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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.

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

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.


Oct. 14th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
I think many people grab freebies even if they have no clue what they are about. Thaw is a Psycop book so obviously us rabid, um, I mean enthusiastic fans are going to appreciate a peek into the relationship more than someone who has no clue who Stanley and Jacob are or what it all means in their relationship. It's stupid to take something that has no meaning for you, but some people just can't resist free. Many of them probably don't even read them, just download them because they can.

Usually when I read shorts like that in an anthology where I have no background information that is assumed by the author, I make it clear that it may not have resonated with me because I don't have that information, doesn't mean fans won't adore a peek at their faves. So I think you have to be careful reviewing or rating those kind of books if you don't have the whole story.

If I have an autobuy author, I won't wait for a sale. I want it NOW. And I know someone who wanted to try one of your Psycop books but didn't have the money to pay full price. When your sale came (I forget the details), I sent her the code and I hope she picked up one, because once she's hooked, she'll eat ramen for a week to afford the others.

So for me personally, a sale works for an author I am not familiar with or maybe for a book with a theme that leaves me waffling. That first sale may be the catalyst for me turning that author into someone I'll buy immediately when the next book comes out. As for freebies on sites, I know one author who has a LOT of freebies and I totally fell in love with his work based on the freebies and he hasn't published any m/m in forever but if he did I'd pay full price in a minute because I fell in love with his style on his website. So for people like me, his freebies did what they were supposed to, hook me in to pay money for more more more. It won't work for everyone who reads them, but you can lead a horse to a free book, you can't make it buy one though. :-)
Oct. 14th, 2010 11:21 pm (UTC)
You know I have to know to whom you're referring in that last paragraph, Tam!
Oct. 14th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)
No great secret. Matthew Haldeman-Time, I pimp him out on a fairly regular basis. LOL http://matthewhaldemantime.com/shortstories.html He does this whole fantasy/sci-fi thing that I think is his first love but I adore some of his m/m and re-read it fairly regularly. :-)
Oct. 14th, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
Ok, that was my guess. :)
Oct. 15th, 2010 11:22 am (UTC)
Yay I love MHT too :)
Oct. 15th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
I love this feedback from you as a buyer, Tam. I'm the same way, when I want something, I want it.

The catalyst notion though--that's also so cool. I think it reinforces the idea that we as author/publishers can't just put our works out at full price in one or two venues and go, "There it is--you'll find it if you want it."

We have to participate in different kinds of marketing to snag someone who otherwise would have drifted on by and partook in the scads of other m/m options instead.

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