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.
Loss leaders. Promotion in hopes that people will like your style and buy your books. Downloads of free books drive up your rankings, and apparently impressive rankings cause people to buy books.
The system doesn't work as well as it used to. I'm very stingy with freebies. Experience has shown that people download freebies but don't get around to reading them.
I know it is very popular and many feel this is a positive marketing tool. I think those who benefit most are Amazon, B&N, etc. who can promote all those free books (and 99 cent books, etc.).
Take it from the newspaper industry. When people get used to not paying for something digital, you'll have a heck of a hard time getting them to pay for it.
There is a large debate online regarding free culture, and one of the big free ebook proponents is Cory Doctorow. Here's a link to one of his online explanations for going free: http://onforb.es/dWeX
But if your book isn't very good then free really won't help you, it seems to me.
But Doctorow sells a lot of print books. He was selling those before he was giving away free ebooks. In his case it worked very well as promotion but he had a big publisher behind him.
Actually, I don't that's so. My understanding is that he started out giving his books away for free and continues to stipulate that all his titles are available for free. He became a best-seller selling books that were already available for free.
That's the thing that makes him worth attention. And a lot of people don't want to deal with it.
I poked around a little and came up with his explanation of why he gives away ebooks
I copied this of his wikipedia page
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Doctorow's first novel, was published during January 2003, and was the first novel released under one of the Creative Commons licences, allowing readers to circulate the electronic edition as long as they neither made money from it nor used it to create derived works. The electronic edition was released simultaneously with the print edition. During March 2003, it was re-released with a different Creative Commons licence that allowed derivative works such as fan fiction, but still prohibited commercial usage. It was nominated for a Nebula Award, and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel during 2004. A semi-sequel short story named Truncat was published on Salon.com in August 2003.
That's a really good point, John. Another example of freebies working from back in the old days.
And I also like your point that "the old days" are like "last month" these days.
Because you wind up making more sales, if you play your cards right.
This year, I've given away roughly 12,000 e-books through KDP and other outlets. Eight thousand of those came from a single two-day free period on Amazon. Prior to doing this, I was making about 20 bucks a quarter - and that was with an aggressive publisher. After I got my rights back and went solo, I entered KDP Select and started figuring out the best ways to leverage the free content.
The hard dollar results of these freebies are into the triple digits. I don't buy the argument that free content is the problem. Exposure is the problem.
Even given the choice of picking their own price, readers will go higher if they sense value. This bundle I'm a part of asks buyers to pay $2 or more for an e-book package (it's their choice). Surprisingly, someone paid $21. Here's that bundle:
OK, I've gloated enough.
I could see putting a short piece or a few sample chapters up for free (they're already free on Google Books, so what the hell), but I wouldn't give away a whole novel. If I want to write for free, I'll write poems.
And yet we see much more accomplished and established authors giving away free books. Are they stupid?
I don't know what so many who discuss this subject always have to say that other writers are crap and lacking integrity.
Free loss-leaders are common in many businesses.
I've been reading some really, really great books for free on my Kindle.
I wouldn' even think of downloading "sample chapters" of something. I recently saw that described online as "free blowjob--except the last 30 seconds cost $100". Michael Conneally does that. Paul Levine gives you a whole book. Guess which one I've become a fan of?
I read something by Cory Doctorow the other day--a best-seller ALL of whose books are available for free if people want to do it that way. He said, "The problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity."
And the same goes for freebies. If giving free books away to prime the pump isn't a good idea, why are libraries a good idea?
BTW, a couple of more writers I have learned about and started following because of free books lately are:
Warren Adler, author of "War of the Roses" and other best-sellers. He doesn't even use amazon, by the way. He gives you a free download if you sign up for his mailing list. I think that's pretty sharp.
Lawrence Shames, Paul Levine, Lawrence Block's eary work (including pulp and smut!) Gene Porter, Chuck Pahloniak, Haruki Markami...
The novel doesn't stay free forever, Jon. and after the freebee sales rise due to increased visibility of the book on the rankings and "most popular" pages. Also, series do very well, mystery and thrillers. My first novel is free today and tomorrow. I tend to agree with Benjamine. My sales have gone up and up each month since I began doing this.