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Why Give Away Your Books?

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by Steerpike, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. Sure. In fact, 2012 saw ebook growth slow somewhat. You're going to see a lot of folks point to percentages of ebook growth and show how dismal the ebook market share growth was, but the actual revenue value of ebook sales still went up significantly from 2011 to 2012 (the market share percent didn't go up as much because the market share was already so high).

    The trend will slow. It will continue to slow over the next few years. But it won't stabilize for another decade or more, I think. It's going to take that long for print to finally fade out as an ordinary consumer good.

    By 2015, many colleges expect to go to ebook only textbooks. Within a few years after that, several states plan to be ebook only for textbooks grades K-12. By 2020, I suspect most textbooks in the USA will be in ebook form for all levels. And that's the real crux; this new generation of students is going to grow up never touching a print book in school. So they're going to see print books as something quaint, the way younger folks today look at LP records. I suspect by sometime in the early 2020s, print books will only be made for precious books - either religious texts, or special limited/signed editions of books people want to keep and cherish. It could happen sooner; certain events (like when B&N declares bankruptcy and closes all their stores) will accelerate things. But I figure a ten year timeline is probably a good bet.
     
  2. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    ....meep. :-(
     
  3. djutmose

    djutmose Dreamer

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    One thing I can say is that I do think the free KDP promos on Amazon have helped my sales. For my first novel, definitely ... I wouldn't have sold 500+ paid copies if I hadn't given out 2000 free first. I know some authors who went through small publishers for their ebooks, the publishers generally don't do the KDP promos, and the sales haven't been great.

    That having been said, there are no guarantees. I just gave away 3200+ copies of Shadewright (1st book in new series), so I will see how that translates into sales.

    I have tried promoting on Facebook, which has been a waste of time compared to the KDP free promos. I really hope Amazon doesn't get rid of them, but then I wouldn't be surprised if the program changed, either.
     
  4. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    When it comes to this I'm leaving it up to fate while I see just how strong my will power is. Sticking it out against a tantrum-throwing six year old for five hours without cracking is one thing. Pursuing an agent or publisher is another entirely. If the agent and publisher don't work, it's off to e-books.
     
  5. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    Fact is people love free stuff. Until I see people go to county shows, conventions, university open days and such and not horde free pens, those little googlie-eyed fuzzy things, badges, stickers and so on, I'm going to stick to that opinion. There are moments when "free" loses value for people. It could be any number of things that do it mind you, growing out of it, wanting to support the people you're buying from, etc.

    Our trick is to make sure that free doesn't lose value, or that it might add value instead. I'm sure previous posts in the thread have mention how this can be achieved (short fiction and samples are better suited as free promo material, ...) you just have to find what works.
     
  6. boboratory

    boboratory Minstrel

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    For my experience, in 2012 we (Brick Cave Books) gave away 1,950 ebooks as freebies through Sony, B&N, etc. Those same authors had additional books for sale in those same channels. We had some additional channels (Apple, Amazon, Kobo), where we did not give away any books. There is also some suspect regarding which stores we offered free on, and which stores we did not- so it may be we offered free books on stores that were weaker anyway. Regardless, we saw:

    - Increase in sales of titles year over year (2011-2012, we are fairly low volume, think 100's) for their titles for sale in channels WITHOUT free offerings.
    - Decrease in sales for channels that offered free titles.

    These same authors, in channels without free offerings, we offered varied price points of .99/3.99/6.99. There are some limitations on what data we can collect because of the stores, but I can say-

    - Multiple sales within a day for the same author.
    - Potentially "Buying Down", ie, a buyer would buy the $6.99/book and then buy the rest. I also think we saw "Buying Up", where the person bought the $.99 or $3.99 then moved to the higher priced books. But again, these are speculations based on limited data from stores.

    Strategically, for 2013, we decided to nix the free book offerings through any stores. Instead, we figured we would offer them formatted on html on our site, as a way to encourage traffic more directly, and advertising revenue. There is nothing wrong with offering free books through the sites, but based on the quantity of material available, and our lack of evidence to suggest that people downloading free versions will ever become buyers, makes it a path that doesn't make much business sense - right now-
     
    Zero Angel likes this.
  7. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    If you offer them free on your site won't the vendors eventually price match them to free?
     
  8. They could. But it is VERY unlikely. Major retailers basically only price match for other major retailers.
     
  9. boboratory

    boboratory Minstrel

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    @darn62.... I would first concur with Kevin's response...

    That being said, the plan is to not offer those particular titles in any store (even our own), so they would have nothing to reprice in the first place.
     
  10. scottmarlowe

    scottmarlowe Dreamer

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    I think the giveaway works if you're doing it as a loss leader, as in you give away the 1st book of a series and hopefully readers then like it so much they go out and buy the rest. My experience with giving away standalone or first book in a series books when that one book is the only one out is that it's a fairly low ROI. I have gotten very few reviews out of it, but that's after giving away tens of thousands of copies.

    In general, I'm not "for" giving away stuff for free unless it's as stated above (first in a series sort of thing).

    I discussed my own experiences with the Doctorow mantra here if you're interested: The Failure of Free
     
    BWFoster78 and Black Dragon like this.
  11. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    Thanks for sharing your experience Scott.

    I think that your conclusion is accurate. As has been stated before, if something is free or very cheap, people will not value it as much. Thus, there is a greater likelihood that people won't read it at all.

    I know that when I pay more than a couple of dollars for an ebook, I'm going to read it. But I have many free ebooks sitting on my Kindle that I may never even open.
     
    scottmarlowe likes this.
  12. Kit

    Kit Maester

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    What about putting the first half of your book on your webpage for free, then if they want to read the 2nd half, they have to buy your ebook? Would that work?
     
  13. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

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    Didn't read the related-blog article until now. I definitely agree that the first in a series can help a lot more, but one of the (albeit nerfed) benefits of giving something away free is giving it away through Amazon specifically. Free giveaways causes your books to go up the bestselling lists in the free category, but a portion of this is translated into the popularity lists in the paid category when your book comes off the free promotion.

    For my math book, I am lucky enough to be in a category without a lot of Kindle competition, but whenever I start to lag in the bestselling list, I launch a free promotion, get a few hundred downloads, and follow with unknown sourced sales in the week(s) after. Sometimes on the order of tens of sales, sometimes less than 20, but enough to boost it back up into the tops of the category. Right now is the lowest my math book has ever been in the ranking (#69) and that is because I am waiting to do the next promotion until the follow-up comes out.

    Now, the second book in the series should come out this month, and once the KDP terms end, I hope to try to get the 1st to be offered free via Smashwords and be price-matched on Amazon to follow the first-of-the-series model. At that point, I will hopefully be more knowledgeable as to if any of the prior free-downloaders actually read and want more of what I have to offer in the math world.

    That said, for my fantasy series, War of the Ages, after Book III comes out I am planning on going back and doing an extended "author's cut" version of the first novel and turning it into 2-3 books on its own. Both the present version of Book I and the first book of the extended author's cut will be offered for free (and the differences will be included in the descriptions—I don't want to get sales by fooling people), and the new author's cut extra works will be $2.99. I'll also include bundle versions like I plan on doing for my math books.

    Unfortunately, I won't have any data to share from the author's-cut/free-1st-book-in-the-series experience until circa 2015. Should have more nonfiction data to share by the end of 2013.

    Oh, although I am also going to be doing some prequel shorts and some of those will probably be offered free with the hopes Amazon will price-match sooner-than-later. Once I get any data, I will share ASAP.
     
    scottmarlowe likes this.
  14. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

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    Benjamin Clayborne gave an extended look of his book on his site. I remember him saying that it helped some.

    I would just be leery of cliffhanger endings of "free" stories – I think it would diminish reader trust – although if you emphasized that it was the first half / free *preview* it would probably not have any negative repercussions.
     
  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    It seems like the benefit of this is negated somewhat by the fact that all ebooks have a free sample. I usually know after a couple of paragraphs if I'm going to want to read a book, so I'm not sure what the extra amount adds or if people will want to download something that is specifically advertised as a teaser.

    It also negates Scott's theory, which I think has real merit, that most people don't read free/low priced books.
     
  16. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

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    Correct. Most ebooks offer the first 10% or so for free. The issue being, I suppose, if your book is a "slow-starter". Unfortunately, if your book is a slow-starter, the chance that someone will make it through the beginning is lower than it is with an established author. Best advice in my opinion for that would be to write a more involving beginning than offer more of the book.

    It might be worth to offer your own free preview (even if not a longer one) on your site though for those that don't want to navigate away to Amazon or BN.com.

    It might also foster a the-author-really-cares-about-the-reader sentiment with your readers/customers as well.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Most likely, the "first half" is too much to expect people to read before making a decision. By that point you've undercut your sales pitch. In terms of a sample, most people only need a paragraph or two before they have enough information to make a decision. If you give them too much more, you're weakening that moment of decision. I think the extra material would do more harm than good.
     
  18. scottmarlowe

    scottmarlowe Dreamer

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    Yes. When I wrote that post I was also in the KDP Select program and found some pretty good success with borrows and then the free runs translating into good list positioning and so on. I think what I was getting at in the post is that giving away copies to "faceless" readers or without there being some other benefit, like what KDP Select offers, then free doesn't work.

    Something I have had success with, however, is offering free copies to specific readers in exchange for a review. Because the person has to contact me, I'm able to establish that personal connection. This goes a long way towards getting feedback in general, but I've also asked each person to post their review to more than just Amazon, so it helps spread the word that way as well. So far, I've gotten 4 reviews this way. All very good ones.
     
  19. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

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    Great point. For reviewers (especially professional ones, but maybe some private ones in the beginning), we should *always* make review copies available. Some reviewers will refuse them, preferring to purchase every copy, but most will take part if they want to review your novel/story.

    Pitfalls: (1) accepting a free copy of our book does not mean they will review the book — especially for the larger, busier reviewers; (2) it should never be implied that the free review is a payment for a good review; (3) most reviewers do not care to be sent unsolicited books, even if they are free — query first unless their submission policies say otherwise.
     
  20. scottmarlowe

    scottmarlowe Dreamer

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    I usually will offer the free copy, of course, but I've had reviewers go out and buy it as well without any prompting from me.

    Good points. I do make it clear when I give someone a free book in exchange for a review that it is for an "honest" review. Obviously I don't want 'bad' or low ratings in return, but I understand I can't control that. At least so far, though, with having established that initial connection, people have been very accommodating and thoughtful in their reviews. I think there's something about being nice to readers that makes them want to reciprocate. :)
     
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