#TuesdayThoughts: It’s time to end #freebooks

The last couple weeks I’ve been seeing quite a bit about e-book piracy and reader buying habits pop up in the fandom spaces that I frequent. (This isn’t me seeking out these subjects.) And I’ve been writing about them and getting some of the higher like counts to this blog to date. (Thank you!) So, let me try to wrap up and conclude this little series and try to make my thoughts clearly spelled out.

I am not trying to start an internet argument. In fact, you don’t have to agree with me. That’s fine. I’m saying what I’m seeing. I’m not listening to other indie authors and their ‘marketing schemes.’ I’m listening to readers. The people who buy the books.

We are no longer in 2009.

Back in 2009 is when Amazon indie publishing really started to take off. Back then, it was a few authors against the odds trying to plug their books against the big traditional publishing houses on the hottest e-book space available, Amazon and the Kindle. Back then, I’d love to say it was a simpler time. There weren’t click bots and as many fake books and people plagiarizing the classics to hack a quick buck. There wasn’t Kindle Unlimited either.

Well, we’re almost at 2018 here and man, things have changed. There are thousands of books (some say up to 100,000 books a year) being published on Amazon for Kindle every month across all genres. There are sites like Wattpad and other sites like Instafreebie and Bookfunnel and places like Bookbub cataloging every sale. Even Goodreads does free giveaways. And, we have Kindle Unlimited. Oh. Kindle Unlimited.

We are glutted in free books.

There are free books everywhere. And if that wasn’t interesting enough, there are hundreds, if not thousands of websites that make it their mission to pirate e-books from traditionally published authors. They try to get as early as possible a good pdf of a book and disseminate far and wide around the web for people to read without paying for it. There are so many sites that authors have a terrible time trying to get their books down. Yes, authors have to fight sites to get their own intellectual property taken down off the internet because people have stolen it and then the thieves have the gall to become incensed that the book was taken down! Because they shouldn’t have to pay for that book damn it!

This affects a traditionally published author’s sales. They get less of an advance and less books published of their next print run and eventually that author loses their contract if they can’t catch the book thieves and there goes their livelihood.

Now ebook piracy isn’t going to affect established authors.

No. I’m not talking about the Neil Gaimans and the James Pattersons. I’m talking about the new and younger upcoming authors who are trying to build a backlog as big as the Gaimans, Scalzis and Pattersons and Lackeys of the world. New Authors heavily rely on sales and library circulation numbers to prove to their publishers that their books are a sure thing and that they can produce more great sales and make the company and themselves a tidy profit.

Gaiman and Scalzi and Patterson and Lackey, they don’t have to worry about that anymore.

E-book piracy really hurts these new and upcoming authors. It is not free advertising. It’s malicious theft of their income.

Free books hurt indie authors.

Because it’s not 2009. There aren’t just a few free books anymore in every genre. There are hundreds and thousands of free books in every genre. Readers can go to Kindle Unlimited or other sites and download hundreds of free books into their devices that they never have to pay for and will possibly never read.

I was seeing this several years ago. I see it now. Readers talking about how they go to Kindle Unlimited, snag all the free books they can and then those books just sit on their readers unread. They don’t value those books. They paid nothing for them. They feel no obligation to read them because tomorrow they can go back to that website and just download more free books.

It is still happening and in fact, it has only gotten worse. Thanks to things like Kindle Unlimited, Instafreebie, and all those sites that catalog free book deals.

There are so many free books out there that a reader doesn’t have to buy a book ever. They may not have the best covers or the best summaries. They may not be edited properly or even tell decent stories. But they are free. If the reader doesn’t like it, they can delete it and move onto the next free book in the pile. (And this contributes to a huge amount of disdain towards free books and indie published books because you get what you pay for and how good is a book you pay nothing for after all.) (Pardon me while I go seethe for a moment about the indie publishing part.)

I am not talking about Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is doing a needed service of digitizing and cataloging out of copyright and in the public domain works for education and reference. Yay! Project Gutenberg!

Sure, I’ve heard arguments for making the first book in a series to be free so that readers will buy the next in the series.

Maybe that worked back in 2009. It’s 2017. There’s now a glut of free e-books on the market. They don’t have to buy your second book. In fact, 9 times out of 10, I bet they won’t. If you offer a reader something for free, they start being much more selective in what they buy. They only want to buy things that they are certain they will read again and again. They take free books, books that aren’t properly edited and may not have decent stories. They’ll take “books” of 20,000 words because ‘they’re easier to read.’ They get jaded and cynical. They stop wanting to pay for books because they don’t want to be disappointed. And then they just stop buying. They may like the way you write and be invested in your story, as long as it’s free.

Free is no longer a viable merchandising strategy.

It is undercutting sales along with social and market value of books.

And the sad thing is that indie authors have done this to themselves. They are so eager to get their name out there. So eager to make a sale and prove they have credibility as authors. That they’re willing to put their hard work of their original intellectual property out there for nothing.

And people stop becoming willing to pay for that hard work.

Other people see that ‘free’ may be a thing and jump on the bandwagon and suddenly everybody is giving away their hard work. And those who would pay for it if they had to pay for it see this and take advantage of it. If you put your work out there and you expect to be paid decently for it at current market rates, don’t be surprised when someone says “why should I buy your book at 7.99 when so and so does it for free?” if everyone else is putting their work out there for free. They’ll just pass your 7.99 book over for the next book in the list that’s cheaper. Then everyone’s book values go down because the readers expect to pay less.

Market rates are market rates to help everyone. If people can’t find what they want for free, they will pay for it.

You don’t hire a plumber and expect them to do the first hour for free and the rest you pay them? That’s not right. That’s not valuing the plumber’s time! As an author, you don’t expect your editor to work for free? There is a lot of hard work that goes into catching spelling and grammar and opinions about the story. You definitely don’t get marketing and advertising for free.

Creative work becomes valued less when people are willing to sacrifice their integrity for the sake of “getting their foot in the door.” Or “being an established author.” Or “exposure.”

This hurts the entire publishing community. All of it. Indie. Traditional. Everyone.

Because readers come to expect free. And when they can’t find the book for free, they are willing to steal it (aka pirate it) from a torrent site or otherwise. Then no one gets paid.

Any business person of any credibility will tell you not to do work for free. People will take advantage of you as much as they can for business advice and projects and take your efforts if you do not hold them to the expectation of paying you. Employers will treat you like dirt if they feel like they can get away with it. Today, book readers are no different.

This is was probably one of the reasons why traditional publishing houses were created, to make sure that authors had advocates to be paid what they deserved. (And when that stopped working, the writers associations came into being.) Now, with indie authors, we have to be our own advocates. We have to determine for ourselves how much value our work has.

Because it’s not 2009 anymore. There’s a huge amount of free books and a reader doesn’t have to buy books if they know where to look. And readers only get away with this as long as authors let them get away with it. If authors all put their books out there and expected to be paid for their work, then readers would turn around and actually pay for the writing they want to read and love. Then authors could make a living at it and not have to work retail or deal with the insulting notions that they should “write because they love writing.” This only survives as long as indie authors allow it to survive. (This of course only works as long as some green author doesn’t jump in and start the entire cycle all over again.) Let the traditional publishers use “free” books as advertising schemes. They have bigger budgets and can get away with it.

Marketing has to evolve. What worked 9 years ago, doesn’t work today. It’s time to step away from the false “allure” of the free book. All it is, is fool’s gold and an empty promise.


2 thoughts on “#TuesdayThoughts: It’s time to end #freebooks

  1. Good articulation if what you have observed. Free books do negatively impact the industry, especially the indie author segment for the reasons you cite — oversaturated market, lack of value building, and outdated tactics. Pricing is part of the rules of marketing. If you want to play the game and sell books you have to develop pricing strategies right alongside promotional ones. In the end, free books will not sustain an author’s career.


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