Monday, September 26, 2011

Are Free Books Worth The Cost?

In the beginning of July, I had an idea to help promote my books. I decided to make Copy Bird free on Amazon. It's quite a process to get Amazon to offer your book for free, because they require a price of $0.99 US or higher to sell eBooks with them. I got around this by putting the story up for free on Smashwords, which in turn makes it free to the retailers that Smashwords distributes to, such as Apple, Sony, and Kobo. When Amazon's bots find the book cheaper on other sites and/or you tell them that another site is selling the book cheaper on the book's Amazon product page, they will match it.

Copy Bird went free on Amazon in the beginning of August. I thought it was a resounding success! So much so that I made this face:

Note: Photo not taken at actual time of free offer.

During the time that it was free, about a month and a half, around 4,800 eBooks sold. Of course, the money I made on those sales was a big, fat zero. But, I reasoned this would give me good exposure, and hopefully lead to people buying my other books.

Did this happen? I'm not sure. I can say that August was my highest selling month for paid books ever. But, between 4,800 free sales and 22 paid sales, if it did have an effect it was extremely small. Also, if you look at the Copy Bird product page on Amazon, check the "People Who Purchased This Also Purchased..." section. As you can see, all the eBooks, save a few, are free.

Which means this: People looking for free books are only looking for a handout! I do not believe that these people intend to buy other works by the author if they like the free book. Most likely, these people only want what is free, and that's where they go. Not a problem, I understand that, but I do not think offering your book for free on Amazon will help your long-term sales.

I also wonder how many of the 4,800 people who bought Copy Bird actually read it. I received four fresh reviews from the sales. One was 2-Stars and the others were in the 4 to 5-star range. Those who reviewed it appeared to like it. Did they buy more from me? I doubt it. Because again, I believe they will find what they want for free because there are a lot of authors willing to throw their books up for reading at no cost because they think it will gain an audience. I was in this same camp. But not anymore. Part of me feels like I've been taken advantage of by the readers I long to gain. I devalued my work for their benefit, and they don't care. They just wanted what was free. That caused me to make this face:

Note: Again this represents emotions from the past.

To put it simply: I want to get paid. From this point forward, if I do work, I expect to receive payment. Because when a reader parts with their money to be entertained by me, it shows that they care. They invested in what I write. Readers who pay for their books care about the writer and value their efforts. That's the audience I want to gain; one that understands the hard work. (Don't even get me started on Pixel Of Ink and their "hard work" to find whatever free eBooks they can and broadcast it to the world. Great job there! I'm sure that system's going to keep people writing and self-publishing. Please note my sarcasm.)

I'm urging every reader to consider what it means when you get something free from an author, and you never intend to show them you're appreciative. If you aren't going to buy anything else from them, fine. At least write a review to help them out. But don't take advantage of them.

I'm urging every author out there to not sell yourself short. You might think it's a good idea to release a free book, and maybe it's worked out well for others. At the end of the day, what are you saying about your writing? You might gain an audience that you don't want. That audience is looking for a free handout, and they won't come back if you charge them at any point.

If there is a silver lining in any of this, it's that Copy Bird got boosted in Amazon's system. Because so many people "bought" it, once it went back up to $0.99, it started getting recommended to people browsing for books. Copy Bird is finding an audience, and there is some benefit to offering the book for free, despite my complaints above. In the nine days it has been "revalued", I've sold a good number of copies (Look for my September sales numbers posts this Saturday for specific numbers). That's the audience I want. The people who see a short story, think it looks interesting, and they buy it. Really buy it, too. To those people, I say thank you. Thank you for taking a chance on my hard work and showing that you're willing to join me on a journey with my fictional tale. Those are the real readers that care. Those are the people I want reading my books. Those readers cause me to make this face:

[caption id="attachment_1992" align="aligncenter" width="490" caption="Note: This is how I currently feel!"][/caption]