self-publishing success for indie aiuthors

book marketing

How Much Are Free Books Really Worth?

Admit it, you fantasize. Don’t be shy, we all do. The visual satisfaction of seeing your name mounting the NYT bestseller list gives you chills and the mirage of flashing lights and swelling bank digits ignite you. We indulge in the fantasies of owning a celebrated novel – we all believed we are the little-known champs grooming to be the next Woolf or Hemingway.This fantasy kept your pen rolling.

But now that you’ve published a book, it’s not as majestic as you envisaged. And lately, famous authors are giving away their books for free, and you’re thinking of joining in. The wringer is, for what price is free?

More voices are echoing this vagueness in the publishing arena. Do free books give away authors’ value or are we confusing it for price? Is it considered the depression of “art” in literature or a romanticized revolt of self-worth? Before this virtual dramedy exploded, cheap or free books seemed attractive for a number of whys and wherefores:


Free Books Aren’t Really Free

1. Marketing Appeal

Call it tactic or bait, it works for particular genre markets such as Romance or Thriller. In his strategy called Reader Magnets, Nick Stephenson hands out one of his books as a Funnel Book.

You need to give readers something of real value. Something more than an email every few months when you release a new book, or a tweet about your latest sale. Or a picture of your cat. You need to give them an irresistible reason to give you their email address.


2. Discoverability

As an unknown, it’s freeing your book into the wild. There’s no sure buyers, but like food samples in shopping malls, it’s a tempting piece that you can either try or pass by. And who doesn’t enjoy free tastes? No harm in that. David Gaughran couldn’t agree more:

What about new voices? Readers are going to be even more reluctant to pay high prices for completely unknown authors. They aren’t willing to pay a premium because the publisher is Simon & Schuster, but because the book is written by Stephen King. Debut authors miss out on truckloads of new readers because they are $10.99 instead of $4.99.


3. Wider Readership

In a similar topic in The Passive Voice, Claire Chilton comments,

I dunno about anyone else, but my free books give away my stories to new readers, readers who would not have read my books otherwise. If I do good job on a free story, they sometimes inspire some of those readers to buy more of my books too, and that makes my overall value worth more in an annual revenue kind of way.

Plus, I get to feel as if I’m assisting world literacy on some level and helping some poor people smile. Some days, I value that more than my revenue. I mean, yeah, I pick up some trolltastic attention on the free books too. But even that’s worthwhile when I get to watch someone learn the correct use of a proper noun live on Amazon.

Isn’t that the reason for free books anyway? So that readers will buy more?


Free Books Cost Writers’ Worth

Roz Morris recently voiced this out in an article where she wrote:

We do have to look at what we are doing to perceptions of writers’ worth. It’s expected that because writing is cheap to do, doesn’t require equipment, there is little cost. Actually there is. It’s in time, sacrifices, crafting, care, years of practice, discipline.

She expressed how a book costing “less than a sheet of gift-wrap” weakens the stature of authors because more than bound words, it’s made up of time and experience. And despite the booming of digital spread, the viability of publishing may be put to test.

As we were once readers before writing our own pieces and enjoyed the whims of e-books, we cannot forget how we spent a sum on good-ole tangible books that may be a win or a disaster, but we never complained because that’s how it was. Yes, e-books are cheap or sometimes free and less risky, but what does it say to the industry?


Price Versus Worth

Maybe we’re just muddled by the real face of value. Seeing a 50% off tag on your favorite bands’ new album as you cruise in a music store is rousing. Heck, you could even buy their old album with that price. Now, does that mean you think of them less as musicians because you’re getting their cd for half the bill? Same as when you skim into a new author’s piece and liked it, then bought it for a dollar – does that suggest you bought it for the slash or because you truly liked it? You could’ve picked any other greats at the same price, but you chose ‘that’ one.

And what about movies? Is watching an online stream over IMAX devalue the actors, writers, directors, and staff’s tough grind if we deny them a theatrical purchase? Of course not. The value and price doesn’t change how we see what we want to see. ‘The Godfather’ is a legend even more because of infinite downloads handy for all.

It could be that this is more of a belief system than a value system. We are honed to believe that bestsellers are worth every dime. We were trained in this sort of promotion everywhere that when it happened to books, we just thought it’s natural. This yo-yo pricing has been conditioning us for years, and it’s not just the consumers’ flaw, authors are playing. Authors are doing this to each other. Still, looking at every market, this is modified normalcy and there is actually no need for training.


“Free” in Every Field

Writing isn’t the only profession where value has been intrigued for the longest time. Like any artistic endeavor, there’s always aim for boon and movement for means. Yet, could it be too late for society to gift artists a peak of what they should have or must we keep nodding our heads to what’s been kosher molding us all these years? Is a work of meaning still no-meaning for society’s proprietors? – That if you’re not banding for its maintenance then you’re to be manipulated?

Also, we, being compared to the music industry, sets a blind perception that it is rarer to find musical talents than writers because everyone can basically write and given time they think they can create the next bestseller. Though there are specials that can truly craft a novel granted time and motivation, the vast majority of who can so-so write doesn’t really hit the jackpot. But talent is there, as always, in different fields and faces, it’s just that our puppeteers are honed to believe that it needs to be dug up to be exceptional.

Beyond that, there’s a whole new breed of artists who do what they do simply for passion. They bow to the premise of doing what makes you happy and money will follow arising rife migrations to tropical islands while some starve obeying their so-called passion. Though it’s tickling to believe that art is outside commercial needs, we still have mouths to feed.


Time Pays Time

The bitter truth is that readers don’t pay for your sacrifices, they pay for stories. So a reasonable monetary worth could be out of line. Do you think of factory workers when you test out your sneakers, no, you just want to enjoy your shoes. You don’t delve into the process, same as every working class in various industries. And if we start to pay depending on the intensity of hard-work, what will be of the economy?

Readers pay for the time they’re going to spend reading your words instead of doing something else or reading someone else’s book. And it’s the opportunity cost that’s worth freeing your book. Because when they come back for more, they prove to be your true readers, and when the clock share is mutual, that’s when we are worthy of some kind of dosh.

The good thing is, writers get off easier because of swelling write gigs. This may be because stories are forever. Books, in whatever form, will not die because there will always be hungry readers and passionate writers that makeup this grand design. So if we want art to live, we need artists, and artists who are outside the privileged circle need some kind of monetary worth so they can make a living and continue nurturing art.

Looking at days, weeks, or months to finish a book – a period you can never get back but truly enjoyed as a form of escape, don’t you think paying more is worth the experience and at the same time fuels the author to write more?

Written by: Derek Murphy

Derek is a book cover designer finishing a PhD in Literature. These days he spends his time building tools and resources to help indie authors publish better on his blog, Read More


Leave a Comment