Do free books do an author any good?
It’s been a question debated lately. I’d like to answer it from my viewpoint. First as a reader. And next as one of the authors who has given away one or more of my books for free.
Authors! As a reader, I love free books. And I love you for giving me your book to read for free. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. But sometimes I won’t look at it for months. Or maybe even a year. I promise, though, I’ll get to it eventually.
And guess what? If I really enjoy that free book, I’ll go search you out and BUY one of your other books. And if I really enjoy that one, then I’ll go back in and buy as many of your books as I can afford. IF your prices are reasonable.
Lindsay Buroker. I’ve bought seventeen of your books after reading that first free one, The Emperor’s Edge.
William Doonan. Keep those cruise ship mysteries coming. I’ve bought all three of the other ones after getting the first of them free.
Steven F. Havill. So far I’ve only bought six of your novels, but I’ll get around the the rest, given time.
And J.A. Konrath. I’ve bought twenty of your books so far. Thank you for being so damned entertaining. And especially for the free books, and for keeping your prices low.
Does every reader do this? Unfortunately, no. It would make an interesting survey, finding out the percentage of readers who go on to buy a writer’s books after accepting one for free. I’d guess we make up less than twenty percent of readers. I bet we’re pretty loyal fans, though.
Now, from the other side of the equation. As a writer.
I put my romance novel The Cowboy’s Baby up for free on Smashwords in 2014 and Amazon price matched it down to free within a couple of days. I’d remembered that we gave away a lot of copies, and when the interest waned several months later, we took the book back up to a $2.99 price.
I got quite a shock preparing a spreadsheet on the Kindle sales for The Cowboy’s Baby earlier this year. And I’m only talking Kindle sales, not Smashwords or Nook and not paperbacks. Just Kindle.
From publication to end of year in 2014, The Cowboy’s Baby had earned a little more than $1,500. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s comparable to the advance it would have received from a traditional publisher at this point in time. And that would likely have been the only money I saw from it. The Cowboy’s Baby continues to sell.
But what shocked me, were the freebies. Just from the Kindle, we gave away 13,321 copies of The Cowboy’s Baby. That’s right, thirteen thousand. And there were quite a few through Smashwords as well. Pipsqueak numbers to the best selling of us, but not so pipsqueak to me. (Wish I’d made a dollar for every one of those downloads, though).
So, back to my question. Do free books benefit the author?
In my situation, my answer is not yet. The run on this book was almost exactly a year ago. We pulled the book from free when the numbers started to significantly slide, and we never saw any evidence other than about twenty extra book reviews that anyone had ever read the book. So, my answer is still, not yet.
I’m saying not yet because of how I’ve treated the free books I downloaded. I’ll get around to reading all of them (or at least sampling all of them) eventually, but it might be years before I get back to them. What I’m hoping, is that a significant number of these thirteen thousand potential readers finally see my book in their TBR pile and give it a chance.
I don’t think I’d do it again, though. Giving away a book for free over three months or more. It’s very possible that the entire market for this sweet romance/romantic comedy book was about twenty thousand, and they’ve almost all, already got their copies.
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WHAT I READ THIS WEEK: Pale Gray For Guilt by John D. MacDonald.