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The Conundrum of Free

14 Mar 2012

For me, advertising doesn’t sell books. On-line, print, professional publications, popular blogs. Nada. I spent thousands on buying advertising space and the returns were dismal.

Blog reviews don’t sell books. Some are entertaining, so I think most people who visit reader blogs are more interested in the snark than in actually buying books.

Overall, on-line romance and writing community engagement don’t sell books either…which is fine for me because I have a busy life away from the internet and I’m anti-social.

Publishing with well-known publishers used to sell books but not anymore because of the proliferation of publishers and books.

So, what sells books for me? Making them free. No, I’m not equating giving away books with selling them. Giving away a free title or two (or four) will get readers and stir interest in your other titles. It’s called sampling. Someone downloads a book for free, reads it, likes it, and buys the author’s other books. Also, when the book is no longer free, hopefully there’s one or two positive reviews to attract other readers. Not rocket science. And, thus far, it’s worked out well for me. I’m not quitting my day job any time soon, but my USD investment account isn’t so pitiful anymore (I invest all of my USD royalties in USD investments because I hate the current foreign exchange rate).

However, there are obvious downsides to free—and I’m not talking about the devaluing of books because I think that’s bunk. Too many people have no control when it comes to free. If it’s free, they’ll take it. It doesn’t matter if the product is something they like or will use; since it’s free, there’s no cost to them so they take it. I know because I used to be the same way.

With books, too many people will download a free title even if they don’t like the genre or theme or the author’s other works and have little intention of reading the book. It’s free, so why not download it for the infinitesimal possibility that they might read it some time in the distant future? So, 200,000 free downloads does not mean you have 200,000 readers. And if they do read the book without looking at the cover (which is kind of hard to do but people manage to do it) or reading the description or warning label, they become outraged because it’s not something they enjoy or contains material they find offensive and let everyone know it. (Do not take this to mean that I don’t think readers should leave negative reviews. However, it’s one thing to select a title in a genre you enjoy and hate the book because it didn’t work for you. It’s another thing entirely to get pissed off because there’s sex in a book that makes it clear there’s sex in the book or get personal. In fact, I sometimes enjoy the negative reviews of my books. That’s why I continue to send books to Mrs. Giggles and Wendy the Super Librarian for review.)

Does this mean I’m going to stop making books free? While the freebies have stopped (or will stop once a certain retailer gets around to updating its database) for now, I will do free promos in future because it’s effective, and it’s great when I attract an enthusiastic fan who wouldn’t have read my work otherwise. Those few fans make up for all the other readers who think I’m contributing to the moral decay of society with sex and violence.

(All of a sudden, I feel an urge to play Grand Theft Auto.)

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