The Trouble with Free eBooks

man-free-signEveryone loves to get something for nothing, right? And what is more tempting than going online and cruising through thousands of free ebooks? It’s like a smorgasbord that you don’t have to pay for, a literary heaven.

Well, not exactly. Here’s why:

1. Quantity. There are too many free ebooks. Thousands of titles are available, which means a free ebook no longer stands out in the crowd. A few years ago, this was a great way for a new author to get noticed. But now? “FREE! isn’t special when everyone is doing it” author Kristen Lamb wrote in her blog The Problem with Free.  As a tool for authors, it is losing its advantage. As a source for readers, it is overwhelming, and that leads to the second issue:

2. Excess. Many readers do not read the free ebooks they download. The books go into the modern day slush pile called To Be Read. The problem is that most TBR lists contain hundreds of books and why not? They are all free. It doesn’t cost anything to download a book and leave it sitting in electronic limbo.  The reader doesn’t lose anything if he never gets to the book. And that brings up:

3. Value. It turns out that most folks do not value something unless they pay for it. Author Dean Fetzer makes this point in his blog Value for Money: “One of the lessons I learned early on about the internet in my previous job – and the world, for that matter – is: users don’t value free stuff as much as things they pay for.” Readers have no investment in a free book and no expectations. Just the opposite, in fact:

4. Perception. A free product is perceived to be a lesser product. Even positive reviews of free books reflect this attitude. When scanning any reviews of free books you invariably find comments such as  “Not bad, for free”, “I was surprised that something free was actually readable”,  “Enjoyed it but glad I didn’t have to pay for it”.  And let’s take a look at the “glad I didn’t have to pay for it” crowd:

5. Addiction. Yes, ebook readers are now hooked on freebies. They have been trained to NOT pay for books. They expect free ebooks, in quantity,  in perpetuum. Check out The Digital Reader: Are Free eBooks Killing the Market?  for a take on this phenomenon.

Of course, there are authors who have benefited from using the free ebook strategy just as there are readers who devour their electronic books and hunger for more. These authors will argue that giving away free ebooks boosted the sales of their non-free titles. They are the exception now, not the norm. Free promos, if done correctly, can temporarily boost a book’s ranking. Does that translate into sales and reviews? There is heated debate over that but it seems clear that most authors receive only a momentary lift, a blip, so to speak, in the book publishing cosmos.

We have never offered our books for free and have no plans to do so. We want readers who are invested in the story, who want to read our tales so much much they actually pay for them. Authors should set a value on their work. In a race to the bottom, no one wins.

 

About jmdattilo

J.M. Dattilo is our pen name. We are the authors of the Time's Edge sci-fi/fantasy series.

Posted on December 30, 2012, in Authors, Books, Reading, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: