Free Books: Marketing Genius or Author Nightmare?
By Robin Weaver
First, I’m taking no stance on this issue—yet. However, I did an unofficial analysis during the past two weeks (February 20 through March 6) and uncovered some interesting statistics:
--During the period, the lowest number of free Kindle books exceeded 53,000.
--On March 6th, there were 93,282 Kindle books available for free download.
--Of those 93K free books, 333 fell into the Romance/Sex category
--1,310 free mystery books were available.
--In addition to current freebies, there are over 23,000 classics available for free.
What does this mean to an author?
The obvious answer is you have a lot of competition for reader attention. I’ve heard many authors suggest that free books aren’t a threat because most readers would rather pay $2.99 for a Kindle book instead of weeding through the “crap.” Problem is, readers don’t have to wade. A multitude of sites have already culled the field. The ones listed below are only a few of the many, many URLs that list free eBooks:
--Ebookfriendly.com posts the top 10 Kindle bestsellers every day.
--OneHundredFreeBooks.com “handpicks” the top five on a daily basis. The OHFB Motto boasts: If I can find you one book a day you’ll enjoy and read, I’ve done my job. On the day this blog was written, OHFB featured an ad for Tiger Direct. Translation: her site is making money—the featured authors aren’t.
--There is a YouTube video that touts: “This video is showing you how to get actual GOOD books …” See the emphasis on GOOD?
Keep in mind, free books are only one avenue available to the frugal reader. To access a plethora of free reads, all a girl has to do is sign up with one of the 100s of review sites—and presto, the best books are available for a the whopping price of a two-sentence review.
But is there a potentially a bigger problem? Do free reads perpetuate the idea all books should be free? Will readers stop paying for books? A GeekyMomma blogged: “You don’t have travel to the local library and scan shelves in hopes of finding free books….” BTW, the typo “You don’t have TO travel…” is hers, not mine.
Another blogger (theicingonthecrazycake.com) posted “…I will never pay for a book again…” In January, a reader posted on Goodreads : “Well, I never pay for a book unless I have to.” As early as January, 2010, a blogger posted: “If you have a computer, Phone, iPad, Blackberry, or Android device, you can download more books than you will ever be able to read for free. Here’s how.”
One can only hope the law of supply and demand will eventually apply. If readers habitually wait for “Free Books,” and stop purchasing reading material, surely Amazon will notice the lost revenue. For example:
--Today there are 333 free romance books (and romance represents less than 1% of today’s free books).
--Let’s assume that ten people download each of these books.
--For our analysis, let’s assume an average price of $2.99
--That’s almost $10,000 (Amazon share = $3,000).
That’ may not a big deal to the corporate giant, but what if 100 people download a free book? Or 1,000?
Can you imagine a similar free service in any other industry? What about plumbers? Have a leak—go to FreeButtCrackforaDay.com (NOTE: As of this minute, this site is completely fictional). Find out who’s available to come to your house and get your faucet for free?
I’m sure you can’t imagine getting the drip silenced without cost. Asking a plumber to work for free is ludicrous.