So, it's been a day since I put my thoughts down here for the #BooksAreNeverFree post, as well as shared the same to my thousands that were/still are on my mailing list. I'm still trying to get the hashtag trending.
The response has been amazing!
The confusion about what it all means is maybe understandable.
Let me shed some light on where I'm coming from (I'll get to some actual responses from readers to finish with––well worth seeing!). I'll also talk about reactions from authors (I'm part of some ultra advanced writing communities who have been doing some cutting edge stuff––their reactions have been both extremes).
I'm not saying free is dead.
Free is a common marketing strategy which has been around for years. It's still around now because it works, sort of, anyway. As authors, though, maybe we've taken it a little too extreme?
Of course, I understand the arguments. As an eBook doesn't cost it's okay to give them away by the thousands in order to gain new readers. More than one analogy was shared with me about sifting through gravel for gold. The timing of my post––really I'm just posing a question––is precisely because maybe the gold rush is over.
The question is; is this really how we want it to be?
Because where does it lead? As authors (Indie or Trad, it really doesn't matter going forward) we'll continue to improve our books. Say the common standard becomes Excellence. Nothing less will do. Fine, we all do that.
All the while we've been giving giving giving books away for free.
We land at Future Point when there are one million authors all with a free book out––because that's what we need to do to get readers, right? But now there are one million excellent books (because that's the watermark). Then what?
You see, readers who've been fed on free now have a limitless supply of GREAT books. Why buy another book ever again?! Overnight, all our planning, strategy and hard work will be for nothing.
It makes no sense.
What if it was different? Would we like it to be different if we had the choice? If we could choose, would we rather not pick a list that was packed with buyers?
From the author side, it's been obviously split into two camps. One side that voices ‘at last, someone has said what I'm thinking too!‘ There were a lot of these. On the other side, we get the equally true ‘but permafree works, this is my life blood, I'm not changing it.”
I'm not saying we end permafree. I'm not saying free books have no place. I'm just saying, let's ask the question. Let's think about where we are heading.
The publishing industry has changed massively these last ten years. I sense a new change is coming too. As indie authors, we have been underselling ourselves for too long. It's time we thought bigger.
Ten years ago Steve Jobs showed the world this large phone. In the decade before that, it was about making mobiles as small as ever…the smaller, the better. Or so we thought.
Then that first iPhone appeared and it changed everything! Now it's the bigger, the better once again! Mobile phones really have come full circle.
In a small way, I'd like the #BooksAreNeverFree idea to be a Steve Jobs moment. That when we think about ‘it has to be free‘ we remember the iPhone and how that changed the game for everyone.
My idea is as much a moral ideal as anything else. It's about us (as authors) educating our readers. A book is something to be read, not grabbed for free and never touched. Free devalues all we do, if that's how our books end up. Forget the ‘gold' illusion. If you are smart, and you work hard, people will find you. And they'll pay.
I'll finish with some actual responses from readers––and maybe a summary of the message they tell me underneath. There is so much more I could share on the subject, but I'll save that for another day.
“I download free books or pay U.S. $ .99 and have all I can read (2-3 books per week)”
“I have downloaded The Tablet (yes, for free), along with many others, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.”
“That was a great response to the launch and your thoughts on having true fans.”
” I am very guilty of downloading the free books, and then forgetting all about them, but now, I can see how it could hurt authors. I actually went to Amazon and read the blurb and then purchased The Prey. It sounds really good, and I will read it and give an honest review. I know it's too little, too late, but maybe it will help. I also downloaded Cherry Picking a while back, and I will read that one too.”
“Honestly, there are too many authors out there giving out free books day after day. The sheer volume of it gets a bit overwhelming, but you can't blame people for taking what is put out there for free.”
I also asked my readers why they hadn't purchased (I couldn't see who said what, so they could be as honest as they wanted). Whilst some had missed the announcement (buying it since, so that these last two days have nearly been as good as the launch weekend!) others––many others––had a response that they were at the time of life when money was tight, and they couldn't afford more than a couple of dollars.
I'll pause there––so free had got me a whole bunch of people for whom my other books are priced out of their reach––and I'm paying to have these people on my list?
Surprisingly, there has not been a mass of unsubscribes. I'll also have to manually check this coming week––I'll write to inform them they are being deleted unless they tell me otherwise (always an interesting thing to do!).
For those who'd like to see what I actually shared with my readers, I've put the link here.
It's good to be honest with readers, is the clear response.
So dream bigger. Stand by your work, and let's educate our readers. Even if we give them a free book (remember, I'm not saying you shouldn't) they need to understand that they've got a responsibility to read it. A book, after all, is to be read––not just to be stored on a device with hundreds of others.