Would you walk into your employer and offer to work for free in hopes of getting a raise?
So why would you give away the book that you sweat blood and slaved over?
I personally consider it to be one of the stupidest things an author can do.
Clarification – I am only talking about putting your book up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble for FREE. I am not talking about KDP Select/Prime (the lending library) or a contest on your website.
The basic concept is that you give away one of your books and people read it and like it, and then they buy all your other books. This is billed as a way to pick up new readers who might not otherwise give you a try. I get the idea of a loss leader, but having worked retail, I also know that it really doesn’t work all that well for “getting more” out of the customer. That appears to be even more true in book sales. This will also only work if you have other books available for them to buy! I watched an author who only had one book available give away her book over a long weekend. What the hell was she thinking?
Most of us can remember a time when the chance to get a free book from an author in a website contest was a big deal. Readership for the website went up, people were sharing information about the contest, and it was really quite exciting for both the author and the reader.
Now all those freebies are killing everyone’s chance to sell a book. Why pay for my book or your book when some idiot will give away their book?
I follow several different reader websites and I’m inundated every week with offers for free books. EBook Lovers, which promotes Kindle authors at no charge, posts at least three, and usually more, each day. Another site sends out a notice on Friday for the “free weekly deals” listing between five and ten novels being given away. All these sites encourage us to share this information with our friends.
Why the hell would I want to do that? Sheesh, authors! Haven’t you ever heard the old adage, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
I have a lot of friends with Kindles and Nooks – friends who used to spend a lot of money every month either in the bookstore or online. Many of them have admitted to me that they rarely purchase a book anymore. They simply download the free ones and move on. Who cares if it’s good or bad? There’s another free one waiting for you.
Interestingly enough, those same people also tell me that they have no expectation of quality when they do this. When they want what they consider to be a decent book, they buy one. I’ll talk about perceived value in another post.
Very few people like to tell you when their great idea doesn’t work, but I’m actually hearing from other writers that they and their fellow writers have not experienced the large bump in sales that they were hoping for, and the bump they received was very short term – only a few days.
One romance writer (who asked that I not use her name) gave away one of the more popular titles in her catalog for a twenty-four hour period. This is a writer who has more than a dozen books available, excellent reviews, and sales that have remained consistent rather than growing. She had an expectation that her sales might increase about five percent across the board and that she might receive some reviews. This didn’t seem like such an unrealistic expectation to me. Several thousand people downloaded the book, but after sixty days, she found the uptick in sales was less than two percent and all of that uptick occurred in the first five days. She also did not receive any help in reviews, since no one wrote one.
They might have loved her book, but they sure didn’t say so or buy too many others before they moved on to the next free offer.
She also shared that when she’d used this strategy last year, her sales had soared. But now, everyone is doing it, so the value as a promotional tool appears to be dwindling.
When I said to a friend, “You don’t see car manufacturers giving their stuff away.” Her response was, “Sure you do. Don’t you watch Wheel of Fortune?”
Let me explain this in little words. TEN MILLION people tune in and you (the car manufacturer) tell them about your car, show them pictures of your car, and advertise the snot out of your car to those potential buyers. Then you give away – ONE car. That someone may or may not even win.
When you put your book up for free on Amazon – ONE THOUSAND people download it. And what do you get these days? Two percent, which equals TWENTY sales. No advertising, no pictures, and no one is jumping up and down screaming with excitement because they got your book.
Once again, the authors I’m following and hearing from think this is no longer a viable strategy.
The reality is that people who swoop down on the freebies aren’t really buyers. They’re just people that like free stuff. Once they have yours – they are off to the next offering.
When is it not dumb to give away a book?
Lots of times. Most of us give away a fair number of books to our friends or family members. My beta-readers each get a copy of the finished book and every other one of my books, whether they worked on that story or not. Anyone who helped and made the acknowledgements also gets a free copy. Mostly I give one away because I want someone I actually know to try my book.
Otherwise – not happening.