There’s a whole subculture surrounding free ebooks and I think many readers love them and many writers don’t.
I realize this is a generalization and it may not be entirely accurate, but I’ve got strong feelings about free ebooks. In particular, offering them and/or endorsing them.
See. Here’s the deal. I’m an author and I work hard (sweat, blood, and tears hard) to craft my stories. For me, it takes months (and months and months and months) to draft, edit, revise, tighten, edit again, revise some more, and edit one last time before a novel comes close to seeing the light of day. This involves countless hours and sleepless nights of thinking about craft, worrying about red herrings and tension, trying to remember details written earlier (and often months ago), and figuring out where the story needs to go while also keeping the reader engaged. It also involves shying away from get-togethers or nights out because of deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, and sometimes giving the impression that you’re a loner when all you want to do is hit said deadline. Yes, I have a day job, but I also LOVE writing and can’t imagine a day without it. I take it seriously, I set aside time to do it even when I don’t want to, and I’ll push around personal priorities to fit it in.
But writing is a job, too.
And this is why I will never (probably) endorse free ebooks. I understand the concept of loss leaders and encouraging readers to find you by offering a freebie. You know, the whole marketing thing that makes an author discoverable and that generates more reader interest and, you guessed it, increased sales (I’ve got decades of experience in marketing, so I GET IT). But here’s the hitch. Free books don’t equal sales. Yes, yes, I also understand the reasoning for wanting to generate interest in your work because it can generate sales for other books you’ve published or even future work. But would you hire a plumber to fix your leak—the one that’s spewing water all over your floor—for free? Would you sign on a carpenter to put a new addition on your home without charging you a penny? Or how about showing up for your day job and not accepting a paycheck?
Yeah. I didn’t think so.
Because you know as well as I do that we equate price with quality. Beyond that, we also equate price with quality work performed. You’re not going to show up for your day job—the thing that pays your mortgage or rent and puts food on your table and clothes on your back—and do it for free. So why do it for your writing?
And this is why I won’t retweet or share announcements about free books anymore. It occurred to me while I was buried in my writing notebook on the 5:54am train last week that, by the gods, there’s no way I will dilute the awareness of my stories when I’m working this damned hard. To me, it just feels wrong.
Go ahead. Throw stones at me. I can take it.
Oh, I know others will disagree. And that’s fine. But at this point in my writing career, I just can’t bring myself to give my books away for free or market another author’s work that’s also for free. Hate me for it if you want. Knock yourself out if you think I’m being closed-minded. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to support something that undermines an author’s value. We’ve been taken advantage of way too long in the publishing world already.
Yep. There are many ways to look at this freebie thing. And there are many ways for a writer to manage their business. For me, this isn’t one of them. 🙂
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I would agree that free books aren’t as effective as they used to be, and also believe there’s been a backlash among readers and authors against them. I did a free giveaway and got a review from someone who said she got it free, but she was surprised to find it was good. That tells me how she perceives free books. I also know I’ve downloaded free books and delayed reading them because I figured they probably weren’t that good, and was pleasantly surprised to be wrong in some cases (but also proven right in others).
However, I support other authors who choose to do it. First of all, I know personally some authors whose work got a big boost from free books. I also feel it’s up to the author to decide what they want to do with their work. I don’t believe free books devalue the market as a whole. The free book phenomenon is a fact of publishing now, and it’s not going away. Even the traditional publishers are starting to give away free books. Some readers will read nothing but free books, other readers will never read free books, and some readers will read free and paid books. Some free books will boost sales, others will not, and others will be in the middle.
The real solution will be for authors to find a way to promote their work that doesn’t involve giving them away or tweeting nonstop. Until a better way comes along, authors will resort to desperate tricks like these. That’s what I think we need to focus on.
There are a multiple of posts out in the blog world these days that share a single main theme – free e-book promotions are not working the way they used to. Period. No hard and fast rules but I tend to agree with you, Terri. Give something away for free and few people will value it. I’ve also read that when it comes to all these free downloads adding up to people reading a book – the stats aren’t great. Most people are downloading free books and never reading them.
Maybe there is a case to be made with a book series – put the first up as a lost leader to generate interest in the second – maybe. You’ve got to have a lot of confidence in the quality of that first book.
Everyone loves a sale but giving stuff away for free seems to devalue your own work and maybe that of others. The debate certainly seems to be going in the direction of the heyday of free e-books generating future sales as being dead.
Sigh. I wish I could find Konrath’s post (at least I think it was Konrath) about statistics that found that people were more likely to read a book they had purchased than downloaded for free. In the end, the message was simple: you want readers, not downloaders.
I’ve discovered quite a few authors (Charles Stross for example) who put free books up on Feedbooks – once established with a few books, particularly series, I can’t see the harm in putting the first in a series up. However, I’ve also bought quite a few at a couple of dollars too, so maybe it’s not so much free as cheap enough not to be annoying if you don’t like them.
I’d rather be read than not though. I’ve started to use leanpub for my own stuff, because I can engage with readers and iterate the book as I’m writing it – but ymmv.
Yay! Love this post and the previous comments. I’ve been against free ebooks from the beginning. I refused to participate in the Select program and I don’t promote others who are giving away free books for all the same reasons you cite.
As a reader, who has many author friends, I agree wholeheartedly. Why devalue your own product, by giving it away? Authors are small business owners and have bills associated with their business that have to be paid. “Free” does not equal “successful” or “quality,” in my opinion. It also does not translate into sales of the backlist – at least it hasn’t for me (with the exception of two authors, out of the myriad of free ebooks I’ve downloaded.)
I support price-reduction “sales” to coincide with the anniversary of the book’s release date, a new cover reveal, holidays, etc. But, NEVER “free.” I don’t give away my services as a Zumba instructor, unless it is a charitable donation, why should you give away your intellectual property?
I agree with you completely. I tried a promotional experiment about a year ago in which I dropped the price of my eBooks from $6.99 to $2.99 for sixty days. I saw no discernible jump in sales, and no drop when I restored the $6.99 price. I work hard to produce the best book I can in each case and won’t even discuss giving them away. It’s like the old line mothers used to give daughters (maybe they still do) that the boy won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free.
Why should you respect something that has no price? You have to give up something to get something.
Another issue that several writers have pointed out: There seems to be more and more data connecting free books and bad reviews. Many people will download a freebie no matter what genre it is, then give it a one-star review on Amazon or Goodreads simply because it’s a romance, SF, paranormal, western, mystery, memoir, or some other kind of writing they don’t ordinarily read.
I think free books do all writers a great disservice.
Thanks for this article. I agree wholeheartedly. I work like you do, writing, rewriting, taking out a word, a phrase, tightening, going back to listen to sentences, writing them again, doubting, agonizing and starting from the beginning one more time. And yes, it also takes me months and months and months – sometimes even years – to finish writing a book. And then to just give it away? Over my dead body.
As you say, we’ve been taken advantage of for too long in the publishing world… and let’s not even begin talking about the secretaries, publishers, editors, printers, publicists, cleaning staff, receptionists who work in a publishing house and earn enough to keep themselves in chow . And why do they all exist? Because of the writer. And what do most writers earn? And how many times are royalties not paid? I rest my case.
I think a lot of people are finding that the shine on free ebooks is fading, Terri. I wrote a similar post, but from a reader’s perspective, back in July. http://www.elisemstone.com/2013/07/no-more-free-books.html
As a writer, there’s another thing to consider. Do you really want to build an audience of people who “buy” free ebooks? And only free ebooks? That’s the audience you’re appealing to when you offer a book for free.
I don’t have quite the anger you do on free ebooks, but I’ve pretty much decided that, while I will run occasional sales on my books, I’ll never set the price to free. At least, not in this stage of my writing career.