Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
As the week has progressed, the FB suggestions you’ve submitted for blog topics has grown. I used several of the suggestions as a way to focus how I talked about my three most recent reading experiences, as well as my thoughts on traditional publishing vs. e-publishing. But it soon became apparent to me that I couldn’t squeeze another suggested topic in and hope to have any structure to my blogs. So I’ll refer back to the suggested topics as I consider future blog topics. Thanks to everyone and know I’ll be mindful of each idea.
I started out Monday by talking a little about the state of the industry, and I’d like to close the week with Kathleen Y’Barbo’s question (and Bill Giovannetti’s “I’ll second that motion”) about an agent’s perspective on free e-book downloads of an author’s backlist books.
When e-books first were offered for free, editors phoned me to explain how, from the publishers’ perspective, offering books for free generated a ton of sales for authors’ frontlist titles. And numbers were quoted that boggled the mind (tens of thousands of sales for individual authors). Many Books & Such clients have had e-books offered for free, and since I see all the royalty statements, I can unequivocally state than no one has had sales in the tens of thousands–regardless of name recognition. Several have had sales on other titles that apparently readers found as a result of the free download that ranged from 2,000 to 4,000 copies–at best. Some sales were in the hundreds. My conclusions?At this point, any marketing idea that can potentially sell several thousand copies is probably worth it, especially since this is a relatively inexpensive marketing device. The free offer does introduce new readers to the author, and those readers do more than just download the freebie. But I have to put a big caveat on that sentence: This concept is working at this point. After awhile, will readers have their devices so crammed with free books that they never buy additional titles? Will readers be selective in what they download for free, or just mindlessly download? If the latter, then the author has gained nothing in giving a book for free.
You might be asking, Why not offer a book for free? What’s the downside?
The downside is twofold. First, the practice teaches readers they can get lots of books–very good books–for free. Why pay when you can happily read for years to come for free? Second, you as the author have lost sales. Say 500 people downloaded your book for free. How many of them might have bought it? Certainly several would have.
Free is not a business plan; giving something for free only makes sense if there is a plan to: 1) make readers aware that the book is being given away; 2) clearly tie the free book to the authors’ other titles in that genre; 3) make it easy for the reader to find those other titles; 4) price the additional titles at a level that is enticing but not ridiculously low.
Another twist on the idea of free downloads is taking an author’s out-of-print project and offering it as an e-book only, not for free but for a low price (say, $2.99) to introduce that author to new readers. How’s it working? I don’t know yet. I have a few authors whom publishers are trying this with, but it’s too early to tell.
The more I think about e-publishing, the more nuances I see. Here are the questions I think every author has to ask before agreeing to a free or discounted sale of an e-book:
- Do I have enough other titles available like the title being considered for this plan to make sense?
- When is my next traditionally published book releasing? Will the release of a free e-book create synergy with that new title, or will it cannibalize sales?
- Are other titles by me planned to release as e-books in the same time period (within a few months) as the free title? (Especially consider this question if you have a new title that is releasing as an e-book only.)
- Do any of my current contracts inhibit me from offering an out-of-print title (such as in a noncompete clause)?
- Do I not only know that the book is out of print, but do I also have a letter from the previous publisher that transfer the rights back to the author?
- If I’m with more than one publisher, will the release help or hinder my relationship with each publishing house?
These questions, in a way, bring us full circle to my first post this week. As we straddle the e-publishing boat and the land of traditional publishing, we have to consider how one affects the other for our publishing career. How does the author create synergy and not competition with him or herself?
Now, tell us, as either an author or a reader, your experience with free e-books. Here are some questions to jumpstart the conversation:
- How many have you downloaded?
- Why did you download them?
- Have you read them?
- Did you buy any of that author’s books?
If you’re an author, did you see a rise in other titles’ sales based on a free book or an e-book only being offered? Please don’t tell us numbers because that is proprietary information for your publisher. (I talked about number earlier in this post because I’m generalizing based on a significant number of authors and publishing houses.) Just let us know if you saw an increase and if it was significant. Did you think it was worth it?