reads or via free promotional books and if I LIKE what I have read, there’s a very good chance I’ll want to explore more and therefore WILL buy.

    Case in point. Barnes & Noble made a book by Karen Marie Moning called Darkfever free. 1st in a series. It wasn’t a genre that I was attracted to particularly, but I got it because it was free, read it and LOVED IT! And I immediately bought the rest of the series afterward! (They weren’t cheap either, I think they ranged from $6.99 to $12.99.) I plan to buy the next book when it comes out in January or shortly after.

    Hubby (also a Nook owner) picked up a free sci-fi book on Smashwords recently and liked it and has already bought two more of the books in the same series.

    But neither of us would have gone out and bought the first books in the series. It was only by having access to the book free that our interest was sparked. Just sayin’.

  13. I have a Nook and have downloaded MANY free books via the B&N website. I can think of at least 3 authors I’ve downloaded a first book in one a series and then proceeded to buy, enjoy, and download every one of the rest of that series. Kat Richardson and Kim Harrison are two that immediately spring to mind. The last one I downloaded (free) was J. A. Jance’s first book in her newest series & I know I’ll be buying the rest. (I already own just about every one of her books — most in hardback form.) Since I’m running out of room in my house to store actual, physical books and I refuse to discard my favorites, I’ve switched over to the e-format (Nook) to feed my, uh, addiction.

    Free books (especially the first book in a series) has been a very good ‘hook’ for me. I suggest you try it. Apparently on the B&N site you can limit the time your book is offered as a freebie. I doubt seriously if I’d ever have tried either Kat’s or Kim’s books without the first, free one as I’m (usually) more interested in mysteries than paranormal & hardly ever ventured into the sci-fi section of the bookstore where their books were placed. You might bring in a whole new readership to your books if you try this marketing venture. Consider it baiting a hook to catch a hungry audience ….

  14. I think it’s a awesome way to promote a series, offer the first book for free. If not a series, then a quality early work. That pays for itself as often that first/older book is often not well-stocked in stores anyway. I jump on free e-book offers only if the description or genre interests me, and the author is established (this weeds out 95% of things I’d regret). I have discovered some very good authors and series from free e-books–I can think of 4 series, offhand. That’s about 30 sales of backlist books and new releases that I would not otherwise have purchased.

    Not all the free e-books are poor quality, some of them are very good books from very popular series (such as the Temeraire series, as one example). I do the same research deciding whether to download a free ebook as I would a purchase–look at reviews on Amazon/blogs, look at the author’s website, etc. to find out if this is something I would probably enjoy.

    I don’t have a Kindle but I do have a nook, so consider offering across platforms.

    There’s a bit up at the Baen Free Library about their experiences offering a fairly extensive back-catalog of freebies. (example http://www.baen.com/library/palaver6.htm)

  15. I sometimes give away a free eBook as a prize on my blog, but I agree, unless it’s an investment eg: an incentive to get folks promoting your work etc. it does seem a little self-defeating.

  16. $2.99 may be a good price for an ebook, but I’m still not going to spend that on an author I haven’t read before or know nothing about. I’m a voracious reader but not rich so I need my book dollars to count; I can’t afford to spend them on books that turn out to be crap. As insurance, I have a policy of not buying new an author I’ve never read before. Before ebooks, that worked really well. I’d take my $2.99 to the used book store and try an author that way. If the book was crap or I just didn’t like the author’s voice, I could trade the book in for something else.

    Now that e-first books are quite common, finding new authors among them is a real problem. In the absence of used ebooks, I download any free ebook that looks interesting. And sure, they mostly sit unread on my KindlePC. But so what? If an author’s name is mentioned somewhere and my interest is piqued, I might have a free read of theirs to try.

    I have hundreds of unread paper books in my “Someday” TBR pile. I paid money for all of them, and it doesn’t keep them from languishing. And let’s face it, some of them are going to be junk either subjectively or objectively. Ebooks aren’t above being junk. Frankly, the idea that I should take stranger-authors’ assurances that their books are awesome and pony up money sight unseen kind of boggles my mind.

  17. What a great discussion. Good points made all around and I agree that it is good to be able to sample an author’s work before buying an e-book. When we go to a bookstore to buy a book in paper, we look through it to make sure the writing appeals to us. On Smashwords, people can download a sample for free, but I don’t know what Amazon allows. There are excerpt of all my books on my Web site, and that seems to be a good way to give samples.

  18. I do on occasion buy free ebooks for my kindle and I have bought 2 of yours at the great price you offer, I agree that most people don’t put any value on FREE. They either think that if it’s free it must not be good, or they download just because it’s free and never read it.I have done a lot of my reviews on ebook format and I only download what I intend to read. I do prefer paper books above ebooks, but occasionally there is an ebook that sounds so good and I cannot get it on paper format.I also prefer think shorter ebooks, because I can read quite a few in a short amount of time. I think you made the right choice. and you can always change your mind,right?

  19. No, I don’t think free eBooks are worthless whatsoever. Public library books — which are “real” books — are free. Are they worthless? What about Kindle Samples? Those are free. Should Amazon or a publisher charge for those (don’t let’s give them that idea!)? Random House did a big promo for writer Charlie Huston last year. Made I think five of his books free for a limited time. Are you going to tell me Charlie Huston is worthless? Sure, go ahead and put a price on your work, but don’t whine when your sales aren’t what they could be due to no one even bothering to Sample it. The knife cuts both ways and is different for every writer.

  20. Mike: I didn’t say free books were worthless. I said some readers perceive free books to have little value, and I quoted those readers. I also said that I’ve given away hundreds of my books, and I’m in talks with Amazon to do an e-book away. I understand the value of “freebie” promotion! That’s why I’m having this discussion.

  21. Great Site. I like it A lot.

  22. I bought ‘The Sex Club’ at the reduced price when it was recommended from the kindle website, since then I have bought every one of your books for my kindle
    I have also done this with other authors after downloading a freebie or cheaper version
    In my opinion letting people see what you have on offer at a reduced price can encourage them to buy the others at full price

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