Let me start with a qualifier: I know I’m not the sharpest knife in the publishing drawer. That’s okay with me. But I’m probably not the only one wondering, so please bear with me and please, please, please shed some light on what I’m asking about here.
I have a Kindle. Sometimes when I pay for the download of a new book, I shudder because I could buy a nice ink-and-paper copy of the book for less money. I really like ink-and-paper books, but I’ve grown used to the Kindle. To being able to leave on vacation with a whole two weeks’ supply of reading within its slender confines. To the instant gratification factor of being able to start a book the minute I order it.
I like when a book is on sale or when I can get an electronic copy of an old favorite for $2.99. I enjoy the occasional 99-cent novella.
Then there are the free books.
In the first place, I feel guilty when I get a whole book for free. Because if it’s free to me, its writer isn’t making a plugged nickel on it. In the second place, way too many of these books—and no, I’m not naming names—are poorly edited and formatted. Some of them, I feel safe in saying, are not edited at all.
I get a daily email from BookBub, spelling out its offerings of the day. Some are free, some are 99 cents, some are more. Sometimes I order—today I did, only to find out I read it years ago, when it came out the first time—and sometimes I delete the message without reading all the way to the bottom.
Writers pay to be listed on BookBub—and probably other sites like this—and from the prices I found, they pay quite a bit. (This is coming from someone whose promotion budget wouldn’t buy pizza and a six-pack—make allowances.)
While their books are free, writers will see their “sales” spike on Amazon, going into the single digits for different categories. I’m happy for them when it happens, because they are so happy. In truth, I’d love to have numbers even close to what those are. In other truth, as much as I love writing, the biggest reason I’m in the publishing business for the money. Maybe it is because my sales have never been that big, but I don’t understand how these free downloads translate into a big enough paycheck to make it worthwhile. If an author’s voice is one I love to hear, she doesn’t have to give me a copy of an old book to make me listen or of a new one to get my attention.
A friend had a sparkling review just a week or so ago. The reviewer mentioned that it was the first time she’d ever paid for a Kindle download.
Of the free downloads I’ve “bought,” I’ve probably finished less than 20 percent. Some of the time it is for the reasons listed above, or sometimes the writer’s voice just doesn’t resonate. Then there is the fact that I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of free offerings.
So I’m asking—with an apology if I’ve been offensive in the process. Is it worthwhile? Do a gazillion free downloads somehow translate into good sales of the money variety? If you offer your books for free, do you feel a little niggle at the back of your mind saying, “Hey, I’m worth a hell of a lot more than that.”? Do you feel betrayed if you get a bad review or no reviews on a free book? Do you feel—as I do—that you are increasingly lost in the numbers of published authors?
Thanks for any answers you have—and good luck to us all.