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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. 16th, 2010 11:43 am (UTC)
I'm surprised to see the discussion has taken a turn for, "I'm a poor college student so it's okay for me to steal directly from an author in case I don't like the book," and "It's okay for me to steal from an author if I subsequently buy one of their other books." I've seen both of these arguments many times. They are both ways that people rationalize that something is permissible that they know in their heart is wrong.

I'm not going to ever say, "Great, that's totally cool." I am a poor, self-employed artist. I put in long hours to earn my paycheck. Writing is my sole source of income. It's not okay to steal it.

The only ethical way to deal with a previously stolen ebook, mp3 or other digital content is to delete it. If you can't bring yourself to delete it, that would indicate that you value the content highly enough to pay the creator for it.
Oct. 16th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
I guess you won't believe me, but I can see how this would make you angry.

I wasn't trying to say it's "okay" to illegaly download books. I was trying to say that putting one up for free like you did with AllRomance is a good way to reach people who otherwise wouldn't take a chance. I didn't come by the first one honestly, but based on my experience if other people do then they'll be hooked.

I'm not saying I was right. I don't download stuff anymore, it was there at the time and I gave into temptation. I didn't just buy one other book either, I bought everything else. If you think "poor excuse" then fair enough. But you did earn more money from me than you would have otherwise.

Oct. 16th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
Actually, re-reading your comment and thinking about this, it could very well be that "if I subsequently buy one of their other books" didn't mean just one book. That is, the amount of other books bought doesn't matter if there's still one not fairly paid for.

You are right about ethical ways to deal with previously stolen content. I was wrong not to do so at the time, and I'm sorry. I guess all I can do is rectify this. It's late, but I hope it balances out in the end.

BTW, in my original comment I was talking about free (or discounted) books on authors websites, not illegal sites. Please believe me that I do not go trolling around looking for illegal download sites. If authors have free books (I include all lengths of stories in "books") then I will take the chance, but I won't if they don't. Blurbs and excerpts aren't helpful at all.

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