Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Free Samples...Are They A Good Thing?

It's become an accepted thing nowadays. Walk through a grocery and see a man or woman in front of a tray bearing toothpicked goodies such as pizza bites, cheese, and other assorted food items. You take a sample, and they point to the spot nearby where you can buy the product. I have to confess that I sample frequently, buy sparingly. But that's just me.

Take that example further. You've invested in an e-reader--Kindle, Nook, Sony, whatever. Then you see an announcement on Facebook or Twitter or some other site that such-and-such book is a free download. Hey, you have the equipment, so you might as well use it. Right? If you don't like the book, you delete it. No harm done, and it hasn't cost you a penny.

From the standpoint of a reader, free book downloads are great. I take advantage of them all the time. But have you ever wondered if these opportunities pay off in future sales of other books by that author? I decided to query a few industry professionals, and as you might expect, the responses were poles apart.

On one hand, a representative of a publisher that offers free downloads on a regular basis assures me that they see an uptick on sales of other books by those authors right afterward. It's the same philosophy as sampling the goodies in the grocery. If you like it, you'll go back for more. They believe this, and can show the numbers to back up their contention.

The opposite viewpoint is set forth in a recent interview in Publisher's Weekly, where Thomas Nelson publisher Allen Arnold is quoted as saying, "Free e-books really don't have the effect of dramatic readership growth, even when thousands of copies are downloaded. That's because 'free' requires no commitment from the reader, and these titles, while downloaded, may never be read or a priority. Charging at least a minimal amount helps increase the odds that the reader is more interested in the content." This is an equally valid viewpoint.

Incidentally, some of you have asked, "Do authors control when or if free downloads are offered?" I know that my contracts don't give me this option, and I'm glad. I'd rather leave the decision to the professionals.

So the question remains unanswered, and I have to turn to you, my readers, for your opinion. Do you take free food samples in the grocery store? And, if so, how often do you buy the product? Taking it a step further, do you take advantage of free e-book downloads? And, if so, how often do you go back and buy more books by that same author? Chime in. I'm listening (and several publishers have told me they will be, as well).


Timothy Fish said...

One of my books was available for free the other day. I gave away more copies than I have sold of all of my books, combined. But I suspect most of those are people who intend to grab something free while they can. Considering the number of copies I gave away, there aren't very many people who decided to review the book. And I haven't seen book sales increase at all.

As a reader, I tend to stay away from the free books unless I know it is one that I want. I seldom, if at all, take free samples at the grocery store. But I love when free samples are delivered with the morning paper. I will say that I'm more likely to buy a product if I try it and like it, but that is rare.

Erica Vetsch said...

This was my question last year at the ACFW conference. And I received just those same answers. :)

I have to admit, Allen Arnold's comment rings true. I've downloaded free content for my Kindle, but those tend to get pushed further down the list in favor of books I've paid for.

Richard Mabry said...

Timothy, in contradistinction to your attitude, there are--unfortunately--people who grab every free download, then seem to enjoy trashing the book if they didn't enjoy it. I try to be more discerning, but still delete some free downloads after reading just a chapter or two. Apparently, the publishers that persist with free ebook samples think it's worth it. I'm not sure.

Erica, the responses I got were split, and the posts I chose were pretty representative. Since I'm not in charge of making these decisions anyway, I guess I'll just see how it all comes out.

Donna said...

I take advantage of free e-book downloads all the time. When I first got my Kindle a few years ago, I'd download just about anything. But it was filling up with stuff I had no intention (or time) of reading. But now, I primarily download the free e-books that people have recommended or written by authors I already know. Eight out of the last 10 e-books I've downloaded, I loved the story and the way the author wrote. So I added that book to my Amazon "wishlist" - not to buy that particular book (since I'd already downloaded it for free), but as a reminder to be on the lookout for future books from that author. In half of those cases, it was the author's second or third book, so I went back and paid for downloads of their previous works.

Katie said...

Honestly, if I get a free book download or whatever, I'm not necessarily more likely to buy more work by the same author BUT if I like it, I'll recommend it to others the same way I would with a book I paid for.

This question gets raised all of the time: if you have no intention of buying a glass, is it wrong to sample the wine at Olive Garden?

<>< Katie

Richard Mabry said...

Donna, You're doing what I think most people do. They only take the sample (whether book or pizza roll) if they have some interest. But if they like it, they may come back and buy some.
Katie, the word-of-mouth recommendation of a satisfied reader is probably worth more than a single sale, so maybe the free book is working. (And if you want the wine, feel free. I won't tell.)

Anonymous said...

I download free books to my nook that meet my criteria. If it is good, I usually end up buying the entire series. I'm impatiently waiting for Doctor Mabry's next book.

Richard Mabry said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment. As for my next book, it will be the first of my novels of medical suspense published by Thomas Nelson Co., and is scheduled for release early next year. (In case anyone wonders, the manuscript has been turned in, but next comes editing, cover design, etc. The wheels of the publishing industry grind slowly).

Karen (Mabrey) Finster said...

I frequently download free e-books and have discovered quite a few authors I now enjoy. In fact Dr. Mabry, after reading one of your Prescription For Trouble series, I paid for another. You kindly let me know when I could get another one for free. Now I am impatiently awaiting your newest. I've even surprised myself, gaining interest in genres that weren't as familiar to me, and purchasing books to complete a series I started through a free download.
So apparently it works for me.

LaDonna Rae said...

I'll admit I had never heard of you until Amazon offered one of your books as a free download. Because I'm picky about what I'm willing to allow myself to read, I first checked the publisher and then googled it to determine the type of material they typically publish. Seeing that it was a "Christian" or faith based publisher I downloaded the book, feel in love with your writing and have since not only recommended you to my friends and family...I've purchased several more of your books in the Kindle format. Typically I will only download the free Amazon books if: a) I've read the book, read other books by the author, recognize the publishing house and/or have researched the publishing house to know their books are "wholesome"...and if I have to research the author and/or publishing house then the flyleaf/ synopsis better grab me enough to make me wanna do the work.

Richard Mabry said...

LaDonna, You're absolutely a "poster girl" for the philosophy espoused by my former publisher. Glad you liked the writing, and hope you'll watch for my next series (from Thomas Nelson Publishers)--first novel due out early next year.