What Are Free Books Worth?

1231021950I’ve been giving my three novels away. They are free in digital form, and as cheap as I can make them in print form. And when I say free, I mean totally and sincerely and forever, not just temporarily free as part of a promotion.

Why do I give away my work? After all, it is hard work, even if it’s fun. I do it because writing is a hobby, a passion, a diversion from real life. I never planned to make spare change from it, much less a living.

It’s not because I don’t believe in these stories, in spite of what certain one-star trolls posing as “reviewers” have suggested. My only purpose is to increase readership (and I do have a few thousand downloads). Believe me, I worked just as hard on these books as if I’d planned on charging $10.

That’s not to say a little money and recognition wouldn’t be nice. It’d be great if my hobby turned into a semi-hobby some day, but it’s not essential. I do have a day job that pays the bills, although retirement looms in the not too distant future, and there are numerous threats to Federal employment and pensions looming on the horizon.

How do other authors feel about charging or not charging for their writing? Are you okay with getting little out of your work other than the joy to be found in the process itself, and the satisfaction of perhaps having entertained a few readers along the way?

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12 thoughts on “What Are Free Books Worth?

  1. The self-publishing contract I signed with iUniverse prevents me from giving away free books, unfortunately, but I really do like the idea of giving away free books. People are more likely to take a chance on a new author if there’s no cost involved for them.

    That being said, do you have any way to make money on these books? For example, do you advertise in the free ebooks that they can buy the print version if they enjoyed it? Maybe you could generate a little revenue that way!

    Happy New Year! Have a glorious 2013 🙂

    1. I do try to direct readers to the print versions, although that hasn’t produced more than a trickle of revenue so far! Still, it’s worth a try. Thanks for commenting, and a happy, prosperous New Year to you too!

  2. I give away free books for a promotion, but so far it doesn’t sit well with me to give my work away permanently. I have costs like editing and illustration I’d like to make back one day, even if it takes a while. That said, I’ve heard it’s good to have something, even a short story, up for free to draw readers in. I think I’d be willing to permanently give away something that’s 10K words or less. Otherwise, I’m going to charge at least something, since people tend to read books they actually buy more often and because I ought to get paid as an artist. Writing is hard work.

    But everyone has their own goals with writing! If free works for you, stick with it.

  3. I think it’s just a matter of moderation and what your goals are as a writer and author. For me? I want to write for a living. It’s a passion of mine, and who doesn’t want to spend their life pursuing a passion? So I don’t see anything wrong with offering some pieces of writing for free, and other pieces for a cost (though I don’t know about the 40 dollar hard covers, I think we could all do without those).

    I’m still ridiculously new to the world of writing, finally at a point in my life where the masses even have the ability to see my what I’ve written. I don’t have much experience on the process that comes after the actual writing (increasing an audience), but I could see myself continuing to charge for something I’ve poured heart and soul into, and offering other writings for free. Ardyth DeBruyn summed it up pretty well I think.

  4. Many authors do charge for some of their products and offer others for free, as you suggest. The free products are intended to promote the others. From what I’ve read, this has worked very well for some authors in creating sales.

  5. I really wanted to give some of my stuff away for free, but I can’t figure out how to get Amazon to let me. I like the idea of free, but I do also like the idea of revenue. I did try a “try before you buy” model (download a pdf for free, then buy a copy if you liked it as a “thank you” after the fact). But, then I saw Amazon’s policy around that, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the listing.

    It is generally for promo that I’ve done it, though. I have a short story available for free on Smashwords, and had business cards printed off with the link and an image of the cover. Then, when I would commute to my classes on transit, I’d give people a card if I saw them with an e-reader (or when the writing came up in conversation etc.–“It’s free! No strings. Enjoy.”). They always accepted it–and I’d sometimes see a spike in downloads after. But it didn’t spike sales of the anthology it’s compiled in–I’ve noticed short stories really don’t sell.

    But I’ll admit that the promo free stuff worked amazingly well for me in novel-length SF and romance, spiking paid sales when the book went back to paid. My biggest success has been in historical Regency Romance–the book I give away for free is my top seller as a paid title, and the other book I’ve written in the same genre (which I don’t give away for free, because I didn’t want to go exclusive with it on Amazon–so that one is also on Smashwords, ibookstore etc.) is a close second.

  6. A bit late to comment on this but I heartily believe no writer should offer their work for free. Writing is a profession, not a hobby (whether or not you make money out of it), and people who don’t pay for books quite likely won’t read them. If we self published writers want to be taken seriously we need to charge accordingly. That is until the plumber offers to sort out your leaky taps for free on the off-chance you’ll recommend him (or her) to your friends!

    I even think 99p (or 99cents) is too little. We are undermining ourselves, is my view anyway.

    Good luck to all writers out there.

  7. Internet is amazing. You posted this in 2013 and now, four years later, I’m reading it! So, to answer your question… You probably already know how I feel about it, because you read my last blog post — I do it for the love of it. That said, you know I’m having to face the facts re’ being a retired teacher: “living on air” and the amount of money it requires to publish a book — even digitally. For the moment, because I’m “in the middle of something” (my 4-book series), I’m going to go ahead and write the next two and publish them “for the love of it.” Then, if I haven’t recovered at least the costs of production, I’ll probably just write for myself.

    1. The Internet is indeed amazing! I’m delighted that a post of mine was read after four years. I’m a retired bureaucrat and I, too, write for the love of it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to regard it as a hobby and am not under any pressure to profit from it. I wish you success in making your love of writing work for you!

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