Offering free copies of ebooks works for some writers, and not at all for others.
(This post updated: May 14, 2014)
Here’s one writer’s experience, “Social Media & Blogging for Luddites: Does giving your work away for free pay off in the end? My self-publishing experience”:
“Amazon’s free promotion generates ‘sales’ from people who want free books. I think it harms more than serves the cause of Indie Publishers. In addition, it cuts off sales from other sources — you have to publish exclusively with Amazon. I do not think I will participate in it again. I think there is similar danger in giving away free books, free reports etc., in the hope that will build credibility and garner real sales for other books.”
There are two reasons to offer free copies of an ebook.
1. Give away review copies.
You should give away “free” copies to anyone who’s likely to give you a review. Publishers are happy to give away review copies, and if you’re a self-publisher, you’re a publisher.
Reviews are solid GOLD on Amazon.
You should be more than ready to give away 200 copies of your ebook in exchange for reviews. However — this is important — you need to form relationships with potential reviewers first. This takes time.
Alternatively, give away copies on Goodreads. Just create an account, and you’ll have access to the Author Program.
Here’s the thing about reviews. You can give away 200 copies, but don’t expect 200 reviews. If you get ten or 20, you’ll be doing well. Be grateful. It takes time to read a book, and even more time to write a review.
So, relax. Give away your copies, and be grateful for whatever you receive. Don’t be impatient. Get to work on your next book, and your next.
2. Give away “taster” copies, also known as “loss leaders.”
Authors with big backlists do very well with this strategy. They offer an ebook for free, knowing that readers who love the freebie will buy the rest of the ebooks. I’ve done this myself, If I love an author, I’ll buy anything I can get my hands on.
In a nutshell: before you give away free copies, have a reason for doing so. It can be an excellent strategy.
Update, May 2014: free ebooks aren’t as hot as they used to be.
Two years have passed since I wrote this article. Here’s what’s changed: “free” isn’t the guarantee of sales that it once was. (If you read the article, you’ll see that it never was, so no loss.)
Today, readers are suspicious of “free”. Yes, by all means, use KDP Select, and offer a free ebook, or make the first ebook in a series permanently free, to win readers. Please don’t rely on it as a marketing strategy however. It’s never been that. Use pricing strategically, and focus on winning a loyal readership.
Where “free” still works in 2014…
As we said above, when you create series, make the first one permanently free once you’ve written three or more books in the series.
Bundles work too. Package up your own bundles, or create bundles with other writers. Some authors create bundles of the first ebooks in a series, and offer them free, or for 99 cents.
Consider your “free” strategy carefully.
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