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.