Book News: Free or Not to Free? That is the question!

For those of you who have hung around here a while, you probably know that I have made the first book of each of my two book series free, at least with every outlet I can do so.  Now, the obvious intent of this was to stick my foot in the door, to provide a free sample to entice readers and lure them in to read the rest of each series.  It certainly does seem to have spread interest a fair bit and I’m seeing a slow trickle from the free books to the pay books.

Also, you probably know I am very close to wrapping these initial trilogies (a term I am loathe to use because I fully intend to revisit both of these fictional worlds down the road).  What I wonder is if I should continue to keep those first books free?  At least after perhaps a month or so of the series completion.

Putting a window on the free books might create a rush of activity, a sense of urgency to get a toe in the door, pushed on by the knowledge that, YES, this series IS complete.  At the same time, would the good will generated by that openly free book be crushed by suddenly cutting off the tap?  I admit that I don’t have the marketing skills to really gauge the risk factor here.

So, any of you writers, editors, publishers, literary folk, do you have any insights on this?  Is it better to keep that gateway open for impulse readers to grab a free book and get hooked?  Or decide that it’s time to cut off the free lunch line?

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13 comments

  1. I believe in generous samples. I’ll complete a sample upon request, for a particular purpose, such as an offer to review, or to support someone who’s doing a reading challenge. But I think standing freebie offers undermine our Art, and encourage theft, especially if copyrights aren’t registered.

    Since you’ll have several our there, why not switch to a BOGO offer?

    1. Thanks for the input and that’s one of the big reasons I am considering switching out the freebies. It may be time to pull out the sample tray, so to speak.

      The BOGO idea is interesting and I may consider it. For now, my thought is that, unless I get a good argument otherwise, is switch my free books to paid maybe a week after the end of each series and do a blanket ‘This is your last chance’ sort of thing.

  2. Hello! My friend and I write sic-fi/dystopian (check out our blog if you want). The free thing… hmmmmmm….

    James and I do free promos, but we want to sell our writings. Why? Well, we do not need the money – we both have full-time jobs and writing (right now) is our hobby and part-time gig. Plus, our writings are not expensive.

    We believe that if someone pays for something, it becomes valuable. If a reader pays for a book, novel, article, short story, etc., it becomes somewhat valuable – “I am going to read this because I paid for it.”

    I am an English teacher in my state’s community college system. In most cases, my students who pay out of their own pocket generally get higher grades and learn more. Why? Because they invest in their education. I paid for my education myself, so I take it (I still use my degrees) seriously.

    I hope this helps. Freebies from time to time are nice, but setting a price is valuable as well. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your insights! I already do follow your blog and your FB page by the way. Good stuff!

      That idea of value that both you and Christine pointed out is the thing that has niggled in my brain for some time now and is the motivating factor for my thought of finally ending the free books. It’s taking something of value to me and of value to the readers and making it valueless.

      1. PLUS – – think about this – – You worked sooooo hard on those books. They shouldn’t always be free. Your hard work should be compensated.

        But again, James and I do not need royalty money. We just want people to read our stuff. An occasional freebie is okay, but your hard work should be recognized. 🙂

  3. I have a novella that is free virtually everywhere except Amazon, where it’s priced at $1.99. If Amazon would let me put it out for free, I would. My second book isn’t free and other than a couple of promotional events, isn’t ever going to be. I just completed a sequel to the first book, which also isn’t ever going to be free.

    What I’m hoping happens is that that free book drives sales to the other two; I won’t have solid evidence of this working, I think, until I have some data on that third book. I don’t mind losing some money up front if it makes me money down the road.

    1. That was my initial thought. I figured that it would take enticement to get people to pick my book out from the cloud of indie books and then, if they had a chance to read it, they might get hooked and invest in the entire series.

      I’m just not sure how to parse it. It’s been four months since the real release of my books (I don’t even really count the first editions anymore) and, while I’ve had pretty brisk free downloads, it’s been at most a trickle to the second book in the series. I’m hoping to get more insights through this thread to make up my mind between the two warring ideas: value vs. marketing.

      Thank you for your thoughts and insights!

  4. It’s an interesting conundrum, all right. Do you have any idea what the actual readership level is for the free downloaded books, eg, reviews or comments? If it’s low, that might give credence to the ‘no value perceived in a free book’ argument. My own practice is to not make my novels free (apart from in very limited giveaways). I do make the short stories (5,000 to 8,000 words) free, as their only purpose is to introduce readers to me.

    1. An excellent question. It’s hard to say, simply because I don’t have much of a metric for comparison. My free books have, totally sources, have gotten about 1,500 or so downloads over the past 4 months, between two titles. I have a smattering of reviews, all excellent (4 to 5 stars, and only 2 of those reviews being solicited from bloggers), but still, between sources, only about 4 or so reviews per book.

      I mean, for going from a total unknown to a writer, but without an outside metric to measure that against, it’s hard to tell if that is good, bad, or normal.

      Something a friend suggested I may go with is to make the books pay, but increases the sample size that can be downloaded for free to a much larger number than default. Essentially a large enough chunk that people can get a much better idea of the quality of the book, but still require them to pay to get the full novel.

      1. It is definitely hard to measure engagement. For my own books, I would say only about 1 in 80 genuine readers (ie, not bloggers) who buy a book will review it. I assume that because they bought it, rather than downloaded it for free, they did in fact read it.
        I think your larger sample size is a good idea. On Smashwords I make the sample larger than Amazon’s 10%. Of course, on Amazon a buyer can always return the book within 7 days — plenty of time to read the whole thing. But that’s another issue!

        1. Thanks. So far, it seems to be the smart way to go that meshes the most with the advice I have gotten from all sides, both here on my blog and through other resources. I’m still going to sit on this for a week, let the brain stew on it a little and see if any more input comes in.

  5. I can respect the view that any kind of freebie devalues writing as a whole, but to be honest I think it’s too late to close that door now. It’s always been my plan to release a series of books and have the first one free; that doesn’t mean I don’t fear it being hoovered up and laying beside a hundred other free offerings on someone’s kindle, though. Certainly there is a new kind of reader who, curiously, doesn’t actually read.

    Many, many blogs from both pros and polished amateurs have told me this is the way to go, however. Much though it galls to give away something you’ve worked so hard on!

    1. Thank you for the insights!

      Yes, I too have seen similar advice and, frankly, all advice in between. Even stranger, I’ve had readers come down on both sides of the issue (I love free stuff vs. I’m wary of free literature). It really is rather hard to chart a course with all that conflicting information.

      Still eager to glean more insights and opinions. I’m not going to make a move until the end of this week at the least.

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