I'm so over FREE - by Debbie Bennett

I’ve written much over the years about the pros and cons of offering ebooks for free. I once swore I’d never do it, that I’d sweated blood and wasn’t about to give my efforts away for nothing, that writers should always be paid for their work.

And then sales dried up. With a six-book series, FREE seemed the way to generate interest and offer readers a way to see if they liked my books. Try before you buy, in effect. And for a while it worked. For well over a year, I was selling more books by giving one away than I was when they were all at a fixed price.

And then sales dried up. To be fair, the past year or so seems to have been hard for a lot of us. Blame the referendum, Brexit, Trump – whatever excuses you can come up with – but sales aren’t what they were eighteen months ago. At all. The traditional authors are squeezed in different ways, and I can’t pretend to understand how it all works in the rarefied strata of the big 6/5/4/whatever, but the indie pecking-order is somewhat different. Somewhere online, there’s a saying that less than 10% of “authors” sell more than 100 books – or it might be copies of a single book: for a huge number of authors, that amounts to the same thing. And at the top of the indie pile, there are authors who are making five and even six-figure sums from ebook sales. Not the Hugh Howeys of the world, but less well-known indie writers, quietly writing and selling, writing and selling. The key, I think is probably in the writing

They talk over on the venerated kboards of writing and releasing a novel a month. A month. I don’t think that would be sustainable for me even without the day job. I’d burn out rapidly, even supposing I could manage a few months of such pressure. Yet that seems to be the best route to sales, to being good at this writing job. And if that’s what it takes to be in the race, I’m afraid I’m out before the start of the sprint. To me it’s more of a marathon anyway. Yet I suspect these are your big-sellers at the top of the indie list, the writers who are making a comfortable living at this game.

So – reasons to be cheerful? Or optimistic, at least … Well I’ve sold a lot more than 100 books, for starters. Hell, I’ve sold more than 100 paperbacks – which given that I have no shop-front or store to sell from, isn’t actually bad going, is it? Add on ebooks and I’m by no means anywhere near the bottom of the list. And my books are regularly borrowed from the local library (I check these things…) No, I’m not making anything like a living out of this – but it’s what I do. I could no more stop being a writer than stop being a reader. And while I haven’t put anything new out for a while, I’m still in the game and not planning on quitting any time soon.

But free? Nah, I’m not doing that any more. I put Hamelin’s Child back to paid a few weeks ago on Apple and Barnes & Noble. It took Amazon a week or so to catch up, but it will now cost a whole 99p to buy, including VAT. Bizarrely there are still a few copies going as free on Amazon – I can’t quite figure out why – but surprisingly sales are up. Maybe the old adage that you get what you pay for actually is true?

Some posts about the state of book publishing and selling:


Wendy H. Jones said…
Great post, Debbie. I'm with you on the value of free.
Jan Needle said…
Being an idle sort of get, I leave all that sort of thing to my ebook publisher Endeavour. That way I never know. Probably costs me, but what the hell. I'll do anything for a a quiet life!
Chris Longmuir said…
I think free books to sell others in the series used to work but doesn't anymore. I think ebook buyers are split into 2 segments, the ones who will take every free book going but never buy anything, or if they do it won't be over the 99pence mark. Then there are readers who buy a book because they want a good read, and these are the readers who are suspicious of free books and 99pence books.

I think we have to accept that the market will fluctuate from time to time and we just have to roll with it. But, like you Debbie, I've certainly sold more than 100 copies of every book I've written. So I think we have to take comfort from that.
True for many of us these days, I think, traditionally published as well as indie... 'I don't make a living from it - but it's what I do'.

I still use free as a promotional tool, but only for limited periods. The 'permafree' idea used to be effective for the first book in a series, but now I think there are so many freebies around that readers are spoilt for choice. Ditto charity shop and 2nd hand paper books. There never used to be so many cheap/free books around, many of them in unread condition. Great for readers, of course - I haven't paid full price for a book in years - but not so good for authors.

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