The Free Book Glut

Announcing all the free books in the latest author newsletter.

Free books are everywhere on the internet. The independent author-publishers are glutting the market with freebies. Why? Because writers are glutting the market with themselves and in the heat of competition to be seen, they’re giving away the store.

Now don’t get me wrong. I welcome the new technology that enables anyone who has a book inside him or her to publish that book once it’s been written. After all, this is the age of social media and books are a form of social media. They convey thoughts, feelings, imaginings, dreams, and hopes. And today’s technology makes it all that much easier for a writer and his or her audience to interact with each other. And I think that is a good thing.

What I am beginning to have a problem with, however, is the current mania of giving away books to try to secure an audience. I can’t help but think the practice is going to have long term detrimental effects on the indie movement. Here are some concerns:

  • The devaluing of books and thereby the writer’s craft. After all, if a book is free it can’t have much value — can it? And if a writer gives away his or her work, he or she can’t think much of it — can they?
  • The creation of the expectation that indie books should be free. Because, after all, the big corporate publishers don’t give anything away for free.
  • Glutting the market with more books than readers can possibly read. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much!
  • The self-delusion of writers, who are not very good, into thinking if they give enough away somebody will read their work. When in truth, they should find a different hobby or occupation. One they are much better suited at.
  • Writers deluding themselves into thinking if they give enough books away, people will love their work and buy their other books so the writer can live his or her dream and quit the 9 to 5.

The latter two points above not much can be done with. Those fall under the umbrella of self-realization. Unfortunately, even bad writers can become popular — which only fuels the problem.

Nevertheless, the first three points we writers, as a collective, can do something about.

I ran across an interesting article with comments on the subject of book giveaways the other day. Here’s the link so you can read for yourselves: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-why-indie-authors-shouldnt-give-away-free-books/

When I first started self-publishing, the debate among indies was permafree or 99¢ for the series starter. Back before 2014 I think permafree made sense as there were not so many indie authors and free actually got traction. Even so, I said there was no way I was going to give my book away for free. The Big 5 don’t do it — why should I?

Then the tsunami hit. Starting in 2014, indie authors began coming out of the walls, the woodwork, the light socket, you name it. Indie authors were everywhere. To get traction, book services began springing up overnight offering to promote their books — if it was free or 99¢ — on Twitter, Facebook, and to their mailing lists. Of course, the services weren’t free. An author had to pay for those. Pay to give away books. Hm.

Yet, I could see a certain logic in the giveaway mania that was developing. The free first book in a series was a sample of good things to come. Give away the first book and build your mailing list and reap the harvest of good things. And that has worked for some.

However, seeing the glut of indie authors and the many, many hundreds, if not thousands, of books being given away for free — I’ve started re-thinking the free strategy.

For myself, I have to admit I’ve read few of the free books I’ve downloaded. That doesn’t mean I won’t read them at some point in time because I might. But I’m not reading them now. And of course that’s what all of those authors want me to do. Read their books now and buy all of their other books. Sorry folks. It ain’t happening.

Why? Several reasons:

  • Some simply can’t write.
  • For others, the style puts me off.
  • Some are okay, good even, but the price of the other books is too high. The writing isn’t good enough for me to spend that much money.
  • Some don’t have any books to follow up with from their freebie. So why offer the first book free?
  • I have over a thousand books on my iPad. And more on my computer. Most are free. Most are classics. That’s a lot of very good stuff to read. The freebie offerers are competing with thousands of good books no longer in copyright and available for free.
  • My time is limited. I write and I read. I read what my contemporaries write to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on. But my contemporaries have a lot of competition.

So if I, as an author and a reader, am not reading in any great number the free books I download — why should I expect people to read mine? That is a very good question. And my conclusion is that of the 1000+ copies of my books that I’ve given away, probably few have been read. I’ve garnered a few reviews, so I know at least 5 of those freebies were read. For which I’m very grateful and thankful.

As a strategy, giving away a free book in the traditional private detective mystery genre to drum up sales of my series and build an active and supportive mailing list doesn’t seem to be working all that well. I think I have a few fans developing and I’m very pleased. But nowhere near a thousand.

Granted, there may be things I need to be doing that I’m not to turn those folks on my mailing list into rabid fans. And in fact I know there are because I’m learning more and more on the business end each day. Hopefully in time I will turn my mailing list into that group of rabid fans.

My goal, though, is not to become a bestselling author. My goal is to build a sustainable and dependable income from my writing. I don’t need fame and glory. If it comes, wonderful. But I don’t need it. I’m not sure I even want it.

So I’ve been rethinking the free book strategy. And I’ve decided that I’m going to move away from it. In the long run, I think giving away books cheapens them. Makes them less important. It develops an expectation on the part of readers that indie authors should give away their books for free. And I don’t want to be part of that — because it’s self-destructive. Writers lose and readers lose.

Writers lose because if an author can’t make money to at least cover his or her costs, that writer will stop writing.

Readers lose because the vast choice currently before them will go away. And once again readers will be at the mercy of corporate giants deciding what they should read. And who wants that?

Readers will lose again because the cheap books will go away and the mega-priced big corporate offerings will remain. I mean $15 for an ebook? Seriously?

The glut of free books may satiate readers and may even turn them off from reading. And who wants that?

My new strategy is a modification of the free book approach. It’s the sampler.

On Saturday morning, when I go into the grocery store, there are all manner of nice ladies wanting to give me samples. Cheese, meat, dips, spreads, crackers, you name it. They don’t give me the whole product. Just a sample. If I like the sample, I’ll probably buy whatever it is to give it a further test drive at home.

When I buy a car, I get a test drive. A sample of the driving experience in that car. No car dealer gives away a free car. If I like the drive, I have to buy. So why not apply that to my books, which I worked very hard at producing?

That’s my new approach. Give a sample of my writing and hopefully whet their appetite for more. Give them the invite to buy. Because we almost always value what we buy more than what we get for free.

In the process, I also hope to weed out the freebie grabbers. Those readers who’ve grown fat on freebies and expect indies to give them more and more and more.

If a freebie grabber does snap up my sampler, at least they won’t have the entire book. Just a few chapters, that they probably won’t read anyway. If they do, they’ll have to pay to read the rest of the story.

So that’s the circle I’ve traveled. No free books to free books to no free books. Just a delicious tidbit. That test drive to hopefully get folks to buy.

After all, I’m a business and no business stays in business by giving away the store.

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