Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Should Indie Authors Give Their e-Books Away?




I admit to coming into this blog with my mind made up, but to be fair, I did some research and read some articles. There are people who believe that giving e-books away is a good thing and some who don’t, so I’m going to present both arguments in brief form.

There are some good reasons to have free e-book giveaways. First, in theory, it’s a way to get more reviews. When people read the freebie, some will review it. Second, it’s a way to develop deeper customer relationships by directing readers to newsletters, webpages, or author pages for interaction. Third, it could motivate the e-book reader to actually purchase a printed version if they genuinely enjoyed the e-book. Fourth, in theory, it could motivate readers to purchase additional books by the same author, especially if the free book is part of a series. Fifth, of all the gazillion titles available on Amazon, the vast majority aren’t free, so free books could possibly zoom up the charts and get exposure that an author could never get for purchased books. After the free days, and the book is re-priced for purchase, sometimes there are residual sales, so that is when royalties would be made. And sixth, it gives unknown authors an opportunity to get their books into the hands of people who otherwise have never heard of them and wouldn’t be willing to risk money to give the author a chance.

So what are the reasons given to not have free e-books giveaways? The first reason is that the market place has become oversaturated with daily free e-books. Books are no longer zooming up lists and having the residual effects that they once were having. Secondly, because consumers are seeing so many free titles available, over time, they are beginning to devalue the worth of books. Free books are so abundant, that readers are less and less willing to spend money. Thirdly, the free book giveaways, especially in the flooded market, are not doing what they are supposed to do—get reviews, develop customer relations, and generate sales on printed versions or other works by the author. Fourthly, no other professionals in the book business are expected to work for nothing. Editors, designers, promoters, publishers, bloggers, and advertisers are all making money on an indie author’s books. If the author hadn’t created the book, there would be no need for anyone else, so why is the author the only one who isn’t expected to make money? Fifthly, what other profession do we ask the proprietors to give their work away for free? An author puts in time, sacrifice, worry, and discipline. An author develops and perfects and practices his or her skills and craft. What an author does is worthy of compensation. Finally, people are accumulating so many free books that there is almost no chance that they’re reading them, but even if they do, and they like a specific author’s book, there are so many other free books available, that they’ll wait around for the author’s next giveaway, rather than purchasing the books.
shameless self-promotion
I have to say, as I researched and wrote the pros and cons, my opinion didn’t change. I don’t think authors should do free book giveaways. I’ve given two books away—my first two of five that I’ve published. I gave the second one away first, and it worked—about four full years ago. A couple thousand people downloaded it. Afterward, in the next few months, my sales improved dramatically. I made some money. I didn’t see an increase in the sale of my first book, however, and though I kept waiting for reviews, there were only a couple that may have been from the free downloads. About six months later I tried my first book. The number of downloads was embarrassingly low compared to Skeleton Key. I saw no sales jump in either of my books, and I didn’t get a single review that I felt might have come from the giveaway. It didn’t work at all. So I’ve had both experiences. But I was a newbie. I wanted to get my book in people’s hands, and I had more than one book, so I thought giving one away would help sell the other also. Times have changed in the last four years, however, and now I don’t like the idea at all.

Here are my reasons.

First of all, though I’m sure there are many exceptions and many people will disagree, what I’ve been reading and hearing is that most authors are seeing no significant evidence that giving away their books is getting them additional reviews and the expected increase in sales once the book is no longer free. For other books the author has written, there is little to no increase in the amount of sales either. It used to work better, so why are the numbers low now? I think it’s because the market has been bombarded with free books. People download gobs of them and never read them. Do you know what books they read first? Books they pay for. Those are the ones they’ve invested in. I’ve downloaded a ton of free books. I don’t think I’ve read any of them unless they were from new author friends or were books friends recommended. I have so many paperbacks on my shelves and books on my Kindle that I purchased because I genuinely want to read them that I doubt I’ll ever get to the freebies. That means I won’t buy the author’s next book. I won’t review it. If I ever read it, it might be years from now.

Secondly, there are so many free books on the market that I could go without ever purchasing another book if I so chose. The market is saturated with them. I have an author friend whose writing I love. I’ve read three or four of her books, but I have nine of them on my Kindle. She keeps writing good books, and she keeps giving them away, and I keep downloading them. I’m not cheap. I purchase lots of books, but when I see hers for free, I nab them in case I get a chance to read them someday. I have another author friend who gave away a zillion free books years ago when she first started writing. People were buying them too. It worked. Then her second book came out and she gave it away also. And a lot less people bought that one. After her third book—which she also gave away—she reached the conclusion that her “fans” were just waiting for her to eventually give her new books away. It was like she had to start all over and find a new fan base because she was hardly making any sales.

My third reason is not theoretical or disprovable like my first two. My third reason that books shouldn’t be free is that it devalues the product. I spend hundreds of hours on my books, researching, interviewing, planning, writing, revising, editing, and promoting. I, like most authors, have even invested my own money driving, purchasing swag, and paying editors, bloggers, advertisers, and designers. Why do I spend all that time and money producing a work of art that I’m proud of and everyone but me makes money off it? Editors aren’t editing for free. Designers aren’t designing for free. I think you get the point.

Fourth—a point similar to my third—is that giving away the books devalues the author’s effort. Every other person in the world wants to get paid for their work. I go to craft shows and art shows to sell my books in public quite often. People aren’t walking through the show expecting all the vendors to give them their products. Those vendors spent their valuable time and resources creating the products, but more importantly, they put their talent into the work. Athletes, musicians, and actors get paid for their time and talents. Authors should too. But the more people who give away their books, the less a consumer is willing to pay for others.



I understand the theories that a new author wants to be discovered or authors want to get more reviews or authors believe by giving away one book, people will purchase their others. However, from what I’m gathering, those things used to happen but are no longer a guarantee. People with multiple books are seeing consumers wait around for the next free book. I’m convinced that there are Kindle and Nook download addicts that download book after book without any expectation of reading them, and authors are giving away book after book because a handful of fortunate authors praise the idea of giving them away. Some authors actually pay advertising companies to promote their free book! People with one book are actually giving it away, and there is nothing new for their readers to buy.

Here’s one more thing to consider. Every day I get emails from advertisers like Read Freely, Read Cheaply, Free Booksy, Free Kindle Books and Tips, and The E-Reader CafĂ©. Lately, I’m seeing books by some really well-known authors. I saw The Maze Runner recently, for instance. Those books have yet to be free. They’re surrounded by titles by indie authors for free, yet the well-known authors’ books are not. They’re discounted, but not free. Do you think the authors who are making money know something that we don’t? I think they realize that giving away books is no way to be compensated for all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into their work.


If you’re an indie author and you’re thinking of giving away your books, how about giving them away to people who promise to do a review or as gifts in contests for people who follow your author page and interact with you personally? How about giving them to libraries or proofreaders or beta readers or family members or friends who you know will talk you up? If you want to do a special promotion, just discount your book. I know I, for one, am far more likely to read your book if I pay for it. And isn’t that what you want me to do? Read it? As this market of free books continues to explode, it’s beginning to put the rest of us out of business. You and I deserve to make some money on the ten or twenty or fifty hours of entertainment we give our readers. We need to stop letting everyone else make money off our books while we don’t. Remember, without our books, none of those other people could make a cent. Giving it away minimizes what we’ve done, so I’m standing on my soapbox calling out that we need to stop the insanity—or at least slow it to a trickle. I’m of the firm opinion that e-books have monetary value.