There’s been a lot of talk on a loop for indie-published authors where I lurk about the practice of giving away FREE e-books. One side argues FREE is a smart promotional tool; readers who like the sample will buy the author’s backlist, leading to profits. The other side asserts that giving away FREE e-books causes readers to devalue the authors’ hard work, and furthermore, most of those FREE downloads are never read.
I doubt I’m a typical reader, but I bought my Kindle just before Christmas (when the $79 version came out) and as of today, I have about 110 books loaded on it. Of these, I paid for about 15 (though in several cases I only paid 99 cents), and I’ve read about 20.
My electronic TBR “pile” consists of several different categories of e-books. On the top are books written by my friends, including the Wild Writers. These I paid for, and will read as soon as I can. Unfortunately, between a fairly demanding day job and trying to fit in my own writing, I don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like for reading. Of course I’d have more time if I gave up watching TV… but I'll leave that topic for another post.
Next are novellas, which I find easier to squeeze in because they’re shorter - see above about lack of time.
Then there are FREE books I’ve downloaded to support members of the indie author community, and which I truly would like to read, but realistically speaking, in many cases that’s not going to happen for a long time… if ever.
I also have a number of craft books, which I may or may not ever use, but I thought enough of them to snap them up when they were FREE.
Finally, there are the books I expect I’ll never read, at least not all the way to the end. These are books that got terrible reviews from people I trust, so I’d never buy them, but when they were FREE, I downloaded them. My motive is the same reason people stare at car wrecks - morbid curiosity. I want to see if they’re as awful as I’ve heard.
In some ways I’m Exhibit A to the detractors of going FREE. I download a lot of FREE e-books that I may very well never read. But in this respect, my electronic TBR pile is no different from my “dead tree” TBR pile. Even though I’m somewhat selective, I come home from every RWA national conference with a major pile of books I’d love to read, but suspect I’ll never get to. However, unlike physical books, it doesn’t cost the author or publisher anything to give me FREE e-books. And it’s not like FREE is replacing a sale - if I had to pay for these book, I wouldn’t. Then there wouldn’t be any chance - however slim - that I’d eventually read them, love them, and buy more books by the same author.
So, readers, and writers, what do you think - is FREE a savvy business move, or the first step down the road to hell?