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.