I was drawn to write this post after reading Chicki Brown’s Thursday Thoughts, where she responded to another blog as to “Why are More and More Authors Faking Their Way to the Top of Bestsellers Lists?” Since I started on this journey, I have read a number of articles by indies decrying those who allow their books to be downloaded for free. They are cheapening the market, it’s a race to the bottom, and it’s an unfair way of rising in the Amazon rankings I seem to read every other week. But isn’t free just another form of advertising for those without the promotional budgets of a large traditional publisher?
Let’s look at how the traditional publisher advertises. In bookshops, their books are going to get a paid spot on the tables at the front, where they are more likely to be seen and purchased by the prospective book buyer. The front face of their book covers will be fully displayed, but us mere mortals will be lucky to have the narrow spines of our books placed where anyone but the most determined and adventurous of readers can find them. They have to be prepared to go on a mini treasure hunt to find our books. I understand that some eBook sellers also offer paid spots to make a book more prominent. This advertising budget has to be recovered before the traditional publisher can earn any money from a book. Consequently, they have to sell thousands of books before they break even and then start to make money on subsequent sales. That means the traditional publisher is not just giving away books for free, they are paying for each of those early sales. I can’t imagine what those who decry the freebie would say if they learned that indies were paying for copies of their books to be taken off the virtual shelves.
I think this debate really shows the difference between those purest indies who have only ever really wanted to be writers and just that, which to most of us is understandable (I think we all started writing with those rose tinted glasses, if our books were any good we’d be published and readers would find them), and those who realise that as an indie you have to fully embrace the fact that it is also a business. As such, you have to employ business techniques to sell your wares. Would they scoff at their local supermarket for promoting via a buy one get one free offer, or would they hurry in to grab their bargain?
Offering free eBooks on Amazon does not have the power to raise a book in the rankings that it previously did, as, at the time of writing, they are no longer valued as a full sale, but as one-tenth of a sale, as pointed out in David Gaughran’s excellent eBook marketing guide Let’s Get Visible. But if used effectively, it can still raise a book up the rankings enough to become more visible. I really see little difference between an indie on a low budget offering an eBook for free (effectively paying for their advertising by not taking any income on hopefully several thousand downloads of their books during the free period), and a large traditional publisher paying for their advertising up front, and so not making any money on the sales of their books until the advertising budget has been recovered.
What’s your views on the freebie?