WHEN FREE E-BOOKS GO BAD by Maree Anderson (for Writers Gone Wild)
Have you ever noticed that as soon as something's given away for free, it seems to spur people to react in ways they'd probably wouldn't if they'd paid good money for the product? It's like they suddenly have a... what's a good word to describe this? Maybe a sense of entitlement? By that I mean that even if it was a freebie, if the product doesn't live up to their expectations, they feel compelled to bad-mouth it to the world.
Since I'm an author, it's not a stretch to guess the products I'm referring to here are books. Specifically, eBooks. And even more specifically, eBooks that, for whatever reason, the authors have decided to make into "loss leaders" by offering them to readers via various e-tailers for free.
From my experience, authors usually select a "loss leader" (often the first book in a series) in the hope of encouraging readers to try other books from the same author. We're told offering a free book to potential readers is a good marketing ploy....
Or is it?
What I'm seeing more and more on forums and writing loops lately leads me to believe that offering that book you've slaved over for months--or maybe years--for free can backfire in a big way. I've seen many comments suggesting that if readers pay say, $4.99 for an ebook and then don't like it for whatever reason, they won't go to the trouble of leaving a less-than-complimentary online review. They'll just shrug and take it on the chin. But once a book is offered free, for some reason it becomes a whole 'nother story.
It's like as soon as some people (Wild Readers excluded of course!) see that $0.00 price-tag, they go mad "buying" the kind of stories they'd never usually look at in a million years, in genres they actively loathe with a passion that should only be reserved for consuming chocolate or your favorite alcoholic tipple. And then for some reason I can't yet fathom, these people get totally POed when they don't like what they've "bought", even though it cost them nothing.
Books that have garnered glowing reviews--and by that I mean genuine reviews from genuine readers who were moved enough by a story to log in and leave reviews because they loved the book--suddenly get a slew of 1-star reviews and somewhat scathing comments that'd make even my dead straight hair curl. It's almost as though some people feel its their duty to pull the book apart in a very public manner, and tell the world how much they hated it, solely because they got it for free.
Free books also seem to attract far more than their fair share of the kind of frustrating comments that make it blazingly clear the reader didn't take any notice whatsoever of the blurb and/or the genre of the book. For example, complaining about graphic sex in the story when it's clearly stated in the blurb etc that it's an erotic romance or erotica. Complaining the story is too short, when it's clearly stated to be a novella or short story AND the word count is clearly stated, too. Complaining about the lack of a HEA in what's clearly a series with a three-book arc. Or how about this one--my favorite WTF moment discussed recently on a loop--a reader complaining she bought an incomplete story that cuts off after chapter two... when the "incomplete story" was actually the excerpt from the next book in the series included at the end of the original (and totally complete) story. The mind boggles.
But the thing that floors me the most is hearing about readers on forums talking about how ALL self-published books blow chunks, and they shouldn't be allowed to exist. (They're a lot less polite than that, BTW.) Their solution? They make a point of "buying" free books and returning them as some kind of message to the authors about how much their self-published books suck.
Wow. That takes dedication. Who's got time to do that? Not me. And hey, it was, you know, FREE. So really, what's the big deal?
I appreciate reading honest reviews--everyone's allowed their own opinion. And so long as the reviews aren't all complaining about poor formatting and loads of spelling mistakes and grammar errors throughout, a 1-star review isn't a deal breaker for me. It's not going to stop me from buying a book I like the look of. And I don't know 'bout you, but honestly, if it turns out an eBook I've bought isn't to my taste, then that's tough. I figure I should have read the blurb and the product info page more carefully, perhaps perused the reviews, or even *gasp* used that handy dandy Look Inside the book feature to read a chunk of the book before buying. Okay, yeah: I admit I've got that whole caveat emptor thing going on *g*
Bottom line? For me, doesn't matter if I paid for the eBook or if it's a freebie. If it's not to my taste, the only action I tend to take is to delete the eBook from my eReader and move right on to the next one.
But that's me. And here's the thing: I'm considering making one of my published books a "loss leader". So I'm eager as all heck to get an insight into readers' minds when it comes to free eBooks. And you and I both know I'm such a Speshul Snowflake that I cringe at the prospect of 1-star reviews and people who don't usually read my genre tearing my books apart online because they didn't check out the product page properly and the story didn't meet their expectation. And the mere thought of all those soul-destroying returns just makes me want to howl. (I've only had two returns on Amazon to date, and each time I was gutted.)
- So tell me Wild Readers, what do you think about free books in general?
- Have you ever returned a free book?
- Have you ever written a review for a free book offered as a loss leader?
- Have you ever gone on to buy more books from that author?
- Would you bother writing a review for a free book you took a chance on, and ultimately disliked?
- Am I worrying about nothing, and is this entire post utter nonsense? (A distinct possibility considering I'm still detoxing after all that chocolate I scoffed over Easter *cough* amine challenge *cough*)
Thanking you in advance for your always insightful comments,