To give books away or to not give books away? Many authors and small publishers wrestle with this question. Some believe that giving books away does not reap many benefits and “cheapens” the author’s works. Others believe that giving books away can spur sales.
Just about every industry has some way of using “free” to their advantage. Think about games, software, and apps. Many companies offer a “freemium”, something small for free and then require people to pay to get more bells and whistles.
Since books are simple products—one doesn’t upgrade to a book with more bells and whistles—authors and publishers need to be judicious in why and how they give away free books.
The purpose of giving away free books is usually for promotion. Of course, there are other motivations. Sometimes publishers or authors give away free books for a good cause or charity reasons. Take Pelican Book Group. This publisher, a member of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), is offering their complete current catalog of ebooks to readers free for the season of Lent. They want to have anyone who desires experience Christ through fiction this Lenten season be able to.
For most authors, giving away free books is for the intent of making people aware of you and your writings. Since many authors are fairly unknown with a small circle of influence, giving away books is one way to raise awareness, leading to interest, which in turn hopefully leads to readers, resulting in book sales.
Offering free copies of an ebook for a day, a week, or on-going is one way to give away free books. However, some authors find that, often, offering the ebook for free does not necessarily raise the sales for a print book. This strategy works best for authors who have a series of books. These authors can give away the first book in the series with the intent of hooking the reader into buying the subsequent books in a series.
However, for authors who only have one or two books, a book giveaway contest may be a better option. This strategy includes using your book as a free prize to draw the attention of the public. Often authors will run a contest on their blog, website, or social media service offering a free book to the first five (can be more, can be less) responses, or to a random number of people from their response pool.
Now authors and publishers have an additional avenue to host a book giveaway. Amazon has launched a new giveaway service that simplifies and automates a promotional online contest. Anyone who has an account with Amazon can launch a giveaway contest and offer contestants a physical prize (digital prizes are not yet included)—so long as the prize is carried in Amazon’s warehouses.
Amazon’s new giveaway service allows contests to be set up so that the first X participants get the prize or so that every Xth participant receives the giveaway. The costs of all prizes must be paid in advance, but Amazon says that any unawarded prizes will be refunded and the costs reimbursed.
The most important element in having success with giving away free books is that the quality of your book must match the expectation of your audience. If it does not, giving away your book won’t help your sales.