Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Our writing is worth every penny you pay ... or ... is it in fact, worthless?


With Amazon's free promo facility, there are so many readers that don't "buy" anymore. They just scan the free lists. I know this for a fact. I recently read it in an Amazon forum.

What is the future for us? Don't you think the value of our work is being degraded? Isn't this giving out a message that literature isn't worth paying for? I think it's only going to get worse.

I did a free promo for Twisted Velvet Chains at the beginning of the year. Initially I thought it was a good idea. Easy way to get exposure. But I also noticed, after doing the free promo, that it stopped selling. So was it a good idea after all? Will any of the 3000 that downloaded the book actually read it? Who knows ...

There's nothing wrong with giving away free work. In fact, I would advise that writers give away as many copies of their work as possible. But after a lot of thought, I think it's more beneficial to have control over who gets it for free. Give give give, but give wisely. Ultimately, I think the randomness of Amazon's free promo is going to destroy us. It's sending out the wrong message: Download me for free because I'm not really worth the money.

Can you imagine a supermarket opening an online shop which gives away Kellogg's cereal for free? No one would want to buy their cereal anymore would they? They'd just go and get it for free. Why spend money when you don't have to, right?

This is dangerous.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts.

PS: Many thanks to Tricia and Elizabeth for highlighting Fabric on their blogs today!

41 comments:

  1. This is a tough call. Technically, anyone who really wants to get an e-book for free, and has a bit of technical savvy, can get it. But pirates are rare, and I think Amazon's nonchalance about all this is disturbing. No one ever loses sales to pirates, because they were never going to buy in the first place, but I bet at least a few of those 3000 downloads ... would have.

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    1. Matthew, it is a tough call. And you know what, I'm actually not against pirates. But I think this free thing on Amazon, even though it's our choice to make it free, is ultimately going to be damaging. And not only to individual, to the entire industry.

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    2. I agree. About Amazon, at least. When it comes to piracy, I'm undecided. I mean stealing is wrong, yes, but I used to know a lot of pirates and they don't do it to steal. Plus, from an artist's POV, I think there can be some small benefit.

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  2. A very interesting post, Jessica. I can't decide what to do about this when I publish my next children's eBook.

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    1. Yes, it is a difficult decision to make, Carole!

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  3. It's hard to say. I know someone who offered her book for free for three days. Within a week of the book no longer being available for free, she had already made over $10 K on it. That, though, is the exception not the rule.

    I've downloaded a few books for free, but I've yet to read them. That means I've yet to rate them and give them the exposure the author was hoping for. Why bother when I've got a lot of books I've paid for sitting on my bookshelf. And the ones most likely to be read first are the ones I've paid the most for: traditionally published books.

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    1. It is hard to say, and yes there are exceptions, there always are. And you're right. I have load of free books too, but I choose to read the ones I paid for first. This is such a tough debate.

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  4. Very interesting post Jessica .... and I tend to agree, is the flood of free ebooks doing more harm to the book industry than actually helping authors.

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    1. Thanks, Iris. This is my instinctual reaction. Time will tell I guess.

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  5. I think it's always a mistake to make books free unless it's a complimentary review copy. A few writers and I were actually discussing this just a week ago, and we talked about the 99-cent model and books being like songs on iTunes.

    Here's what we decided: 99 cents per chapter, whole book for $9.99 (or $10.99--how much is an album on iTunes?) Yes? :o) <3

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    1. That's perfect. I totally agree with that.

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    2. Ooh, I too love that idea.

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  6. Hi. This is such an interesting debate. I tend to agree that giving the book away for free in this system, where readers just pick several free books from several genres that they might or might not be interested in or read, is not really useful. It the audience were more targeted and you knew they would read the book and potentially develop an interest in you as a writer, buying and promoting your books, then it would make more sense.
    I guess you can also enlighten us about the song comparison. How much work goes into writing and recording a song compared to writing and publishing a book? I would be curious. I always thought that songs would be easy to write, because the grass is always greener, you know.

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    1. Well, it certainly doesn't take as long to write a song as it does a book, BUT it definitely involves a lot more money and people to get it recorded with full instrumentation, so I'd say it's pretty much the same deal. I like Leigh's comment. 0.99 per chapter, just like per song. Sounds like a good plan.

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  7. People lose respect for something that is free. Value means it is worthy of merit. I used to scan the free books until I just got tired of only finding 1 in 100 that were worth reading. There's a reason it's difficult to publish traditionally. (Not that I'm ragging on self-publishing...that's a whole other debate.)

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  8. I am guilty of downloading free books. If I like the book, I look for other work by the same author and buy those. What I am finding is this (and please no one get mad at me) .... I am finding that a lot of the books that are in ereader format are not edited very well....typos, misuse of words, loose threads in the plots, conflicting story lines...... I have downloaded a few and then after I get into them am so frustrated with the material that I delete it. I am glad there are free books out there as when I do buy work by the same author I am practically guaranteed a good read.

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  9. I think using free giveaways for promotion can work if its done wisely. People coming out with a second or third book in a series might give away the first one free or for 99cents for a limited time to hopefully hook more potential buyers into the series where they'd be willing to invest a little money for the following titles. I also think it's a good idea to give away the first chapter or first three chapters of a book for free. Or give away a short story companion or novella that ties into a series for free. I guess the idea is, nothing should promote your work better than the work itself.

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  10. I don't think this free problem is anything new at all. It has been happening since anyone put a price on art and entertainment - the consumers as a whole will always look for a way to get it cheaper or free. But I think this publishing business is something we can all easily get caught up in worrying about the small things. In the long run, if you keep putting books out there and you take your career seriously, you'll build up enough of a fan base who will always be willing to pay for your work. There has always been a free mentality for everything in every business, especially the arts where it is undervalued. I think it's the artists who take themselves the most seriously and stick things out for the good, long haul who make it the farthest.

    Giving away some free books now and then isn't a bad thing, in my opinion - it would be constantly giving away most of your work for free or for extremely low prices because you feel it's not worth spending a certain amount on, is where I see the free mentality as becoming a problem. Unfortunately these days, I think a lot of authors undervalue their work, and I'm afraid to say the self-publishing surge has contributed to that in a lot of ways. You have a lot more people with control over prices. In essence, many, many more small-business owners not sure how to run an effective business, and free/low prices seems a great way to lure people in. It may backfire for now, but in the long run, I believe it will be like everything else, and publishing (both self and trad) will continue on like every other art form.

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    1. Michelle, and Susan, I'm not talking about giving away "free books now and then". In fact, I think I make it clear in this post that we SHOULD do that. This post is about the thousands and thousands and thousands of books being given out to tom, dick, and harry, who don't give a damn. I think this is going to do more damage than good in the long run. And I think it's going to devalue novels a lot more than the extent art is already undervalued today.

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  11. Some very good points here. Like Matthew says, it's tough to call. Exposure, yes, but like many readers, I have dozens of free books languishing on my Kindle. The ones I bought because I *really* wanted them take priority.

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  12. I don't know enough about all this to say for sure. I do agree that giving it "wisely" is a good idea. Jody Hedlund asked for "influencers" on her blog. Her publisher (a traditional publisher) gave away books to influencers (including me). I read the book, blogged about it, and I've passed it on to my sisters and friends. Their friends see it, and hopefully want to buy it. I think it CAN work.

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  13. It is a tough call, and I do worry about the undervaluing of books. Free has its uses, but I wonder if we're not shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes by going free too often. Yet there are cases where free has really helped a person's sales. It's a difficult decision.

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  14. That's such a tough one. On one hand you want to have your book read, but on the other how much are you willing to lose.

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  15. I've downloaded a couple free books, but I don't go looking for them. I agree that the author needs control over who gets the books for free. But you're right, when so much is free, why would anyone pay for it?

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  16. I know this is a strange comparison, but my martial arts instructor years ago used to say "everybody pays" when taking on new students (friends, family members no exceptions). He would however give the first class free or give demonstrations through out the year. His experience was that students never took the art seriously if they got it for free. The same can be said for a lot of readers that put off reading a free book. I prefer paying for all my books. I think you said right here "...give, but give wisely."

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  17. I frankly don't understand the business model behind free books and the only instance where I can see it being of benefit is where an author gives away free copies of early works to entice new readers for the latest. I like Leigh's idea better! :)

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  18. Amazon's KDP Select program scares me. Not just because you're giving away your book for free for five days but because of the exclusitivity. No one can get it elsewhere during those 90 days. That is too much power in Amazon's hands.

    I know several authors who swear by it, but as you said, what good is a free book that next to nobody reads? We are more likely to read something we paid for because then it has a value. And our work should have value. Writing, editing, and promoting takes effort.

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  19. I hadn't given it much thought before, but i think you're probably spot on. Which makes me kind of sad

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  20. Yeah, I wonder about this as well, but I also think about it this way-- when print was still going strong, there were tons of people who wouldn't ever buy a new book. There were libraries, used book stores, and their friend's lending libraries. eBooks, I think, will soon make someone's bookshelf as personal as iTunes has made their music library. There are people who browse the free and don't buy, and then there are those of us that buy (and then order the print copy after we've read it because we've loved it so much). Because I work in publishing, I've seen a lot of cycles of this, but ultimately I believe that mostly, people do and will continue to pay for good writing.

    That said, as writers, I think we need to resist temptation to continually put our work out there for 99 cents to spur sales, thereby completely cooling the whole industry down. As a marketer, I like the idea of limited time free promos and sales, but on the whole I think the 99 cent pricing model may soon hurt the industry way more than it helps. But that is another really long thought chain...

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  21. I don't think people should give away their book free as a promo. It's happening so often that I hesitate spending $ on a self-published book because I know it will eventually be free. What do authors want? #s of sales? I think it's becoming like Macy's Department Stores in America. They had big sales one day a week. People shopped much less the other days. So they added sale days. Now everyday is a sale day. They get less $ for their products. They've been in trouble a # of times and never recovered to their old stature. And I hate to say it, just like with Macy's, I think that books that are free or sell for 99 cents are perceived to be worth just that.

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  22. Yep, initially it seemed like a good idea. Even I started to scan the free lists, but what I discover real quick was that most of the free books were free for a reason. They were rubbish. I stopped trusting the free lists. I'd rather pay money for some quality. So yes, you are absolutely right. We need to control how we give away our books.

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  23. I'm not sure that the free promo is a good idea either. I think maybe if you have a 'prequel' that you don't want to sell, but that can help spread the word about your series in general, that's okay to do. But maybe just giving away free copies in contests and stuff is a better way of spreading the word.

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  24. Wow. I never thought of it that way. You have a very good point here. And I do know people who will just get the free books. That scares me a little.

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  25. I'm old-school (ie. pre Kindle publishing) on this idea. I work at writing, so I should get paid for it. I don't go to my day-job without being paid (although I enjoy it as much as my writing). Maybe this is an outdated idea, but it's one that I think will stick with me. Especially if, as you say, there are hordes of people who are ONLY 'buying' the free stuff... that seems a slippery slope to me.

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  26. Oh, this is a topic that scares me. I got slammed for a comment I made once about this so I'll be careful here. Nah, I'm among friends, right? Anyway, I just participated in a free download, and these are my thoughts. Not, what I think is right for everyone. I think the free download could be beneficial for unknowns who have multiple books out. Set up a free download of book I, if book II is priced to sell. If you already are selling, this might not be a great idea. The downside is, I haven't received any additional reviews, but my sales did increase slightly. I've heard it has hurt sales and I've heard from others it has helped. I think it is as fickle as why one book becomes viral. Who knows why. I am concerned about the high number of free downloads, and I have spoken to a few people who use to buy a ton of books, but now only download books for free. BUT, if they love an author they will buy a book if it isn't available for free.

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  27. The only books that consistently go free are the ones enrolled in the KDP Select. Other novels that go free are the first in a series and are a loss leader. Like all marketing 'free' works great for some people and not so great for others.

    I'm really careful now and only take freebies that I think I'll read and I do sometimes. But I have so many books waiting to be read and I just don't have the time! I think with serious self publishers in this for the long haul, we'll see prices go up, not down. A lot start at 2.99 because that's been a proven starting point. Once you have a couple books out, you can go higher. You'll know you've gone too high when the book doesn't sell as well.

    But the consensus is that as soon as your book goes free or for 99 cents the 1 star reviews start coming in because you get people reading out of their genre. I don't think it will ruin the market. There are plenty of people that won't touch self published books or freebies and then people that that's all they'll read. There are lots of people!

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  28. When I first bought my Kindle, I was one of those readers who downloaded tons of free books (which I never read). Now I have so many of them, I know I'll only read a handful (if that). So now I've swung the other way: I'd rather pay $2.99 or more for a book I know I want to read. So even though I have all these freebies, I have since paid for other books I actually want.
    I agree: give away book, but have a purpose. I just gave a bunch of my books away to those who, on good faith, said they will post a review. I agree with Laura: I think prices may swing in the upward direction and the not-so-serious authors are weeded out.

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  29. I see I'm in good company here. I've been thinking about this free and .99 ebook for a while, and wondered if it was really worthwhile to promote in this way. I decided that I'd give books to reviewers who expressed interest, but not go the blanket Amazon route. Of course, after reading Stina's post, I may reconsider. $10K does sound good. :-)

    I've also downloaded a lot of free ebooks and here's what I've found: 1) Some are really poorly written or edited or both. 2) There are so many that, like others here, I haven't had time to read or review all of them.

    Appreciated this post. It was great to know that others are thinking and experiencing the same things I am.

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  30. I have opted not to use the Amazon freebie service. I will give away my book to a few folk. It is up for 99c for the debut month, but will go up in price in June. I read a few authors mention they sell more at a higher price,rather than at 99c. I wonder if folk feel they get value for money by paying more. Interesting post, Jessica.

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  31. People tend to value free stuff less as well. So giving some away is great exposure, but it's also less likely to be read right away. Now paying good money for a book? You better believe I will read it cuz I want my money's worth.

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