Thursday, 29 August 2013

Why give books away for free?

The Lethal Oath (The Viking Series #1)
For some days copies of The Lethal Oath were
 available at Amazon for free.
Two weeks have gone since the period of free copies of The Lethal Oath ended. Afterwards I've been asked why I gave e-books away for free. The short answer to that question is: promotion. However, in a Google+ post one of my friends answered that he had downloaded at least fifty free e-books without reading any of them.

Claiming that the chances of reading a book is  greater when you have paid for it, he wrote: "I think it is because I have so many print books and e-books that I have actually paid for and rewarded the author for their efforts. I think if you pay for something you want to get your money's worth out of it, whereas if you don't pay for it, it doesn't matter if you never read it."

I tend to agree with him. I believe we are more likely to start reading a book we have paid for. But we don't read in order to satisfy the author, but to reassure ourselves that the book we bought was worth the price; that it will give us a good read.

On the other hand: How many free books haven't we read over the years? Books we have got from others, presents, books lent from friends, or at the library, or classics downloaded from the Internet?

OK, we may have a more positive attitude towards a book we have bought (hoping we haven't wasted our money), but usually when we have started reading, it doesn't matter if the book is free or paid for. What matters is whether the book is good or bad.

Traditional publishers give many books away for free; sometimes hundreds of books are given to journalists, critics, retailers and other important actors in the literary circuit. The reason? To get reviews, publicity, and more readers.

For self-publishers the situation is different. The greatest challenge for most new indie authors is to get anyone to read their book(s) at all. Which is very understandable. The online bookmarked is vast and it is difficult to be noticed among the millions of books and hundred thousands of authors. If some potential readers and buyers happen to see your book, they don't know who you are, they have never heard of your book, and if they also notice that the book has few reviews and ratings, they are likely to ignore it and keep on browsing.

I have no illusions about free e-books: most of them will never be read. But if, say, one out of twenty among the hundreds of readers that download my book give it a try. Well, then I have more readers. If they don't like my book, then I have a problem. But if they do like it, they might tell their friends about it, review it, give it a rating etc., etc. The visibility of my book will increase – a little.

And all those who din't read the downloaded book? Well, they have seen the cover, noticed my name, and read the title of the book. If they happen to stumble over the name or the title again, maybe they start reading after all?


  1. As my comment on one of your Google+ posts indicates, I am very interested in how many free ebooks are actually read. Recently I went through my Kindle and noticed I had about 20 unread free ebooks and I reckon they will stay that way. I have read one free ebook, but that was because I was a member of the same small online writing group, it proved to be very good, with a few typos. I sent the author a $9 donation. Its author has since been offered a contract with Harper Collins. I am also currently reading an ebook I won in a competition, which I would have bought anyway as it is a sequel to a novel I enjoyed. I have an economics degree and I think that there was some concept called something like "perceived value", I am yet to check this out, but I think the concept goes along the lines that the more you pay for something the more likely you are to value and use it. So the more you pay for a book the more likely you are to read it. A book given to you as a gift also has the percieved value of how much you think it might have cost. Anyway, I am not against writers giving their books away to try an promote them. I am a bit against them selling them too cheap, I have a policy of not paying less than $4.99 for an ebook - this is more my attempt to discourage a race to the bottom on price by authors. One interesting thing I did read in regards to giving an ebook away, is that it may fall into the hands of someone, due to its freeness, who does not normally read that type of book or who has an issue with free ebooks, and then it might receive a bad review. Personally, I don't take much notice of reviews on Amazon, due to the fact that I have written a few for "friends" and tend to up the star rating. But as I said on your Google+ post, I would be very interested in a comprehensive survey on how many downloaded free ebooks get read.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Graham. I would also like to know if anyone has surveyed the reading of free e-books, but I would also like to know more about the concept you mention: “perceived value”. Some time ago I bought a four-ebook-bundle of George R.R. Martin’s first four books in the Game of Thrones series. Special price: $13.49. I thought it was a bargain, and I enjoyed the books immensely ( ) I don’t think I have enjoyed them more or less if I had bought them one by one for $12.99 each. But maybe a well-known author’s name also adds to the “perceived value”?
      I have always wondered about pricing. I write short novels (around 125 printed pages) and have set the price to $2.99. But I see that many full-length novels are sold for the same price, especially by indie authors. Novels of recognized authors are usually priced much higher ($10.99, $13.61, $14.99 etc.), so the price may in itself be a signal of quality?
      Not that I think I'm in the same league as Martin and the best authors, but maybe a price at $4.99 for my books would be just as attractive for readers anyway?

  2. It surprises me that people say they don't read free e-books they download.. What is the purpose of downloading an e-book if you have no intention of reading it? I find them valuable when I want to read an author I've never read before. I have found some very good authors this way. I don't download a book, free or not, if I have no intention of reading it. Doesn't make sense to me! And friend or not, why should I give a 5 star review if it's not 5-star? Who is that helping? Just Sayin'

    1. I have read many free e-books over the years, but I must admit that have also downloaded many a book with the intention of reading it then forgetting about it and eventually deleting it. I don't just as easily delete a book I have paid for.

    2. I'm one of those who downloads more free ebooks than I'll ever read. I have good intentions when I download it, but as often or not, there's a time limit on the download and I jump on it "just in case" - but as time passes and the press of books I know for sure I want to read grows, it just stays on my iPad, unread and often unopened.

  3. I am also a culprit of downloading free ebooks then not reading them. I think that for this medium, the right approach may very well be that taken by Stephen King a few years ago, where he offered the book as a serial that people could pay what they felt it was worth.

    I would take it a step further, offer people to pay for it what they can and/or provide feedback and that way you are engaging the readers. It may also minimize the number of folks who will download the book and not read it.

    1. From one point of view it doesn't matter much if quite a lot of the free books stay unread: No income is lost by it. But I think many self-publishers are lured into believing that many downloads will necessarily will lead to lot of publicity.

  4. I have two novels enrolled in Amazon's KDP so I have offered free e-books in the past. I am debating whether to continue this practice as it doesn't seem to help the sell of my books. Furthermore, I have never gotten a review from doing this. All of my reviews have been from physical book giveaways on Goodreads and recommendations from Goodreads. The problem with the free e-books is that there are so many out there. It is too easy to load up a Kindle and never get to all the books.