Should Books ever be Free? 2013 365 Challenge #239

The Inflatable Slide

The Inflatable Slide

There’s an ongoing debate amongst self-published authors (potentially all authors but I can only speak for Indies) about the merits of making an ebook cheap or even free for a short period of time.

For an unknown author, making use of something like the KDP Select Program, with its five free days every three months, can be a great way to get your name out there.

Even if no one reads your book after they’ve downloaded it for free – and I’m sure the majority don’t (I only ready about 10% of those I download for free) – the giveaways increase your Amazon rankings and make you appear in the ‘also bought’ section at the bottom.

The more relaxed Bouncy Castle

The more relaxed Bouncy Castle

Whether this gives you sales you wouldn’t have achieved anyway, with self-belief and patience (not traits I have in abundance), is possibly debatable, but I know I wouldn’t have sold 7 copies in Germany this month if I hadn’t appeared on some German website during my last free promo. Dragon Wraiths reached No 1 in Fantasy during the three-day promotional period and it boosted sales tremendously, if only for a short time.

The effect of the other element – pricing cheaply – is harder to grasp. Authors like Amanda Hocking have made their fortune with a 99c price point, but only through lots and lots of hard work, promotion and through writing lots of books.

Equally I have heard compelling arguments to say pricing too cheap can affect people’s perspective of your credibility as an author. It’s hard to utilise free alongside low pricing, as the KDP Select Program prevents you from pricing as low as 99c, so I have little direct experience of a low price point.

In another dog show

In another dog show

Therefore these are not questions I have answers to. Catherine, Caffeinated has a great post on why Indie authors need to price low, even though she also wrote the post above about why you should charge as much as you can. If she does’t know the answer, with her wealth of experience, I’m certainly unlikely to figure it out. I imagine it is different for every author, book and personality type (ie how much patience is on offer).

The reason it popped into my head today was due to a trip to our local village fete. The kids wanted to go on the bouncy castle and the inflatable slide. The castle was £2 for as long as they liked. The slide was £1.50 for three goes.

Most parents and kids came away from the busy bouncy castle feeling happy that they’d received value for money. We all came away from the half-empty inflatable slide, and the miserable lady ushering the kids off after their three goes, feeling grumpy and hard done by.

Our Young Handler, 4th place

Our Young Handler, 4th place

Just because the castle man was giving away more, it didn’t devalue the experience. I suspect he made more money even though the kids were on the castle for ages for their two quid: there’s nothing like a castle full of giggling bouncing children to entice others to have a go. No one went on the inflatable slide twice, they just went elsewhere.

Part of being an author is about building a brand. If you give your book for free, so what? It means people have a chance to read your book who probably wouldn’t otherwise. If people like what they read they’ll come back for more, even if it isn’t free. If they don’t like it, you’ve lost nothing. Yes you get bad reviews but you get those anyway (or I certainly do)!

Anyway, these are just my thoughts! What are your views on cheap and free? Does it make you think the book won’t be worth reading, or does it encourage you to discover new authors?


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


It surprised Claire how much more fun it was wandering around a museum with someone else, particularly someone knowledgeable who also had a sense of humour. Bethan proved herself well versed in the history of the country and the Maoris, adding snippets of information and reducing the amount of sign-reading Claire had to do.

The Te Papa museum was vast, with everything from Maori dancing to space exploration. Claire’s feet throbbed and her mind swirled with the myriad of information crammed into it. And it was free! When she thought about the money she’d spent on tours and experiences since arriving in the country, and here was this amazing facility at no cost. Even so, it was definitely time for a break, before her legs dropped off.

“Enough! Don’t you ever stop?” Claire stood with her hands on her hips as Bethan tried to drag her outside to see the ponds.

“We’ve only seen about half. Come on, wus, don’t stop now. What else is there to do? It’s tipping it down outside.”

Claire smiled at the strangely English colloquialisms coming from the Asian face in an America accent. Bethan’s history intrigued her, not least because she hadn’t shared a single thing about herself apart from the stay in the States.

“A coffee, please? Just a coffee break. I need caffeine.”

“It’s not good for you, you know? Much better to drink fruit juice or, better still, water.”

Claire pulled a face. “I wouldn’t live longer, it would just feel like it. Okay, I’ll have a latte and you can drink green tea.”

It was her turn to drag Bethan, as she towed the girl towards the coffee shop. It was crowded, like the whole museum, and Claire sincerely hoped they would find a seat.

Trust me to be in the capital on a bank holiday weekend. Why couldn’t I have been in river valley or somewhere else devoid of people? Rain or no rain, I might have to brave the Cook Strait crossing tomorrow.

As if reading her mind, it was Bethan’s first question when they eventually found a seat. ”When will you get back on the bus? Are you taking the ferry or flying to the South Island?”

“Ferry, I guess. Whichever is cheaper.”

“I wouldn’t fancy flying in this weather. It’s a nasty crossing on a good day.”

“You sound like you’ve done it before?” Claire sipped at her coffee and felt the warmth and caffeine spread through her body.

“I have. This is my second tour of the country. I did it all too quickly the first time round.” She blushed and Claire wondered what the story was. She raised an eyebrow, inviting confidences, but Bethan only shook her head and laughed.

“Are you staying in Wellington for a while?”

Bethan smiled, seemingly glad of the change of subject. “I should. I need to work. Funds are running low again, and it will be easier to find a job here in the city.” She frowned. “I’d rather not, though. One city is pretty much the same as another after a while. I miss the mountains.”

Remembering something Mitch had said, Claire asked, “Couldn’t you get work at one of the ski resorts, or down in Queenstown?”

Bethan shook her head. “I don’t ski. Besides …” She hesitated and Claire again suspected there was a story there.

Maybe she’ll feel able to tell me later.

It felt good to have some female company, to gossip – even if it was a bit one sided. Claire had told Bethan about Carl and Michael, work and Kim. Something about the way the girl actively listened made Claire share her life history with her.

Sitting with Bethan, laughing at silly things that they had seen or done during the morning, Claire felt a pang of sadness. It felt like old times with Kim. She wondered if she would ever have them again.


38 thoughts on “Should Books ever be Free? 2013 365 Challenge #239

  1. My thoughts on cheap and free? For my reading delight, I’ll only download cheap and free if it’s a well known author with a promo on. That’s because I read every book I download. Every one. I will try out new authors and have done. £2.99 is a price of a coffee and biscuit, and a novel gives me more pleasure, so at that price, I’ll try out anyone. Above that at £3.99 and £4.99, I’m more likely to read and weigh the reviews than trust the blurb. I will try out short stories at various prices depending on the volume size. I’ll also utilise the ‘sample preview’ if a book starts to get nearer to £5, then if the preview hooks me, I’ll buy.
    I don’t clutter my real life bookshelves with stuff because it’s free, so won’t do the same with my e-reader.

    • It’s interesting to see so many views on the subject! It probably says a lot about me that my bookshelves are as full of unread books as my kindle. Many I paid full price for but couldn’t get in to, some were charity shop impulse purchases. I buy books because I like buying and owning books as much as to read them!

  2. I figure that it comes down to which sells me more copies and make me the most money in the long run! Free promos net me more paid downloads, so that works for me. Looking forward to seeing how it works with the sequel out next month.

    That, and it’s just so much fun to watch the numbers climb on a free promo!

    • Agree about the addiction of the free promo. One of the articles I linked to talked about the importance of the long term view. Plus who knows how many people might read our free download in months or years to come and discover we have a whole catalogue of books to buy? (I can dream, right? Lol)

  3. With the sample preview of the first few chapters, I don’t see any reason to give books out free. But, then again, if you give it our free for a limited time and it brings your book to the forefront, and then you stop giving it out free, you stand to make a lot of sales.

    Yet at the same time, you are getting people used to getting new authors at a free price. They are already a little spoiled at getting books for next to nothing. The skimpier we get them expecting the prices, the less money we make.

    • I agree that you reduce the chance of the impulse purchase when you make readers used to getting books for free. But then people borrow books from the library for free, then purchase a copy to keep or as a gift. Libraries and charity shops haven’t stopped people shelling out good money for a new book from an author they like. I’ve bought books in paper copy and ebook copy – one to read and one to keep. Books are funny, emotive things.

      • Best thing you can do is write a damn good book. It will tend to sell itself. Word of mouth is your best friend (or your worst enemy).

        How pricing on ebooks affect it is a topic I’ll have to do more research on.

      • Absolutely, it’s not black and white – marketing never is. As a marketing manager I often fought with my director about putting activity like TV in our marketing mix. He used to say every marketing stream had a have a return on investment and I would argue it was about building brand recognition and awareness: hence the marketing mix. No one questions that authors should blog: I’ve spent more hours blogging this year than I did writing Dragon Wraiths – no would would expect me to charge for people to read it. It’s part of building a platform and, for me, so is being part of Amazon’s KDP Select Program, including the giveaways. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I am I’m in good company! 🙂

      • I agree with you, but I also believe blogs can be a negative factor, too. They can distract you from writing the novel and cause you to write for the wrong reasons.

        I think the free books do promote the book, in a way. But, it also depends on supply and demand. If every one is giving away free eBooks, then you really don’t get the price diversity that drives the reads.

        On the other hand, if several people are letting their books go for free, you probably stand a pretty good chance of your book getting ignored if it is not free.

        Honestly, I find it all distracting to think about. For now, I’m just going to focus on getting my novel written. I would like to see dollar signs from my book, but I don’t want to see dollar signs while I’m trying to write my book.

        My question to you is, which one do you think would sell better:
        A poorly promoted great novel OR
        A greatly-promoted poorly novel

      • I think my answer would be both or neither depending on the whim of fate! Look at Twilight or 50 Shades – not the greatest written books but they went viral and no one really knows why. Amanda Hocking writes about a fellow author doing pretty much exactly as she is doing without the same level of success. My gut feeling is a well written book will stand the test of time and continue to sell over a longer period. It probably depends whether the author writes one or many. From what I’ve read the best marketing tool is to write more books! 🙂

      • People want a single writer that they can follow all the writings of, not a one-shot star. More books than would be good. That makes sense.

      • Kristen Lamb always says it takes until book three before writers see much success. (I’m aiming for book four, seeing as my first is in a different genre!) In it for the long haul! 🙂

      • I’m in it for fun and self-fulfillment. In writing my first book, I think I’ve taken on challenge after challenge. I decided to do a story in a story. But it has to balance 50/50 with the external and I don’t bring it in until nearly 100 pages into the book. Except now, I don’t see the end coming before 600 pages.

        As I’ve said, I’ve challenged myself with transforming my narrative into medieval(ish) dialog for my internal story. It’s a pain in the arse at times, but I think I’ve done rather well at it.

        It will either make or break the book. 🙂 But I don’t care: write it anyway.

  4. My smashwords filter search is set to “free” and “medium” size or larger books wich I check everyday. Also I go to Barnes and Noble site “free Friday” selections lists. This is how I try new authors. I read a lot, so I find a lot of new authors. If, and only if, I really enjoy the author, then I look for and buy their other books. I just cannot justify spending money on an unknown author and finding out the book is a stinker. Authors offering their first book free get my attention, and good authors get my money.

    • I download the free sample and, if I find I’m not immediately driven to buy the book, I know it probably wasn’t for me. That’s why I have a high sample percentage on my own books! 🙂 I know they have the classic newbie failure of the slow beginning..!

  5. I do worry about the perception that if the book is too inexpensive, then people will assume that it’s not worth their time. Perhaps dropping the price to 99 cents during a promotion is better than free. Then again, by the time I’m ready to publish, the rules (buyer habits) may have changed, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

    • It is true that what works is a constantly moving feast. The 99p mark doesn’t work for me because the royalty rates are so low. I’d almost rather give it away than make 30p! Haha

  6. Interesting viewpoints. I agree with Vozey on the if you can sample a few chapters, you don’t need to give the whole thing for free.Having worked for a while in the voluntary sector, I have seen things being done for free treated as if they have no value. Books take a time to write, to edit and to publish, so they do have worth. If so much is invested in producing one, asking for a return is not really so bad.
    Also, I’m minded of what might happen if you tried the ‘I’ll only buy another if I like this one’ in a restaurant! Why do we think books should be different?

    • I come from a marketing background and it’s given me a polarised view: free and special offers are an important part of the marketing tool kit but it does encourage shoppers to chase the free. Building up relationships is the only way to ensure lasting sales, but you have to attract the customers in the first place. You can have the best book in the world but that’s no good if no one reads it. Restaurants do offer free all the time to attract customers – free drink, free dessert – in the hope that they’ll find new people to become loyal customers of the future. I’ve bought at least one sequel to a book I downloaded for free.
      I wrote the post knowing that there were many different viewpoints and I wasn’t wrong! 🙂 I firmly believe there is no right answer, just as there is no right way to market insurance or run a charity. We all experiment to find what works for us. I see my free Claire books bring people to my blog and that’s good enough for now.

    • I also worry of the dangers of undercutting the market. Cheaper books doesn’t guarantee more buys, but it does guarantee less profits. That means writers everywhere make less money.

      I think I agree with limited-time free promotions, so those cheapskate people can get books if they want to wait for it long enough. I’m not criticizing, either, because i”m a sort of cheapskate myself. Namely, I have too dang many books on my list to read to want to buy anything.

      But, like a restaurant, I think a successful book needs to be unique, well-promoted (including a nice cover), and taste good. I think a mediocre or poorly book can easily damage your reputation or prevent it from growing.

      • I agree a poorly written book won’t do you any favours but I have read the first novels of favourite authors and been disappointed at how poor they were! We all have to start somewhere and hope to improve. I do think that basic grammar and formatting are essential.
        In terms of profit, I probably make as much from my £2 ebook as a traditional author does from their £9.99 paperback. Possibly more!
        This great debate just shows it’s an amazing time to be an author!

  7. Now that I have a second book out, I’ve dropped my first book to .99. Not sure what this will do, but my reasoning behind it is that the book has 36 reviews, most are favorable and spread out over time. Perhaps if someone enjoys my newest book they’ll feel safe (and like they’re getting a deal!) trying out the first for the .99 rate. I love that we have the flexibility to play around with such things; try something for a few months and if it doesn’t work, we can do more research and try something new!

  8. Maybe the best time to do the free thing is when you already have a few books out there, that way you most likely will have more of an established fan base, those are the guys, after all, who will be pleased that you’ve released a free book but are also willing to buy your other books.

    • Yes I think you’re right, the free promotion works better when there are other books to support it. Of course I have 7 (soon to be 8) free ebooks from my daily installments story here on the blog. Although I’m not sure they will help that much, as it is a ‘first draft’ and, if the reader didn’t know that when they read them, they might think I know nothing about plot, story and character arcs! Hehe

  9. What an interesting discussion! I can see both sides of the argument, but in the end, I think it might be the quality of the book that seals the deal.
    There have been quite a few times that I’ve considered buying a book but wasn’t sure it was for me. When it became available for free I grabbed it. 🙂 Now I just have to find the time to read them all!

  10. Pingback: The Never-ending Edit: 2013 365 Challenge #141 | writermummy

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