Monday, December 16, 2013

Are Discounted and Free Books Still Effective?

There was an interesting article at The Digital Reader this weekend - “Are Deep Discount Sales Blasts Like Bookbub’s Still Effective Sales Tools?”

Several points were raised in the article and I thought of a few more:

  • Is the glut of free and 99c working against itself? Are there so many discounted books that they just aren’t drawing attention anymore? 
  • Are buyers merely hoarding without reading?
  • With more large, traditional publishers discounting, will that hurt self-published authors?
  • It still works well for some authors - what is the deciding factor?
  • It encourages buying without reading and little reader to author connection, which is vital in developing fans. Is it then just a short term solution and one that may not really work?

I’ve never been a fan of KDP Select and those days of giving away one’s book, although it was more because of the exclusitivity that’s required. I’ve already read several articles this past year that stated the free aspect was not as effective as it once was due to the amount of authors using it. With sites like Bookbub, you are also paying hundreds more to promote your free or discounted books.

How would you answer those questions?

Last Friday I participated in Milo James Fowler’s ‘Tis More Blessed book giveaway event. And the winner of a copy of The Circle of Friends, Book V...Heather is...

Helena at Becoming Layla

Congrats, Helena!


  1. Good questions. I think they're still effective as long as we have plenty of other books on the shelf in addition to the one that's free or .99. I do think readers hoard books, though.

  2. I was just thinking about this myself. I, as a reader, utilize bookbub, but honestly, I only get the free ones and thus far haven't actually read any of them.

  3. I think, anecdotally, the free books can still be a good thing when combined with other promotions. I haven't done them since my first book came out though because I do think there's a bit of a hoarding issue.

  4. I get lots of free books and read them then end up paying for sequels so I would say it is a good marketing tool. If your book is a one off, not so much, but for trilogies, etc. it sure works on me.

  5. Hi, Diane,

    These are questions that make you think.

    It would be weird for me to pay hundreds of dollars to call attention to a free book. I know the potential is there to find new readers, but that's way down the road, assuming that the people who download the book actually get around to reading it.

    I don't mind letting short works go for 0.99. I also try to spend my advertising dollar wisely. If I'm to spend US$100, I have to be 1000% sure the results are going to wow me. But of course there are no guarantees.

    Congrats to Helena.

  6. Elizabeth, a discounted one to lead readers into a series is still a good idea.

    Melanie, I can't remember the last free book I read.

    Jo, I think that is were they work best.

  7. I've often wonder about this.

  8. No idea. I'm not worrying about this kind of thing right now. Who knows what the state of publishing will be like by the time I get published, LoL.

    Hope you have a great week, Diane!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  9. Great discussion topic. I confess...I hoard and don't always read. I find this more often with e-books. I just don't see them enough to remember they're there.

  10. I've wondered about those same questions. My publisher (medium sized) recently put my two Christmas titles in the program, so they are now available to borrow free for Prime members. So far, I haven't seen much happening. It would be nice if people who borrow would read and do a little review. That could be the biggest benefit from the freebie!

    Mary Montague Sikes

  11. I think it is becoming more difficult to get your book out there with all the discounted books. I've collected lots of free and discounted books and though I don't mean to hoard them, it's tough to find the time to read them all.

  12. Mmm... I don't know... Looking at my own response to free offers, it might not be worth it. Then again, I'm not really the average reader...

  13. I wonder--I think it can work in a few strategic situations, but if not done with a plan it's probably books in the wind. So much for free--why buy anything?

    Wrote By Rote

  14. I have a few writer friends who've used the free books VERY effectively! Same with the Bookbub ads. These strategies have led to lots of sales of the authors' other books

  15. Amazon is always changing, which is why they aren't as effective as they used to be. I've read a lot about this recently.

    My perma free works for me and my series. I will repeat when I launch the next series.

  16. Hi!

    I was caught up in the 'free' book craze. I was so glad to see books actually on my kindle! Then I started to read them. Most were just horrible. I think I'm over the temptation now. I'd rather pay a few bucks if I know the books have been edited at the very least.

    I saw your comment about your characters named Heather & M. Gardner! That is just too weird and wonderful.

  17. I'm definitely a hoarder, but only because I just don't have the time to read them all. :)

  18. Joy, the article mentioned $600 to advertise with them. That is a lot of money!

    Mary, that's a good point.

    Lee, you bring up something vital - why pay when you can get so many for free?

    Jemi, it does work for some.

    Mary, you have a free book that leads into a series, which is a smart thing.

    Heather, that happens. And what are the odds you have the same name?

  19. I wanted you to know that my free Kindle book generated almost 2,000 hits a few months ago - my first and only time - I had never tried a KDP promotion on any of my titles. Did I hope to get a ton of reviews? Yes. Did I? No. But I wanted to see if anyone would want to read my memoir and it seems many did.
    I agree that there are too many books selling for 99 cents, and it is like climbing a mountain on a tightrope to get noticed. My memoir ebook price is $2.99. Not too little, not too expensive.

  20. I think the free copies work better as a lead in to a series. But free copies do help readers who might not be able to buy a copy otherwise so I won't knock it. yet it isn't always effective in promo and sales.

  21. There's not as much of an incentive to read my freebies. Books I actively seek and pay for get put at the top of my list.

    Like the others, I think the free book is most effective when there's other books in a series.

  22. Trace, that is the sweet spot of ebook prices.

    Jay, those are usually the first ones I read.

  23. I think there's now a logical place for free books, and that is only if they have a sequel and it's available. Otherwise you might as well be saying, "Check out my book. It's worth nothing."
    I have a stash of books I got free. None, so far, have convinced me to pursue the author.
    I think traditional publishers are becoming somewhat indistinguishable from smaller presses. Dollar for dollar, there might just be an equal amount of quality coming from both.

  24. I'm thinking the same - that is, there are countless free books out there, so another won't have an impact. Then again, it can't hurt and can only help to get your book in more hands. The point, I guess, is to write something so exceptionally different or alluring (who knows what that is, since EL James hit the target) that readers will go wild for it. But I don't know. Does anyone?

    Enjoy the season, Diane.

  25. Those are great questions! I'm still not sure if the kindle select free days work. I've had better responses (and reviews) from individual giveaways at blogs and goodreads. My hope is that the giveaways might "pay off" when I get my next book out.
    At this point, I'm trying to build readership, and I'm still working at the best ways to do it.
    Part of that, I think, is just about continuing to write, and knowing that it takes time to build up a readership base.
    I had a writing teacher who told our class to wait until we had five books out before we expected to break even or make anything - it's like opening our own start up business and calling the first few years good if we aren't in the red.

  26. I think free and discounted books are like all marketing efforts-- things may work for awhile but then need to be changed up for maximum effectiveness. I'm not sure why anyone would use Bookbub when there are so many free sites like Pixel of Ink that also have wide readership and will promote a free ebook without being paid for "advertising." Large publishers have sunk money into advertising and marketing for years but then they have the resources. It's a sad thing when individuals self-pubbing also feel they must pay for advertising to get sales. That just puts them deeper into the hole if their book doesn't sell.

  27. Hi Diane,

    I think there is a saturation of reduced price books and books as prizes out there these days.

    I most certainly wouldn't fork out money to promote a discounted or free book. Makes little sense to me.


  28. David, it's all about perceived value.

    Tyrean, it takes time to build and writing more books is the only way to do it.

    Karen, that's an excellent point. Why pay to advertise something that is free? Pixel of Ink - will look for it.

    Gary, I agree with you. Makes no sense to me either.

  29. Hi Diane .. interesting post and comments. I only get free if someone, ie a blogger, recommends it - and I can see the series link in - when as Jo said others buy the next in the series.

    When anyone publishes it has to be as professional as it can be .. quality will count for further purchases, even if it's free.

    Cheers - Hilary

  30. As a reader, I enjoy getting a free gift of a back list book especially with an author I haven't read. It's brought some authors I wouldn't have normally noticed to my attention.

    My personal views on this is a bit different. I can see the value of discounting books now and then. But, as an author I think it should be done sparingly or in a rotating fashion. To me, discounted or free books should be like a dessert. It's the dollop of whip cream on top of the yummy body of your work as an author.

  31. I think it all boils down to balance. There are many ways to promote your book, so giving it away doesn't always make sense. However, giving it away as a special promotion, within a strict, limited time-frame, might not be a bad idea, if it helps you get more exposure and sales in the long run. Regardless, you have to work hard to promote and market your book, so if you're going to work that hard anyway, why give it away for free?

  32. I think the answer is at least partially yes to all the questions, except for the one that asks what is the deciding factor. A different question might be if that's not working for the majority anymore, than what else? Perhaps finding a way to add cursive to some copies, so they are autographed? Or an embedded key code that will allow readers to unlock a recorded message on the author's blog?

  33. I rarely purchase discounted or free books (if it's free, do I use the word "purchase"?) unless it's one I intended to buy anyway. I don't like stocking up on books I probably won't read.

  34. Great question and good to read all the comments. I definitely don't download free or super cheap books just for the sake of downloading them. They still have to be from an author I want to read or a book I've been meaning to get.

  35. Sia, that is a wonderful analogy.

    MJ, that is my thought on the hard work and giving it away.

    Mark, those are some good ideas.

    LD, I don't either.

  36. It depends. If I hoard books because they're not my favorite genre, then they're not getting read. Also, I've been ignoring my daily email for free ebooks, because most of the time they don't have what I want.

    If I get a free book and it has a fantastic cover/description/I know the author then I'll most likely end up reading it. If I love it, I'll purchase other works from the author. Also, I always take advantage of my Prime membership and get one free ebook a month, one that I really want.