Are Free Books the enemy of Indie Authors?

I’ve been encountering a fair few debates surrounding the issue of free books and indie authors and have come to the conclusion that yes; free books are the enemy of Indie Authors.

Before I get attacked and torn a new one by my fellow indie authors let me give you my reasons for thinking this way.

I began this crazy journey back in 2012, a period that many now believe was a golden time for Indie writers. E-books were all the rage and Kindles in particular, were selling like hotcakes. I released my first book Terran Defenders: Genesis and at that time had very little knowledge of promotions etc. The book sold relatively well with little to no promotion by me and sold at a price of £3.99. It didn’t set any records or anything, but it sold a few copies per week.

In 2014 I released Heir to the Sundered Crown and in that glorious summer it went on to generate more revenue than what I earned in a month at the job I had at the time. Again, this was with only a little promotion via social media. (Remember those glorious days when organic traffic was easy to generate, the days before Facebook launched its paid ads and effectively killed organic), anyway I digress. That book went on to sell several thousand copies over the first two years of release and I naively thought that book 2 in the series would meet with similar success. Alas, it wasn’t to be. In those two years, the E-book industry had changed dramatically.

A lot more people got involved, thinking that they could cash in on the successes other authors had achieved and as is the way the market was flooded by countless new books (some great, many dire). Competition was now fierce and that’s when it started to happen; authors began giving their books away for free in an attempt to be spotted amongst the competition. At first, it seemed to have worked for a few but then it appeared as though everyone was doing the same thing.

Look at this post that was put onto a Facebook writing group I’m a member of –

Here’s an interesting if somewhat arrogant response to one of my recent newsletters where I recommend other author’s books to my list. I’m wondering if many other readers feel the same way.

“Let me first state that I haven’t had the time to read your free book, but why do “new” author’s expect readers to shell out money on their books, when so many authors are offering books to read for free, why would I pay money first? I have gotten free books that I have enjoyed, and I have since bought the author’s other books. I am offered so many free books, why would I spend money before finding out that I like the author’s style? Yes the cover of Calamity Rising by Z. V.Hunter is kick ass, and looks interesting, but when I’m drowning in free books, like yours, why would I spend my money first? The reason I bring this up is that while I appreciate you suggesting a book I don’t think it is advantageous to you, or those that are reading your e-letter to suggest this book. If this book was free, the cover would move it up my reading list.”

This message from one of the posters readers sums up what is happening. Some readers now expect indie books to be free. Not just part ones of series but EVERYTHING! Don’t get me wrong, using free promotion days is not a bad thing, my issue is with permafree. Now that readers expect indie books to be free I have to ask, what’s in it for the indie authors? Sure there are always those who say they do it for the love of writing (I hate those people by the way. If you’re good at something then why shouldn’t you make some return on that talent?) but that doesn’t put food on the table or pay the bills. For those that write just for the pleasure of your writing being read then great, there are websites such as Wattpad and Webook for that.

I’ve been lucky so far in my Indie author career. Over the years I’ve been able to use the income generated by my book sales to help cover costs and it even paid for my nice TV. I have never expected to be able to live off of selling books alone (although that is the dream).  Some authors, however, do live off their earnings and I have spoken to many that have said that they have noticed a dip in their income.

I’ve written about pricing before (read it here) but permafree is in my mind seriously harming an indie authors ability to earn money. You’ve spent hundreds of hours of your time writing, if people want to read it then we should be rewarded.

Free Means Crap?

A business wouldn’t create a product and then give it away for free and being an Indie author is like being a business. On a final not here’s a comment from a reader that I think is important –

Just my 2 cents here as a reader (I’ m new to this e publishing). I consider myself somewhere in the upmarket regarding books I enjoy. My problem is – too many books now and too little time. How to find in this waste amount of books some I’ ll be looking to read. Joined instafreebies in hope to find new interesting authors, but so far no luck. I’ m not price sensitive buyer – I’ ll buy without blinking if the book is what I want to read. Sadly I have a pile now which I DON’T want to read. As a result I’ll leave instafreebees and will try to find a different way to find MY books. For me right now free = crap (no offence here, it’ s just seems that books I want to read don’ t appear on feebies. If being a writer is hard, being a reader now is hard as well. HOW to find the right book? I think it’ s the biggest challenge of our time. If the readers will be able to find exactly what they want, sales will grow.

I have to agree with this person. When you’re browsing around for something new to read what do you think when you see that a book is free? Personally I think that it must be of low quality, after all if the author puts no value into their work then why should I.

Personally, I only use freebies as special sales or as a tool to try and grow my mailing list. These tactics work for those purposes but in the long run, I will never set my main books as permafree.

What do you think of permafree? Is it the enemy of Indie Authors? Have you had success using permafree? I want to know!

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One thought on “Are Free Books the enemy of Indie Authors?

  1. I absolutely agree. Our books are worth the few bucks we ask for them. Our time is worth those few bucks, at least.
    I do think there is a place for promotional giveaways, but there’s no way I’m giving my books away for nothing on any basis other than that.

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