Monday Musings: To Go Free or Not To Go Free

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by Kathleen Valentine

freebooksA few years ago I was in my car parked along the street waiting for a friend who was running an errand. It was trash day in Gloucester and the sidewalks were loaded with trash bags and recycling bins. Someone had put out a cardboard box full of books with the sign Free Books on it. While I sat there I saw several people come along and have a look. A few snagged a book or two but I was surprised by the number of people who picked up a book or two, examined them, even read a little bit, then put them back. They were free—why not give them a chance?

Recently I was made aware of a Facebook group called VAC, Valued Authors Coalition. It is a group of authors who have decided they will no longer offer their books for free through major venues like Amazon and iTunes, etc. This is their Statement:

As part of VAC (Valued Authors Coalition), I vow to no longer offer my books through ALL sales venues for free. This does not include subscription services such as Kindle Unlimited where authors receive compensation. This also does not include offering book giveaways, at my discretion, whether as contest prizes, or directly through my website, for signing up for newsletters, blog comments, ARCs for reviews, etc.

Free books are something I have been thinking about for a long time and have mixed feelings about. I understand the thinking behind offering one’s books for free.

  1. It is a good way to get people to read your work in the hopes that they will like it enough to buy more.
  2. If you write series books it is a good way to get readers to want to read the rest of the books in the series.
  3. It is a good way to get more exposure for yourself as an author.
  4. It is a good way to bring your books some attention when you have a new one coming out.

I also understand the argument for refusing to give your work away.

  1. You have worked long hard hours on your book and take pride in your craft. If you don’t value your work who will?
  2. There are so many free books available, why would most readers ever buy a book?
  3. Free books do nothing to boost your sales ranking.
  4. Free books brand you as an amateur or an indie. Recognized authors don’t have to give their work away.

I admit, I am conflicted about this. Usually when I want to promote a book I offer it for 99¢. A few of my books—shorter works—are permanently 99¢. I’ve experimented with giving books away versus charging 99¢ and I’m still not sure how I feel about that. Once, when I made my memoir/cookbook Fry Bacon. Add Onions free, I had over 20,000 downlaods. If there was a bump in sales when it returned to its regular price, it wasn’t enough for me to notice it.

On the other hand, the first volume in my Beacon Hill Chronicles, The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, has always been 99¢ (it’s a novelette) and has sold thousands of copies. So much so that in 2013 I paid cash for a new car totally from that one little book. Since then I’ve published 3 additional books in that series that are full-length novels that sell for $2.99 and, while sales are decent, they have never sold even close to the first one.

I am very curious to see what other writers have to say about this. I know writers who have paid a lot of money on sites like BookBub to advertise their free books and have told me the boost it gave their sales of other books was well worth it. Others have told me that paying to advertise free books has not amounted to much.

So, tell me, what are your experiences with offering your books for free? Have they been worth it? Do you have a way to measure your success when you go free? How do you feel about what the VAC authors think? Do free books devalue your product? I’d love to hear opinions. Thanks for reading.

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