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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Bucking the trend (or one reason why you are not making money)

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Unlike many of my Ramblings, this post is written in a far more focused manner, giving a clue to the importance I place on this content.

I think, ALL indie authors NEED to read the following, in full.


 

Recently I have seen a large number of indie authors discounting their books, or giving them away freely, offering a plethora of ‘giveaways’, from the humble bookmark to expensive looking jewellery, even a combination of all the above.

Whilst this form of promotion is not unusual by itself, the number of offers has increased to such a degree, that it seems no one is selling a book at full value price.

In fact, a quick scan of the internet shows very few books, (in relative context), for sale above zero, naught, nil, zilch, nothing.

This is excellent if you are a reader. You have the largest and widest choice of reading material ever produced in the history of human life, being offer to you at no cost; even incentivised, bribed, to take up such offers, by the additional giving of gifts.

Life has never been so cosy.

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This recent explosion of free books has been boosted by the hundreds of book promotion sites, offering authors the service of marketing their works to millions of potential readers, for a small fee.

The sales gist of this is, should the author give away books, each person receiving a free book may like it so much, they will buy more of that authors works.

This seems a viable strategy… in principle.

BUT… there is always a but!

This form of book marketing was, for want of a better word, pioneered by Amazon when they were quite a young organisation selling only books.

At that time, the indie authors publishing phenomenon had not established, making it a very different market place; one where the novelty of being offered a free book was the exception not the rule.

Furthermore, add this marketing fee to the cost of production, editing, proofreading, formatting, cover designer, advertising, etc. Now, work out your royalties per-sale, because that is what must pay for your books production costs.

From this simple equation, you will see how many books you must sell to break even.

NOTE: This figure is cost based only. It does not include a budget for your time, your internet bill, your software licence fees, office space offsets (even if ‘the office’ is a table in your lounge) and other associated costs, which as a business person you need to consider. If you do not, whatever monies you think you have made form that book, will be demanded from you by those wonderful, friendly folks at the Inland Revenue.

So…how much do your royalties add up too…oh, nothing… because you gave it all away, with the bookmarks and coasters you paid for to boost your sales.

Not very business minded, are you?

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Let’s fast forward to today.

The indie publishing business is a global industry, with hundreds of thousands of books being self-published each month, in every country and every language on earth.

This is a world where an adage I loth, ‘A victim of our own success’, has the hollow ring of truth.

Because computer technology has allowed the growth of, what was once referred to as ‘desk top publishing’ to grow in such an unprecedented way, the competition in the indie publishing scene is immense.

However,… there is always a however, too!

While the market place for book sales has undergone change akin to continental drift, the methods used by indie authors is still as primitive as the those used in the embryonic days of Amazon’s birth.

You see, Amazon has outgrown the indie author world. It has outgrown many, if not all the established mainstream publishing companies and, by doing so, has irrevocably altered the landscape of publishing in general.

Neither is this giant called Amazon about to offer indie authors a helping hand.

It does not have to and does not want to. Not only has it outgrown the publishers, but it has established itself as the master of sales opportunities. Basically, as an independent writer, if you want to sell a lot of books you must factor Amazon into your marketing mix. What is more, Amazon will need to be your prime ingredient in the clear majority of cases.

Which brings us back to the reader, those illusive, almost mythical creatures who may, one day, if you are extremely lucky, buy one of your books.

BUT… yes another but!

BUT… it is getting less and less likely any reader will put their hand into their pocket and pull out some money, simply to get hold of a copy of your book.

You see, they don’t have too.

There are hundreds and thousands of books available for free. The reader can order any of these, or simply download an eBook version, which they can add to the hundred unread books waiting on their Kindles and E-readers, without ever spending a single penny.

Oh, that fleeting promise of maybe’s, the one the book marketing sites sold you, you know, the one that goes… “if they like your style they will buy the rest of your series/books….”

You didn’t fall for that old spangle, did you? 

Because they will not.

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Please do not dismiss the reader thus. Like all of us, our readers must be canny when it comes to spending, whether buying packet of sausages in a supermarket, or buying a good book to curl up with in front of the fire.

These folks will:

A, wait until another of your series is offered for free.

B, read another free book. (They may enjoy it better than yours.)

C, Both, of the above.

This is a reader’s market. It has got this way because of several factors, but (another but!), it is you, the indie author who has brought this situation upon yourself.

By publishing your book at a ridiculous low price, then lowering that price and eventually giving your book away, you are part of the overall problem affecting many, if not most indie authors.

You are simply adding to the situation you are moaning about. You know the one, about having too many free books on Amazon. That the competition is too great, because the market is flooded with cheap books, 99 cents and below.

This WILL NOT CHANGE until you…yes, YOU do something about it.

Ideally, for me. As of tomorrow morning, there would not be one book, not a single novelette being given away.

Novella’s and the such would be priced at around £2.00/$2.40 for the shortest book and escalating up from there.

Novels would kick in at a minimum of £10.00. Book prices would be back to a decent level, a level not too dissimilar to that before Amazon muscled in.

We all, from time to time, often with good reason, knock the major publishing houses who controlled publishing, much as DeBeers control the diamond market. Yet they ensured authors got a fair return for the time and effort involved in creating a book.

That cannot be said of Amazon, or any book promotion site encouraging free and 99c priced book sales.

I know there is a movement within the indie community, one which is trying to discourage the giving away of books.

I am part of that movement.

I believe, if ALL indie authors removed ALL free books, re-priced their books to reflect true value for authors, we would see a major shift change within the industry almost overnight.

Don’t worry.

People will not stop reading.

They never have and they never will. They shall simply be paying a fair price for the goods they receive.

Authors will start earning a fair return for their creativity, effort and investment. The quality of books will increase.

The world will be full, once again, of wild unicorns running free in green woodlands full of Tinkerbelle fairies… well, I may be pushing it a bit too far now; but the facts are, indie authors will be better served without cheap and free books…. FACT.

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Which brings me to the title of this post, ‘ Bucking the trend’

What give me the right to state such?

Firstly, this is not me simply making a vortex of hot air.

I stand by my convictions. I do not have any FREE books. I shall not be giving any books away. I do not have gifts of incentives. I have no bookmarks or jewellery.

In fact, I am deliberately ‘Bucking the trend‘.

Recently, I have increased the price of all my books, both Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

One of which, is an Amazon No.1 bestseller.

The coveted No1 position, is something I doubt would have occurred, if the book was priced undervalue.

You see, perception plays a large part in decision making.

What value you initially consider an item, is easily disputed once furnished with a low price. Hence altering perception.

With that in mind, a low cost, or free book will hold little or no perceived value to the reader.

If the same book is viewed at a higher price, the value is assumed to be greater.

In association, the assumption of quality is also presumed higher or lower in direct proportion the estimated value implicit.

This is my view and the principles I adhere too.

I shall charge a fair price for my books. Not a penny less.

Readers can buy them, or not.

BUT…. (The last one I promise), consider this:

Should I just sell one copy of one of my books this year, I would have made more money than you, giving a thousand copies away.

I’ll leave you to muse over this.

Sleep tight, 

Paul

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