Friday, February 21, 2014

Writing: "For Free, Take..." Or Not

If you've ever been to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, you've probably seen the statue pictured here, a tribute to world-class surfer Duke Kahanamoku. Back in the day, Arthur Godfrey would frequently quote The Duke: "For free, take. For buy, waste time."

I've sometimes employed that logic when telephone solicitors call, but more recently I've even been skeptical of the free stuff. Really, is anything really free anymore?

Two different publishers have published my novels of medical suspense, and interestingly enough, they've had different philosophies about free book (e-books, that is). One used limited free offers to introduce readers to my work, the other preferred to discount books for specific periods but never give them away. And both had statistics to back up their stand.

One more thing: ten days ago, my current publisher offered my most recent novel, Heart Failure, as a $1.95 download for the two most popular e-readers. By the end of the day, that book was #2 in its categories on one site, #1 on the other. We'll have to wait to see what the actual sales figures are, but that's interesting.

So, fellow authors and readers of this blog, what do you think? Are free downloads a good marketing tool, or have readers become so jaded that they won't pay even a nominal fee for a book, hoping it will someday be free? You tell me.


Amy C said...

I think it is a good tool. As a reader, I won't pay money for a book if I haven't heard of the author before. But if the author has the book for free and I read and like the book, then that leads to me buying from the author, posting positive reviews and spreading the word about the author and their work. Which, I think, leads to sales for the author.
But I have seen some authors really dislike this type of promotion because they don't get paid.

Richard Mabry said...

Amy, It's a balancing act--copies of the print book are given away as part of contests, the e-book version is made available free or at a discount, all to get new readers. But the problem occurs when those giveaways or discounted sales don't translate into future sales at full price. I don't pretend to have the answer, and thus am happy to depend on the marketing people at the publisher who are supposed to. Thanks so much for your comment--and I hope you've learned to enjoy my books (even if it was from a free or discounted download).

Karen Collier said...

You raise some great questions on your blog. This one happens to be one I've been giving a lot of thought. I do think free ebooks can be a good promotion tool, but only if they're used carefully and in moderation.

I've been noticing various publishers' ebook promotion strategies for some time. I know of a couple of publishers that give away books indiscriminately (not just backlist titles or series starters, but also recent titles and 2nd and 3rd in series) for a day at a time, presumably to boost Amazon ratings. And I think that may actually hurt their sales in the long run, because when you see the second in a series for free, you can be pretty sure you'll find numbers 1 and 3 for free eventually too if you're patient, and in some cases I've noticed you don't even have to wait very long.

On the other hand, publishers that NEVER give away free books may be paying an opportunity cost in the new readers they don't find for their authors through the freebies they don't give out. Particularly when other publishers are so generously filling up readers' Kindles with freebies.

I think Bethany House may have hit upon a brilliant middle of the road option, and I'd love to see if their sales statistics support my theories. They give away backlist titles and series starters by authors with new books out that they want to promote. And they give away those titles, not just for a day but for months at a time, with an end date to the promotion clearly stated at the outset.

I would think this strategy would tend to help sales of more recent books (because readers can sample the author's work before buying, but they also aren't being trained to expect to get all the latest books for free). I also think the strategy of offering a single book for months at a time would tend to promote word of mouth. Looking at it from a reader's perspective, if I download a free ebook, I probably won't tell all my friends to go download it that same day because there are so many freebies out there and I don't know yet if this one will be any good. On the other hand, if it turns out to be a great book and it's still free when I've finished reading it, there's a much greater chance I'll mention it to a friend than if it had already gone back to full price. After all, I'd like to see my friend get a good deal too, and a great free book will naturally be more appealing to a friend than a great full priced book.

This is just guesswork, but I suspect freebies downloaded because of word of mouth would tend to be more likely to translate into sales of other books by the same author than freebies offered as single day promos, because the people who downloaded them on a friend's recommendation probably aren't the ones who make a habit of searching for (and filling their Kindles with) freebies on a regular basis, and are probably more willing to pay for another book by the same author if they enjoyed the one they got free. Again, pure speculation on my part.

If I were in charge of PR for a publishing house, I think I would carefully select 1-3 books at a time to offer as freebies for a period of a couple of months. I would choose to offer the first title in a series with a new title coming out, or a backlist title by an author with a new book coming out. And I would heavily promote the freebie at the same time and in the same places that I'm promoting the new book (scheduled to release right around the time the freebie promotion ends). Don't know for sure the strategy would work, but it seems to me more likely to work than some of the strategies I've seen.

My two cents. It's definitely an interesting question and I'm curious to see what other people will have to say on the subject.

Karen Collier said...

Sorry about the ridiculously long comment. I probably should've written my own blog post on the subject instead of a comment. Apparently I had more to say than I realized. LOL!

Richard Mabry said...

Karen, No need to apologize for the length of your comment. It was well thought out, and I appreciate your sharing it.

Vera Godley said...

I can understand "free" copies of books as giveaways on blogs and on author or publisher websites. On blogs, they are usually "paid for" by the blogger by a review being written and posted on the blog and a minimum of one commercial book selling site. Some hype is generated by the blogger as folks do want to get a free book. Hopefully, some interest in the author and their work is generated by the blogger's review and the entry requirements for the giveaway.

I fail, however, to see how giving away free e-books can generate sales of either the current book being offered free or others by the author. Of course, if someone falls in love with the works of an author their read via a free e-book, they will conceivably seek out future reads by the same. However, will they purchase the books or will they look for free e-books?

I can see sites such as Amazon offering freebies to download of stagnant titles or classic titles that just don't sell. I can see this as a marketing ploy used to beef-up the use of kindles and other readers. Once folks get used to carting around a whole library on one little device, the prices can be jacked up and the freebies virtually disappear. Will it happen? I expect so, at least to some degree.

So is using free copies of e-books (newly released especially) a good marketing tool? Personally, I think not. And personally, I am offended FOR the author who has put so much blood, sweat, and tears into his or her work.

Richard Mabry said...

Vera, Thanks for your comment. As you can see, opinions vary greatly on this subject (which is fine), which is another reason I'm happy to cede the decision-making to the folks who (supposedly) know what to do. Yet one more instance of "You don't buy a dog and bark yourself." I appreciate your comment, and all you do as a book blogger.

Pegg Thomas said...

I received a tablet for Christmas. I was brought into the 21st century kicking and screaming. But now that I have it, I'm developing all the book hoarding tendencies of my friends. I download free books. I haven't read most of them. And I don't buy nearly as many books now because I have all those freebies waiting to be read. Books I would have purchased before, now I don't. I'm not sure I'm happy with that, because I have passed on several I would have liked to read, but can't justify spending the money with so many unread books locked into that %$#@! tablet. I suspect I'm not alone.

Richard Mabry said...

Pegg, you are SO not alone. I have a Kindle (originally bought because it made it easy to read books sent to me in view of an endorsement) and Kay has an iPad. We download a bunch of free books, although I find that I most often get a dozen pages into them before deleting them. I also watch for discounted books. Of course, that's the idea--introduce people to new authors so they'll buy other books by those writers when they're offered at full (or almost full) price. Whether that works or not, of course, is the subject of this and similar discussions. Thanks for your comment.

Lacy J. Williams said...

As a reader, I have found several new favorite, "auto-buy their new books" writers through freebies. As I writer, I do see value in them and could talk a long time on that subject.
In my opinion, the ones that are done well and work are the start of a series and while the other books in the series may be discounted occasionally, they are mostly sold at full price, *not* offered free.
And the writing has to be stellar. I've downloaded many free books and read two or three chapters and deleted it because the writing wasn't good. And I'll never look for that author again.

Richard Mabry said...

Lacy, Good point. The sample, whether a free e-book or a highly discounted one, had better be good. As with a presentation to an agent or editor, you only have once chance to make a good first impression. I know of several books by authors whose work I love that, if I'd read them first, would have kept me from ever wanting to read anything else by that author.
Thanks so much for your comment.

Gwenyth said...

I bought the first book from you when it was free,and have since bought 3 others. As a pensioner I find that free books have allowed me to get many books and find out which authors I like. Many I have deleted after reading some of them but there are some I find I want to follow the authors. Thank you for having had a free book or I would not have found you as a writer

Richard Mabry said...

Gwenyth, I'm so glad you enjoyed the free book and the ones you've read since. Obviously, that's the idea behind those offers. I wish I could take credit for free or discounted books, but those are a collaboration between publisher and bookseller, with the author merely an interested bystander (except in the case of self-publication...but that's a whole other subject). Thanks for your comment.