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Free Reads Revisited

Happy day after Thanksgiving! Let’s talk Christmas!  

Back in February 2011 my free read, Holiday Hostage went live. It’s been available for way over a year with close to 100,000 downloads. What did the experience teach me? I don’t know. Did offering a sample of my writing drive my sales up? Not sure. Would I do it again? Haven’t decided. 

Thanks for stopping by.  

No! Don’t go! There’s more. 

It was a rush to have well over 50,000 copies downloaded in the first few month alone. How many of those have actually been read? Again, I don’t know. Of the samples actually read by readers, how many truly liked the story? I wish I knew. Or maybe I don’t. If anyone in fact did read it, did they buy one of my other stories? Yes. Two people that I know of. One hated both (I know – why did she buy my book if she disliked my free story – can’t answer that – I’m no psychologist). But one person liked the free story and loved the purchased story. Or she felt sorry for me and was being super kind. Either way, I’ll take it. 

From speaking with other authors who have offered free reads, the consensus seems to be that it is a double-edged sword. Here’s my take on free. Cheap people, me included, will download something free. Because, well, because it’s free. Why not? What do you have to lose? I’ve done it myself. My mother does it. We come from a long line of cheap (I mean thrifty) ancestors. On Ancestory.com just type in the keyword cheap. Thems m’ people. We dine on Costco samples, clip mass coupons and download free books to our shiny e-reader that we bought on clearance. 

Here’s my theory: spacenut333 who loves to take long walks on the beach, travel exotic places collecting souvenir snow globes, and who reads futuristic sci-fi has downloaded my free story and hates it because she doesn’t like contemporary romantic comedy. Or she doesn’t think I’m funny. Her cat that she reads aloud to doesn’t think I’m funny either. And spacenut333 and her cat collectively send me death threats via an Amazon review. Not a fan. I get it.  

My next theory is mine and mine alone. It’s not 100% accurate or scientifically proven. Stay with me. If you get something for free, you don’t appreciate it as much as if you pay for it. Unless your grandmother gave it to you. Why? I don’t know. Maybe people are afraid to admit in a public forum that they paid good money for a book they don’t like. They got suckered by a pretty cover and a flowery blurb. Mostly, if you’ve got money on the line, you’re probably going to investigate before buying. You’ll read the first chapter and/or check out the reviews and not buy a contemporary romantic comedy if you really like steampunk or fantasy. 

Lastly, after years of toiling in customer service, I think people in general are more apt to complain than compliment. Hence my many 1 star reviews, with lovely comments like “wish I could rate it lower”. Add the anonymity of the Internet… 

I can only hope that of the thousands of copies of Holiday Hostage that were downloaded, some people actually read the story and enjoyed the read and will give me another shot to entertain them in the future.  

How ‘bout you? What’s your take of free reads? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Anyone found a “must read” author from a free story?

13 responses to “Free Reads Revisited”

  1. June Love says:

    Kelly, I love free downloads. I’m more likely to read new authors that way, as well as favored authors who may have branched out. What I don’t do is leave a bad review shod I not like the book. In the words of Thumper, “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothin’ at all.
    Great post!

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    • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

      Agreed. I loooove free stuff, especially books. But if I can’t give 4 stars, I don’t rate it and probably don’t finish it.

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  2. Tamara Hogan says:

    I know the theory is that free reads are supposed to help with discoverability, but alas, that’s not the way it works for me. After some bad experiences reading free downloads that I thought should never have seen the light of day, I now only download free reads from authors I personally know, authors whose work I’m already familiar with, or books that were recommended to me by a reader whose opinion I value. Life’s too short, and reading time’s too precious, for me to take too many chances on writing that doesn’t engage me in some way.

    I think you’re right about people not necessarily appreciating things they get for free quite as much as something they’ve paid for. The freebies I have on my Kindle seem to languish, unread, for a much longer time than books I paid for.

    It will be interesting to see what others have to say about this topic.

    Happy Black Friday, Kelly! I’m no fan of crowds, so I’ll be getting some warranty work done on my car instead, and catching up on my reading. 😉

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    • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

      I have a pile of unread free books on my ereader. When I have spare time I’m writing, rarely reading. But car dealerships are a great place to get some reading done (I know, I work at one, but not today he he he).

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  3. As a reader, I love free downloads. As a writer, I don’t know…I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think it can work as a promo tool, on the other, it does feel a bit like undervaluing your work.

    I’ve done one free download promo on a novella and did see a slight uptick in sales for my other books. However, I do agree, that people are much more likely to slam a book they got for free than one where they plunked down good money for it.

    So, I think, as with anything, offering a free read promo should be targeted and strategic, and you should know what it is you want to get out of it.

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    • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

      Yes, I think a 1 day or 1 week freebie with a targeted goal is strategic and wise. My freebie was written to be free and has been free for almost 2 years. It’ll probably be free for the next 2 years. Will I do it again? I’m still on the fence.

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  4. Rita Henuber says:

    Kelly such a difficult question. I can see giving away free samples and maybe having the occasional really good sale. I can’t speak to the perma free brooks. I can’t see myself doing it. I know I work hard on my books. I see how hard my Ruby sisters work on theirs. Our books are our product. Would any other company make something and offer it forever free? I just don’t know.
    I’ve become very picky about what I read. Time and a new vision problem restrict my reading. Right now it’s audio books only. I will say I’d download a free book from an author I know well and with the recommendation of a friend.
    Many places I hear about the phenomenon of bad reviews for free book. I don’t get it. I mean I REALLY don’t get it. Can there be that many unhappy mean people out there or is it one person with a few hundred email addresses? Bless their hearts.

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    • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

      I like the idea of one really mean person out there with oodles of email accounts. And they have a vendetta against me for…shaking my fist at them during rush hour traffic and they have hunted me down and are bent on ruining my writing career. Everyone else is super nice.

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  5. Vivi Andrews says:

    Kelly – first off, great post, love this topic and you always make me grin.

    Second… damn, I dunno about free reads. I’m a Costco grazer myself and I download a lot of freebies, but I have so many books on my TBR that I usually only get around to reading freebies by authors I’m already familiar with (incidentally, I loved Holiday Hostage, just as I love every irreverent word you write).

    My publisher has put a book of mine on freebie promo for a limited time (a week or two) a couple times and I’ve seen a little bump in sales as a result, so some people who discovered me that way did check out my other stuff. But I do think there is something to the idea that readers invest more value in something that they pay a lot for. They build up an expectation of quality, I think.

    Kind of like those cooking shows (someone save me from the Food Network) where they are always saying stuff like “You eat with your eyes first”. The price is part of your book’s initial presentation.

    I think there is something about this in a Malcolm Gladwell book (Tipping Point?) where he talks about the perfect price point – too low and people think the product is cheap, too high and they won’t shell out for it. Sometimes people like paying for the luxury reputation – just look how successful Apple is.

    And now I will shut up. Brevity is obviously not my strong suit today.

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    • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

      I would say that many of the downloaded copies of Holiday Hostage are sitting on someone’s ereader, feeling neglected and waiting to be read. And I think I will change my name to Apple.

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  6. What a great post, Kelly!

    As for free reads, I am one of those that sits there wondering why it’s free. It makes me think it is lesser quality. Or, well, that used to be the case. Now I understand the marketing push behind them and don’t judge so off handedly. But i wonder how many people have read those free reads that, like Tammy said, should never have seen the light of day. And like her, I rarely download a free read that is not from someone I know is a stellar writer or someone I know personally.

    It’s such a gray area still. Hopefully time will tell on this matter.

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  7. Amanda Brice says:

    I only download free reads that grab my attention in some way, which usually means only in a limited number of genres and only if it’s an author I’ve heard about (even if I’ve never read them) or the blurb is so amazing that I figure I can spend the few minutes to read the first few pages. (And even then I often don’t make it past those first few pages.)

    Free reads are easier (and cheaper!) to do these days than ever before, but it’s hardly a new concept. Publishers have been giving tens of thousands of copies of print books away for decades. Ever been to an RWA conference? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    As for the question as to whether there are any other industries that will give away an entire product free, this is a tried and true marketing gimmick. I know some people argue that a free sample in a grocery store isn’t giving away the product, but it really is. You know what the food will taste like when you try one tiny piece of cheese, but you can’t know what an author’s writing will be like from just reading a sample. Well, you can, but you’ll never know whether you liked the ending, etc.

    I’ve definitely found new authors this way. I discovered Kristan Higgins and Deanna Raybourn through free copies of their books at RWA (and now they’re both on my auto-buy list…and I went back and bought everything in their backlist). It’s the same thing with library books. I’ve found countless authors to add to my auto-buy list through the library.

    As for perma-freebies, I have one, but it’s a short story in an anthology. I’m not sure I’ll do another perma-freebie, however, since i already have this one. But I do think it’s been effective. I definitely know for a fact that readers have discovered me through the anthology.

    If I ever make another book of mine free, it will be the first book in my YA mystery series for a limited time (maybe a month at most). Maybe. I might not. But I have several friends who have increased their income three- or four-fold simply by making the first in a series free. They easily gave away ten times what they ended up having sell-through on, but those readers who read the first one free and bought the next book in the series tended to buy every book in the series, which is how the money added up so nicely. So if I ever do this, it won’t be until I have several books in the series, so that’s at least a year or two away.

    And who knows what the market will look like by then?

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