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Do free books from some authors hurt professional authors?

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Do free books from some authors hurt professional authors?

Post Number:#1 by Scott
» 18 Mar 2017, 11:15

An author and Facebook friend of mine named @"Ian Mackenzie" posted the following comment one of my posts. I decided to post my reply here. (I figured since I couldn't find a way to justify putting pictures of my kids in the post, it doesn't really belong on Facebook.)

Ian Mackenzie wrote:I have a serious problem with anyone who promotes FREE books. As an author, my books are my stock in trade. I didn't spend months writing. re-writing, editing and re-writing again before spending money on professional editors and publishing costs so that I could give my books away... How about all you guys who want FREE books, get out of bed every day 5 days a week, go to the office or workshop, take s**t from your boss and the customers and then come the end of the month walk away without a salary because you're happy to give your time and effort away... Get real.

Ian, I actually volunteer on the board of two registered charitable non-profits. So your idea about working for no salary takes on a new light. ;) Granted, I do that part time, and if I did it full-time my kids and I would starve. Likewise, if I gave away free advertising on OnlineBookClub.org to authors to plug their book my kids and I would starve.

However, from a business perspective (not a volunteer/goodwill perspective), there is a lot of good reasons for someone to give away products for free.

For an up-and-coming product (like a debut book by an indie author or a mixtape by a hopeful musician), it can make a lot of business sense to give the product away for free as a way to start to get off the ground in that industry. It depends on the product and the going rate for that product at the time, which in the case of books and music is mostly dependent on the reputation and popularity of the author and publisher (which if self-published is only the reputation and popularity of the author). The irony is the musician or author can build that reputation by giving away free books or playing free gigs.

I've read free ebooks, and I've spent $10+ on some ebooks. That's $10+ for just an ebook. I've spent that much multiple times. On the other hand, I wouldn't read 99% of books even if someone paid me $1,000 per book to read those. It depends on how great I expect the book to be, and how much I'm willing to risk of my time and my money on the book. (See: The #1 Mistake Most Authors Make). It's not what the producer pays to make the product that determines the amount a buyer would be willing to pay. Granted, there is a correlation: an author/publisher that skimps on editing and re-writing would be much less likely to command a higher price (or any price). But the correlation is rough. There are a lot of musical bands that might have spent a lot of time and money on their music but still don't have the reputation and popularity to charge a high price or any price.

Free books from up-and-coming authors won't undercut premium books from authors who can command that higher price. But it takes a lot of work to become established enough to command that higher price. Some musicians can charge thousands of dollars to do a show; others get noise complaints from neighbors while practicing in their garage; one doesn't undercut the other.

Don't get me wrong. I understand your frustration. If readers are expecting an author/publisher that has the reputation to command a high price to price-match those that don't, that's unfair and silly. That's like expecting Coldplay to do a show for the same cost as a high school band, and it's threatening to the livelihood of professionals to expect them to price-match amateurs or price-match up-and-coming professionals for that matter.

With books (and music) the market is so competitive. Millions of books are published each year. All readers have to say "no" to almost all books regardless of the price. It's literally impossible for a reader to even read 0.1% of the books out there. Hopeful authors and hopeful musicians have to be honest with themselves about where they stand in the market. For a self-published author the problem is double; they don't just have to compete as an author but as a publishing company. They have to be an exceptionally great author and an exceptionally great publishing company. The publishing costs of a legitimate publisher are huge. The industry standard of big publishers is to order multiple rounds of professional editing, order professional digital file conversion, professional cover design, professional production edits, and several professional and costly editorial reviews. That is all before the costs of raw advertising and promotion. With self-published authors, or indie publishers, they might be spending 40 hours a week and investing thousands and still coming up short compared to what goes into the typical successful book. Again, the correlation is rough. Spending lots of money doesn't guarantee success; and there are rare occasions where someone who skimps still has a low quality song recording or poorly editing book become a hit. But it's rare. Those competing in these markets need to be honest about where they stand. It's a business being self-published. It's similar to opening a restaurant. Most fail, and lose a lot of money in the process. Those who skimp and buy Grade F beef for their restaurant fail even faster and fail even harder.

If a book isn't selling very well, it's overpriced in the market. If it's priced at even just 1 cent and isn't selling extremely well, it's overpriced. Raising the list price doesn't necessarily mean that the product commands that price. A product's true value is determined by what a buyer would pay for it, not how much the producer paid to make the product or what the producer sets as his asking price. It's also not what the buyer feels the product is worth after reading it. To sell, the buyer has think it commands that price before reading it. That's why trusted reviews, reputation, and word-of-mouth advertising matter so much.

If someone is one of the lucky few who can command a high enough price on music or books to make a living (meaning the author is actually selling the book in great volume at a decent list price), then that musician or author is exceptionally lucky. They are already in the top 1%. They have nothing to fear from the newer less established authors or publishers offering discounts. That would be like Coldplay being afraid that garage bands playing free gigs at local pubs are undercutting Coldplay's prices.


Thank you for reading! I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on the matter! :)
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#2 by tarafarah7
» 18 Mar 2017, 11:34

You stated it perfectly, Scott!! Wow! I really have nothing to add...well done!
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#3 by gali
» 18 Mar 2017, 11:35

Well said and I agree with you. :tiphat:
In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you." (Mortimer J. Adler)
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#4 by Ian Mackenzie
» 18 Mar 2017, 12:00

Scott, shortly after my first book was launched, I ran a give away promotion and received 9,822 downloads in 5 days. Riding on the back of that I promoted the book in every way I knew how across a wide range of platforms on social media and was lucky to get 5 sales a week. A while later, I did a countdown deal promotion and ran the book for $0.99 for 7 days and sold 12 books. I have liaised with numerous "debut" authors who have had similar experiences. The general consensus from authors on a business basis is that free give aways are exactly that. FREE GIVE AWAYS. There is no spin off benefit to the author. I have a total of 81 reviews across 5 social media platforms averaging 4.7 stars. I have received two award nominations and have won one. The only way to ensure sales as an indie author is to get out there amongst your readers and talk to them at libraries, book stores and events. The whole Amazon concept is over crowded and in my opinion overrated. Any author who thinks his or her sales are going to sky rocket in the wake of a FREE give away promotion has probably not tried it. There are over 8 million authors trying to sell books on Amazon with room for probably 50,000 at best and the more free give away deals there are on Amazon, the less room there is for authors trying to scrape a living out of writing. .
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#5 by khudecek
» 18 Mar 2017, 12:47

For me, it's about the reviews. I need reviews.

My book is overpriced and, for some reason, can't be given away. I would give it away for a few days just to get some reviews. The trade-off is worth it, in my opinion.

Obviously, giving away the book isn't going to raise sales. It's free. Nobody is going to make money when you're giving something away. However, the exposure can be invaluable.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
.

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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#6 by Lincoln
» 18 Mar 2017, 14:15

Scott wrote:An author and Facebook friend of mine named @"Ian Mackenzie" posted the following comment one of my posts. I decided to post my reply here. (I figured since I couldn't find a way to justify putting pictures of my kids in the post, it doesn't really belong on Facebook.)

Ian Mackenzie wrote:I have a serious problem with anyone who promotes FREE books. As an author, my books are my stock in trade. I didn't spend months writing. re-writing, editing and re-writing again before spending money on professional editors and publishing costs so that I could give my books away... How about all you guys who want FREE books, get out of bed every day 5 days a week, go to the office or workshop, take s**t from your boss and the customers and then come the end of the month walk away without a salary because you're happy to give your time and effort away... Get real.

Ian, I actually volunteer on the board of two registered charitable non-profits. So your idea about working for no salary takes on a new light. ;) Granted, I do that part time, and if I did it full-time my kids and I would starve. Likewise, if I gave away free advertising on OnlineBookClub.org to authors to plug their book my kids and I would starve.

However, from a business perspective (not a volunteer/goodwill perspective), there is a lot of good reasons for someone to give away products for free.

For an up-and-coming product (like a debut book by an indie author or a mixtape by a hopeful musician), it can make a lot of business sense to give the product away for free as a way to start to get off the ground in that industry. It depends on the product and the going rate for that product at the time, which in the case of books and music is mostly dependent on the reputation and popularity of the author and publisher (which if self-published is only the reputation and popularity of the author). The irony is the musician or author can build that reputation by giving away free books or playing free gigs.

I've read free ebooks, and I've spent $10+ on some ebooks. That's $10+ for just an ebook. I've spent that much multiple times. On the other hand, I wouldn't read 99% of books even if someone paid me $1,000 per book to read those. It depends on how great I expect the book to be, and how much I'm willing to risk of my time and my money on the book. (See: The #1 Mistake Most Authors Make). It's not what the producer pays to make the product that determines the amount a buyer would be willing to pay. Granted, there is a correlation: an author/publisher that skimps on editing and re-writing would be much less likely to command a higher price (or any price). But the correlation is rough. There are a lot of musical bands that might have spent a lot of time and money on their music but still don't have the reputation and popularity to charge a high price or any price.

Free books from up-and-coming authors won't undercut premium books from authors who can command that higher price. But it takes a lot of work to become established enough to command that higher price. Some musicians can charge thousands of dollars to do a show; others get noise complaints from neighbors while practicing in their garage; one doesn't undercut the other.

Don't get me wrong. I understand your frustration. If readers are expecting an author/publisher that has the reputation to command a high price to price-match those that don't, that's unfair and silly. That's like expecting Coldplay to do a show for the same cost as a high school band, and it's threatening to the livelihood of professionals to expect them to price-match amateurs or price-match up-and-coming professionals for that matter.

With books (and music) the market is so competitive. Millions of books are published each year. All readers have to say "no" to almost all books regardless of the price. It's literally impossible for a reader to even read 0.1% of the books out there. Hopeful authors and hopeful musicians have to be honest with themselves about where they stand in the market. For a self-published author the problem is double; they don't just have to compete as an author but as a publishing company. They have to be an exceptionally great author and an exceptionally great publishing company. The publishing costs of a legitimate publisher are huge. The industry standard of big publishers is to order multiple rounds of professional editing, order professional digital file conversion, professional cover design, professional production edits, and several professional and costly editorial reviews. That is all before the costs of raw advertising and promotion. With self-published authors, or indie publishers, they might be spending 40 hours a week and investing thousands and still coming up short compared to what goes into the typical successful book. Again, the correlation is rough. Spending lots of money doesn't guarantee success; and there are rare occasions where someone who skimps still has a low quality song recording or poorly editing book become a hit. But it's rare. Those competing in these markets need to be honest about where they stand. It's a business being self-published. It's similar to opening a restaurant. Most fail, and lose a lot of money in the process. Those who skimp and buy Grade F beef for their restaurant fail even faster and fail even harder.

If a book isn't selling very well, it's overpriced in the market. If it's priced at even just 1 cent and isn't selling extremely well, it's overpriced. Raising the list price doesn't necessarily mean that the product commands that price. A product's true value is determined by what a buyer would pay for it, not how much the producer paid to make the product or what the producer sets as his asking price. It's also not what the buyer feels the product is worth after reading it. To sell, the buyer has think it commands that price before reading it. That's why trusted reviews, reputation, and word-of-mouth advertising matter so much.

If someone is one of the lucky few who can command a high enough price on music or books to make a living (meaning the author is actually selling the book in great volume at a decent list price), then that musician or author is exceptionally lucky. They are already in the top 1%. They have nothing to fear from the newer less established authors or publishers offering discounts. That would be like Coldplay being afraid that garage bands playing free gigs at local pubs are undercutting Coldplay's prices.


Thank you for reading! I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on the matter! :)


Free helps a lot with visibility, and there is no easier way to gain new authors than by letting them sample your work.

The thing is, a lot of people buy books by Stephen King or other famous authors simply to say they did and probably will never read it. It's a cultural thing, and people want to be a part of the 'in' crowd. If your book makes it to that level, then you're set, but more likely you need to win over REAL readers, and the trick is getting them to give you a try.
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#7 by hsimone
» 19 Mar 2017, 07:51

This is a very interesting question and one that I can see both sides to. Sales from making a book free may not feed the family, but it will start getting word out there. With so many people who are authors or who are aspiring to become one, it becomes a sort of chance of luck when many start out. It may be those free eBooks that help indie authors start somewhere, like others have said.

As an avid reader, I'll admit that I love free eBooks, but I also don't mind purchasing a physical book if it's one that I feel I will enjoy. I will say that because I read a lot, I find myself leaning toward the cheaper option because I'm not rich and cannot purchase everything I see.

Overall, I love reading and if I find or happen to stumble across something that I feel is worth a shot, I will give it a try, but will go for the least expensive option whenever possible. It is not meant to slight any author out there; it's just practical and realistic to many.
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#8 by Shreyoshi Sen
» 19 Mar 2017, 08:12

Free books are definitely loved by all. But why not keep a book free for a very short period of time and then remove it from the free section.
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#9 by gali
» 19 Mar 2017, 08:53

hsimone wrote:This is a very interesting question and one that I can see both sides to. Sales from making a book free may not feed the family, but it will start getting word out there. With so many people who are authors or who are aspiring to become one, it becomes a sort of chance of luck when many start out. It may be those free eBooks that help indie authors start somewhere, like others have said.

As an avid reader, I'll admit that I love free eBooks, but I also don't mind purchasing a physical book if it's one that I feel I will enjoy. I will say that because I read a lot, I find myself leaning toward the cheaper option because I'm not rich and cannot purchase everything I see.

Overall, I love reading and if I find or happen to stumble across something that I feel is worth a shot, I will give it a try, but will go for the least expensive option whenever possible. It is not meant to slight any author out there; it's just practical and realistic to many.


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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#10 by kandscreeley
» 19 Mar 2017, 11:25

I agree with what you said. I think free books are a great way to get your name out there if you are not an established author. There have been several times I have gotten a free book and enjoyed it so much that I went back and paid for other books by that author.
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#11 by CatInTheHat
» 19 Mar 2017, 14:20

I typically won't try new authors unless they've been highly recommended OR their first book is either free or very low cost (less than $3-4).
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#12 by Gnome
» 19 Mar 2017, 23:45

I've seen this question take many forms. My experience with the discussion tends towards soap making and knitting. I will note that I do not sell knitting, books, or soaps but have taken part in many discussions.

A lot of pricing needs to reflect perceived value but also the competition. I often hear anecdotes about soap makers who sell at a market and end up raising prices to match what so and so down the aisle is selling. In many cases this raises the perceived value of the soap and sales increase. For knitting anecdotes point to the opposite. Unless you get the right buyer who wants to brag about purchasing a hand made whatever, most people don't even want to cover the cost of the yarn then balk at the idea of paying to cover the knitter's time. As a reference point: I have been knitting for nearly 14 years and it takes me 40 to knit a pair of socks. Even at minimum wage it would cost over $300 of my time to make the socks. Increasing the wage to match my skill it would cost $800 for the socks. In an effort to be competitive for selling knitting I would have to drop my price to $20 because, for the vast majority of people, that's where the perceived value is at.

The difference with the hand made examples and writing is that an author is able to spend the same amount of time creating a piece but sell it multiple times. I am only capesble of selling a pair of socks once. If the goal is to make a set amount of money (for argument's sake) then after reaching that arbitrary amount of money should an author have the ability to choose what to do with that novel?

Many "free" novels that I've found are used as a gateway to purchasing further novels by that author. 90% of the time I see a free book it will be the beginning of a series with a cliffhanger to get you to want to purchase the next book or a stand alone book that connects to the middle of a series and designed to push sales for the reader to figure out what's going on. There are zillions of blog posts across my Pinterest feed that use this model to describe "how to become an author with [enter click bait phrase]."

I derailed myself but I think the TL;DR I'm trying to get to is that being a writer is one "handicraft" that allows a work to be sold multiple times and whether it works or not someone is going to undercut you in hopes that it will make their sales look better. (I honestly have no idea if I connected my points correctly to get to that conclusion at this point)
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#13 by LivreAmour217
» 20 Mar 2017, 10:57

Well said, Scott! My thoughts exactly!
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#14 by Lincoln
» 21 Mar 2017, 10:43

Gnome wrote:I've seen this question take many forms. My experience with the discussion tends towards soap making and knitting. I will note that I do not sell knitting, books, or soaps but have taken part in many discussions.

A lot of pricing needs to reflect perceived value but also the competition. I often hear anecdotes about soap makers who sell at a market and end up raising prices to match what so and so down the aisle is selling. In many cases this raises the perceived value of the soap and sales increase. For knitting anecdotes point to the opposite. Unless you get the right buyer who wants to brag about purchasing a hand made whatever, most people don't even want to cover the cost of the yarn then balk at the idea of paying to cover the knitter's time. As a reference point: I have been knitting for nearly 14 years and it takes me 40 to knit a pair of socks. Even at minimum wage it would cost over $300 of my time to make the socks. Increasing the wage to match my skill it would cost $800 for the socks. In an effort to be competitive for selling knitting I would have to drop my price to $20 because, for the vast majority of people, that's where the perceived value is at.

The difference with the hand made examples and writing is that an author is able to spend the same amount of time creating a piece but sell it multiple times. I am only capesble of selling a pair of socks once. If the goal is to make a set amount of money (for argument's sake) then after reaching that arbitrary amount of money should an author have the ability to choose what to do with that novel?

Many "free" novels that I've found are used as a gateway to purchasing further novels by that author. 90% of the time I see a free book it will be the beginning of a series with a cliffhanger to get you to want to purchase the next book or a stand alone book that connects to the middle of a series and designed to push sales for the reader to figure out what's going on. There are zillions of blog posts across my Pinterest feed that use this model to describe "how to become an author with [enter click bait phrase]."

I derailed myself but I think the TL;DR I'm trying to get to is that being a writer is one "handicraft" that allows a work to be sold multiple times and whether it works or not someone is going to undercut you in hopes that it will make their sales look better. (I honestly have no idea if I connected my points correctly to get to that conclusion at this point)


Yeah, it is certainly a complex topic and not easily solved. Amazon really started it, and as they gradually pulled back and minimized the free book craze other online stores picked it up and ran with it. I think it is just a fact of life for now, and readers are trained to expect free (like with games/apps on phones when everything became 'free').
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Re: Do free books from some authors hurt professional author

Post Number:#15 by Immaculata Uduma
» 25 Mar 2017, 21:29

It is a reality,after reading a free book,the content may motivate you to go for other books by the same author.In so doing,his work is put across to many readers who will be eager to for his book.
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