Everywhere you look, there is an advertisement for a free product. Just click the button, and the free product will be yours! In many cases, the so-called free item is a ruse to get you to pop in your credit card so the company can bill you for something at some point. Not so much with free books. As of September 17, 2013, there were an estimated 62,967 free books on Amazon. No strings attached. It turns out that writers are jumping on the “free” bandwagon as a way to sell books.
So what in the world is perma-free? It’s just what it sounds like, something that’s permanently free. If you’re just now hearing about this concept for the first time, you’re probably scratching your head and saying, “I worked hard on that book! Why would I want to give it away?” If you only have one book, you probably wouldn’t. But if you have several books or even better, a series of books, giving the first book away might be the optimum marketing tool for attracting the most readers. While it seems counter-intuitive to give away a book with the hope of attracting readers, proponents of this marketing strategy have varying opinions on its effectiveness.
Greg Standberg shares his experience with perma-free ( http://bit.ly/1qlYna4) pointing out that offering a free book makes sense for: Selling future stand-alone books or books in a series. He’s not the only writer using this strategy. Brian Cohen wrote a free companion novel for a course on his website. In a guest post (http://bit.ly/1qgEq6A), Cohen describes his perma-free experiment, stating: “In August alone, there were close to 40,000 downloads of my little-book-that-could. The book stayed in the top 100 for several weeks before dropping out. It has yet to leave the Kindle Top 500 since.”
Should you ever offer a book for free even on a limited basis? The answer: It depends on the book and your intention for making it free. Last year, I wrote a poetry book, Dangerous Women, for personal reasons. Anyone who writes poetry knows that this is not a well-selling genre, particularly for an unknown writer, so my decision to give it away was really more about sharing than earning. This book will always be free on Smashwords.com, but Amazon still lists it for .99¢, because I couldn’t elect to make it free on Amazon. No doubt, this little collection of ten poems has fallen through the pricing cracks, because it simply isn’t on the ranking radar, however, these discrepancies in pricing underscores the potential for a writer to have a free book on one site, and the same book with a price-tag at other sites. Though filters exist to correct this discrepancy in Amazon, readers are instrumental in getting the free price match implemented by notifying Amazon that the book is free elsewhere. Lower-ranked books with little traffic may never be reported for price correction.
After a day spent researching free books as a marketing tool, I’m coming down on the side of offering free books under certain circumstances:
1) Offering a free book works best if you have more than one book, and preferably no fewer than three books.
2) Release two or more books at a time.
3) Plug your second (third, fourth…) books or parts of a series in the front or back matter of the first book and vice versa to drive traffic back and forth.
4) Expect that some people will download your free book and never read it or buy anything you write. Apparently some people just like “free” stuff whether they’re really interested in using it or not.
5) The big FREE tag on your book is sure to increase your website traffic and, with a little luck, your Amazon ranking.
6) A free book has to be of the highest quality to drive readers to books you want to sell. That may mean investing in a professional cover, editing and proofreading services and paid promotions if you don’t have the skill-set to do it yourself. Readers have to want to click the link on your back-list (or the next book in a series).
What do you think? Are free books a solid marketing strategy or do they dilute the overall book market? I’d love to hear what you think.