The Bad Business Of Free
Authors work hard on their books. Independent writers not only have to work hard finishing their masterpieces, but they also have to figure out distribution and marketing as well. It seems like a fair trade-off for doing what you love, doesn’t it? On top of that, you learn that people don’t want to pay for your books; they want them for free.
The first people you market to are your family and friends. Most of mine have shown support for my books, but then they also ask for free copies. Instead of yelling and screaming and throwing glasses full of vodka like I used to, now I smile and nod. Over the years, I have let people know in no uncertain terms that this is my livelihood. I’ve even used this analogy: You don’t walk into Target and tell the manager that you want an outfit for free.
In fact, if you did that, the employees would laugh at you. Yet indie authors are expected to give away free books. As I prep my first book for publication, everyone has an idea of what I should do. Since this is an area where I am inexperienced, I welcome all advice. Except it all seems to come down to the same piece of advice: Give away your book for free.
Best Selling Indie Author Travis Simmons uses this strategy. The first book in his The Vantasyl Clan Demon Hunting series, The Dead of Sanguine Night, is free. Recently, the book was downloaded quite a bit on Amazon and other platforms. It was a much-earned success for him. Yet, other than bragging rights, he didn’t get much from it.
The first book's concept in the series being free is that it will draw readers into the series and buy subsequent books. It’s a great theory, but nobody has offered solid proof that it works. When I say evidence, I mean solid numbers. Not the go-to “well, it worked for so and so.” Unless that author wants to show their numbers, it doesn’t make sense for me or my investment.
Investing In The Book
Yes, each book is an investment. It takes time to come up with the idea, flesh out the story, and then sit down to write it. After that, there are actual dollars changing hands for an editor, book cover, and advertising. My first book will cost me a minimum of $750, and that is if I go cheap on everything. Let that number sink in for a second. $750. For one book to be done professionally. $750. Now double that number if a free book is offered, because the second book would cost just as much.
If both books cost that, I’m in the hole $1,500. That means the second book will need to sell more than 800 copies to recoup my investment if the book is priced at $2.99. Does that math not add up for you? Here’s why it takes at least that many, Amazon (or any of the other platforms) take their cut of the profits from the book. They are a business and need to make a profit. Just like the indie authors need to make money from the products they offer. Where does this leave the free book debate for me?
Free books equal bad business. Until someone comes forward with hard evidence that offering a free book actually translates into higher sales for the other books in the series, the ROI (Return on Investment) doesn’t seem to be worth it.