Are We Done with Free Yet?
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I’ve never bought into the idea of offering books for free. To quote Wendy Lawton, “Free is not a business plan.” But I’ve gone along with publishers’ proposals to offer clients’ titles for free for a limited time to help build awareness of each author’s other books. Publishers assure us this plan has given authors significant sales lift.
But this past week, I received royalty statements from a publisher that showed a client’s novel had been offered for free apparently with a great response–close to 8,000 downloads. What sort of lift did that give to her two other titles with that publisher? Nothing measurable. Those titles actually had poor sales.
I challenged the publisher on: 1) why neither the author nor I knew such a massive give-away was occurring; 2) the rationale for the give-away. The publisher responded that: 1) other publishers are using this marketing technique to great effect; 2) this publishing house itself consistently saw doubling of sales for titles when one book is offered for free.
The strange part of this reasoning, which is what I hear from most publishers, is that I can’t point to one instance in which “free” worked that way for a client of mine. Wouldn’t I notice a doubling of sales? Especially when I’m looking for the Free Effect? How come it happens for every other agent’s clients but never for mine? Considering that our agency has more than 200 clients, and I study all the royalty statements that come in, I’m not operating with a small sampling.
The lack of a notable Free Effect is one reason I’m so over free.
I’m also over it because I believe it devalues authors’ work. Each manuscript is unique, never to be created again. Yet we’re giving away books like they’re cheese samples.
Why, as a matter of fact, do we have to do free when readers already can download a sample of the book? The publishing industry is training readers to expect every title, sooner or later, to be free or certainly to be offered for a significant reduction. Authors receive missives from fans asking when a particular title will be free. Readers sign up to receive e-mail notifications for free books.
Why should a fan pay full price? Why should a fan pay anything?
I have this sneaking suspicion that many marketing departments are at a loss as to how to make pricing work to an author’s benefit. It’s an easy marketing plan to offer a free or “on sale” book. But what does it gain the author, really? Who does gain? It’s unlikely that one author’s free book will spill over into sales for other authors.
Now, to bring a bit of balance to my harangue, here’s a link to a blog in which a self-pubbed author tested the effectiveness of free. He shows why it worked for him. Ultimately, this blog shows that free can work–if you aren’t just out to give away books. That leads me to the same conclusion I had at the beginning of my post: I think it’s time we came up with another marketing plan. How about you?
What do you think about “free”? What do you regularly seek that is free–online photos, music, books, etc.?
Does offering free books help to sell other titles? Click to tweet.
How effective a sales plan is free books? Click to tweet.