Books as Business   3 comments

What’s your opinion on authors giving their books away for free?

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TP Cover Montage

Well, there’s that word “feel”. And while I feel a lot, I try not to base what I think on it because feelings are as changeable as the wind in April (er, March, for Lower 48ers) and books are a business and business requires a strategy, not a lot of emotion.

So, what do I think of authors giving their books away for “free”?

I think giving books away with no cost to the reader is a good short-term way to generate interest in a series or an author who has more than one book, but it’s not without cost, so you really can’t call it “free.”

There’s all the time and effort the author put into the book. That’s a cost to the author. Yes, authors have a right to give away whatever they want. I would never argue that someone doesn’t have a right to give away their stuff. But I hope authors would pause and think about this.

You get what you pay for. A boss of mine way back in college used to say that to people who wanted her to give them a lower price on what she was selling. She gave a great service for a fair price … the price the market would bear. Her business was finally ended by the government getting into competition against her and giving her service away for “free”. Well, not exactly. What she sold for about $15 a night cost the taxpayers of the City of Fairbanks $130 a day. It didn’t kill the business outright, but every year it siphoned off enough business that eventually she closed because she wasn’t making a profit any longer and, so you see the cost of “free”. Draw your own conclusions about what I mean by that story.

The Daermad Cycle (2 Book Series) by  Lela Markham

When I first published The Willow Branch I didn’t sell a lot of copies. I played around with the cost and I still didn’t sell a lot of copies. I had The Willow Branch on Amazon and Smashwords and it just wasn’t selling. A friend suggested I make it “free” on Smashwords, which eventually causes Amazon to drop it to free. But then another friend posted a blog article about how long it took the New Testament to become the best seller it is, suggesting authors really need to be more patient. I prayed about it and decided to put the book on Amazon Select for six months.

That was a hard decision because I don’t believe in monopolies and Amazon Select is a monopoly. I would prefer to be spread across a lot of channels, but I did it as an experiment. I still didn’t sell many books that first six months, but I hadn’t been idle. I published Life As We Knew It. It’s not the same series. It’s an apocalyptic set the day after tomorrow rather than a high fantasy. I put it on Select at the get-go as another experiment. And it slowly began selling, easily overtaking sales for The Willow Branch.

Meanwhile, I wrote the next book Mirklin Wood and got a surprise — two books in a series sell better than one book by itself. I’ve since published Objects in View and A Threatening Fragility in Transformation Project and seen the same phenomenon.

Now, I’m not completely against price manipulation to attract attention. I offer The Willow Branch at no charge to the reader from time to time, usually putting other books on sale that day. It does get attention, though it gets more attention when I place Life As We Knew It at no-cost for a day. That’s the difference between genres. Thriller/apocalyptics sell better than fantasies.

Hullabaloo on Main Street: A Satirical Look at America's Bubble Battles by [Markham, Lela, Sliney, Laurel]Ah, but there’s something else to consider. Kindle Unlimited is available to anyone who is willing to pay for Amazon Prime. You get two books per month included-in-the-price with AP, which means that pricing your book appropriately is important if you want to attract readers through KU.  I keep experimenting with pricing and seeing what works and what doesn’t. According to Mark Coker of Smashwords, the sweet spot for pricing an ebook is $3.99. But I’m hearing from others that we might want to boost the price of our books because you want KU readers to feel they’re getting their value’s worth So, if you get two included-in-the-price books for about $10 a month, maybe your book needs to be $4.99 or even $5.99. I haven’t gotten that daring yet, but it’s a thought. And, since Christmas, I’ve made a fair amount of change off Unlimited.

I also have a book that isn’t sellling at all. Hullabaloo on Main Street is a slim novelette and political satire that’s been on Select for a year and it’s just not doing what I wanted. So, free, right?

No. Instead I’m going to put it on Barnes & Noble and a few other sites to see if my instincts about spreading a wider net are correct. I’ll play around with the price and see what happens. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll put it on Kindle Select at 99 cents and just stop worrying about it. I put time into every book I write and I hope lots of people read them, but I also know that I’ve earned some coin for doing the work. Maybe people will find it by accident while checking out my other books. Since it happens to be about our current stupid political climate, maybe I’ll be hailed as a prophet at some future time.

So, there you have it — what I think on the subject of “free” books. I treat my books like they’re a business and, yes, I have an emotional attachment to them, but I don’t lose sight of the bottom line. Giving away my books devalues my efforts and talents and is unnecessary because they do sell … mostly … when I exercise some patience toward that goal. And my next book Thanatosis should be coming out this fall. And because this is the fourth book in a series that is selling, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to be free.

3 responses to “Books as Business

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  1. Thanks for these tips. Perhaps I ought to start writing a series? As yet I haven’t done this.

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  2. I put my books on several sites because I don’t believe in monopolies, and I think Amazon has too much control over the book market already.

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    • Oh, I totally agree about monopolies, but when I tried putting my books on multiple platforms, I couldn’t get any attention. I was too new and had too small of an advertising budget to attract attention without what Select offers. Now I’m ready to try it again to see if that barrier has been overcome by having some past sales.

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