Free ebooks – what a READER (NOT a writer) thinks

posted in: On writing | 7

The issue of the value of ‘free’ books is a perpetual subject for discussion among writers. I’ve seen two mentions in the past week, and many more over the years. Usually, the argument from those for free books is that free attracts a readership, who then go on to buy the writer’s other works. Those against argue that in many people’s minds, ‘free’ means crap, or people download free books just because, with no intention of reading. There’s something to say for (and against) both those positions – and they’ve been said – a lot. Usually by writers. But we don’t need the opinion of writers. We need the opinion of readers. (Yes, I know writers are readers, too – but I tend to feel they are biased.)

So this is a case study. My husband reads a lot. He’s not the fastest reader in the world, but he’d go through one or two books a week. Let’s say eighty to one hundred books a year. He does not write any sort of fiction and does not aspire to do so. He does not beta read my books. He mainly reads crime and thrillers but has been known to enjoy science fiction.

The OH used to get his reading material from the second hand bookshops – until he realised that e-reader I used was quite a good idea, especially for trips. He likes a bargain, so I introduced him to Smashwords. He always goes there first, to find out what’s new and free. He bases his decision to download on the cover and the blurb. He does not download samples and if he reads the reviews, he tends to ignore them.

Yes, he reads the books he downlaods – or at least as much as he can stand. Some of the books have been dreadful to the extent he has quoted some sentences at me. Things like “he drug the body out of the water”, or sentences that don’t make sense. Those he’ll give up on. Sometimes he tells me I’ll like a book. Occasionally, I’ll read what he suggests – but I am much, much more critical than he is (I’m a writer) so I notice POV, or slow spots that need editing, or poor spelling, repetitious words etc. He usually doesn’t.

Does he BUY books? Yes, he does. If he reads a free book he enjoys, he’ll look for other books by the same author. For instance, he enjoyed Michael R. Hicks’s First Contact, which was (and is) free. So he bought the rest of the series. He has done that often. He does not buy books from an author he doesn’t know. He has only once been excited enough about a book to write a review. (That was Pete Morin’s Diary of a Small Fish for those interested. He read it because I recommended it.)

There you have it. One reader’s experience. Take from it what you will. What I see is that free is fine – provided

  • you’ve made sure you’re offering a quality product (get it edited)
  • it’s the first of a series or a number of other books

What do you think?

7 Responses

  1. Allan Douglas

    I’d say your husband’s reading pattern is typical of most of my non-writer friends. And myself. Some of us do and some of us don’t partake in the sample chapters. I do, mostly because (like you) I’m picky about the technical skills of an author. A sample generally tells me whether I’ll end up ripping my hair out over the grammatical stuff.

    But all of us will accept a free book if it looks good and will go on to buy others if it is: if they’re not outrageously priced. A free leader followed by a 5 e-book series priced at $12.99 each will get dropped quickly. This actually happened to me once. But I have found several new authors I enjoy reading by taking on a free book. Even short stories or a novella can serve as a great hook.

    • Greta

      I agree, Doug. I think many of us will try a free sample and then read others – if the price is not over the top. $12.99 is pricey for any ebook. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Diane Nelson

    I’m willing to try new authors if the price is reasonable ($6.99 for a 37 page short story does not qualify and there are a distressing number out there). I shop the Zon the same way I shop shelves, looking at covers, then blurbs, in the aisle sporting my favorite genre(s).

    I’ve come around to the thinking that offering up your work for free is and has been counter-productive simply because the volume of free offerings is staggering. I rather doubt that many folks are willing to buy an entire set of a series just because #1 was free. I don’t mind discounting, but free? No more. I no longer see any increase in sales when a title is offered for free. The readers download and move on.

    But as they say, your mileage may vary.

    • Greta

      I don’t think free is wonderful – but I did find that having White Tiger on KDP free for a few days led to sales of Black Tiger. And, as I said, that’s how Pete buys books. It won’t be the same for everyone – but this is a real case study.

  3. Patty Jansen

    I agree with you. As a reader, I like to try out new authors. In the time of paper books, I bought far fewer and read less. I would buy only from multi-recommended authors. Like your husband, I tend to shop by author.

    • Greta

      Yes, I do that myself. It’s a way of introducing readers to a new author – but as Diane says (below) it doesn’t always work.

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