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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. 15th, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
I guess I'm not going to add anything new to the discussion, but I'll put my experiences out there for statistical purposes. :-)

I think discounted/free books are a good idea. Being a full time student, I don't have that much disposable income so I have to be careful about the books I buy. I used to take chances on new authors, but got burned enough times that I very rarely do that anymore. I get very irritated at wasting my money on something that looked interesting in the blurb/excerpt but ended up being crap.

So, if I can't check the author out with a free or significantly discounted book, it's likely I won't take the chance. I don't think freebie snippets of established series are very helpful for checking out new authors, though. I'm rarely grabbed by a short story where you need to have read the main book/series to understand who the characters are. They're great as gifts for established fans, of course.

But if I find an ebook that looks interesting and is free or half-price then I'll give it a go. If I love it, then I'll buy another book from that author at full price. If I love that, then the next, etc, and the author is likely to become an auto-buy. When they put out a new book, I buy it. I'm not going to wait for some possible discount in the future, I want to read it now!

You, of course, are an auto-buy. I've already got your books by the time you offer discounts, but I don't care because I'm satisfied with the quality I got at full price. I really am happy to pay full price to support authors who consistently produce work I love.

I think having "Among the Living" as a free book at Rainbow eBooks is a great idea. Confession - long ago I downloaded AtL from a fan-translated manga site I used to visit. This site sometimes had m/m ebook downloads (however they stopped that practice long ago when authors, fairly enough, asked them to stop). I loved it and bought the rest of the series that was out at the time, and continue to do so, of course (looking forward to Psycop 6!!!). Not that the Psycop series is your only great stuff, of course, but obviously it is the logical place to start. :-)

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