This is a question that has been on my mind for a while, and I would like to share some of my thoughts regarding this. I believe there is a definite value in offering free ebooks to readers, but sometimes this may be overshadowed by figures which may make these seem less viable to authors, and possibly turn them away from making books free.
I do think that having a free book(s) available is a good way of acquainting prospective readers with one’s work, and the free book may be a way of ‘selling’ other books written by an author which have a price attached to readers. If the free book is of excellent quality, then this might very well help to ‘sell’ a reader on an author’s other works.
One of the problems with free books is that they are open to being downloaded at a frenetic pace by readers, only to be relegated to being one of many other ebooks on a reader’s e-reading device which may, or may not, ever be read. The number of readers who actually read, and review, free ebooks can vary significantly from author to author. I will use my e-book LOOKING BACK as an example from my experience.
On Smashwords, LOOKING BACK is free, and has had 502 full and sample downloads until the present. Out of this number, since it was published in 2012, only three readers have actually reviewed it on this website. While this may seem to be a very low number, it may not reflect other factors. Maybe readers have taken the time to read the book, and, while they may have liked it, preferred not to leave a review for their own personal reasons. Quite possibly, in turn, they may have purchased my other books either on Smashwords, or other websites, from reading the free book. As with free e-books, there are possibly readers who also purchase books with a price point, but never read these, or read these, and do not review them.
The reception of LOOKING BACK on Amazon is different to its Smashwords experience. Unlike Smashwords and the other e-bookstores, LOOKING BACK is not free on Amazon, but maybe if it was, the attraction of being free may have assisted with greater exposure for my other books, but, as the book has a price tag here, it is something that remains to be seen if it ever becomes free. Each bookstore has different readers who may, or may not, cross between both sites, and what is free on the one website may not have the same impact as on the other. (By the way, if you would like to read LOOKING BACK for free on Amazon, please price match with other e-book stores here).
It is, admittedly, a very difficult thing to gauge, that is, how effective a free e-book is in attracting readers to an author’s other books, but this is something which is very individual. In many instances authors offer the first e-book in a series as a free book, but the success of this, again, is something which differs variously. There is also the assumption that having a free e-book may hamper the sales of an author’s other books, but this is another area of uncertainty. I believe that the more material that an author has available to readers, the more likely they may be to sample an author’s works. I will be releasing a free e-book in the next couple of months, and will be watching with interest the effect of this work on my other books, being that I will now have two free e-books for readers.
I have outlined just some of the concepts pertaining to free e-books, but there are many others waiting to be analysed. Now, it is over to you for your thoughts on this topic – is there a value in offering free e-books to readers?