FREE is killing indie. (An urgent warning)

If you have been following Ramblings from a Writers Mind, or if you have scrolled down, looking and reading many of the posts, you will notice they fall into two main categories.

The first, those where I share my experience and attempt, in my rather haphazard way, to impart and to clarify certain aspects of wordsmithing, along with tips and ideas you may wish to try or adopt.

The second Rambling posts are ones where I express my opinions and beliefs about being an indie author. Many of these articles create controversy amongst the varying schools of thought running through the indie community. I do not see this as a bad thing, but one which stimulates discussion and debate, a great platform to exchange views and examine convictions.

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This is the first of two posts regarding two current controversial topics.

This one is about of giving away free books, an activity which is damaging the entire indie book market and something I am adamantly against.

So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into this wonderfully heated issue of free books.

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When Amazon’s algorithms changed some time ago, giving less weight in rating terms to giveaways as opposed to paid-for copies, many authors became less enthusiastic.

However, the advent of new players in the giveaway frame, such as BookFunnel and Instafreebie, has added a new way of distributing free books and a new purpose: to build your author database by effectively trading email addresses for free books.

While the jury’s still out on the long-term benefits we discover how many of these subscribers unsubscribe – as is their legal right – or not bother to read their freebies.

As with any decision, we should evaluate any potential short-term benefits alongside the long-term effects on the mindset of our customers/readership.

 The vast (vast, vast) majority of free downloads never get read, so giveaways don’t accomplish what they’re intended to do: spread the word, get reviews.

On top of that, many authors pay money to advertise these giveaways, and spring for shipping in the case of hard copies, so they’re actually paying people to get a free copy and not read it.

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Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

We’ve all heard that saying. Basically, the meaning behind it is that someone isn’t going to pay for something that is offered for free.

Whether it’s your virtue or your book, the issue is still the same.

When a writer devalues their work to the point of giving away their book, what are they really doing? Giving it away as if it were nothing?

It begs the question, are those authors so desperate to have someone, anyone, read their book, that they are willing to pass them out like pamphlets on the street corner.

Is the book so bad they think no one would or should pay for it?

What about the months, maybe even years, the author spent pounding away at the keyboard creating the book? What about the lost hours spent editing and reworking it to perfection?

Most authors sacrifice a lot to write a book. They give up any and all free time in exchange for getting the story on paper. That must be worth something; certainly, more than a freebie.

 

Authors tell me it’s a promotional ploy.

Promotion is great and today we must constantly try new angles and ideas to draw in readers. I have no issue with giving away a chapter to entice a reader to purchase the rest of the book, but give away the whole book?

It does not make any sense.

Many, often new or struggling authors, hope by giving away a book, readers will buy more of them or will buy the next book they release.

Unfortunately, it does not work that way. Readers are a very frugal bunch. If they can get free books, why would they pay for yours? They will simply pick up someone else’s free book tomorrow, and someone else’s the next day, and so forth.

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The numbers don’t lie

You may disagree with me — maybe your experience is different — but as a publisher, I have to tell you the sales numbers don’t lie.

While a select small number of authors may have seen book giveaways as a clever promotion to boost the sales of their next book, it is rare. Giving books away isn’t making sales numbers climb.

How could it? Free doesn’t equal bigger royalty checks.

Meanwhile, authors have devalued their craft to the point where even they don’t think it should cost anything.

I’ve been to a lot of craft shows the past couple of months. I’m amazed at the price of the handmade pieces people are selling. Then I think about the hours and hours of hard work these artists put into each piece and I must admit, it’s probably a bargain.

Are not authors the same as these other artists? Aren’t authors creators of their craft and shouldn’t they value their work as much as a wood carver or a glass blower does?

“It’s a tough time in publishing for authors but the answer isn’t giving it away. To me, that’s the same as giving up.”

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People who get a free copy of your book will not convert to buyers.

You see there are two distinct markets when it comes to anything really: the buyers and the freebie hunters.

I know if I go to Amazon and I’m searching for a book about dogs I click on the top free category, I’m not leaving the free category. It’s already in my mind to not pay for something like that. Even if it’s an absolute hobby of mine, I already have a wealth of knowledge resources I can snag for free.

For instance, there are hundreds of new adult fiction books published every day on Amazon. Hundreds of those books are put into KDP Select and are set to a 5-day free promotion every day. If I’m an avid reader of literary porn and I know I can get new quality erotic stories for free every day, why would I pay for it?

Hell, most of them probably won’t even read the book, depending on the genre.

There was a time when I would go to Reddit’s free eBook page and go on download sprees. I Never read any more than 2% of those books and they were deleted from my Kindle library with the same quickness they were uploaded.

It did not matter, they were free. They held no value.

Your e-mail list isn’t going to grow substantially by giving away a book. Even if you offer another free book for signing up, your list will merely be tainted by freebie chasers. They will hop on your mailing list, snag the download, then unsubscribe.

I can’t help but laugh at self-publishing authors who brag about how many books they gave away in their most recent promotion.

Last time I checked, free never paid the bills.

2,000 free downloads of your sub-par eBook do not indicate any level of success.

If it was not selling more than a copy a week, then you gave it away for a few days before it sprang to a few copies a day, I would say it was worth it.

But no… it never happened, did it?

You see, when you discount your book to zero, it devalues mine too, in fact, it devalues every author’s book by undervaluing and diminishing the entire marketplace.

Please, don’t devalue our publishing world.

Giving away one free book can equal a part of an authors mortgage payment, one of their children’s meals, maybe a new pair of shoes they shall now never own.

The thousands of free books given away mean many thousands of pounds/dollars/euros which should have supported an author and their family has been taken from them.

Giving books away is little different to stealing from your fellow writer’s pockets.

Remember, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

So, okay when would I, if pushed, ever do a giveaway?

Personally, never… but….

It seems to me that the only time to do a giveaway is to brand new authors and salty seasoned veterans.

Even if you have written 10 books, but you get no sales, you’re still new.

The only, vaguely possible benefit, of ever doing a giveaway is most major eBook storefronts have an ‘also bought‘ section which shows which ‘other’ books customers also bought.

This is the ONLY possible ‘money shot’ when doing a free book offer (and ONLY for new authors). The population of this ‘also bought’ section will link your book to other books, (& vice versa) so someone searching for a book of a similar subject may stumble onto your book.

So, there you have it, folks. You might give one eBook away for free when you are a brand spanking new author, or perhaps when you have such a massive following and sell millions of books each month, that giving away a book which was once an all-time bestseller, possibly twenty years ago, does not matter a single jot anymore.

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….This is where too many indie authors fall into the FREEBIE TRAP.

Trying to emulate the marketing and promotional actions of major mainstream publishers who market the books of authors who are household names.

The truth is, you do not know what teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy part of the publisher’s overall strategy their giveaway forms part of. It is definitely NOT a stand-alone, individual and isolated ploy, but a small cog of an overall strategy, planned with experts as part of a long-term stratagem focused on future markets and indicated customer trends. A fact every individual indie author I have discussed this subject with was, either not aware of, or did not take into consideration.

My advice, leave it alone.

There are MANY better ways to generate interest in your works.

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Take Electric Eclectic books as an example.

Electric Eclectic is where you take a short story, one you may have forgotten and is lying unused and unloved in your files, or maybe you have one which you published in an anthology some years ago. The point is, where your story comes from is not really important.

What is important is your tale must be between 6k and 20K words, a story which you can turn into a Kindle eBook. By publishing your short story, as a novelette under the Electric Eclectic brand enables you to benefit from the brand’s extensive promotions and marketing initiatives, many which reach markets way beyond the regular social media platforms.

While there is a small, one-off licence branding fee for each book, you keep all the royalties and rights… but that is only the beginning. The true advantage of being part of the Electric Eclectic brand is that each Novelette works as your own marketing tool, leading your readers to your prime books and novels.

So, instead of giving your prime books away, or worse still, paying someone else to give them away, your promotional tool, (your Electric Eclectic book) is earning you royalties while gaining you potential readers for those main works. It’s a win, win situation.

It’s time to stop devaluing your books and yourself, make your promotions work for you.

To find out more email EEbookbranding@mail.com

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22 thoughts on “FREE is killing indie. (An urgent warning)

  1. OK, I’ll say up front that the first book of my 4-book series is “permafree” on the usual sites, along with 4 short stories. But I don’t do free giveaways of print books, or pay to advertise free books.
    I have to question the statement that most people who download free ebooks never read any of them. I’ve acquired 2-3 dozen free ebooks, and I’ve read most of them. Some were excellent, some were terrible. I’ve written reviews on my blog and Goodreads of those that were at least readable. OK, I may be an exception, but I have to wonder — are freebie-hunters (who never read the free ebooks they acquire) and real readers two completely separate populations? Because if they are, I doubt that eliminating free ebooks will convert the freebie-hunters into buyers. They’ll just look for other free stuff to download — movies, games, pictures, etc. If this is true, authors wanting an income from their writing should just ignore free ebooks and the people who love them, and focus their marketing efforts on real readers who value only books for which they’ve paid money.
    I think the situation is actually murkier. Many authors don’t really care about making money from their books. They don’t total up the hours they’ve spent writing or the money they’ve spent on editing, covers, etc. They write and publish for the joy of it, and just want people other than friends and family to read their books and review them. These authors may be labelled as hobbyists or dilettantes. Many of them have “day jobs” or pensions, and so may subsidize their writing.
    Authors who want a steady income from their writing, who regard their writing/publishing as a business, are in fact having to compete with at least some of the hobbyists. That makes it tougher to succeed, but it could be argued that they just have to up their game and use more creative marketing techniques than the hobbyists, who aren’t as motivated.
    Any writer who publishes their work has to decide at some point why they’re doing it — for love, or money, or both — and adjust their expectations and efforts accordingly.
    Apologies for running on. I can see the point you’re making, but had to explain why I think the situation may be more complicated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right at the beginning of this post, I acknowledged this was a controversial subject with many schools of thought, so I agree with much of your comment.
      I did not mention the hobby writer, so I am glad you have. They do, as you state, make it harder for the full time/professional writers. That is something we have to live with, all have a right to pursue their chosen pastimes.
      YES, you are one of the few who read the majority of free books you receive (Amazon/Kindle figures of downloaded/unopened/part read books can be acquired)… I guess by reading you mean actually complete the whole book and not skim read much as do some… ahem… reviewers…!
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Audrey.
      Paul 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your reply, Paul. I didn’t know it was possible to get figures for Kindle books never read. Those would certainly provide some evidence. Any book I rate or review I’ve read in entirety. I don’t skim, either; if I find myself resorting to that, I just give up on the book and neither rate nor review.

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    1. Hi Brenda,
      I am not against using a book to help with your own marketing by giving a copy or two to a magazine, or a promotions business, providing they do not ask for a fortune in cash alongside such.
      Neither am I against giving books away for a charity fundraiser or as a competition prize, these books still hold a value for the recipient.
      My concern is offering them as free books pre se. This is when they lose their value, financial or otherwise.
      I also dislike the books for reviews exchange. No review can be totally unbias if the reviewer is benefiting, directly or indirectly, in some form via the author.
      These paid for or gifted reviews skew the entire book buying market and are unjust.
      As Audrey indicated above, this is a complicated and controversial topic, but one which needs to be raised and discussed, so thank you for joining in.
      Paul 🙂

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  2. I agree it is a very complicated marketplace. More so when you take children’s books, non-fiction, instuctional and technical books into consideration because the giveaway regarding them differs in concept. I could write an extremely long post, quoting others, showing figures etc. But then it would be too intense and few would read it…even being a free blog! lol. Thanks for taking the time to comment in some depth, it is appreciated.

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  3. I suspect at this point you are hitting on the tipping point of the new digital market. Free, works in the gaming world because we can leverage freeium (ie want more features in game purchase). We could do that with readers in the future (you get the first chapter free and then upgrade on your device to get the rest).

    As I said it is the tipping point. Awesome article!

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  4. Janice J. Richardson

    It is complicated. I would rather see someone read a free ebook than not at all. Not everyone has easy access to a library. For years, all I could afford was a free ebook and there were plenty to choose from. Even those of us who could not afford books were able to do so when ebooks came out, namely .99 or free ones. I found some amazing authors over the years. And why pay to get free promotion? If an author is on multiple platforms and lowers the price, Amazon price matches. I confess I tried it with the first book in my series. It shot to over 700 downloads on the first day, moved into the bestseller part (#2) in one of it’s categories and has continued to do well. It also generated new readers and reviews. It wasn’t an easy decision to go ‘free’, I thought of my author friends trying to earn a living and felt a bit guilty. It has been a positive result, the rest of the series is selling and the joy of sharing the first book with people in every income bracket has been worth it. If that changes, I will put it back to it’s original price. I read the majority of free ebooks I download and review them. If I don’t like the book, I stop reading it and don’t review it. Thank you for letting me express my opinion. I do see both sides and I do buy a book once in while, when it is priced right. I won’t pay over $5 for an ebook, no matter how bady I want to read it. Paperbacks are priced out of my reach, and the reach of many of my friends.

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    1. Hi Janice, Thanks for your comments.
      You are one of the lucky few where a giveaway has worked, if your sale have achieved the significance you suggest. As I said in the article, it works for a few…but only a few and offering a first book free is one of the times it may work.

      I can understand some people not being in a financial position to purchase a new book. I was not a rich kid myself and this was way before any internet, yet I still read many books. Freinds and family passed on old dog-eared copies, schools leant books for study, charity shops sold them for pence.

      I wonder how many of those who downloaded one of those 700 free books you gave away actually bought another of yours at full price? and how many still follow you? It would be interesting to know, wouldn’t it?

      The marketplace is changing and those of us who are full-time authors, who make our sole income from writing, are finding it increasingly difficult to compete when the hobbyist writer puts their ego above commerce and just want “people to read what they write”.
      They do not need to make their writings into books if that is their true goal. They can simply share their work on the net and have thousands of people read it for free every day.
      I say let serious authors sell their books to people who want to read books and are willing to pay to do so, one that do not begrudge paying over $5.00 (the cost of a Starbucks coffee) for something someone has spent a year or so creating. I say allow those writers earn an income so they can pay their bills, buy medicines and feed their kids. Too many free books take that possibility away, it is like stealing the authors living by undermining it for an altruistic view.

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  5. Food for thought for me, thinking about offering a freebie of a previous book as a hook to buy my latest. Thanks for the insight! Also thanks for following my blog – I’ll have a shout out to yours in a post soon!

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  6. Pingback: Guest Post: An Alternative to Free Ebooks | Audrey Driscoll's Blog

  7. Independent author-publishers are laborers worthy of their hire. Another author once sent me a free copy of his ebook in a format that I could print, because he has no intention of publishing in hard copy (I can only read for enjoyment from paper, because I have a visual disability that adversely affects my reading from screens, no matter how the text is displayed). It was a gift he made spontaneously: I do not ask writers to work for free; nevertheless, I do urge authors to publish on paper as well as electronically, so as not to neglect any market segment.

    My novel is literary fiction of minor-epic length (196,000 words), and it took me three weeks short of three years to write it. I published it five years ago, and I have yet to come anywhere near to breaking even on my investment in the research it took to write the story. Giving the book away would only dig that hole deeper. The paper edition is priced at about average for stories of that length printed by traditional publishers, but it does sell (albeit slowly) at that price. The ebook edition is priced at about half of the hard copy, and is sold only through an aggregator which does not force authors into offering freebies. Not as many ebooks have sold as have printed copies.

    Only once did I provide an e-copy of a special edition of my novel in exchange for a review, because I wanted to know how the addition of vignette illustrations to the original would affect the reading experience (I chose not to publish that edition), but I have never done a giveaway. I have, however, exchanged printed copies of my novel for printed books by other authors. I live on a very small, fixed income, but a mismatch in printing cost (as reflected in retail price) that benefits the other author is not an object. As a Persian proverb says, “If you have two loaves of bread, buy hyacinths to feed your soul.” Books are my hyacinths: “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” (Erasmus)

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    1. Thank you for taking time to write such an indepth reply to my post. It is very much appreciated.

      All writers who have commented on this blog, either here, by email, or on the social platforms where I have promoted this post, have endorsed my points by their own experiences.

      Serious authors who invest their time, not only in writing but as you have highlighted in research, deserve to see a return on such commitment.

      With my own books, less than 2% of sales are ebooks, 20% hardcover. It is the Paperbacks which make the numbers. The current trend is a decline in ebooks & while the largest percentage growth are audio books, a trend I expect to see continue through 2018, so this is an area which could be worth investigating.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: A word of caution about FREE & some other stuff worth knowing about. – Ramblings from a Writer's Mind

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