Readers and free books
An ongoing series of blog posts from our survey of 1,200 subscribers:
Question: Have you ever purchased an ebook from an author after enjoying a free book by the same author?
Yes: 83 percent
No: 17 percent
I take a "glass half full" approach to this. To me, this says that the freebie can be an effective promotional tool. I think it's best used for the first book in a series, if you have a series. And it's fine to make only one book free -- ever -- and always charge for the others. It's what the retail business causes a "loss leader" -- there's lost profit on the item, but it leads to other sales.
A lot of authors, when they saw this question, wanted to quantify how ofter readers do this. I'd love to know this, too ... I just had doubts that reader memories would be good enough to yield accurate data. I know I couldn't tell what percentage of reading a freebie was followed by buying a paid title from the same author.
Making a related pivot here, the first two questions on readers and price generated passionate feedback from a number of authors. Again, I get the anger and frustration. Too many people don't assign sufficient value to the creative arts. And, yes, we need to keep working to change people on this. But until that happens, you have to sell to the market you have -- not the market you want.
An example: Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser are classically trained cello players from Croatia. They are both incredibly talented, but found themselves struggling financially. A friend suggested they consider classical reinterpretations of pop music songs. Luka and Stjepan agreed and the group 2Cellos was born.
Their first video was a cover of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." It was viewed more than 9 million times. Sony Masterworks signed them to a contract in 2011 and they now tour the world, with most of their concerts sold out far in advance. Now do the guys still wish they were famous for playing Mozart instead of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck"? I have no idea. But they do look like they're having a ton of fun and they don't worry about paying the bills anymore.
This doesn't mean that we have to resign ourselves to 35% royalty rates and 99 cent sales forever. We can change minds, but it won't happen overnight and it will be hard.