About E-Readers and Free Books

One of the interesting things about the e-pocalypse is the proliferation of free books. Plenty of smart authors -- self-published and otherwise -- are releasing free books into the wild as a promotional effort.

In theory, this is a great idea. Heck, in practice it's probably a great idea, but I've noticed something about the free books on my Kindle.

I forget about them.

Seriously. I mean not all the time, and not forever. But yeah, most of the time: I hear about a free book; if it sounds like my thing, I have it sent to my Kindle; and then I forget.

Why? Well, partially because downloading it from the laptop and remembering that it's on the Kindle are two separate events. When I'm on my Kindle, I forget about wherever I was surfing that morning.

Mostly, I forget because I didn't pay for it. I'm sure there's a psychological term for this, but I value something more if I pay for it -- even if I only paid a little. It means I made a semi-difficult decision (knowing me, it was a long decision, probably involving lists and a flowchart), so I put more value in that book. I'm more likely to make time for it.

And I'm less likely to put it down. I can't tell you how many Kindle samples I've downloaded, thought "this isn't bad," and then never thought about again.

Does that mean giving away free books is a bad thing? Well, no. There's strong evidence that they work, and I do get around to them eventually (and it's kinda nice too, like, "Oo! I forgot I had that!").

There's no question free books will get more downloads. But I wonder if you couldn't get more readers overall if the price point was just a leetle higher. Low enough to be a steal, but high enough to make the buyers value the download.

I dunno, what do you think? How do you treat free books?


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Hmm... this conversation looks vaguely familiar ... *grins* I won't recap my extended argument, except to say (free books) = (good for author) iff (more books available for sale).

In a happy coincidence, my free short story prequel, Mind Games, was picked up by Ereader News Today (an ebook ad site) yesterday. I didn't realize it until I checked this morning and found I had over a thousand downloads in the past 24 hours! (for comparison, over the last three weeks of the short story being free have garnered about 600 downloads; also, when it was priced at 99cents, I sold about 50 over 3 weeks)

Will people forget about it? Probably most of them. But already 20 have bought the first book, so that's 20 sales I wouldn't have had yesterday. And at the moment, Mind Games is poised to crack the top 100 Free listing on Amazon, which will likely result in a bunch more downloads/visibility/sales before it's done.

As a reader, I download my friend's free books all the time, just to give them a visibility boost. But then I page through my Kindle and it's like having my own little library of books to try, when I'm looking for something new.

Matthew MacNish said...

For the same reasons I didn't have much to say over the weekend, I don't have much to add here either. Basically, I don't ever download fee books. If I do, it's because I know the author (like Susan), or because it's a book that's not even published yet, that was sent to me by a friend.

Ryshia Kennie said...

I don't download many free books that weren't written ages ago and now have classic status. I think as far as the recently published freebies, because I don't have to justify an expenditure to make the download there's less thought put into it and I hate to admit it, they often sit for a while before I get to them. I think free books have their place in contests or give aways to a specific group otherwise, not so sure.

Cap'n Heine said...

I have yet to actually buy a book on my Kindle. I'm still going through all sorts of free classics. :)

Unknown said...

My Kindle was shiny new and still in its box on Saturday. I was excited to find the free-books section on Amazon. Not only because it less expensive to mess up the downloading process ;) I know I will buy more books by the authors I enjoy. I noticed lots of authors had a very cheap book or two too reach out to readers. I don't think I'll forget to read my downloads whether I've paid, £0.00 for them or much more.

Unknown said...

When reading please add the word "was" to the third sentence - thanks :D

jjdebenedictis said...

I've certainly done this too, and I don't have an eReader. :) I download the book to my computer and then...never read it. So it's not just the disconnect between browsing and picking up the eReader.

Related to this discussion: I was reading recently how in blind taste tests with wine experts, a $400 French wine came in first place and a (I think) $40 wine from New Jersey came in an extremely close second.

Why are people willing to pay $400 instead of $40 for wines that are of almost indistinguishable quality to experts? Because consumers buy into the idea that the more expensive the wine, the better, and also that the experience is going to be worth that much money.

Likewise, the liqueur Tia Maria, when it was introduced, couldn't seem to gain a foothold in the American market. How did they fix the problem? They raised the price. And then it started selling extremely well.

So yes. The price affect your anticipation of quality and your expectation of an enjoyable experience.

D.G. Hudson said...

I've only downloaded free books by author friends and usually for the purpose of reviewing. As an intro to the author's writing, I think it can work, but once the audience gets used to FREE, they don't want to pay very much afterwards.

Is this an author's perception or a reader's POV? (this perception of value) Downloading the book does show an interest in the book, whether it gets read or not.

Laurel Garver said...

The main freebies I've downloaded are classics, especially of the hefty tome variety. These are books I'd likely pick up used at some point, but the e-reader version is easier to read piecemeal, a chapter here and there between nonfiction, devotionals etc.

I have downloaded a handful of self-published freebies if the reviews were good but not too glowing (always suspicious of all five-star; even best sellers have some 1- and 2-star).

I agree however that I have a higher opinion of a $3.99 e-book than one that is free from the get-go (temporary promotions are what they are, and sometimes Amazon does them without the author's prior knowledge or permission). The "perceived value" factor is something folks should consider when setting prices.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I think it's part of the backlash against a lot of the self-published free books that have been going around. I downloaded a few out of curiosity, and some of them were so drecky I couldn't get through the first chapter, let alone the whole book.

I'm on board with those suggesting that a higher price could indicate better quality. For the most part, though, I'm sticking to books that cost at least a buck or two from now on. Granted, if you want to give me a book, and I know and like your work already, I'd be thrilled to get a free copy. Outside of that situation, though, I have a hard time imagining any free book being worth my time (special promotions aside).

Jack said...

I agree with you. When I see a book for free the first thing that I think is, "Is it badly written? One with a dumb plot?" This is probably rotten of me but most books I see for free I wouldn't spend time reading. The books I usually go for are ones for a higher price because I know they will be good. I will gladly spend ten dollars on a good book.

I have a friend who keeps telling me I should release my first book for free as it might help me get people wanting the next. But I have doubts about this personally. (I too download free ones and forget them.) So, anyways, I agree with you. I think ebooks need to be a good price, not as much as a paper or hard back, but one that will make something think it is a good book.

Adam Heine said...

Yup, I have the free classics too, but they're much lower on my priority list :-) I'm sure I'll get to them eventually!

Adam Heine said...

Oo, thank you, Jen, for the empirical evidence! It also reminds me of the whole thing about diamonds. They're like one of the most common minerals on the planet, but DeBeers has convinced us they're valuable, partially via price fixing.

Adam Heine said...

It does show an interest in the book, DG. But if they never read it -- if the downloads are never converted into sales of other books -- then I'm not sure the downloads matter.

Nancy Thompson said...

Well, that's good to know. I don't think my pub will ever do free giveaway days, but they do price their books very reasonably. Research shows most purchases come in around $3 to $6, so they price their titles in that range. And though they're a new startup, so far, all their releases have made various bestseller lists. Personally though, I've downloaded a few free titles, mostly written by friends, and since I'm new at this e-book thing, I probably will read them...eventually.