The Free eBook Conundrum

I recently saw The Desolation of Smaug, the second movie of The Hobbit. At the end of the movie, the whole theater audience let out a collective groan—not because the ending was so horrible, but because the ending was a complete cliff hanger.

free ebooks

A number of years ago, I read the first two books in a trilogy by a Christian author. At the end of the second book, I just had to know how the story concluded. I spend an entire Saturday driving around the city I lived in, going from Christian bookstore to Christian bookstore hoping to find a copy of the third book in the series (this was before the Internet or ebooks).

Recently, I downloaded a free Christian novel on my tablet. This book was the first in a series. However, I upon completing the novel, I had no desire to purchase the remaining books in the series, even though I was disappointed that the story was left undone. I just did not like the author’s writing style, her characters, or the story line well enough to invest more time and money in the series.

A current trend in marketing books is to give away free digital copies to hook readers. I think that publishers and authors should be very careful about how they use this strategy. Studies are suggesting that around two-thirds of all ebooks downloaded are done so for free. Another study found that around 60% of downloaded ebooks were never read. Does this mean that people are not reading these free ebooks?

I believe that digital book giveaways work best for authors who have a series of books. In “Do Book Giveaways Work?“, I cited the finding that if readers liked what they read in the free book, 85% were extremely likely to buy another book from that author. Giving away the first book in a series to hook readers into buying the additional books in the series is a good strategy. Yet, it is best to make sure there is some type of cliff hanger at the end of each book in the series to keep readers coming back for more.

If you do not have a series, but are only a one book author, don’t give away the complete version of your ebook hoping to spur word-of-mouth sales. You may get a few, but probably not as many as you are seeking. Instead, offer enough free chapters to hook the reader into purchasing the complete book. I recently saw that one Christian author was giving away the first 14 chapters of his book as a free digital book. Obviously, he was hoping to hook enough readers into buying the entire book to finish the story.

The same strategy can work for nonfiction works. However, keep in mind that most readers only read about half of a nonfiction book. Therefore, to hook readers give away enough chapters with just enough information to get the readers to want the remainder of the information to complete the message.

I would love to hear what your experience has been in giving away free digital copies of a book to spur sales.

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