What is the marketing rationale for providing free e-books?  It looks like there are thousands out there.  If I do free work as an attorney, usually the only thing that gets me is more people wanting me to work for free.  

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I charge more than that.  New novels are 7.99.  Most of my short stories are at least 2.99, but they tend to be longish. I tried 99 cents once, but sales didn't increase.

All I can say is, the momentary freebee works really well for me. I just did one for the third book in my series, which shot up to #1 in the mystery series and mystery/hard boiled categories. Over 5 days I had just shy of 14K downloads. Okay, maybe half of them won't read the book, but I'm already getting feedback from some who have begun reading it (on social media sites) and if half DO read it, hey, that's 6k readers at least. Meanwhile, my other two novels are selling very well because of the increased visibility. 

So the simple answer to "Why free e-books?" is this. Increased visibility brings dramatic increases in sales, for that book (after the freebee is over) and for other books in a series as well.

Of course, if the books are badly written, readers will either not finish them, give them bad reviews and not buy other books by that particular author.

Jackson, no one assumes you do shoddy work as an attorney because you take a case "pro bono" do they? At the early stages of my professional music career I did a few "freebees" too, but not many. Most musicians do this for "exposure." It's the same with the free books: visibility, visibilty, visibilty.

Yes, they do.  At least, there is a perception that if it's free, something is inferior to what is being offered.  Two surgeons:  One will perform your needed surgery for $5,000.00.  The other surgeon will do it for free. You'd certainly wonder about the second surgeon's skill if s/he is willing to do the work for free.

Products (That's you and your work) have a long history of free samples, short-term trials, and giveaways. I was offered five things yesterday in the supermarket, including some big brand names.

You're comparing apples to oranges. Products with a fixed value to services like legal representation or medical services.

If a surgeon who usually ask 5,000 for a surgery, offers to perform the surgery to a homeless person for free, do you assume that he will rush the free surgery to get back to his golf game?

Free books are free products, offered gratis as loss leaders. Like offering a free snort of cocaine to reel in the addicts...

Writer A has two short stories, both for 1.99

Writer B has two books, one for free, one for 2.99

Writer C has two short stories, both free, but with teaser chapters to the books, books are 4.99.

Why would anyone assume that Writer C is inferior B or superior to A? Maybe Writer A is already established and doesn't need giveaways for exposure, but that doesn't say anything about the quality of the writing. Especially in the beginning of your career, when you need exposure, it's better to aim at exposure than immediate profit.

Perhaps the "perception" is yours, Jackson. Perhaps you might consider the "reason" that a person offers their product or services for free. I have a female dentist friend who went to various parts of Africa to care for poor people's teeth. The organization that sponsored her paid for her travel and living expenses. She was not "paid" for the trip. However, after she had done this for several years, a local reporter wrote an article about her and her humanitarian pro bono work. I'm sure the resulting publicity drew clients to her dental practice. They did not assume she was a lousy dentist.

If writers gave away their books to people in shelters or schools who couldn't afford them, it would probably seen as a kind gesture and there would be good results from it.  If our book is one in a series or if our books are bar-b-que sauce, Jack would be correct.  If the book is a stand alone, the surgery analogy is probably more accurate.  Martyn brings up doing legal work for free but now says it's comparing apples to oranges.  If I have one weekend night and an opportunity to see a Spielberg movie for $11.00 or a free sneak preview with no name stars and a director I'm not familiar with, I'm going to assume the Spielberg movie is better and probably go to it.  

Jackson, you asked about the rationale for free books and you've received an answer - it's for exposure. You yourself brought up, 'what if I did my legal work for free' and I said that if you'd take a few high-profile pro-bono or pro-deo cases in order to raise your visibility in a sea of attorneys, that wouldn't necessarily reflect on your standing within the legal community, but what it comes down to is that a book is a product and one way to increase the exposure is to offer products for free.

If Spielberg wants reviews for his new movie and he shows his movie for free to a test audience, that is also common business practice.

Just because you cannot figure out WHY someone would do something that you wouldn't do, doesn't make what they do 'wrong' or 'detrimental to their reputation'.

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