To Give Free or Not to Give Free: An Indie Author’s Dilemma

I’m back staring at the same promotional dilemma that seemingly doesn’t have a great answer: is it still worth it for indie authors to offer e-books for free?

Three years ago when I jumped into the indie foray, the answer in my opinion was a  resounding ‘yes!’ But now, I’m not so sure.

My free Kindle days over the past two years have been less frequent, but they have also met with less downloads than I achieved back in the “hey-day” of free – 2013. (At least that was my experience)  With my first and second novels, I’ve received massive amounts of downloads which led to many reviews and even some residual book sales. But my experiences of 2014 and 2015 have altered my thinking.

First off, it must be said that there are fewer and fewer sites which will advertise free books without wanting payment. But even the times that I have  paid for advertising, I haven’t had huge downloads (average amount only) and I’ve noticed no up-tick in sales and no noticeable reviews which I can link to the free downloads.

Second, is there such a glut of free books on the market that readers just  stock their devices with reads most of them  will never get around to reading? I think it’s true. Members of my friends and family are examples of this.

I have run numerous 99 cent sales and they have been met with varying success. Sales definitely pick up and then eventually fall back down again.

Is it now better to build in some perceived value by not offering free books anymore? The book market has certainly been devalued. Of course, no author thinks their writing is worth only 99 cents, but there is not a lot of other tangible options available except for running the occasional sale and trying to hook in new readers.

I haven’t ever tried to run a free book promotion through BookBub (nor would it be assured because of their selective nature), but I’ve read accounts of other authors that in the case of BookBub, it is worth it because of their massive exposure. So is that the answer, only offer free books if accepted through BookBub?

Of course, I have no answers. I’ve read a lot of other blogs on the topic, and opinions vary widely. I’m currently on this policy: I generally raised the prices of my ebooks and work hard  to promote during promotional periods. I have no plans to offer free books again anytime soon, though I won’t rule it out completely.

How about you? Any thoughts or wisdom on the topic you’d like to share? I’m all ears!

Is it worth it to offer your book for free?

I used to say “yes” – unequivocally. But now I’m not so sure.

After I published my first novel in December 2012, I went the free route a few months later having nothing at all to lose. The results astounded me. I had more than 14,000 downloads over a three day period and the book peaked at #11 on the Amazon free charts. I was ecstatic. Within a matter of days, 14,000 people had my book on their Kindle. There was no greater marketing method around.

But since then, things have changed – for the worse if you’re an independent author. My subsequent free campaigns with my first and second novels never again came close to those numbers. Bloggers have accused Amazon of changing algorithms that affect sales. (That doesn’t exactly make sense to me since Amazon wants to promote sales. But, okay.) New Amazon rules forced affiliates to reduce the amount of free books they promoted lest they be dropped as affiliates. From that point on, it became much more difficult to find websites who would promote your book for free. They still exist, but many of them have moved to asking authors to pay for promotional services, and so the broad avenues of promotion of 2013 have narrowed considerably.

Now as my third novel will be reaching it’s one year anniversary of release within the next couple of months, I have to decide how to continue to market it. I have never offered “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” for free. I have had several sales promotions at $0.99 and they have been successful to varying degrees, but the number of books that I have gotten into the hands of readers is significantly less when compared with my first novel.

It must also be pointed out that putting a book on someone’s Kindle does not mean that they will ever read it. My wife is a great example of this. She still has 100+ free books on her Kindle which she may or may not ever get around to reading. What benefit does an author have when a book is deadended on a Kindle? Not much.

On the other hand, a large number of downloads can lead to some traction. My first novel ended up garnering 85 reviews, many of those came from the free downloads. My second and third books have definitely lagged behind in reviews, even though the reviews they have received are better than my first book.

Now it’s decision time. Should I offer “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” for free one time only prior to releasing my new novel?

Or should I continue with periodical $0.99 cent promotions?

I’m open to advice.