Part of the Indie Authors Series
For the last several months, this Indie Publishing Paths series has explored how there’s no “one right way” to self-publish and be successful. The successful indie authors have all made different choices, so rather than worrying about finding the “right” way, we simply want to make the right decision for us.
The previous posts in this series have covered the steps we should go through to understand our options. We first need to figure out our goals and priorities. Then once we’re ready to put our book up for sale, we need to decide on the where (such as whether we use a distributor or we sell direct through a retailer or go exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select), the when (whether we delay, use a preorder, or go for immediate sales), and the how much (whether we price high, in the middle, or low and whether our pricing strategy is a good match for what we want to accomplish).
Last time, we looked into why we might want to price our book lower than normal ebook prices. Specifically, we talked about the three business-oriented goals that pricing low might help us accomplish:
- using our low-priced book as a “loss leader” for our other books (introducing our work to more readers, with a potential for more income down the road),
- hoping our low price leads to more sales (maximizing income), or
- hoping our low price leads to more exposure and/or better rankings (an amplifier that can lead to more readers or more income).
However, the thought process we have to go through when deciding if free is a good strategy is slightly different than how we choose to price low. Today, we’re going to continue our discussion of pricing strategies by focusing on the pros and cons of offering our work for free.
Why Is Free Different from Low-Priced?
If we charge a low price for our book (meaning, below the normal price or “sweet spot” for that length of book), we’ll still make some income, and we can hope the increased sales for a low-priced book will make up the difference in earnings. However, a goal of income doesn’t apply if we’re pricing a book not just low, but free. After all, zero income added to zero still equals zero.
The only business reason for pricing our book free is if we have long-term plans, such as the loss leader strategy mentioned last time. In other words, we probably should not offer a book for free unless:
- we don’t care about business-oriented goals (like income) —OR—
- we have a plan to convert freebie readers into paid readers.
Without that plan to hold on to our freebie readers, pricing a book for free just gives up potential income for no reason.
The Benefit of a Freebie: A Sales Funnel
Over a year ago, I shared insights on my blog from a survey Beverly Kendall conducted that dug into the elements that help maximize income for self-published authors. One of the elements was to offer a book for free, especially if the freebie was related to our other books (such as the first book of a series or a set of books marketed as a series).
From Beverley’s survey, for authors with an income:
- Under $10K: 32.53% offered a series freebie
- Over $50K: 68% offered a series freebie
- Over $500K: 88.24% offered a series freebie
In other words, freebies correlate to higher incomes. This isn’t a surprise, as freebies expose our work to more readers, just like that exposure goal we covered last month—and if those readers like our work, they might buy our other stories.
This approach is known in marketing terms as a sales funnel. We offer something free to the widest possible audience, and then we use the back of our book (where readers who enjoyed our story will be most likely to want more from us) to direct readers to our other stories.
But a Freebie Won’t Help If…
Sales funnels are useful only if we have other books available that we can promote to freebie readers. Freebies don’t do us much good if we don’t have other books in our list to use for turning those freebie-loving readers into paid readers. The benefit applies only if we can use that page right after “The End” to sell the reader something else where we can make money.
The Risks of a Freebie: #1—The Psychology of Free
Psychologically, we appreciate things more when we have to work for them. The survey I ran in 2014 showed that—not surprisingly—people are more likely to read a book if they’ve paid more for it.
If we’re spending $5.99 or more for an ebook, we’re going to make sure it’s not buried in our ereader. For the same reason, we’re not necessarily going to be in a hurry to read a free book. We’re simply not likely to appreciate it as much.
In addition, people tend to assume a correlation between price and quality. Some readers even avoid free and $0.99 books, assuming them to be crap. So a freebie runs the risk of giving readers the impression that our work isn’t worth more money.
Some freebie readers go so far as to leave a more negative review because they don’t respect the book. Many won’t appreciate it because it’s free.
That’s all normal within the psychology of free. We simply need to be prepared for lower-star reviews on free books.
The Risks of a Freebie: #2—The Content of Free
When we’re first starting out, we might not want to make a full-length novel free. A novel takes a long time to write and edit (and likely costs more to pay for editors, as the word or page count increases). Understandably, many authors will offer a short story or novella for free instead. But readers who would enjoy our usual writing aren’t necessarily going to appreciate a shorter work, where plots, characters, and themes aren’t as well developed.
Another issue is that to promote the rest of our work within our freebie, we might include excerpts of another story or several pages of covers and book description blurbs for our other books. That can make readers upset when they reach the end of our free story sooner than they expected—even if our freebie is a full-length novel.
Also, from a reader perspective, before we spend money on a book, we’re going to make sure it’s something we want. We might not do that for a free book.
Between all those issues, we’re more likely to get negative reviews on a free story, complaining that it wasn’t what they expected or wanted. In other words, the negative reviews might not be about an aspect we can control—short of writing a different story.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Freebies
The main purpose of offering a freebie is to expose our work to more people. Some of those people will like our work and some won’t.
If all our reviews are positive, we might be reaching just our bubble of friends and contacts. It’s the negative reviews that prove we’re reaching a wider reading audience. Sure, some won’t care for our story, writing, etc., but some will.
We each have to decide what risks we’re willing to accept. But if we’re prepared for these risks (and know not to take the negative reviews personally), offering a freebie can give us the chance to reach more potential readers than we could otherwise.
Join me next month when we delve into how we can hang on to readers once they try us out. Until then, let me know if you have any questions in the comments! *smile*
Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.
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About Treasured Claim, the award-winning debut novel of the Mythos Legacy:
For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.
A modern-day knight seeking redemption…
Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.
A predator made prey…
Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize. But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.