Indie Authors & eBooks: Freedom to be Free

No money needed for free ebooksSince the first indie authors figured out a way to make their eBooks free on Amazon, other indies have been badmouthing them. Some of the same authors – with an assist from traditionally published authors, their publishers, and various publishing pundits – have been making the same arguments about cheap eBooks. (Cheap being 99 cents, $2.99, or whatever is less than what that particular whiner thinks is the “right price.”)

There are plenty of good reasons why authors might want to make one of their books free or relatively cheap, whether for a limited time or for the foreseeable future. There are also bad reasons to do so. An indie author considering this should understand their rationale for how they price their book, have reason to believe this will accomplish what they’re hoping for, and a way to measure whether or not it is working. Just as any good businessperson would do when making pricing decisions on their products.

Many of the reasons naysayers give for free being evil are illogical and don’t hold up to the barest amount of scrutiny. They demonstrate a misunderstanding of how business works (no, publishing isn’t a special snowflake with different rules) and consumer behavior. Sometimes they’re just delusional. Or maybe I’m being a big meanie and they just need a little education. So here’s my response to some of the more erroneous and pervasive objections I’ve seen.

Making readers less likely to buy my reasonably priced book aka “the reason I’m not selling any books”

Here are two watches for women currently available on Amazon. Right now this one can be yours for only a penny (plus $4.99 for shipping).


Don’t like that one, then grab this one made by Zenith. What a deal. Not only do you get free shipping, but they’ve marked it down from the list price of $200,000 to just $116,000, more than 40% off. Only one left in stock. Better hurry before it’s gone.

Zenith Watch

If neither one of these is right for you there are hundreds more ranging in price from pennies to just shy of ninety-thousand bucks. Most people I know who wear watches own very few (possibly only one) and buy a new one infrequently. Is the Zenith company complaining that they aren’t selling enough of their watches because that pretty little pink number is available for a fraction of their asking price? Seems pretty silly, doesn’t it? If you’re one of those who complains about cheap or free, you’re doing the same thing. Price is only one factor consumers consider when deciding whether or not to make a purchase.

Spending under a dollar for someone else’s book is unlikely to convince a reader not to spring the four or five dollars for yours if they want to read it. Book buying isn’t zero sum. Buying watches might be close since most watch buyers don’t buy two. Your bigger competition is everything else a reader might spend their discretionary dollars on. That includes video games, movies, music, a night out on the town, or even that double tall skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks that everyone likes to compare the price of their book to.

Lowering standards of the industry

I see this mentioned, but I don’t understand it. I’ll concede that the ability to self-publish has lowered the quality of the average published book. Some indie authors are as good or better at telling a story than the average traditionally published author, others aren’t. Some take their book through a polishing process that meets or even exceeds that of a traditional publisher. (I can name at least one author whose books go through multiple editors, a team of beta readers, and at least four rounds of proofreading before release.) Others throw up the first draft, hopefully (but it appears not always) after doing a spell check. Yet I’ve seen books by the authors with a rigorous publishing process at a rock-bottom price, sometimes even free. The worst indie book I’ve read, and it really is no contest, is significantly more than ninety-nine cents. As I’m writing this, several of the best-selling traditionally-published Kindle books are available for $3.99 instead of the nine or ten dollars we’ve come to expect from the Big 5. A book lacking in quality had that problem before it had a price attached. Raising the price isn’t going to improve a faulty book. Lowering the price of a stinker might move a few more books, but pricing decisions and book quality are two different, largely unrelated subjects.

Giving consumers unreasonable expectations / A race to the bottom / Devaluing books

The devil on one shoulder wants to just point at the watches above again and be done. The fact that you can have that pink fashion statement for a fiver might be the reason for the drastic reduction in the other watch, starting the race to the bottom, but I doubt it. I also realize that’s not the point people are trying to make with these claims. Each one seems logical at first. Then you realize they all play to the emotions, painting a scenario that will provoke a visceral reaction in many authors and book lovers. On the surface, it seems like a plausible result. At least until you apply a modicum of critical thinking.

We’re only in the beginning stages of determining what the proper price range is for eBooks. From the author’s perspective, it is whatever maximizes your total income. At least if you’re approaching this like a businessperson with cash-in-hand as your top goal. If your goal is to be read by the most people, the right price might be free. For some books and authors, a high profit per book with low sales might be the answer while for others it is a low price point with the difference made up in volume. Still others might have a book they can’t even give away.

The reality is that if a reader wants your book enough they’ll pay any reasonable price. I can point to countless readers with more books in their to-be-read list than they could read in their remaining days, yet if a book grabs their attention they’ll spring for it and move it to the top of their reading list. It won’t matter whether it costs 99 cents or $6.99. That they just picked up another book for free doesn’t mean they’re out of the market. Books are not watches. Readers are always looking for their next read.

If a plethora of free books was going to cause all of the problems, the complainers would have been dead in the water before that first pioneer indie figured out how to make his or her book free. Project Gutenberg has existed for over forty years. They have in the neighborhood of 50,000 books available for nothing. Among these books are Pride and Prejudice, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You’ll find book by authors like James Joyce and Walt Whitman for the taking and can read about what Lewis Carroll imagined Alice was up to in Wonderland without spending a cent. A reader who doesn’t want to pay for an eBook can go the rest of his/her life without doing so, never run out of reading material, and steer clear of Amazon entirely. Let’s be realistic. You’re no Walt Whitman. Odds are your books will be forgotten long before Herman Melville’s. There are a lot of factors in play, but if your book isn’t selling, it isn’t because another author is giving theirs away. If free books by Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo haven’t brought charging for books to a crashing halt in forty years, it isn’t going to happen because some indies choose to price match the classics.

Now stop your whining and go pick on libraries. They don’t charge, either.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

72 thoughts on “Indie Authors & eBooks: Freedom to be Free”

  1. As a library fan that last line made me laugh out loud. And thank you. I still think free makes a lot of sense if you’re trying to get new readers, though doing it with a controversial topic might be begging for some pain, because the reviewers of free books tend to include a few folks who didn’t read the description carefully and want to share their shock and outrage with the world. The real challenge is trying to go free when you’re not in Kindle Select and Amazon doesn’t want to cooperate. I’ve been trying for a month to get a short story to go free there (as it is at Nook and iTunes and Smashwords) and having no luck at all.

    1. Free can definitely make sense, Sandra. I think it can not make sense, too. It all goes to the specific author, their books, and goals. You’re right about a free run being a good way to attract those negative reviews, too. However, those reviews help, too, in a couple of ways, the most pertinent in this example is warning off those readers who are a bad fit for the book *AND* cluing in those who are a good fit.

      1. Oh, I’d have no hesitation at all about eliciting bad reviews if it were not for the brutality of the one-star review when it comes to Amazon’s rating system. Drop below 4.0 and I fear you’re pretty much dead in the water as an indie because the promotional sites won’t take you anymore. (On the other hand, I do think readers who like your book are a little more likely to pipe up with their own reviews if they see you being savaged.)

        1. Like anyone who has done a massive free run, I’ve gotten negative reviews. I’ve never thought I was getting them as a consequence of being free, though. Instead, to me, it is a consequence of getting the book wide. The wider I cast a net for a book, the more likely I am to get readers who honestly won’t like the way I write. I’m okay with that! 🙂

          1. I think Shawn’s point is a good one. The same thing could happen if, for example, your blurb was misleading in a way that it would make the book sound appealing to a wider audience than would actually like the book. Then anything that tends to move books in quantity (maybe a book bub ad) would catch some of the wrong readers.

            However, free is the easiest way to catch those readers. 🙂

        2. My one and only two-star review came from a person determined to prove that she knew more about Chicago than I did–not to mention she pretty much hated everything about the book. That one low review pulled down my Amazon rating. Sadly, I later discovered that the person was an acquaintance. Go figure…

  2. Well said. I, personally, have played with pricing a bit, and tried advice given by others on what works. There seems to be no answer. Free or low cost works for some and not for others. As for devaluing books, I think those who say that are poorly informed. It really has no effect as far as I can tell.

    1. Yvonne, that’s been my experience too, my books seem to sell pretty much the same whether they are 99c or 2.99.
      Thank you Big Al – finally some common sense!

      1. Thanks for the comments, Yvonne and Caron. If your book sells the same at $2.99 as at 99 cents, it seems like $2.99 is the better price. Or maybe $3.99. I’ve heard some indies who have raised their price and ended up selling more units. Experimentation is good, IMO, and as an indie you can do that without permission from anyone.

  3. Al, great post. Love the analogies. You nailed every whiny, unsubstantiated complaint. At the rate that so many voracious readers read, there are plenty of opportunities to go around, and it’s just never an either-or situation. My books don’t compete with Laurie’s or Yvonne’s. Someone might read Laurie’s one day, mine the next, Yvonne’s the day after that. Thanks for knocking the stuffing out of these baseless complaints. Here’s to a free-reading society!

  4. The whole idea behind being independent is ‘being independent.’ Different strokes for different folks – some things work for some and not for others. I refuse to let other people determine what’s right for me, which is what those whining and carping seem to be trying to do. Great post!

  5. Thank you, Al, for this. Well written, topical, and on point.

    Two thoughts:

    1) Your pricing strategies should reflect where you are in your writing career and what you are trying to accomplish. If you are just casting about, changing prices with no strategy or record keeping, that’s probably not good. But, both the free and .99 price point can work spectacularly well to achieve certain things at specific points in your career.

    2) Mostly, I wish the bully authors who try to tell other writers what to do, and how to do it, would just chill. Trying to control the behavior of others is like trying to hold back the tide with your hands.

    1. Thanks, Shawn. Your #1 is my point at the top. An author needs to experiment and measure, knowing what they want to achieve with pricing.

      As for #2, I (mostly) agree. Bullying is never okay. I think a little peer pressure on things that are quality issues *might* be a good thing. I believe that along with freely sharing information among themselves has caused the tide to rise for all.

  6. Great points, Al. Libraries are often places people go to get books for free, and no one is complaining about them. I think people need to get a grip on free.

    One thing you didn’t mention is that of all those free books that people download, how many of them get read? The free book downloaded by a person who never reads it doesn’t devalue much of anything. If people aren’t reading the free books, but only reading the paid ones, I wonder how much is really lost?

    I think people think a book for free says something about the value of the book. I got a (used) computer for free from my inlaws. Does that mean I think all computers should be free? Nope. I’m under the impression that I lucked out. Readers who find free books that are really awesome, I believe, are under the impression they lucked out and are willing to pay for that author’s books in the future. Readers who get a free book that sucks–well, they realize they got what they paid for, and move on. They may also feel lucky, too (phew! at least I didn’t pay money for that stinker).

    Everyone has to figure out their own pricing strategy, but I think the hullabaloo about free is way overblown.

    1. You’re right, RJ. Many of the free books don’t get read. (I have a bunch that I *might* read some day.) Your overall point is one that we all need to keep in mind. That is there isn’t *only* one reaction among readers to anything. I’m sure there are readers out there who read nothing but free books. That might be that they’re cheap (or as my aunt would say, “your uncle is cheap, I’m thrifty”) or it could be they just don’t have the income to spend (I know a few readers like that). Those people wouldn’t be buying your books anyway and there is a possibility that their situation will change and they will buy your second one. Most people, if they read a book they like, are going to think they lucked out.

  7. “Spending under a dollar for someone else’s book is unlikely to convince a reader not to spring the four or five dollars for yours if they want to read it. Book buying isn’t zero sum.” This exactly! Great post, Al!

  8. I have an author friend who is quite successful. I asked him how he became that way- his reply: “Write a free book. Spend little to no money on it. Edit it the best you can, do the cover art and formatting. Do this for the first book in a series. Your aim is to hook new readers. If they liked the first one, they’ll consider buying the rest of the series.”
    Has it worked? Well…
    On Smashwords, the book has over 3,000 downloads. Amazon, at least that many, probably more since I was able to get the book permanently free. It has decent reviews, even for not being professionally edited. Have sales of the other books gone up? Somewhat. The hardest part I’m running into is simply being an Indie author in a sea of others. Lots of us write good books, and now there are so many books out there (free and at cost) that the reader can’t decide.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sturgeon. Personally I think a first book in a series as free with the rest of the series normally priced (maybe even a bit higher than a typical indie) is the way to go. If you snag them with the first, they’ll buy the rest.

      Discovery is the area where I think we’re going to see a lot of things happening over the next few years. At least I hope and think so, because there is a lot of opportunity there.

  9. Thanks, Big Al, for addressing some of the pricing quandaries we indies face. I have heard that $2.99 is the “sweet spot” for most e-books; this may or may not be true. I’ve experimented with .99, $1.99, and FREE…but haven’t noticed much of a difference. Maybe my books are “stinkers”!

    Happy New Year!
    Indie Lindy

  10. I think what you’ve said makes a lot of sense, Big Al, and if an author who has a good following offers a book for .99 or free, it becomes a gift to his/her readers, a thank you, so to speak and way of keeping the reader as one of theirs.
    Yet, I don’t believe that free, should be something permanent for any writer, just an appetite…teaser.

    1. Certainly free for all an authors books all the time doesn’t make sense, David. Unless the author is independently wealthy and care about nothing except more readers. Thanks for the comment, David.

  11. I keep saying that the authors who complain about free and 99-cent books “devaluing our work” are thinking like artists, not like business owners. Every business on Earth runs specials. Does a restauranteur devalue his food and the work of his staff when he participates in a Restaurant Week? Then why do authors get such grief when they put their books on sale?

    1. Exactly, Lynne. Pricing is a a business decision and businesses do all kinds of things with pricing to attract new customers. I like the idea of the lady handing out samples of product X at the grocery store on weekends. That seems a lot like a free short story or the making the first book in a series free to me.

  12. I have several short stories I’ve published at Amazon/Kindle and at Smashwords. They are free at Smashwords and have been for some time, but amazon is slow to price match. One one has made it to the free list.
    I look at these short stories as advertising. I put links to all my works including my novel on the back pages of each publication. I figure if someone likes the story they got for free, they might want to read something else that I’ve written and perhaps even part with a small amount of money for my lengthier projects.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Leo. I like the advertising comparison. FWIW, I don’t think Amazon ever price matches to Smashwords. However, they will to some of the vendors SW’s distributes to. B&N (if you go that route) or Kobo are two I’m sure of.

      1. Amazon doesn’t consider Smashwords a “competitor” since SW is a distributor so they do not price match them. They will price match Kobo & B&N as Al said. 🙂

        1. Nook is not a guarantee. I have a story up on Nook and Amazon is not price-matching it. Kobo won’t take it. I think it mentions Kindle (it’s a story about a self-publisher) without mentioning Kobo, so that’s their choice.

          1. Yeah, I don’t think they’ll price match if it’s just available on one other competitor’s site. I think it has to be multiple, but even then, it seems like a lot of authors are having problems getting them to go perma-free.

          2. Well, it’s Nook, iTunes, and Smashwords, and I think I’ll put it on GooglePlay just because I need to figure that site out, too (add VAT changes on top of everything at all these sites and I’m really getting dizzy). I bet if I put it in Kindle Select even though it’s not exclusive they’d finally notice…

          3. I don’t think there is ever a guarantee on price matching. I know someone who has a book that is permafree (the first in the series) and Amazon UK will randomly return it to full price for a day or two, then put it back to free. In the past, having people “report” it to Amazon has helped, but they may be on to that trick and less inclined to price match to free than in the past.

  13. The pricing of your book is a business decision, yes I agree. And getting readers ‘hooked’ is definitely a good thing. The same goes for all the arts – music, video… People seem to expect free to get a taste. I understand that but it’s unfortunate.
    Writers don’t get paid real well for the most part, considering the hours spent on the work that goes into it. And other industries don’t often give away anything for free – unless it’s a buy one get one, where the cost is gained by the purchase of the 2nd. One might agrue that’s the same market stratedgy, except we usually place a book for free without attachments, maybe only time limits. There are no gaurantees they will ever buy another book from you – so the risk is higher for authors than in other business fields.
    I think it’s sad that authors struggle to make a buck… but yes, I agree it’s a business decision that can work. In the end we have nothing if we don’t have readers.
    I guess when all is said and done, I hope that writers won’t devalue their worth. This is a profession where it is so easy to lose a sense of self-worth, so it is important to keep a sense of value on your work. If you give freebies – keep an eye out and check if it truly drives additional sales. If it doesn’t work – stop. The world needs your voice, so keep writing and don’t be afraid to value your work enough to ask to be paid.

    One last thought – sometimes we are given advanced free copies. I grab them up, but when they are released, and if I am going to review them, I always pay for a copy. Reviews are rated differently when a verified purchase. An author will appreciate it 😉

    1. Elizabeth, I didn’t know that reviews are rated differently when it’s a “verified purchase.” If an author gifts his/her book in exchange for an honest review, are those reviews treated differently as well?

      1. Linda, a book that is gifted doesn’t show as a verified purchase. Interestingly, if I gift you a book and then review it, it will show as a verified purchase.

        Also of interest, I’m positive that not showing a gifted book as a verified purchase is a change. I did this post ( ) a year or so ago where I talked about all the ways you might get that verified flag on a review and I checked each of them out at the time. At that time I said a gifted book would show as verified, so I’m almost certain that is a change.

        1. Al, this is an important distinction–especially for authors who participate in Read & Review programs. Unless I misunderstood you, Amazon disregards these reviews when it comes to author ranking. Is it possible that BookBub follows the same guidelines?

          Also, my sister subscribes to KU. After she read and reviewed one of my books, it did not show as a “verified purchase.” I would say that both of these developments do not bode well for authors. It seems we should rethink not only how we publish but also how we accrue reviews…

          Any thoughts on this, Al, or anyone else?

          1. I think you misunderstood me, Linda. As far as I knew, Amazon didn’t pay any attention to whether a review was verified or not in whatever way review rankings figure into their algorithms. And from a logical standpoint, if they allow people to leave reviews even if they didn’t purchase the product at Amazon they must see some value to that. For sure the unverified reviews are there and can influence potential readers who look at individual reviews to see what they say.

            We also don’t know what Amazon’s algorithms do with reviews. It’s assumed that they figure in to some things having to do with discoverability. You mention specifically *author ranking* I’m not sure if that is what you meant or not. I know they have such a thing, I’ve seen it (both in screen shots and on the site directly), but can’t find it right now and I’m not sure how someone could figure out what goes into that ranking anyway. It certainly could take review ratings into consideration, but I’m sure sales volumes and other factors go into those. The same goes for some of the other Amazon algorithms such as popularity rankings for books where reviews might figure into it.

            However, there are two areas where there might be some influence and it should be easy to figure it out. The first is the overall rating of a book that is at the top of the customer review area. (The ‘x.x out of 5 stars’ verbiage where it summarizes the number of reviews at each of the possible ratings.) I’ve assumed, although never tested it, that when you sort a search by average customer review it is doing it based on this number and that number comes from taking *ALL* reviews to get the average.

            I just attempted to verify my theory on both of the above. Initial indications are that neither is true. Sorting a search by average customer review doesn’t give you a list with those having a 5.0 star average in the review summary first followed by 4.9, 4.8, etc.

            I also checked a couple books to see if the number given was the average of all reviews or the average of only verified reviews. Based on a couple books I sampled, it doesn’t appear to be either.For one book, the average corresponded to the overall average and not the verified only while on the second book it went the other way. Possibly there is more going on. One possibility is that Amazon is also using ratings that don’t have reviews attached in the averages now. (There are a couple ways for a reader to do that.) I may dig into this deeper for a post in the next couple months. You’re piqued my curiosity. 🙂

            I think whatever Amazon is or isn’t doing is fairly recent. I have heard that Book Bub and some of the sites like it take into account verified reviews (number and percentages?) compared to those that aren’t in coming to their decision as to whether to accept a book or not, but since their processes are no more transparent than Amazon’s those rumors may or may not be true.

          2. Not a problem, Indy Lindy. Inspiring me to verify something I just assumed, apparently incorrectly, can’t be a bad thing. 🙂

          3. I’ve seen that blog post, Sandra, and found the results interesting. It set out to prove or disprove a couple theories people had (that being in Select/KU gave a boost in sales rankings, for one, and price influenced sales rankings), both of which it disproved. But it came up with some interesting findings that I don’t think they’d considered. The big one was that a borrow counted as a sale immediately, even though an author wouldn’t earn money for the borrow until or unless the borrower read to 10%. The other was that the way sales influence sales rank, that trying to sale a lot on release day was the wrong way to go, instead making the case to start out slow and build to the promotion you expect to have the biggest impact.

            But the algorithms we’re talking about here are different or at least go beyond sales rank. (I’m not sure whether reviews effect sales rank in any way. I’d guess not, but as we’ve seen, I sometimes guess wrong.)

            Indie author Ed Robertson and others have done a lot of work understanding Amazon’s algorithms as well (sometimes reported on his blog and often getting some play on David Gaughran’s as well).

    2. I agree about writers not getting paid well, Elisabeth. As for other industries giving things away for free, some do, some don’t. Those that do, don’t always give away their product. Some do, but put a stipulation on it (like the buy one, get one free). Off the top of my head I think of the grocery store samples I mentioned above. Samples of a product are fairly common. Go in the local ice cream store and ask what that flavor you’ve never seen before tastes like. (I won’t even get into business to business situations, like the free drug samples piled up in your doctor’s office, which are going to get passed on to patients.)

      I just had a a few different conversations I’ve been following collide and it gave me a thought about free samples. When something is a commodity, so one brand is perceived as the same as another brand, free samples do no good. Trying to sell those you are better to give out t-shirts or can coozies with your logo. (That way, if this guy doesn’t buy, maybe the free advertising will sell someone else.) But something that isn’t a commodity, where your product is different than others in the same product category, giving a free taste can sell more.

      I agree with much of what you’re saying in the paragraph about keeping an eye on pricing. Assuming making a decent income from your writing is the goal, then aiming for the price that optimizes income should be what you’re trying to find. (That might be free or cheap for the first book in a series, and a decent price, even on the high side, for the others.) However, any devaluing happening is in the mind of the author only.

      I don’t know if Amazon weights verified purchases differently, but I know that some potential readers give more credence based on various factors, that being one, especially if something about the review feels suspicious. I put a little blurb indicating the review was first published at “Books and Pals” that is designed to both satisfy the legal requirement and Amazon TOS (if you received the book free from an author or publisher, you’re required to disclose that). I’m hoping that will set me apart from a random review (plus, I like to think my reviews won’t raise suspicions anyway).

  14. I wouldn’t want to lose access to free books. When I run out of book budget, I always check the freebies. Picked up a lot of good reads there too. When I lived in town, I used the library, but we don’t have a library here. 🙁
    I love libraries.

  15. Cheers! I love Smashwords for the free voucher codes and the freedom to choose your price, including free (among other things!), and I also have a couple of free books on Amazon. For poetry, it’s a good bet if you want to be read cos it’s a very hard niche to sell. The only not-so-great thing I’ve found with a free book is that sometimes people will download it without really looking at what they’re choosing and you can end up with some crazy or mean reviews. Been there. Good side is you may find some new readers and get some lovely feedback. As an indie without a publisher and marketing budget, etc, it’s important to experiment with everything and find what works best. It’s hard out there. Pricing your book cheaply is often a necessity. I can’t imagine anyone paying £8-£10 for a book written by an author they’ve never heard of – i.e. me. ‘Who the hell is that?’ I imagine them asking, if they actually come across my book among the millions out there, so all of mine are priced between free and $2.99. You can never please everyone all of the time when it comes to anything, including pricing. There’s always someone ready to say you’re doing it wrong, but also many others to say you’re doing it okay. Hope that makes sense – it’s nearly midnight in the UK and I think my brain is fast turning to jelly! 🙂

  16. Something to consider for all writers in the e-book industry is the limitation of the technology. If I were to buy a novel from Amazon for my Kindle, I would be able to read it online through the Kindle library, or could download it onto a device. Amazon (and other e-book companies) typically allow a limited number of devices with which to view a book. This cuts down on people’s ability to share their books, thus reducing the “value” of the book in many people’s opinion. It has nothing to do with quality of writing; it has to do with accessibility and freedom of use. Why would I pay bookstore prices for an e-book that I can only access on 3 devices? I wouldn’t unless I could “rip” it and put it into a “free” format that allows me to share it with other people, OR, if I were to buy it for a low enough cost that I can internally accept its physical limitations.

    Traditional writers who publish hardcopy books deal all the time with the reality that people lend books. Although they aren’t giving them away for free, they must know that people are reading for free. Essentially, they are benefiting from the “free promotion” without lifting a finger. How many readers who have read a book borrowed from a friend or the library have turned around and bought the book simply because it was good? Or, chose to buy the next book because they liked the writer after being exposed to his/her writing?

    1. You bring up a good point, Martha. As I alluded to in the post, what the “proper” price range for an ebook is something still being shaken out, I think While I bridle at someone who uses the term “real book” to refer to a paper book, because the important part is the content with the format (paper, ebook, or even audio) being the container, different containers have different advantages. I prefer the ebook format because it means when I travel I don’t have half my suitcase full of books, the ability to change font size is becoming critical with my old eyes, etc. I have a room in my house dedicates to bookcases. Were it not for the Kindle I’d be running out of room.

      However, paper books have some advantages. Lending isn’t a big deal to me, but is to a lot of people. Paper also has the advantage of being able to resell it. The “value” or investment doesn’t have to be written off as a sunk cost once you’ve read it if you no longer want to keep it with paper.

      1. In a way, the higher price of a paper book is like insurance. Once it leaves the book store you have very little control over how many people read it. And, you make a good point as well. People do re-sell books, so the author has to cover this loss as well. Vicki makes a good point too, about readers buying books by people they don’t know. You are more likely to break out and try something new if it doesn’t cost too much. Wasn’t this the niche that paperback books inhabited way back when?

        1. Not only is that the niche that paperbacks inhabited (and really still do to so degree), but when paperbacks first became a big thing my understanding is they were saying almost exactly the same things about them. Devaluing books, etc.

  17. I’m about to venture out with my first free novel, with Mazie Baby going for zip starting Jan 20. Doing it up right with promo out the ying-yang to get as many downloads as possible. Will see where that lands me with sales afterward. The way I’m looking at it, those who download it free might never have been buyers in the first place, and maybe, just maybe, it will boost the popularity enough to make a difference downstream. Fingers crossed!

    1. Good luck with that, Julie. And be sure to let me know the exact dates (at the obvious places). I’ll make sure my readers know about it. I’ll even grab it myself and turn my review into a “verified purchase.” 🙂

  18. Whew! Great points and kudos to everyone who voices their opinion.

    Have tried a few ways of getting the word out and have done the 3-day free game on Amazon which resulted in a lot of downloads and some reader reviews which on the whole were positive and resulted in more books sold at local bookstores. The goal was greater name recognition as well as book sales. My husband writes in a few genres but has settled in to a writing a character driven science fiction series with action and a female lead character. Reviews say it’s good for YA and adult. All eBooks are free to Kindleunlimited and most are $2.99 with a few at $.99. We have tried a variety of price points.
    A friend of ours has written an exciting political thriller series that has garnered many 5 star reviews and over 100 written positive reviews. Still somewhere in the 2 million range except for when we did a big push and got to #1 political thriller for a bit. Prices are all over the map for paperback while eBooks are $5.95 with only one for free as Kindleunlimited.

    Point is no matter how well or poorly written, free or dear, without marketing chances are nothing moves. “Promotion resistance = non-existence”

    1. “Promotion resistance = non-existence”

      I like that, Eileen. In my mind, the biggest challenge any author faces, no matter how they publish, is finding ways to get the right readers to become aware of their books. From the authors side, some of the ways (like free) cast a wide net. Others (some of the targeted advertising mailers like Book Bub) target more specifically.

      1. Thanks. I rather thought you might find my tagline likeable! Is there a way to track what BB members convert to clicks and sales?

        1. I’m not sure, Eileen. Possibly some authors could chime in. What I can say is the authors I’ve seen discuss BB generally say one of two things. The first is, when BB runs an ad, it is almost always perceived as successful. The second is complaining about the process of getting accepted (or not) to run an ad. Shawn Inmon had a guest post that addressed this last issue with some hints based on his experiences.

          1. Thanks, Al. I will chime in with a few numbers, as I don’t feel like they are state secrets. 🙂

            My free runs have all netted out between 30,000 and 69,000 downloads. The 69K was an outlier, though. I normally average around 35,000 downloads for each of my freebies.

            For .99ers, I’ve been between 1,000 and 2,200 sales in the three days trailing the release of the ad.

            I tend to do more free runs because they are the best way I have found to build my platform – FB, blog, and most importantly, mailing list.

            Also, I found on my last Bookbub ad (October 24th, 2014) that the legs extended much further than in the past. Instead of a 30 day boost, it was over 60. In fact, I still haven’t returned to pre-bub levels.

            Hope that helps!

  19. “In fact, I still haven’t returned to pre-bub levels.”

    If you’re lucky, maybe you hit some kind of tipping point with visibility, platform, and other factors such that this is a new normal, at least for now.

  20. I am a reader, not a writer. I adore books . . . And I really enjoy finding new authors. But with the incredible number of new authors out there, and “no so new but I haven’t read them yet”, and with a very limited budget, I am thrilled when an author offers a free or low cost book. It gives me the chance to try books that I might not have been able to try otherwise. Sometimes it works out – I find authors I then follow, buying their books and waiting anxiously for every new book. Sometimes not so much – but I gave it a try I might not have, so it’s all good. And when I am not crazy busy, I try to write reviews, even if it may not have worked for me, it will for someone else . . . So, good for everyone, all the way around.

    1. Thanks for weighing in on this, Leiah. I’m the same and I know a lot of other readers who say the same. The key here is, if you like the free book, you’re more likely to buy other books from that author. That’s how it is supposed to work. 🙂

  21. Every situation is different and how others are pricing their books doesn’t need to determine how you should. There’s a lot of testing involved to find that “sweet spot” price. The key is to be realistic.

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