Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free Book Overload?



Because I visit facebook  and a lot of blogs every day, I see a lot of links to free kindle books. I download quite a few.  I mean, I’m the guy who, at book sales in the old days, would fill a couple of boxes for the dollar-a-box close of the sale with stuff that I thought, perhaps, maybe, on a good day, when life was perfect and I’d read everything else in the house, I might give a try. Turns out those books are almost all still packed away in the closet waiting for that day. A few weeks ago when I had to go through some of those boxes for something, I even took out half a dozen of those ‘possibles’ and put them on bookmooch.  I know at age 53 I’m not gonna find time to read them.

So, when I first started seeing free books for Kindle, I pretty much clicked every link, and if it sounded even remotely like something I might eventually read, I downloaded it.  I actually have read some of these.  Fortunately, a lot of free downloads are short stories rather than novels so I can get through them more quickly.  But still, I’ve got, at rough estimate, about 90 of these freebies sitting on my Kindle now.  About two-thirds of those I can no longer remember why I thought I might read them. But there’s no bookmooch for Kindle books.

As a reader, I can’t complain about getting books for free.  In fact, I could pretty easily fill my whole TBR list with freebies. If I actually “tried” I might be able to essentially read for free for years to come. I don’t do that, for several reasons.  1) my reading tastes are mercurial and when I want to read something I want to read it now.  That means not waiting for it to be offered free at some point.  2) I have a lot of friends who write and I like to buy their works and support them, although if they are giving away something for free I’m not above taking advantage of that offer.  3) as a writer I feel like I should give back with money to other writers, both for the pleasure they have given me with their work, and because I want people to buy my stuff too.

As a writer, I have to wonder how effective the free giveaways are, and maybe others can answer this question from their experience.  I’ve tried one giveaway, for “Harvest of War.”  It was free for five days, ending April 8, and I gave away 466 copies.  I was happy with that.  What the writer hopes for with such a giveaway is that readers will read the free work, enjoy it, and then spread that by word of mouth, and maybe even put up a review on Amazon, and maybe purchase other titles that the writer has to offer.  As near as I can tell, only one of these things happened in my case. Here’s the outcomes for me, near as I can tell.


Reviews: I got about half a dozen reviews in the wake of the free giveaway period and I’m pretty sure some of these were from folks who took advantage of the free download. I appreciated it very much, of course, but these were also folks who knew my writing from before.  They were not newcomers to my work, and quite likely would have bought the book and reviewed it anyway. I only got one review from someone who I think downloaded a free copy and had not previously commented on any of my work.  

Sales of other titles: I can’t be sure whether reading “Harvest of War” brought people to my other work. My Cold in the Light sales went up dramatically, but I’m sure the reason for that was that it was introduced in ebook format finally.  For the stuff I’ve self published, though, Killing Trail, Harmland, Days of Beer, I’ve seen no measurable increase.  In fact, prior to the free giveaway for “Harvest,” I’d been selling about 8 to 10 copies a month of Killing Trail. That has dropped to one or two since.  I hope they aren’t related, but, if anything, it looks like giving away “Harvest” hurt my sales of Killing Trail. That could mean that a lot of people really hated “Harvest of War” and don’t want anything else from me, or it could be that such folks have something by me, “Harvest,” that they haven’t read yet and won’t buy anything else until they do read it.  Or it could mean that if they decide to buy something from me they’re gonna spend the 99 cents for “Harvest” instead of the $2.99 for Killing Trail.  Or it could be any number of other things, I suppose. 

Word of Mouth sales of “Harvest of War”:  Immediately before and after the giveaway there were some sales for “Harvest.”  Since April, however, it’s sold fourteen copies.  Some of that may be word of mouth, although I do post about the book fairly frequently on facebook so I can’t be sure whether these are word of mouth from readers or word of mouth from me.  It’s certainly not had a huge impact.

I have to wonder about what happened to those free downloads of “Harvest.”  Did folks read them, or, like me, do they have a glut of freebies sitting on their kindles and the stuff they downloaded yesterday keeps getting pushed further down on the list by the free stuff they are downloading today. If the story isn’t being read, then the free download would appear to be useless to the writer.

Just a few more thoughts from someone trying to make sense of this crazy new world of publishing we are living in. Your thoughts are equally welcome.
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35 comments:

Sidney said...

I've amassed quite a few free e-books. I've discovered some good ones that way, but I'm more careful and selective now, with so many free ones out there. I tend to send many to the cloud and not directly to my Kindle these days.

Then there's the library, more free e-books, just with a time limit. Those are usually the ones that get read first.

Sidney said...

Now, pardon me, while I navigate over to Pixel of Ink.

cloudia charters said...

While I salute authors fighting to promote their work, the simple fact is that there are SO many books now that it is very difficult to stand our from the mass. . . . Luckily you have a great track record and name recognition, Charles


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Charles Gramlich said...

Sidney, I haven't used the library for ebooks yet. Have too many the other way.

Cloudia, the operative word there is "some," I think. Not sure how to get more.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

I don't have a kindle, but I have a kindle app or sometimes get the pdf if that's what is offered, but sometimes stuff just sits in my Amazon shopping cart waiting for the best time to be purchased. I'm similar in that I might it on my list, but I don't feel like reading it necessarily. I might want that other thing that's $9.99 and hardcopy. We readers are a mercurial lot, aren't we, for all we sit still and read all the time.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I do download some free books, but usually it's already a title I own. I'd rather give money to the author than get a freebie.
And yes, my iPad is overflowing with books right now!

SQT said...

I've read similar comments from other authors regarding freebies. I think it's basically a crap-shoot. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't. I think book sales are really about name recognition. The freebies probably help but a one-time promotion may not be enough.

Keith said...

I've slowed down of the freebies partly because I would rather pay a little and support a writer and partly because I don't want a lot of stuff I know I probably won't read that I have to scroll through on my Nook. I have a Kindle app on my work computer that I read short fiction on when I have lunch in the office.

Chris said...

I've downloaded a couple free books, but have convinced myself not to anymore. Hell, I don't even like paying the measly .99. I think it devalues the work of writers, and it bums me out that so many are doing it. A small price for a short story is fine, or a short collection. But .99 for a full novel or something? Ugh.

Here's an interesting essay/blog from another writer friend of mine who analyzed his sales similarly to you, Charles. It's worth checking out:

http://www.johnhornorjacobs.com/what-ive-learned-about-free-stuff-and-human-nature/

Charles Gramlich said...

Rachel, indeed. For my work related reading, I make a plan and stick to it. For my pleasure reading, it's whatever the heck I want at whatever the heck time I want it.

Alex, if it's an author I'm not familiar with and they offer their first one as a freebie, I'll take it. If I like it I will buy other stuff from them.

SQT, I'm gonna try another such promotion later on for something else I'm working on. Then I'll have more data.

Keith, yeah, I'm gonna archive some stuff so I don't have such a backlog to scroll through.

Chris, I'm not going to do 99 cents for a whole novel. It just isn't reasonable, although I could see having a 2 or 3 day promotion price. 99 cents seems right for a short story under 8,000 words or so. I guess part of my post was kind of that I wish folks would stop giving away so much stuff for free, but we also have a whole lot of writers out there, and if they each make one thing free of theirs, that's still a lot of free stuff.

Ty Johnston said...

I've also got a ton of free e-books on my Kindle, and I hope to get to them eventually. There's just so much to read!

That being said, I'm starting to sense there is a bit of a backlash (at least from writers) against the Kindle freebies. For one thing, the KDP Select program isn't proving as helpful in recent promotions as it was earlier this year (why this is is debatable, but the general consensus I've seen is that Amazon has changed the "value" of free e-books when it comes to rankings). Another thing, I'm starting to see more indie writers not only charge for their work, but charging more than the typical 99 cents and $2.99 prices.

Maybe this is a sign of the future.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I agree, a writer and his book are worth far more than .99 cents, especially for an entire novel. It's probably one way to attract sales initially but do you think it serves as a disincentive for cover-price sale? Elsewhere, why should writers give away anything for free? Bookstores and online retail outlets offer good disounts anyway. Bookstores out here regularly offer 25 to 40% discount on contemporary fiction and non-fiction.

laughingwolf said...

since i only have 'real' books, can't comment on ebook sales

a chain foodstore here, the real canadian super store, discounts all kinds of books from 30-40%, a real boon on hardcover books, especially

i recall buying 'pocket books' for $3-5, and bought thousands... suddenly they're in the $8-15 range, when did that happen?

buying books online is disgraceful when they charge more for shipping/handling than for the book itself! GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Deka Black said...

I think this sometimes, and only sometimes, says a lot about the confidence of the writer about his/her own work.

Greg said...

I guess it's hard to really know for sure what impact it's having, but I'm from the camp that if it could help spread the word, especially if it's generating reviews, go for it. Although I had several very favorable reviews of Bits & Pieces and those reviews (both online and in well-read magazines) didn't generate very much in the way of sales.

sage said...

I have taken advantage of a few free downloads, but mostly my "free downloads" are for older books that are out of print and that I want to read. However, because I review a lot, I seem to get lots of request from people to take free books and read them. I use to accept them without question but have decided if it doesn't fit my interest, I won't take the book. I have so many books, I've trying to learn to give some away, not just to collect more.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Amazon releases over fifty thousand new ones every thirty days, so the competition is a killer. My marketing partner came to the conclusion after free releases of one of mine that fiction doesn't generate sales or enough reviews to make it worthwhile. Over a thousand were downloaded, but generated only a handful of reviews, and did not kick up sales. I got a thrill out of that many readers, but I think name recognition may be the only solid value obtained. His non-fiction crime series giveaways have generated incredible sales though. I'm with you on not having a clue what works and what doesn't. We'll just keep writing, and hope the name recognition and a little 'Fifty Shades' lightning will hit eventually. :)

If you get a chance to visit Goodreads and need a laugh. Check out the reviews on 'Fifty Shades'. I've never seen that many hilarious one star hit pieces on a book before. I guess when readers pay 9.99 for a Kindle book, the author better deliver, or they get out the torches and pitchforks. :)

Chris said...

I think the 50 Shades author is definitely delivering . . . checks to the bank!

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, that's probably a good thing. I can't really see a downside of it.

Prashant, I think it may be. It certainly creates a sense of conditioning at that price. It's becoming a problem, I think.

Laughingwolf, yeah, that is weird and some way they are making money from that. Someone is.

Deka, and that writers want to sell but don't know what the rules are for doing so. Maybe there are no rules.

Greg, I can't see a big boost from reviews but I do think it moves me up on certain amazon lists.

Sage, yeah, I should have said that many of the free downloads I have on my kindle are old books from authors like Max Brand and so on.

Bernard, we're all flailing around in the dark, it seems. Well, the Fifty Shades author won't have to write another considering how many she's sold.

David J. West said...

My TBR pile both paper and electronic is a little overwhelming at the moment-way too many that I allow myself to start and haven't finished yet-so I undferstand all too well the idea of too many free books.

I don't know what to make of e-sales either, I'll throw my hat into the ring soon enough and probably ask you questions about what I'm doing wrong.

Mimi Lenox said...

I, too, want to figure out this new world of publishing, self-publishing, agents, no agents, Kindle and Smindles (I just made that up...but it made ya think, didn't it?) What's NEXT in the arsenal of trial runs?

I would have the same questions after all those downloads of your book, but I doubt seriously any of the correlations have a thing to do with the quality of your work. It's the market. It's spin. It's competition. It's too many books everywhere (did I really say that?)

Building a niche and a following. Hard work.

Richard R. said...

I downloaded the Kindle for Mac program, because there were three books I wanted to read that were available only in that format. I have added six more or so the the Kindle "library". I haven't read any of them.

Tom Doolan said...

I have had pretty similar experiences. When I put PEKRA up for free, it "sold" like gangbusters, yet narry a review came of it. The next story I put up will cost more, and will probably get a 1-day Freebie Sale some time in the future, but nothing more. The Freebie thing might be good for those of us without any name recognition. But, it also feels like I am devaluing my work.

Oh, and I have LOTS of freebies on my Kindle as well. But most of it is Public Domain stuff.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J., my advice might be completely wrong, judging by my lack of successes.

Mimi, the sheer weight of the competition is a big thing, and bolstered by the fact that those who are better with social media make more progress than those of us who fumble at it.

Richard R., and that's probably par for the course. Too much out there already. And too much competition for our time.

Tom, yes, a lot of my stuff is public domain. I do download freebies that my friends send me, and I try to read adn get a review in but I can't keep up at all.

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

I don't have any answers for you. I'm befuddled by the entire digital publishing world. I know some authors who claim to make big, big bucks. In fact, I'm taking a class from one of them now.

I have a market for you; seems right up your alley. Go here:

http://storybrewhouse.com/A_Six_Pack_of_Stories.html

Vesper said...

I got some free ebooks but haven't read them (yet). I wonder if I ever will... There's something about looking at a screen that somehow negatively changes the reading experience for me. Maybe if I had a Kindle or a similar device it would be different - I only have Kindle for PC.
There's an overload of books, not just free ebooks, and probably only (or mostly) chance makes a few stand above the others. It's crazy!

the walking man said...

I am currently reading off and on The Olde Curiosity Shop but I am so familiar with Dickens it easily can be a stop and start read for me.

Harvest of War was fit in there, I bought it because i would have taken it for free but I wanted to rad it then. I think my worst habit when reading some piece or another written by someone I know is NOT doing the review.

I probably have done three out of the two or three dozen books I have on my Kindle...OOPs sorry everyone.

I really do want a 25th hour in every day.

the walking man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Gramlich said...

Jess, thanks for the heads up. I'll check it out.

Vesper, the Kindle is a much kinder reading experience than on a pc. you can lay around with it like with a print book.

Mark, yeah, I'd like an hour dedicated to reading. that would be a great gift.

Erik Donald France said...

"Mercurial" pretty much nails it.

Other than that, who knows? On the other hand, when I tried to find homes for two lost/abandoned dogs, I couldn't give them away. but when I charged some $ for them, people came flocking. Go figure. Whatever works, I guess. A litle of this and a lot of that.

Travis Cody said...

I bought my Kindle 2 years ago this month. When I got it, I made a rule that I would not buy or download for free more than one book at a time. I would finish what was in front of me before I went to the next.

I have held fast to that rule. Which means it takes me awhile to get around to the things on my wish and recommendation lists, regardless whether I download them for free or pay for them.

So that means I might miss a free giveaway from you and end up buying a copy when your books come up on my list. For me, that's a win either way. Free is nice, but $2.99 isn't bad for work of your quality.

Angie said...

I've found that I'm much slower to read freebies too, and I have a lot of them piled up. I don't take Kindle-format books, either; I only acquire PDFs, so I'm not even in the pipeline for Kindle give-aways. I'm still piled up with freebies I'll read some day, though, and I imagine most people are.

I haven't been in a position to do any mass give-aways, but from what others have said, it works best if the freebie is a book (preferrably the first book) in a series, so people can read that one and then, if they like it, know that there are more books very much like that one available.

Give-aways are less helpful boosting sales on unrelated books in the same genre, but there seems to be some push there, maybe. With books in other genres, don't even bother.

It's possible that the fact you write in many different genres is hurting you when it comes to the effectiveness of give-aways. My first thought would be that if the Talera books are available electronically, setting the first volume to free for a bit might help boost the sales on the others. A free copy of Harvest of War is unlikely to sell Talera books, though, or your Western or vampire anthologies, or a memoir like Days of Beer.

We're back to the audience thing again. We often find that readers who like X aren't very interested in Y or Z, and K is right out. Most people won't try a genre they don't care for, even if a writer whose work they've liked before is writing in it. If you're going for new readers with your give-away, your free book is essentially bait, and the bait needs to be as similar as possible to the books you're trying to lure people to buy.

Angie

Merisi said...

I wonder how a reader feels who knows something has been offered for free or for a few cents before.

Is it always love at first sight with writers new to us? Not so in my experience. Could it be that the offer of a free book is tempting enough to acquire it, but not read it in the end?

Merisi said...

Charles, regarding "those who are better with social media make more progress than those of us who fumble at it":

I can only tell you my experience: What social media? I am on FB, for a year now, and would close the account if it were not for a few real friends I like to stay in contact with that way (less cumbersome than emails for the small things in life, something along that line).
I signed up for Twitter, but "don't get it". I am off that one too.

At the end, I wonder if and how all that "social media hype" really works.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, that's true. I've seen that happen with old furniture. Weird.

Travis Cody, thanks for the kind words. I'm impressed by your discipline. Where books are concerned I'm a kid in a candy store.

Angie, yeah, I think you're absolutely right. Unfortunately, I don't control those issues for the Talera books. But I'm gonna try a western series and do that with those and see what happens.

Merisi, I don't know. It's like anything else. it works for those who have good social skills, but those folks can do the same thing in real life as well. I'm not good in either place.