Everyone Should Make Their Books Free

I’m in the middle of an experiment with Amazon pricing.  Around 6 weeks ago I set my novel to free on Smashwords (instead of pay what you like), sort of hitting myself for not doing this sooner.  My plan was for the book to be distributed free to Barnes and Noble.  Amazon would then price match B&N and also make the book free.  This is what happened.  Last Thursday afternoon my book was made free and this is what my downloads look like since then:

For a couple days I was listed on the first page of Kindle bestsellers – during that period I was getting 250 downloads an hour.  Sure, I’m making nothing – but I can’t imagine there are a lot of writers who don’t like the idea of 250 downloads an hour.  Certainly, a lot of people are hoarding books and sampling a few pages – the way you’d do at a bookstore, where you sample books before settling on what to buy.  But even if, say, 500 of that 10,000+ actually read the book, this is how buzz starts.  Already there are dozens of new marked-to-reads on Goodreads, meaning that people aren’t just downloading the book for the hell of it.  And even if they don’t read it, the more mentions on Goodreads, the merrier.

So I really recommend this strategy: set your book to free on Smashwords, wait to see if Amazon drops the price, then after that period is over (Amazon is said to make books free for 1 week at a time) raise the price to whatever you like.  It’s basically the same premise as a Library Thing giveaway, except in thousands, rather than the hundreds.  The downside to this is once everyone starts doing it, it’ll be less fruitful – also it means readers will be less and less willing to actually pay for books.  I mean, really, if you own a Kindle there isn’t a great incentive to actually buy books given that you can select dozens of new free books every week.  That’s the trade-off.  Personally, I’m more interested in being read right now than making money – which can happen, if more people are reading you.  Right now it’s like being Amanda Hocking without the profit.

Anybody else have an experience with the freemium model?  Currently, another SPR-er is in the top listings (Face the Winter Naked) and it’s been there for longer than my own – I peaked at 19.  Still here though:

  • If you have another book that people might want to check out after reading the freebie, this might work out to your advantage. If not, all you’ve done is make sure that 10,000 now have no reason to pay for your book.

    • This is partly true. The reason I’ve set my book to free many places is because it’s part 1 and I want to generate as much interest as possible in the series. Still, word of mouth can only spread once people actually read the book, so those 10,000 might tell some paying readers. And those 10,000 might never hear of it otherwise. Free books are listed on http://www.pixelofink.com/ and similar places.

  • Your book was listed in Kindle Nation Daily, which goes to jillions of people. Including me. I snagged your book.

    Mind you, you are now in competitive with over 1,500 Freebies and Samples I also have waiting to be looked at. So keep that in mind too.

    And *every day* KND touts MOAR freebies. Today they said there were *fifty* new ones.

    • Yeah, I know, but it’s also free advertising. My downloads have gone up everywhere since this happened, including Barnes and Noble. Also getting more Facebook likes, reviews, and such.

      If I charge $5 for the book, the percentage of people who will read it is higher, but this number is very likely lower than the % of 12,000+ people who’ve downloaded it this week.

  • Excellent news, Henry! I’m glad more people are checking out your book.

    I’ve thought about listing ALT for free, though it’s not something I’d want to do for a long period of time. Like you mentioned above, it’s a good way to generate more interest with a second part on the way, but considering my next book isn’t coming until next year, I may wait until closer to release.

    While we’re on the topic, does this mean American Book part 2 is nearing completion?

    • Definitely think about it. I’ve got 100 pages of Part 2, and it’ll probably be twice that. So…no, unless I get hit by some manic inspiration.

  • I’ve been enjoying several mini-surges through Amazon this summer. All of my books are always free on Smashwords and Feedbooks, and Amazon has taken it into their head to match several so far – fourteen at last count. Most of them have ended up on various Amazon Kindle Free ‘bestseller’ lists, and the total downloads are rapidly closing in on six figures just for the past two months. I couldn’t be happier, because I’m not into this thing for sales, only for readers, and Amazon is where the bulk of the e-readers seem to dwell.

    One important point to keep in mind is that on Amazon, reviews are paramount, and freebie readers do post reviews sometimes. So even if you’re only out to get some attention by doing the freebie thing for a short period, any good reviews you snag this way will help you in the long run, and you can’t buy that (not for real, at least).

    The amusing part has been to see which lists my books end up on. I had my atheist comic novel ‘Missy Tonight’ show up as #1 in Non-Fiction/Religion/Spirituality/Agnosticism, my geek comedy ‘World Weary Avengers’ show up in Non-Fiction/Science/Technology/Reference and its sequel, ‘Ledman Pickup’, on the top of the Technothrillers lists (it’s techno, but not really a thriller). Most of my others have ended up in ‘Literary Fiction’, which is a sort of backwater for ebooks it seems (compared to erotica, romance, sci-fi, YA and mystery). I have no idea how Amazon determines these categories!

    Yes, with a freebie you are competing with a lot of other freebies, but I’m guessing the ‘competition’ is much less fierce than in the pay-zone, because almost everyone wants to get paid.

    I wish good luck to all, in every case.

    • Amazing – so how long have your books remained free? Ever longer than a week?

      One of my concerns is bad reviews – attracting a lot of downloads from people who wouldn’t normally read this kind of book, and leaving a review reflecting that. I’ll see – I’ve already had a really good review in this time, though I’m not sure if it’s because of this promotion.

      Yeah, my book has ended up on the NON-fiction best-of list for “Evolution.” Ahead of biology textbooks.

  • Most of them have remained free for several weeks. I have no insight into their process. True, I’ve had my share of bad reviews too, which tells me the books are reaching a wide range. My ‘Part Time People’ has had, so far, 2 5 stars and 2 4 stars, to go along with a few 2 and 1 stars as well. Maybe that just tells people they’ll have to find out for themselves!

  • Henry, whenever you publish your sequel to The American Book of the Dead, I’ll read it. I’ll even pay for it.

  • I want to make sure people know I exist before doing something like that. It is true, I care more for the audience than the money, but if no one knows you exist, your book will be read one and never passed around to say one of their friends. Then again, if your book makes an impression on them, maybe it will. I like the idea of taking one week to make downloading completely free. Maybe the hard covers will be costly but all downloads (pdf) can be free xP

  • Henry the trick is getting a price match – I’ve tried this and even reported myself for pricing high on occasion and still no joy – maybe I wasn’t trying it for long enough.

    I’d add before you do it, if you have more than one book, make sure you cross link all your other books in it, prominently, with extracts, to maximise the cross-promotion

    • Adding to that: I’d also recommend doing this once you have some reviews listed. People will still download it, but it’ll be less likely to climb the charts with no reviews.

  • Right now I’m enjoying the free offering on Smashwords. It’s tossed me into the #5 for best sellers on my first book of three in a series. Right now I’m heavily involved in marketing the series and working on book. I can only hope that it will generate sales for the next two releases from those who read the first. It’s an experiment worth a try.

  • Henry, you know how much I like your book, but I think you need to face reality: It’s been out there a long time as books go, and it’s ship has probably sailed given the number of new books that have attracted more attention since. I think your best bet is to field what you’ve learned from the venture to date in order to give the second volume a better launch. If you do well with the second book, that success will sell copies of the first. But you need to buckle down and get the follow-on book written soonest.

    I’ve been writing books for fifty years (this month!), and selling them for more than thirty. I have completed and published or had published more than forty titles. I adhere, as do all of my contemporaries I know, to the hard and fast rule that the main job of the writer is to write. It helps to sell what’s written, ’tis true, but writing is what it’s about.

    It’s true that traditional publishers don’t spend a lot of time or money developing or selling books. They never did; they always threw the books out there to see what worked, and then they spent time and money to back the authors whose books worked. It sounds stupid if you never lived there, but who on Earth knows what’s going to work? Nothing is graven in stone. (For example, Tom Clancy forgot how to write, so one day you never heard his name again. Some new guy took his place. That’s how commerce works.)

    If you have books in you, one book after another, write them. Then sell books for awhile. Then back to writing. A “writer” is a person who creates books, an “author” is the one who sells them; you have to be a writer before you can be an author, over and over again.

    • This is a pretty weird comment. Who’s to say I’m not writing? And isn’t that the life of the self-publisher – taking on the role of publisher and writer at the same time? I just got 15,000 new downloads so I don’t get why now is the time to give up, when clearly there are a lot of readers yet to reach, and new ways to reach them. These 15,000 are a fraction of those who could possibly hear about it. If the subject of the book is dated, that’s another thing, but selling a book is a long tail process.

      What was going on 30 years ago is mostly irrelevant, given that the shelf life of books is now eternal. People care less about publication date than if it’s a good read. I’m not sure why I can’t be excited about – or look for – all of these new downloads and keep on writing at the same time.

      • Henry, it’s true that the ability to offer many thousands of free books wasn’t feasible thirty (or five) years ago, but the basic Mark I-type consumer of books hasn’t changed much in more than a hundred years. If something of any perceived value is offered free, a certain percentage of the gene pool will be attracted to it. But, just because 10,000 people tap “send”, how can you be sure any more than the few who might review the book have even opened the book? The race to download, after all, is conditioned on how long “free” will last, not of any discrimmination among products. It’s called hoarding. Shoot first, see if it’s any good later.

        Nevertheless, locating the “On” button built into 10,000 or 100,000 mooches is no mean feat. Congratulations. Now what are you going to do with knowing whatever it is you’ve managed to learn? The whole discussion, not to mention the result, is moot, a literal cypher. The question most people who arrive on this site get around to asking is, “How do I sell my book?” and not “How many ways can I find to give my book away?” All you’ve done here is devalue your own hard work in creating an excellent product. And you are probably ruining your chances of selling the follow-on, which at least 10,000 people now expect to be free.

        “Everyone Should Make Their Books Free” is precisely the mantra so many of us hold against Google. That you, of all people, are selling this concept as a good idea is what is truly weird. Why not call the whole thing “Give Up!”

        • The Tom Clancy example is fitting – traditionally, publishers throw stuff out there and see what sticks, what “has legs”, and then they invest in it. “Indie” self-publishing is still in its infancy, and what Henry (and others) are doing is the same thing – throwing their stuff out there. People – readers and publishers among them – are going to see what sticks.

          It seems to me that, given that Henry’s book is very popular and very highly rated, with many very positive reviews, and given that it’s early days and Henry, not only with his book but also with his involvement in the online self-publishing world, stands a very good chance of “sticking”. If that turns out to be the case (and I would bet on it), then people are going to notice, they are going to know his name, they are going to find his books and he is going to get paid.

        • Free books are part of marketing. Free books to reviewers, free books to readers. This is just doing it on a bigger scale, made possible via the Kindle. As I say in the post, it’s a possible marketing idea to actually sell more books in the future. The title is just an attention-grabber.

          I don’t think I’m devaluing my work at all. I’m only devaluing it if I think money is the only form of value. To me, finding readers and spreading ideas is valuable. Yesterday I got this review – http://www.amazon.com/review/R2YXS356CLQGDT/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B002VBWDVU&nodeID=&tag=&linkCode= – pretty certain it’s one of the free downloads. That can only help the book find new paying readers in the future, whether it’s this book or other books in the series. If these downloaders don’t buy the follow-up b/c this one was free, there’s nothing I can do about that. That’s not a pricing problem, that’s a fiction problem.

          • Though I don’t drop in nearly as often as I used to, I’m a very big fan of this site, and of Henry’s willingness to try stuff out, especially putting his own brand at risk, as I believe he’s done in this case. The problem I have is in how he extrapolted what my training as a one-time marketing professional tells me is a meaningless result. That is, meaningless in the lives of adherents to his advice, mainly newly enfranchised writers who are trying to make sense of a paradigm shift that might be roiling through its most confused and earliest stage. We have a very, very, very long way to go before we can develop dogma from our imperfect perspective and largely ad hoc experiments. I have encountered several marketing methods that work very well for me, but I have no illusion that they’ll work for the typical SPR visitor. I certainly wouldn’t enshrine them beneath a rubric with the word “everyone” in it.

  • Henry, Eric, Tom, Vickie, and all the other commenters above, I’ve enjoyed this argument. What it means for me, a “typical SPR visitor” in the “most confused and earliest stage” of a “paradigm shift,” I haven’t yet decided. Please argue on, in this or another post. You’re why I visit SPR every day no matter what else I have to do. I think you’re getting down to the heart of the matter at hand for us all.

  • I recently watched this interesting TED talk – http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/TEDTalks_video/~3/W5r4Svr9sYA/1190 – about the value of trial and error. I think it’s appropriate here. While there are certainly experts in the way things used to work in publishing, the current time is an era of experimentation. While not everything will work for ‘everyone’, nevertheless everything should be tried. It’s through trial and error that the new expertise will arise

  • this is really the same as the musician model that now exists. no-one buys music anymore. you can barely give it away. if you can get them to listen and if you are really good then they may come to a show and buy merchandise. the book biz is going the same way. good luck all

    • Yes! And that’s what we writers, collectively, should realize.

      In our individual drives to reach the “top 100” we may destroy our whole livelihoods.

      I browsed some musician websites lately. The comments? “Music must be free! You musicians are filthy rich anyway, from merchandize and tickets. I’ll NEVER pay for music, you’ll never get my money, but keep producing, pirating rulez 111oneoene,” etc. Ad nauseum.

      Do we really want this fate for ourselves?

      My suggestion? Write damn good books, price competitively, and get into the “Top 100” on the quality of your stuff.

      • Emily Hill

        Ahhh…I was hoping to read a note from a viewpoint I agree with…Voila! I’ve toggled back and forth on all of my titles…gave away 600 free copies of SHE-CAT (a saucy little crime novella) before I decided I was hurting myself economically. My solid historical novel with ten 5***** Amazon reviews is the centerpiece of my titles, I’m not throwing it into the price wars with the rest of youse guys’ titles.

        I’ve decided to sit tight, make a steady stream of lesser income and take a view of the game in opposition to Hocking. This hopping around the pricing table is wearing me out.

  • Hi Henry,

    This is an intriguing idea, although I must say for me it’s slightly uncomfortable. Here’s why:

    – The “rush to the bottom” for the indie books pricing seem to be reaching its extreme, which may push some of us to stay in our day jobs and not bother writing.

    Think of all the missed opportunities to enrich the world’s culture, when the artists have to slave away for another guy instead of creating! 🙂

    – The books do have value. I love my readers and I love the art, but I also love my wife and kids who need to, er, at least eat.

    I’m a professional in all I do, and to stay professional I gotta get paid.

    – This approach may defeat the very point of sampling, unless you have the rest of the series ready to sell. In my company, we do lots of sampling because we’re confident folks will love our quality. But we always have the real product ready for them to buy.

    Here’s an idea: Why don’t you distribute 50% of your book for free? Those who read and love it, won’t mind paying a couple of bucks to finish it, I’m sure.

    And those who download and don’t read… either they don’t read 100% or 50%, who cares.

  • It’s been interesting to read this string of opinions. In the end, I think it boils down to our individual goals as writers. I will admit right now I have an overwhelming need to be read. Giving my books away free on Smashwords this month has kept me continually in the top 10 best sellers for almost two weeks now. I can’t complain, and people are reading my book. I’ve done every freaking marketing trick in the world, spent plenty of money doing so as well, with little result over the past year and half on this one title. If I can use this medium to build a bigger fan base by introducing my work free to potential readers who will come back again and again in the future, then for me it’s more than paid off. The Price of Innocence has languished in sales, because historical romance is a very competitive area. I’m “vanity” to most and an unknown indie. There’s isn’t the big name of Avon, Dorchester, or Kensington on my label to back me. However, this free tactic has finally put the spotlight on my book, given me readers, and has set the stage for people to want to buy book two and potentially three in the series. It has its perks.

    Whether the tactic works the best for everyone, is a matter of personal experimentation and what goals we individually have as writers. Bottom line we all need to get our work out there, noticed, and read. The competition is fierce. The market overcrowded. If I’m read for free, so be it. At least I’m read. That makes me feel much better and more hopeful that in the future I’ll actually have increased sales.

    • Vicky, I do believe that we mustn’t give up 🙂

      I have serious philosophical objections to giving our work away for free. The competition is fierce, and it’s in fact illegal for us to “price-fix” so we should be careful with what we write.

      But I’ve been happily buying 10-dollar books, paying for all my music and software for my whole life.

      Not sure why we, as new writers, should feel that the only way to gain readership is to work for free. We’re shooting ourselves in both feet, speaking long-term.

      Of course, obscurity is a stronger threat for many of us than anything else. But still…

  • I guess I should be thankful I didn’t have enough money to go to the vanity route as it was constituted during the 1960s. I am even more thankful that, by waiting and honing my craft, my work was ultimately validated by a steady series of advance checks large enough to matter in my life and often enough to give me the confidence to quit my lucrative day job to turn writing pro.

    The validation meant everything to me. It still does, though it is now derived solely from book sales, not the opinions of marketing execs.

    Without judging anyone except Henry, whom I believe to be a fine and interesting writer, I still have a very hard time figuring out the need or desire merely to be read above the validation derived from the willingness of strangers to plunk down cash for my wares. And, again without judging anyone, is it possible that buying in to all the ploys aimed at simply getting oneself read, as opposed to being purchased, is a sign that the book is either mis-aimed, mis-marketed, or even not very good?

    Back a few months ago, I riffled through scores of Amazon Kindle offerings to find $1 downloads based on promotional copy and reader reviews that described my kind of books. I even downloaded sample chapters. Every single book–ten or twelve–failed to measure up to its hype and/or its sample chapter. Every single one, except in the sample chapters, was riddled with gross writing errors, typos, and a lack of even rudimentary proofreading. They were all crap, just crap. If you can competently edit a sample chapter, how do you fail to edit the rest of the book?

    I hate to throw good money after bad, but it’s only money. Throwing away whatever time I have left on bad books in the same universe that still gives us more good books than I can possibly read is intolerable. And that’s why a free or extremely cheap ebook provides no inducement for me to waste more time. There must by now be millions of readers who have arrived at the same conclusion.

  • maybe this will help a a bit. Pareto’s principle aka the 80/20 rule states more or less that 80 % of anything (sales) will come from 20 % of the total. If Henry gets 100.000 downloads and converts 20% to pay later that is a lot better than selling a few hundred copies for a few dollars more. the hook of course is how to convert which will take some really creative thinking but many of the musicians have done it from Radiohead to unknowns. just thinking out loud . good luck all in this (brand) new world.

    • That’s dandy if you have something to convert =to=. Henry doesn’t have any way to exploit these zero-dollar “sales” inside the event horizon he’s created. If his move was ton have made any sense, it would do so =only= if he had a new book to sell during or in the immediate wake of this attention-getting strategem. But he doesn’t, so it’s a shot fired with 10,000+ blanks. There’s no measurable return, and if it isn’t measured, it didn’t happen.

      • actually Eric he has a better chance. as a musician the give it away model is old hat to me whereas this idea for Henry is fairly fresh so why not give it a try. you never know so why not hear how it goes for him for him over the next six months. cheers

      • Eric, I’ve been selling more print books during this period, which I don’t think is a coincidence. In any rate, I don’t think anyone can make any proclamations about its failure given that the experiment just started.

        But you’re right – might’ve made sense to have Part 2 ready before doing this. But I could also *potentially* build more and more interest, so when Part 2 is finally released, it’ll have a bigger impact. Readers can also buy my first two novels if they’re interested.

        Finally, one thing about value of being read vs. value of being bought. I really want to get these ideas out into the world – the world’s becoming more and more like the dystopia portrayed in the novel, and the book’s my message against this encroaching band of lunatics. I don’t give it away because I doubt my talent, but the book’s not a traditional post-apocalyptic novel either. You yourself didn’t want to review my book in public, given its controversy, so the book’s not the easiest sell in the world, but once people get their hands on it most seem to like it. The trick is getting it into their hands.

        Austin Briggs says, “Of course, obscurity is a stronger threat for many of us than anything else.” That’s not just a footnote, that’s the entire reason for doing this.

        • Henry, I don’t raise my objections to get on your case in your role as an author. I raise my objections to get on your case in your role as proprietor of this site.

          My take is that a lot of people visiting here have written books and only then looked into promoting and selling them in the face of actual or feared rejection and, once self-published, the realiztion that they have bitten off a problem they have no idea how to chew. The result is that your advice and influence are magnified and thus =should= be challenged, either on merit or, at least, as devil’s advocacy.

          Maybe the counterbalance to your two roles–author/publisher trying stuff out and self-publishing advocate–would be a label: Here’s What I’m Trying. Don’t You Try This At Home Until the Facts Are In.”

          I simply don’t think the facts are in. And all my years in marketing tell me that the experiment, while well-meaning and brave, has no strategically meaningful followthrough.

          I have no idea what to make of news that your print sales might have been boosted by 10,000+ free downloads. Nobody could know without more data. I do know that print sales of my roughly two dozen PODs–all available as ebooks–have been locked in stasis, month over month, for a little more than a year, and perhaps shrinking somewhat overall. One reason you’re seeing an uptic in print sales =might= have to do with people using Kindle for PC/Mac/etc. to look into cheap books they don’t want to read on a backlit computer monitor. Or it might be other reasons you can’t test for, because who really knows what the hell humans are thinking.

          • I should note that static print sales have been accompanied by a 10x increase in Kindle sales alone since October 2010. And I have done/am doing the same amount of promotion for more than a year.

  • Eric, I wouldn’t worry that those of us who are new to independent publishing will blindly follow Henry’s lead. I think all but the most deluded among us have long since realized that rejection and obscurity might be our ultimate fate. What I value most is hearing, as in this discussion, what people such as yourself and Henry, who’ve been independently publishing a lot longer than most of us, are doing. The wealth and celebrity that come with being a “best-selling” author are undeniably appealing, but getting our stories out to readers who can understand what we’re saying has its own reward.

  • I’m going to try a test of my own, inspired by Henry’s test. It’ll take me a few days to set up, but I’ll report back when I have something.

    I have created a book of sample chapters from my publishing company’s books. There are 31 samples aggregating 140,697 words. I have had this up as an Acrobat pdf on my site, downloadable for free. There have been hundreds of downloads and I have no idea how many pass-arounds, which I encourage.

    My goal is to sell books and ebooks by giving away sample chapters, so my test is to (a) see how many sample books I can give away on B&N and Amazon, then (b) see if I get increased sales in both PODs and ebooks.

    I’d ask Henry to confirm that I have this right: Upload to KDP and charge $1.00. Then upload to B&N and charge $0.00, at which point KDP will reduce the price to $0.00. Yes?

    My =real= goal is to provide an example to SPR readers to join one another in genre groupings in order to build sample books composed of sample chapters. I don’t know about B&N, but Kindle books may contain live links, if you catch my drift. I suggested this a few times last year, but no one did anything.

    • *your results may vary.

      You’re right that I could have stressed that this not necessarily something for everyone. Depends on the book. I figured the “maybe” was implied in “Everyone Should Maybe Make Their Books Free.” The title’s just a reflection of my excitement with what’s going on, but the first sentence – “I’m in the middle of an experiment” – suggests it’s really an experiment.

      Sort of like the post Bad Writing Doesn’t Matter Anymore – a sentiment I also don’t agree with, but I’m just reporting on a phenomenon new to the industry. That kind of title can get under people’s skin and spur discussion. And this post got a lot of interesting comments, so something’s right.

      I’m not sure if it’s guaranteed that Amazon will lower the price, or how long will it take – as always, Amazon’s a mystery. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned – traditional publishers are doing the free promotion thing as well, so this isn’t just an avenue for desperate self-publishers. Difference is publishers work something out with Amazon, whereas self-publishers don’t have that choice. It’s worth a shot, if only for a week, to see what happens.

      • “traditional publishers are doing the free promotion thing as well, so this isn’t just an avenue for desperate self-publishers”

        I interact with traditional publishers all the time. They talk big and get pushy if enough attention isn’t paid, but please believe that today’s emergent publishing scene confuses them and drives them to acts of over-analyzed desperation. This is terra incognita for them too.

  • You are quite right about traditional publishers doing the same thing. I’ve downloaded free historical romance books on Kindle by big name publishers that were free. Everyone is “experimenting” if you will. I honestly don’t find anything inherently wrong with the practice. We all have our personal goals and ways of getting what we want out of being an author/publisher. Seven more days and my free books will be back to regular prices on Smashwords. I’ve enjoyed the ride and look forward to those readers checking out my next volume in the series. I’ll let you know if I quickly sell that many when it hits the market because the freebie read compelled them to follow the rest of the series. It will be interesting to see the results of my experiment.

    • Thanks, Vicki. Please do update about your progress. Because if this is proven to work, it’s pretty important.

  • I’ve followed along with this experiment and made one of my books, A Heart to Mend, free on Smashwords after I read this. It became free on kindle a couple of days ago, for just a day in the US and still continuing in the UK. I got to #1 bestseller on romantic suspense and #8 overall. I noticed a jump on sales of the US ebook after it went back to paid, as well as sales of my second book, though less so with the paperbacks.

  • Interesting discussion. I have had a free e-book on Feedbooks for the past year. It’s an abridged version of 101 Ways to Meditate, called 55 Ways to Meditate. I had tried to upload it as a free download on Kindle but couldn’t figure out how. Two weeks ago, I read Henry’s post and did as he suggested. To add to his instructions, once your book shows up on Barnes and Noble, you can, even as the author, go back to your Amazon book page and click on “tell us about a lower price” located in Product Details section. IOW, there’s no need to wait and see if or when Amazon discovers the lower price. This book had about 15000 downloads on Feedbooks. The full e-version is my bestselling book. Curiously, I sell the most from international sales on Apple. Has the freebie at Feedbooks been driving sales? Who knows. But should I see an uptake with Kindle sales, maybe this freebie stuff works. Experimentation. Why not?

    • Wow, Linda, thanks so much for that information! I had no idea they had the ‘tell us about a lower price’ link. I’ve just done that with a few more of mine they hadn’t gotten around to knocking down yet, and I sure hope they will, especially in Amazon.UK, where people seem to like my stuff somewhat more than they do here :}

    • I am racing toward the edge of a high cliff. The sound of the surf beckons me ever closer…[slap!] Oh! Ahem..what I meant to type is that … based on your experience and observations I have just put ‘Eliza Of Fair Haven’ on Smashwords…for FREE! And, filled out the navigation window on my Amazon site to let ‘them’ know. yikes!

      http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/86302 You’re an adventurer-type…I’m a librarian-type! ;D

      • Five hours later…50 copies of ‘Eliza Of Fair Haven’ – a Victorian romance novel – out the door. Smashwords free. I’ll market it heavily mid-week when kdp Amazon drops it’s $3.99 t match the Smashwords price, which I put them hep to. What hurts psychologically is that the free copies on Smashwords don’t ‘tally’ to any ranking. The best is that I embedded URLs for all my other books into the Smashwords upload so that IF readers make it to the last page and like me ;D maybe they’ll drop a dime and pay for the next novel of mine that they select. Will tell – next week – this time.

        • Well, kdp Amazon never did drop the price of ‘Eliza of Fair Haven’ to ‘Free’ in spite of my having ‘click here’ notified them of its free-ness on Smash.

          In the past two weeks I have away (Free Sells!) 180 copies of the full manuscript and an additional 45 copies of excerts (I caved). So, 224 for this dainty little historical fiction. It’s brother-novel, Jenkins, has been picked up by 99 Smashwords readers.

          I’m still onboard with ‘write the best damned novel you can’ approach instead of the ‘SELL Free Books’ approach. The concept of “I sold 1 million copies’ sounds contradictory, when actually the author gave away 1 million copies of their book…I will always say, “Free Sells!”

  • Hey Tom…A few things. Free books on Kindle are placed beside their paying Kindle of that same rank. For instance earlier today my book was beside Gladwell’s Outliers. The other thing is, who can buy this kind of advertising? Sure the books are free, but advertising to Amazon readers has got to be worth plenty more than zero. Lastly, having a book on the bestselling lists of Amazon have proven to be self fulfilling prophecies. http://confessionsofashamelesspromoter.blogspot.com/2011/07/best-seller-lists-and-e-book-success.html

    • I believe it. Last week my ‘Death Ray Butterfly’ was #1 Free Sci Fi on Kindle, and it was sitting right next to George R R Martin which was #1 paid. Sweet :}

      In my case these phenomena have tended to be short-lived – they’ve made more than a dozen of them free, and after the first 10,000 downloads or so it tends to slow down dramatically. I agree it’s great exposure and great advertising, gets you reviews you’d never get otherwise, and for me, since all of mine are always free elsewhere, it’s a new source of readers, and a large one at that!

  • Tom, Are you ever going to charge for an e-book? It seems to me giving away e-books is more likely to spark e-book sales rather than p-books sales. Makes sense since those readers who are downloading e-books have e-readers and are not buying p-backs. Myself included.

    • Linda, I have no plans to charge for my ebooks. Even though the free ones have generated a number of sales of some of my other titles on Amazon, those other titles are also free on Smashwords and Feedbooks and I feel a little guilty (a very little) when somebody pays 99 cents when they don’t have to! In my case – and I certainly would not generalize this for anyone else – there really isn’t enough money in it to make it worthwhile, for me.

      I look at it this way – if you are going to be able to sell enough books to make a decent amount of money, then you should go ahead and do that. If you are only going to be able to sell a few, for whatever reason (a very small likely audience, in my case), then it’s better to give them away instead. Either way, you get readers. In the first case, paying ones, and in the latter case, non-paying.

  • Experiments are always good, but sometimes it’s hard to interpret the results. Exposure seems good, number of downloads seems good, but what about smaller more tangible effects, such as alienating your real actual audience who have previously paid for a book they now see being given away for nothing?

    Is annoying a hundred people who actually bothered to buy your book and probably read it worth attracting ten thousand who downloaded it and probably skim-read the first page or two and discarded it?

    The thing is, one is very unlikely to ever know the answer to these questions. But I do think that if you’re going to give a book away free, then you should do so from the beginning, rather than charge for it first and then give it away. This to me can seem like toying with the readership loyalty one has actually measured through the old-fashioned medium of payment to gain a statistic that can’t be reliably interpreted and into the bargain devalues the fact that some people have actually bought the book. Of course, if you’ve had it for sale but no-one’s bought it, then you may as well give it away free, since you are neither losing anything nor pissing off previous customers, and may indeed gain something.

    A better model would be to have one or two books free all the time, and others that are never free but may be bought on the strength of people liking the free work. Having a book free one week and priced up the next seems too random to encourage any kind of commitment from a buyer.

    Certainly being at the top of an Amazon free list is good advertising if you have other books people can buy. If not, it isn’t much of a strategy.

  • Further report: Being on the bestseller lists even when free is a self fulfilling prophesy. My book A Heart to Mend is back to being paid and is still #1 on the romance lists. I will definitely be trying this free option again.

  • Well, no guts – no glory, maybe.

    I just can’t bring myself to be that generous for more than a few days at a time. ;D

    If ‘Free’ works for you – particularly in the long run – Sincere Congratulations! ePubbing nowadays is like partaking in The Wild West Show, Yes? ~ Emily