Giving it All Away

Giving it All Away
WARNING: Rant is eminent.

So, what’s up with all these generous authors, making their ebooks free or 99 cents? When I recently published with Amazon’s KDP program, I was offered their “Select” designation if I agreed not to publish elsewhere. In return I would have the opportunity to offer my books for FREE during five days of my choosing over the next ninety. Opportunity?

51ADDV50oEL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA318_PIkin4,BottomRight,-18,-17_AA300_SH20_OU02_Every day, I see numerous books being touted on Facebook and other social networks that are free for a day or two. Authors seem to be clamoring to do this. It was explained to me that the “free” offer is useful—possibly necessary—for the acquisition of reviews. You make it free, hundreds of copies are downloaded, and a few return to post their views on your Amazon page. In theory, these readers should return and actual purchase your other titles. These free downloads do not, however, add to your Amazon sales ranking, because—obviously—they aren’t sales.

This whole thing gives me a bad taste. When my first ebooks hit the screen back in 1998, they were priced somewhere around $6.00. Known NY-type authors’ books were always higher. I got that. I was an unknown. Never sold a whole lot of books, but enough to make me feel like a real author. Prices have steadily dropped for us mid-listers, and seem to have settled around $3.00. Until this new wave of bandwagon discounting hit.

The more people that offer their books for free and cheap, the more it diminishes the value—perceived or otherwise—of our work. These books that we have slaved over for months (maybe years) go up for less than a dollar or worse. Is that really all they are worth? Worse, we are encouraged to want this “opportunity” in exchange for market exclusivity? Come on, I could offer my work for free if I wanted to, on my own, without having to give up rights to sell in any venue I wanted.

What’s happening, people? Why are you so willing to give it all away? When you offer your great novels for less than a buck, how can the rest of us sell for a reasonable cost? Readers are savvy now; their TBR piles are easily filled with freebies. Why pay for anything when every day, the new list of free books comes out. They may love their authors, but money is money.

So what is it really getting you? Reviews? Great. But unless those reviews result in a lot of sales—for real money—so what? You want to feel good about your book, of course. But why go to all the trouble to publish and market it if you’re not serious about being a professional?

Note:  This is in no way intended to pick on Kindle or insult any of my friends and fellow authors who’ve taken this route. I respect that we all have to try different avenues to potential success. I would definitely like to hear other points of view, because surely I am missing something here.




  1. Susan
    Jun 24, 2013

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And YOU ARE RIGHT! This current trend does seem like people just wait for the books to become free so they don’t have to purchase them. I don’t put my books for free anymore. I do offer some for .99 cents though, this does count toward the ranking, and KDP has the borrow program for prime members which amounts to more $$ per borrow than an actual sale does. Another issue which I am in the process of writing about on my blog is Amazon’s return policy. Allowing readers to read an entire book and return it, so essentially, they are getting your book for free that way too. It seems like the publishing world has a way of sticking it to the off list authors one way or another. Before we couldn’t get published, now we can’t make a dime whether we are or not. So rant away, lady.

  2. Jenny Hilborne
    Jun 24, 2013

    A lot of paid promo sites won’t allow authors to advertise unless their book is 99c or lower. For this reason, I often offer a title at 99c (with the rest still at regular price). I haven’t done a freebie in a long time and have no immediate plans to do so again. I do agree that free books reduce the overall value of books for everyone and encourage readers to wait for them to be offered at $o.

  3. Gayle Carline
    Jun 24, 2013

    I agree. Golly how I agree. In. Theory.

    In practice, I’m going to offer you a real life example. I swore I would never do a freebie again, but in March, an author at LCC talked me into trying it once more.

    I paid $250 to BookBub to advertise Hit or Missus for free, for three days. In the past, I had never given away more than a couple thousand copies. Using BookBub, I gave away 31,000 copies. Did it hurt? Yes, at the time. But…

    After the freebie weekend, I sold more of Hit or Missus than I ever have. As in, $2000 worth, for only one month.

    Now then, I haven’t maintained that number, but I’m still selling more now than in previous months. I’m also starting to get a lot of reviews, mostly positive, that can only help me.

    So do I like offering free books? NO. Does it kill me to offer them and see THOUSANDS of them go into greedy little reader hands that are open and grabbing up the freebies? YES.

    Will I do it again? You betcha.

  4. Pam
    Jun 24, 2013

    This is all great feedback. Gayle, I find that astounding. 31,000 copies?? So you feel your experience with Bookbub was well worth it. Good to know.

    Still, it feels bad that we’ve been put into this position of having to do ‘this’ to get ‘that.’

  5. Emilia
    Jun 25, 2013

    I agree with what you have said. It’s not right that ppl wait to download and snatch up all of the freebies when they are available. But I have to say that that is how I was introduced to many authors and if I truly liked it I go back to buy the rest of the series and try their other titles. Now, I never left a review before, why, because I don’t read reviews. I don’t really care what other ppl thought of the book, if the title and blurb pull me in, then I buy the book. The rating or amount of reviews don’t affect my buying decision. But I recently joined a book blog and help with reviews so I’ve started to leave reviews because I see how important they are to the author. And as far as pricing goes, I’ve paid up to $14.99 for ebooks, but now that my financials have changed, the most I’ll pay is $8.00, but if I can get the paperback for the same price, I’d rather do that anyway. I have my ereader for books that only have ebook format available. The problem is the greedy readers who only read free books or buy buys and return them. It’s absolutely ridiculous how greedy and ungrateful ppl really are. I also see it all of the time with giveaways. I personally join blogs and do giveaways to find new authors and for books I’ve never read and would like to read, but some ppl are just plain old greedy and ungrateful. They unlike authors and blogs if they don’t win, or once they win they unlike them. I’ve noticed the ethic of the USA lately(and I’m not just talking the past 8 years, I mean this current bubble wrap generation) has been that mostly everyone wants everything handed to them. They don’t wan to work for any of it or pay for any of it. The more we cater to ppl lik this, the worse it will be. I absolutely agree that if you don’t want put your hard work out there for free, don’t. Ppl would take a sac of sh*t too if it was free. It’s just a crazy mentality.
    Sorry to go on forever. 🙂

  6. Marsha
    Jun 25, 2013

    Ouch. Such painful words to us readers. I often take advantage of free e-books. Mostly, I will see a book 2 that looks good, and read the freebie for book 1. If book one was good, I will buy 2. I have many, many times even pre-ordered in a series after having read a freebie. I like paperback books and signed books, so if I have enjoyed a book, free or paid, I am more likely to purchase the paperback.
    I am surprised, and a bit disarmed, by the above sentiments as it feels as if everyone is talking in generalities. We are not all free-loaders.

  7. Emilia
    Jun 25, 2013

    I agree we dont all freeload, but theses statements arent for those of us who don’t freeload, but for the ones who do. And the ones who do, ruin it for those of us that aren’t like that. Like I said , I’ve downloaded freebies and have gone on to purchase more from that author if I like them. But there are ppl out there who wait for and only download freebies, or return the book they purchased once they’ve read it. So as usual for those idiots who do that ruin it for the rest of us who don’t take advantage in that manner

  8. Pam
    Jun 25, 2013

    This is all great feedback. Marsha, I should have included (in my rant) that I, too, have taken advantage of free ebooks from time-to-time, and like you, I’ve often purchased other books from new-to-me authors because of it. I am so glad to hear of those who do just that. My tirade is at least partially aimed at this trend in general, yes.

    Author Gayle Carline, who posted above, says she gave away 31,000 copies of her book, Hit or Missus (Great book, BTW). Following the giveaway, she sold a lot of the same title, enough to bring her $2,000 in royalties. She paid $250.00 for this promotion. Now (this is beginning to sound like a math problem!) can it be assumed that none of those 31,000 downloaders of the free ebook actually went back and paid for it? Probably. Can it be assumed that the ones who did pay for it bought it because of the promotion? Probably. Therefore, a promo costing $250.00 netted her a lot of sales. Were the 31,000 freebies necessary? (Note, this promo didn’t garner the number of reviews I would have expected, either.)

    I apologize if I offended anyone. No, not free-loaders. This is simply a trend being designed, encouraged and propagated by online retailers and promoters. As Jenny Hilborne mentioned, some promo sites require it. Like Emilia, I will usually pay up to around $8.00 for an ebook, but I like the $2.99 price point. Maybe if I read 5 to 10 books a week like some, I’d be more sympathetic toward the freebie market. I’d certainly utilize the “borrow” feature at Amazon and my local library.

    Last, I want to agree with Susan and Emilia that Amazon’s “return policy” is also terribly unfair to authors. Author Susan Griscom has her own rant over at her blog– check it out as well:

    Again, I only want to share how this feels from the author’s standpoint. It seems like readers are being caught in the middle.

  9. Emilia
    Jun 25, 2013

    I actually follow Susan’s blog and followed her link to your page. Lol. I agree and totally feel for the authors, that’s why I try my best to buy when I can and promote those authors that I love and encourage others to buy. There are plenty of authors who have ranted about these things, not only does it hurt your pocket but you as a person as well.