$1.00 Books v. Free Books (or why Authors Should Charge)
I’ve been a long proponent of authors giving away their content as a way to seed new readers. Publishers tend to agree with this concept giving away free digital books or even masses of free paper books. The idea is that the author’s own words is the best promotion.
One thing I’ve noticed in the recent months is while I’ll download every free book available at Kindle, I rarely read them. Conversely, I also take advantage of the low price specials from Grand Central Publishing and Harlequin and I almost always at least start, if not finish, those books. These books are priced anywhere from less than $1.00 to $1.99.
As I was reading my fifth book this past holiday weekend, I realized that it was a book for which I had paid money even though I had also downloaded three more expensive books that had been priced at zero. I always intend to read the books that I’ve downloaded for free and I do think that giving away books is a great way to seed the backlist and frontlist titles. I’ve been told that this promotional pricing have had success and at least one independent study has evidenced some positive results (the original post has been taken down, presumably because the data is part of a research paper to be made available at a later date). The fact is, though, I still have not read all 16 books offered by Harlequin as part of its 60th Anniversary celebration. Alison Kent’s With Extreme Pleasure was available for free last week. I’ve yet to crack it’s virtual cover.
But time and again, I’ll download these freebies to read at some point while proceeding to read the books I’ve purchased. I believe I choose to read the books I’ve purchased over the free books because I’ve some personal investment in them, no matter how small. I simply can’t let my $.50 or $1.99 go to waste by allowing that book to languish on my iPhone or Sony Reader. I will, at least, start the book that I purchased. I feel the same sort of obligation toward books I get for review. I will, at least, start those books. (I say “start” because I probably read the first chapter of some 50 books in a month but will only finish 15-20).
There is a certain tangible quality about having the physical book sitting on your shelf or nightstand. It’s constant presence reminds you to read it. A digital file is somewhat hidden, particularly with the primitive software reading programs which don’t allow you to mark whether a book is read or unread. Self discovery is much harder for digital files.
So while it might not be in my best interest to suggest this, I think authors and publishers should charge a nominal amount of money for their promotional books. This nominal amount of money will encourage readers to actually read the book instead of merely hoard the free digital file. If the book can be made available at the author’s website, it should be free, particularly if the retailer is charging some amount. This can serve to drive readers directly to the author’s site but also avoids the charge of the author “ripping off” the reader if the retailer is giving the book away for free. At retailers like Amazon, Sony, and BN, however, it makes sense for the retailer to charge some small amount. The reader feels like she is getting a huge deal and she has some incentive to actually try out the book.
I know that every reader is not like me and clearly the free reads have actually been read and resulted in sales. The question is by what proportional rate will downloads decrease because of a nominal charge but actual reading of the material would increase.
What do you readers think? Do you try every free book you can download? Would you be more likely to read the book if you had paid some amount of money for it? What’s the upper end of a “nominal amount” (mine is $1.99)? Authors, how do you feel about the free download?
Note: I use the word “book” in this post and by that I mean full length novel and not novella or short story. Those I think should always be free as a promotional item.