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The Double-edged Sword of Free

I usually mused about my epublishing business on Packing Heat, but since I won't be updating that content anymore, I figured I could post my mental process about it here and tag it epublishing, and readers can follow or comment as they want to.

Recently I heard a disturbing professional opinion about putting things on sale. Disturbing because I do in fact think it's true, but also because I plan on continuing my sales simply because it's an awesome way to exploit my autonomy.

The theory is this: by putting things on sale, you devalue your product, and you train your readers to wait for sales rather than to buy your things full-price. On the flip-side, I've been happy with the performance of my weekly sales, because it gives me the chance to send my subscribers an email that says, "Hello, I may not be able to produce a book a month, but I am still alive, see?" Also, it encourages readers to buy from me directly rather than having half the price on an ebook go to a middleman.

The best answer I can come up with is that I'm hopefully doing my sales in a mindful enough way, for specific enough thought-out reasons, that I'm not ending up devaluing my own product.

But what about free? Free is a double-edged sword that can cut both ways. People either totally over-value "free" by standing in line half an hour for a free ice cream cone that would normally cost three bucks, or they entirely devalue something that's free and make an extra effort to go put a lousy review on a free read from an author on the web so that everyone can see how delightfully jaded they are.

I got some numbers today that tell me that my PsyCop freebie Thaw was downloaded 5613 times at Barnes and Noble! That's a lot of downloads. How about the reviews? Well, when I try to open the review page, I see it for a quarter of a second and then it snaps shut. I see the average rating is a shitty 2.5 stars, so that probably gives me a good indication of what the reviews might be like.

How many sales has this resulted in? Among the Living sold three copies in that time. About what I'd expect it to sell from over five thousand people tripping and falling on their Nooks while looking at the page.

In this particular case, "free" is clearly not my friend. Does that mean I spaz out over the crappy ratings and run and unpublish my story from B&N's site? No. There are probably some intangibles I'll never know. Maybe a handful of those 5000 people never knew m/m existed and now they do, and they'll come back and find me again someday when they're ready. It certainly hasn't cost me anything.

And these people who are basking in how few stars they can give my free offering are incidental to me, regardless. My first intent when writing a freebie is always to hook a new reader who already loves m/m, maybe a reader who's heard of me but never cared to try my writing for whatever reason. This would happen at a venue where more m/m readers hang out, like a specifically romance-themed or GLBT-themed ebook seller. In tandem with this, equally important, is the urge to make stuff for my current readers and be able to give it to them as a gift with no strings attached, just because I can. I quit my day job because I want to be independent, and being able to give stuff away if I choose to is one way my free spirit can manifest. And finally, by having the freebies available at JCP Books, I convince a few readers it might not be so scary to buy from me direct.

Resources:
Posts tagged "free" on Dan Ariely's Blog. Dan is a behavioral economist, and the author of one of my favorite books, Predictably Irrational
Sarah Petty interviewed on Duct Tape Marketing on Creating a Boutique Business - here's where the comments about devaluing your product came from--a great interview
Sign up for my weekly sales and specials for JCP Books

P.S.
Speaking of sales and freebies, this weekend I will be a featured author at Rainbow eBooks. Among the Living will be free 10/16-10/17, and my other stories there will be 20% off. I suspect it will be a more receptive crowd there than at B&N.

Comments

jenre
Oct. 14th, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC)
This is quite a timely post because I've just downloaded a free read from another author at ARe which was recommended with 5 stars on Good Reads. I suspect the author has a similar view to you, as she says in the foreword:

"If you don’t like it then take solace in the fact that you haven’t paid so much as a dime for it. If you do enjoy it then visit my site and take a look at some of my other work."

Which as a marketing ploy worked because I did visit her website and read a few of her other freebies. This author had also put one of her books on sale at the GLBT Bookshelf rummage sale. I bought it and really enjoyed it and since then have bought two others of her books. If her book hadn't been on sale I may well have never bought it or read it and she would have remained unknown to me. If I'm a 'typical' reader it shows that these types of marketing strategies do work, regardless of the ratings at B&N.

I came to your books through a recommendation and word of mouth, so I didn't need to get your free books. I can see why you would value them though and why they are important at hooking new readers to your writing.
jenre
Oct. 14th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
I meant I didn't need to get your free books first. I have since downloaded and read them, but only after I'd read your Psycop books first.
jordan_c_price
Oct. 14th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Ha ha, this was how I understood it :-)
jordan_c_price
Oct. 14th, 2010 10:17 pm (UTC)
I would be tempted to write a forward like that, but my concern would be that looking too hard at the monkeys would only make them even more likely to throw poop at me.

ARe was precisely the sort of place I was thinking of where a freebie would make sense. It sounds like it did exactly what she wanted it to do--got you to try out her stories and visit her site. YAY!
egret17
Oct. 14th, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
Jen - Which author was that, with the ARe short????

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