Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sharing The Power of Free

I got a good article in my email today in Randy Ingermanson's newsletter, Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine. Since he allows sharing of items in his newsletter, I thought I'd share this one here. 

Marketing: The Power of Free

A few months ago some indie friends of mine pointed me to a guest post on a marketing blog that claimed that giving away books is a bad idea. The title of the post was, “Why you shouldn’t give your book away.”

I disagreed with most of the article. You can read the post here if you like. 

It’s not my goal to attack anyone, so I’ve hesitated to respond. But I keep hearing variations on the same theme from different people. I keep hearing the same misinformation. It’s time to say something. 

The post begins with an analogy: “Why buy the cow when the milk is free?” 

Unfortunately, that’s a broken analogy. Here’s why:

Milk from one cow tastes pretty much like milk from another cow. Whereas a novel from one author can be vastly different than a novel from another author. That’s part of the charm of books—the author’s unique voice matters. 

Books aren’t like milk and authors aren’t like cows.

Three Misconceptions

The guest blogger makes several key assertions:
Giving away books devalues an author’s work. 
Authors who give away books are “desperate.” 
Giving away free books doesn’t make sales numbers climb.
I can’t agree with any of these claims. Let’s look at each one:

1) You don’t measure the value of an author’s work by the price of a single copy of one title by that author. Many authors have their books in the library where they can be borrowed free. That doesn’t devalue their work. Many authors give away review copies to book reviewers. That doesn’t devalue their work either.

A better measure of the value of an author’s work is the total revenue the author earns from all her titles. Many indie authors report an increase in their total revenue when they give away free copies of some of their titles. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

2) Who cares if authors who give away free books are “desperate?” 

Why would an author’s mental state matter here, and how would you prove it? This kind of claim is known as an ad hominem argument. Rather than using logic or hard data to discuss the effectiveness of giving away free books, the blogger is focusing attention on the author’s alleged emotional state.

3) Is it true that giving away free books doesn’t make sales numbers climb?

No, it’s false when you give away books correctly. I know quite a number of successful indie authors who get good results by giving away the first e-book in a series. 

Many indies are obsessive about their sales numbers and have collected mountains of hard data on this. While it’s true that they earn nothing on Book #1 in the series, the data shows convincingly that these authors earn a LOT more on all the other books in the series. 

Keep in mind that giving away an e-book costs you nothing. The net effect is a big win.

Why Giving Away Free E-books Works

Let’s look in detail at why giving away free e-books works. 

The purpose of giving away free e-books is to make it easy for your Target Audience to find you. (Your Target Audience is the set of people who would love your book if only they could find it.)

Now it’s true that lots of readers outside your Target Audience will download your book. But you don’t care about these people. They probably won’t read your book. If they do, they probably won’t like it. But your marketing is not aimed at these people, so they are irrelevant.

The important point is that many readers inside your Target Audience will download your book. They probably will read your book. If they do, they’ll LOVE it. (Remember what your Target Audience is.)

By giving away loads of free e-books, you massively increase the number of people in your Target Audience who find you. They read your book. They LOVE it. They read all the other books in the series—books that are “just like the first one, only different.”

This is a win-win-win situation.

It’s a win for your Target Audience—they read books they love. 

It’s a win for the retailers—they sell more of your books.

It’s a win for you, the author—you sell more books to people who love them. You also get lots of reviews from your Target Audience. You also get your Target Audience to join your email list so you can reach them again in the future.

There is no loser here. Free e-books are a wonderful way to make your books more discoverable by your Target Audience. That’s a big goal of any marketing strategy (though it’s not the only goal).

Hard Numbers

As I mentioned, giving away free e-books is a core part of the marketing strategy for many of my successful indie author friends. I can’t give you their numbers.

But I can give you mine.

A little background info: Back in 2000, I published the first of a series of three time-travel suspense novels, working with a traditional publisher. The books are set in ancient Jerusalem and are mainly of interest to Christian readers. The Target Audience for this series is small. 

Not surprisingly, sales were fairly limited. The books won some awards but they soon went out of print. They stayed out of print for about ten years. To all appearances, they were dead in the water.

In June of 2014, I rereleased the series (the City of God series) as e-books. I made Book #1 permanently free on all retailers. The other two have varied in price from $4.99 to $0.99, with $2.99 the price for most of the time. It’s been ten months since release. 

Here are the results as of this moment according to BookTrakr:
Book #1: 123,830 copies given away free.
Book #2: 5,194 copies sold, for a total of $10,429.
Book #3: 4,031 copies sold, for a total of $8,745.

Those are decent numbers. Not spectacular, but decent. They’re good enough that I can afford to write more books in the series.

The total revenue earned as indie e-books is already substantially more than the total royalties earned by the books when they were traditionally published. And the books will continue to earn money for years to come, because I don’t plan to take them out of print.

Furthermore, these books have gotten a substantial number of new reviews. As of this moment, Book #1 has 496 more reviews than it had on the day I released the new e-books. The reviews show that many of these readers are in my Target Audience.

The permafree strategy has enabled at least part of my Target Audience to find me. That’s cool. I could never have found them on my own. But they found me.

Your mileage may vary. I have friends who’ve done much better. I have friends who’ve done much worse. 

There are no guarantees in this business. Giving away free e-books isn’t an instant ticket to fame and fortune. It’s a way to help your Target Audience find your books. If they like what they read, then they’ll buy more. 

It’s not magic. It’s just a good sensible plan that works for a lot of authors.

You’re smart enough to know whether it might work for you too.

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 12,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it,

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