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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

(Anonymous)
Oct. 16th, 2010 04:47 am (UTC)
I'm also a full-time student, and also broke. "I buy books and whatever's left over goes to food and rent," bibliophile broke. I (once! only once, I swear!) checked out a piracy site, and downloaded books by authors I'd been really wanting to check out but couldn't bring myself to spend money on without knowing if it would be worth it. Like Meraehl, I got burned a few too many times when taking chances, and I really can't afford to do that.

The first couple of PsyCop books were part of that download. I'd read such rave reviews, I really wanted to try them. But I have a very low fear threshold (I'm still traumatized by Poe's Telltale Heart, and I read it over 25 years ago!) so when in doubt I err on the safe side. I couldn't tell which side of my personal threshold the PsyCop books would fall on, so free was the only way I dared try.

I fell in love with them and paid full price (!!) for the rest. I really couldn't afford it, but I couldn't wait for a sale to find out what happened next. It was worth tightening the belt, and I'm eagerly waiting for more (imagine the Mervyn's woman here, but instead of "open, open, open," she's chanting "write, write, write!"). So I think giving away the first one is a terrific way to draw in new readers, if I'm anything to go by.

Though I have yet to buy any of your non-PsyCop books, nervous that others may be too skeery for me. I really want to read Hemovore, but I'm waiting in hopes of catching it on sale and thus minimizing my risk. If I love it as much as I suspect I will, then I'll feel safer to buy more, likely at full price. Another example of how discounting books can ultimately result in more sales. Since I'm sure most people are less wimpy and less broke than I am, they'll probably buy the rest of your backlist eagerly after getting hooked on PsyCop.

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