Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Sad Fact about E-book Publishing by Terry Wright



When I ran my auto repair shop and gave a customer an estimate for a repair, and when that customer told me he could get so-and-so to do it for free, my answer was, “I can’t compete with free.” Yet here we are, authors and publishers competing in the high-tech arena of e-books and forced to do that very thing. Compete with FREE.

How many bookstores have you walked into and found shelf after shelf of free books? None that I know of. How many grocery stores offer free groceries? How many big-box stores offer free clothing and appliances? Nada. However, enter the Internet bookstore and you’ll find an entirely different retail environment. If you Google “free e-books” you’ll get 1,530,000,000 hits. That’s 1.5 billion, ladies and gentlemen. Free e-books on Amazon Kindle, to date: 37,933, and Amazon frowns on free e-book uploads. So here you are with your new Kindle Fire and looking to fatten it up with e-books. You can do it without spending a nickel. Why would anyone pay for an e-book when they can get so many for free?

Now here’s the rub. Why are there so many free e-books out there? Because there are thousands and thousands of writers who believe their books aren’t worth anything. And they are right, of course. However, they still want to be able to say they have an e-book published on Amazon or Smashwords or wherever. Bragging rights...free for the taking...without having to put in the time or effort to produce a quality product.

Granted, some free e-books are there to stir up interest in a new writer’s work, or promote a series, or a publisher. These are valid reasons to offer added value to an author or publisher’s Web site or newsletter. Problem is it doesn’t work well. Proof? I inventoried my Smashwords account. Out of 40 e-books offered, two are free and were downloaded 496 times (to date). Total sales: 4 e-books. Talk about a black moment.

What does this mean to those of us who have put in the time and effort to create a story or novel with solid structure, character arcs, and an emotional payoff for the reader? It all boils down to our ‘following,’ whether it be friends and family, business and professional contacts, or social clubbers and fellow drinking saloon patrons. People who WANT to read our work will buy our work, but we are the ones who have to do the promoting, the marketing, and the selling. Even a 99 cent epic novel won’t sell itself to a stranger when FREE is everywhere.

And that is a sad fact about e-book publishing, my friends.

13 comments:

Giles Hash said...

Even a free e-book costs me time. So I'd MUCH rather pay $10-$30 for a high-quality book that will entertain, educate, and/or inspire me.

Julie Golden said...

You are always so good, Terry, at layering your feelings with facts. You have given us very sad numbers.
I don't have an answer to this imbalance but expect it will teeter for awhile. Hoarders have an exciting new way to shop, and discriminate readers must rely even more on reviews - recommendations.
I noticed, and appreciate, that I was able to read your post for free.

Karen Duvall said...

So very true, Terry. A Free pricetag has the potential to devalue quality products. The only way to overcome it is to make sure the product being sold is an example of excellence. It's possible the horders aren't reading those free books, just collecting freebies to say "I have 500 ebooks on my reader!"

I'm in another creative business where we create products to sell, and there's tons of competition. I've learned a lot about marketing and consumer behavior from my other business, and I often use free and sale items to attract new customers. But those are limited time offers on high quality items. It works really well to increase my sales. That being said, free should only be used for limited time promotions, not to set a standard.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I've been fascinated by this whole free book bandwagon, but I have no intention of jumping on. I'm in the process of publishing my second out of print mystery for Kindle and Nook, so articles like this are very helpful. Thanks, Terry.

j. a. kazimer said...

Hi Terry, while I agree with most FREE books harm the industry and the author, I also can say that FREE books as a marketing tool can work.

I posted a free story on amazon from a collection of stories. Before the FREE story posted, sales for the collection were all right. After I put up the FREE story, the collection sold and continues to sell double. FREE can be used to your advantage, but you have to use it as a marketing tool. Why else would you put a work you've spent years writing up for nothing?

Anyway, great post. Writers do need to think through what they want their work valued at.

Peg Brantley said...

I'm hoping to stir up some interest in this new writer's work by offering my quality (professionally designed and edited) ebook for FREE tomorrow on Amazon.

E.J. Wesley said...

Interesting take. Although, I think it could be a touch harsh to surmise that an author lists their book for free because they feel it has no value. It might also be presumptuous to say thousands and thousands of books you haven't read have no value.

I've got Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina, etc. on my e-reader and didn't pay a dime for any of them. Barnes & Noble offers them for free. Yet I'd say they might be some of the most valuable stories on the planet.

I'd say if Barnes & Noble can offer such amazing titles for free for marketing purposes, any author could certainly do the same without fear of people considering the work to be worthless.

Guess I choose to think this is just how things work now and figuring out a way to parlay those 400+ readers of your free stuff into paying customers is the challenge.

James Halon said...

Free can be an excellent marketing tool for a prolific author. An example from a former company that I worked for, NLP, one of the writers had 32 short stories on Amazon. The logic behind a free copy was to introduce this writer to the market. In this particular incident her sales spiked through the roof. There may be a nitch for a free download once in a while. Our local grocery store has free samples every Saturday. I often buy the product if it taste good. Personally, I hate seeing my books out for free. A royalty on a free book is zero, unless it leads to more sales later...

Daven Anderson said...

Regarding free e-books:
You get what you pay for!

(an exception for the public domain classics, of course!)

Daven Anderson said...

That said, there's nothing wrong with one-day free promos...

Dean K Miller said...

And just how does it feel to have your free e-book rejected by the public? That's got to leave a mark.

Couldn't see going free. If my work is good enough, it will be worth something.

Ego's are powerful things, feed so willingly by such miniscule things. Get rid of that and put a little pride back into your work.

Nathan Lowell said...

Interesting take, but I don't compete with free.

The market appears to be very heavily stratified. There seems to be very little crossover across the layers.

There appears to be a large group of "freeple" who only pick up free or low-cost items. These are where the free books go. This group is not my market.

There seems to be another layer of "frugal readers" who only buy in the $.99-$2.99 range. This group is not my market.

There appears to be a midlist group who pay for reading material in the $2.99-$7.99 range. There's some old data that indicates that there's a sharp decline in revenues over $5.50 but that's old-old data. Over two years old at this point and highly suspect by now. This is my market.

Finally there's the group who pay $7.99 and up for ebooks. This is not my market. I don't sell to these people.

Here's the thing. In order to make a living at writing, you need to know your market. Who are they? What do they buy? Why will they buy YOUR book instead of mine?

Note that it doesn't matter if it's mainstream press, indie press, small press, or the back of the napkin scribbles. If you don't know your market, you'll wind up thinking you're competing with free ... or with me ... or well, actually you won't know, will you?

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