Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Does FREE Still Work?


Eons ago I worked in radio and saw the power of free at work. Or the lack of power. We’d frequently run promotions where we gave away movie tickets, or concert tickets, or free passes to some station event. The value of the tickets was anywhere from $12 - $55. 

Any guess what percentage of winners used their tickets? Forty percent. Why so low? The listener had no skin in the game and when something else came up, the tickets went to waste. They hadn't put any money in so they weren't losing anything to bag on the event.


Now allow me to fast forward to 2010 and contradict myself. My first novel, ROOMS, released in spring of that year and for two weeks in April my publisher gave away the Kindle edition for free. It was #1 in the Kindle store for 12 out of the 14 days. Then they gave it away free for two weeks on the Nook.

When the four weeks were over, 90,000 copies had been downloaded. It gave ROOMS a lot of buzz and I think it SOLD a lot of books. (I know it did, because with that first novel I tracked the numbers like an actuary.)

But I think the day of giving away Kindle or Nook copies to drive sales is over. Simple reason: There are too many free downloads. My TBR “pile” on my Kindle is around 300 titles. I might get around to reading some of them. But odds are higher I won’t.

Funny though, the books on my Kindle I paid for seem to get read.

Can you relate? Do you find yourself reading the books you pay for and neglecting others you got for free? Or do you read both equally? Have you used a free giveaway recently and seen it have a positive impact on sales? 

Have you discovered an author through a free e-book and bought their other titles? Is there a difference in an established author giving away a free e-book (Ted Dekker did this a few months ago to spectacular success) as opposed to a new author?

Your turn. Thoughts? Inquiring James’ would like to know.


 James L. Rubart is the best-selling, award winning author of four novels. Publishers Weekly says this about his latest: ““Readers with high blood pressure or heart conditions be warned: [Soul’s Gate] is a seriously heart-thumping and satisfying read that goes to the edge, jumps off, and “builds wings on the way down.” During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps authors make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dirt bike, hike, golf, take photos, and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com

10 comments:

Gina Holmes said...

I have very little time to read for pleasure, but when a book is cheaper or free I'm no more or less likely to read it. I read books I've been hearing good things about or in the non-fiction realm, things I'm interested in. I think the publishers are trying to get away from the free promotions, not because they're no longer effective (I think they very much are), but because it hurts the industry as a whole. With so many free books (many of which are actually good), why ever pay for a book? I had similar success with Crossing Oceans and a free download. I think we did 80k free downloads which definitely helped sales for a long time afterward. We recently did a 1.99 download of Crossing Oceans to help interest in my new book, Wings of Glass. Wings is doing well on B&N (even hit #! paid... I have the screenshot of it above James Patterson :) but we won't be doing a free download again, I don't think.

Sharon Srock said...

I too have a list about 14 kindle screen long of free books. I made a resolution not to download anything else til I got some of them read and started at the bottom to work my way up. Lasted about two weeks. Irene Hannon's new book book came out, had to read it. Got to meet Tosca Lee, needed to check out some of her stuff. Nora Roberts released something new...really...stopped to read that. Wings of glass hit the shelf...I'm worse than a junkie. So as a reader, free has become overwhelming. It hasn't stopped me from buying books, but I buy fewer. The good think is, It's introduced me to some new authors I might not have tried otherwise.

As a writer...I have book 2 coming out in 3 weeks. I love to give book 1 away for a day to myself in that new author seat I mentioned above.

Lisa Jordan said...

I downloaded books like crazy when I got my Kindle, but I've read very few of them due to time limitations. I wasn't too selective in my downloads either, branching out of my reading comfort zone to try new genres. When I buy new books, I stay within my favorite genre unless word-of-mouth encourages me to try something new.I have gained new authors by reading a free eBook first.

Heather Marsten said...

I have bought other books by authors that have given away a free copy. There are other free books that I have deleted because the content was not to my liking or they were poorly written. Chances are, a poorly written free book would do more damage to an author. When I get a free book, my policy is to write a review on Amazon about it. The only time I won't write a review is if I can't give it more than a four star rating. I have emailed authors and told them what I didn't like about the book. I don't want to bash them on a venue like Amazon. I've discovered many new and exciting authors through free books.

Jennifer said...

As an avid reader, I would read books I purchased first, and the only free books I've downloaded are ones I either know the author, have met them at a conference, or have built some type of online friendship...

Marianne Barkman said...

i still prefer the printed book, and will not buy an ebook. Talking about free though. My uncle's dog was very prolific, and he thought he'd give the puppies away to good homes. He even bought an add in the local weekly, and got zero replies. It wasn't until he upped the price to $50.00 that he had any takers, and then he didn't have enough puppies. Why? must be something wrong if it's free!
Same as with the fridge beside the road. Never got anything as long as it was free, but the day they put a price on it, it was 'stolen'

Dina Sleiman said...

The free kindle craze has totally changed my reading habits. I rarely read more than 1/3 or 1/4 of a book anymore. It's sad really. I did a post about this too a few months ago. I think it's better to offer a sale than a free book. Free books made sense briefly, but now that everyone is doing it, the advantage is gone and the system is being abused.

Michael Ehret said...

I have to have some OTHER reason to get the book and then 'free' puts me over the edge on the decision. :) And I have an online Kindle account FULL of books waiting for me to get an e-reader. (I'm not the only one without one, but it feels like it sometimes...)

Maryann Miller said...

I have the same process for books that I get for free, Heather. I will not write a review if I did not care for the story or found the writing not up to standards. I have not contacted the authors, though. I probably should as I have appreciated readers who contact me with comments about something they thought did not work in my books.

Maryann Miller said...

I had the same experience with puppies once. We tried to give them away, and only found homes for them when we put a price tag on them. That is interesting the way that works. You are right that so many people associate "free" with something of inferior quality.