Heard at a recent garage sale: “I always take free stuff even when I’m not sure I want it. I mean, it’s FREE; I can always throw it out!“
Contemporary culture seems to have a conflicted relationship with free. People will hip-check each other to get to a neighborhood “free box” first, then get suspicious when eager salesmen dangle promotional freebies to close a sale. We all love a free meal but will still wonder what’s wrong with business that the restaurant is offering it. We can rationalize downloading music without payment, yet barely blink when art is auctioned for millions on the basis of “perceived artistic value.”
Then there are books, given away by the boatload in “free book promotions” in hopes of snagging that ever-more desirable demographic: the e-book reader. As the format surpasses all others in global book sales, the seduction of this burgeoning audience has become the mission statement of all book sellers, including indie authors, making Amazon’s brainchild promotion the Holy Grail.
To the uninitiated, the “free book promotion” is a strategy whereby writers offer their e-books free-of-charge for a number of days during their Kindle Select enrollment period. The objective is to entice readers in hopes they’ll download your book, leave a review, stir up positive word-of-mouth, then come back to buy your other books that aren’t free. This presumes, of course, that you have other books; it also presumes those planned objectives are met.
Depends who you talk to. Some authors report getting thousands of free downloads, winning higher Amazon rankings and heightened name awareness as a result. Others tout similar stats but lament the cost of sites like BookBub and others that charge $200+ to promote those free promotions. Still others contend that the strategy’s value has peaked, as the sheer glut of free product has lowered incentive for readers to ever pay for books (despite e-books already being cheaper than other formats). Writers themselves are conflicted.
I asked indie author, Martin Crosbie, who’s had tremendous success with his books, particularly his novel, My Temporary Life, his view of the strategy:
“If I had not had the ability to offer my book for free I would not have found the readers I have. Reduced and free pricing has been the difference for me between connecting with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of readers each month as opposed to just a handful. Hopefully some of these tried and true methods will remain effective for a little while as we all scramble to increase our readership, because really, we’re not just selling books. We’re building our reader base; that’s where our real focus is.”
Most would agree, yet some believe the proliferation of freebies has permanently altered the landscape, both in the perceived value of writers and their work and the mindset of readers who’ve become habituated to not paying for books. Literary agent, Jill Corcoran, makes that point in her piece, The Devaluation of Writers, By Writers:
“I get it, we all want our books to be read… getting your foot in the door/getting your e-book on anyone and everyone’s e-reader is the first step to [hopefully] selling these buyers your second book. BUT, if your self-pubbed book is free, and, according to bookgorilla, John Green’s THE FAULT OF OUR STARS e-book is worth $3.99, then all of us in publishing will need to downsize our houses, our food bill, our lifestyles because unless you are selling a heck of a lot of books, at $3.99 or 1/8th of $0.99 or at the golden ‘price’ of FREE, we have all just devalued ourselves to a point of below the already pitiful American minimum wage.” [Emphasis added.]
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