Donna R. Wood

Donna R. Wood, Author and Motivational Speaker

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Are You Quality, or Are You Discount?


How much do you, as a reader, value “free?” That seems to be the buzz question within many author groups. I cannot count the number of times I have heard the question in various forms, the most common being, “Do you think I should release the book as free for X number of days?”

My answer is no. No, I do not think books should be released as free for any amount of time. Why? I have the perfect analogy that I heard from a man with a MBA I used to work with several years ago.

Let’s say you are going to buy a t-shirt. You find the t-shirt that you want at two big box retailers; Wal-Mart and Target. Which do you value more? The t-shirts are identical, from the same vendor and made by the same company. The only difference between the two shirts is the price. The ultimate decision does not come down to the price tag. The psychology behind the purchase has nothing to do with how much the t-shirt costs. It comes down to which store you think has the better product. Wal-Mart holds to the low, low prices marketing campaign, whereas Target promotes quality. Without conscious thought you buy the t-shirt at Target, paying a few cents or dollars more. Why? Because it is engrained in your mind that somehow the t-shirt at Target is of better quality, even though the t-shirts are exactly the same.

Now, let’s apply the theory to the free book phenomenon that is sweeping the e-book publishing industry. The most common reasoning behind the free book release is, ‘I have to get my name out there.’ Ok, I can understand that. It’s true an author wants as many people as possible knowing their name, and their work. However, they may have promoted their product value right into the discount bin. To the avid reader, free equates to of lesser quality. The general thought behind it seems to be the author has to give their books away to get anyone to read them. That’s not necessarily the case, but in many instances it is the perception. The author’s persona is now in line with Wal-Mart’s low, low prices marketing campaign. If they do this long enough, readers will equate the author name with low quality based on promotion of the price. I’ve often been in Wal-Mart and assailed by the free sample ladies in every aisle. I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at Target. The question is: is the author Wal-Mart or are they Target?

Free e-books are flooding the on-line retailers at break-neck speed. In fact, it seems there are so many free books that it’s starting to have a reverse effect. The free book the author worked so hard to create is now buried under thousands of other free books.

What happens to all the free book downloads? The buzz on the web is they tend to stay unread in the bottom of the e-reader for someday.  All the effort the author put into promoting the book for free is most likely sitting at the bottom of the e-readers of the world, right along with the manuscript they spent so much energy in creating. Initially the author will see a spike in sales, just like Wal-Mart does on free sample Saturday. Then the sales of the product plummet or even out to what they were before. Freebies are a short term solution to a long term marketing strategy.

The big publishing houses do not offer freebies for a reason. It’s all about perception of the author. Is the author a quality commodity, or are they not? Are they quality or are they discount? It’s all about branding of the author. How an author presents themselves to the world is exactly how the world will see them. How the world sees them is how they will place value on the author’s work.

I learned this from my own experience in publishing Sticks and Bones. I devalued my own work by dropping the price to 99 cents. I sold more copies of Sticks and Bones at the $2.99 price than I ever have at the 99 cent price point. I also learned a few more things by publishing Sticks and Bones, and I will be blogging more about those lessons in future posts.

Note: There is nothing wrong with shopping at Wal-Mart. I shop there all the time. This is about common public perception.

15 comments:

  1. You seem to have overlooked the object of offering books free - to get them a higher sales ranking, and with this more exposure, more recomendations from Amazon, and ultimately more sales. (Which has been my experience.)

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    1. Terry, I do understand your point. However, I am looking at this from the perspective of the readers, who are more often stating they just wait for the free books to come out. Or, they download the free books, rarely read them, and usually spend money on the traditional authors. Which begs the question, are indie authors shooting themselves in the foot by offering so many freebies, and more important are indie authors training customers to wait for the free offerings? I'm not saying free books are right or wrong, but I can see the trend in this coming to a dismal end just like the you review me and I'll review you.

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    2. People love the word "free," but great deals don't always lead to return customers. Just ask any small business who's made a deal with Groupon. The small business often loses money.

      For the record, I am planning on offering my book for free, but for a limited time, and only when I release a second book. I don't want anyone to think I'm a perma-free author, and I think my writing is worth $2.99. (I keep thinking of the "L'Oreal -- I'm worth it!" ads.)

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  2. I've stopped buying e-books, because I was buying them to help out online friends, and found that most of them were not that good. Then I had to review them, and had to find something nice to say about them when I wanted to say "don't buy this book until this person learns the difference between a noun and a verb." If it's a first book, I want it free or for 99 cents. That, to me, is the loss leader. If I like it, I'll gladly pay full price for the second book.

    Speaking of Wal-Mart, did you know that they make zero-zilch-nada on plants? Usually, they LOSE money on them. They make money on the soil, pots, chemicals, tools, pavers, etc. That's what loss leaders are all about. You give something away with the idea that it will get people to buy something else or buy something in the future.

    Retailers recognize the value of "free." They are constantly giving products to bloggers to give to their readers. Why? Because if they like that small, inexpensive something, they will tell their friends and those friends will tell their friends, etc. It's the law of 7's. It's all about numbers, but FIRST, people have to know what it is you're selling and what other people think of it.

    So yeah, I'd give away my first e-book, although I'll probably never write one. I'd give away the first hundred copies of my first print book. It has nothing to do with what it's worth or what you, as a writer are worth. It's about word of mouth, which is the greatest marketing tool on earth.

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  3. Well so far word of mouth hasn't helped me much; not even my closest family and friends have spread the word much for me.........(And so much for Facebook and Twitter too; no action there either!)so there you have it.......this is a controversial topic. Both sides have some good reasoning going for them........I'm thinking I will start working on my e-book, but I'm leaning on not giving it away for free......

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  5. I just published a humor book (essays, satire, parodies, etc.) a few weeks back and was considering the benefits of offering the title for free but opted not to as I didn't see the point, because from my perspective, free translates into lesser value and to your point, Donna, still leaves you fighting for attention in an ocean of free content -- some very good and some, well ...less good.

    What I am trying to do to create awareness is drive traffic to my humor blog which is linked to FB and Twitter, and to ideally make the case for my book. (I still have a long, long way to go on this front so don't think I'm hitting anything out of the park just yet) The hard part is generating quality content on a consistent basis but I feel that if I can stay the course, I can build an audience, hopefully one that will share my work within their network. Almost everything I write is humor based, and I make sure that I have original content that is posted exclusively on each social networking platform (FB/Twitter and my blog).

    Finally, I think offering a sample of a book as a means to decide whether to make a purchase or not, along with a price point that is realistic (my e-book is $2.99/paperback is $8.99) is a solid enough strategy to allow a reader to make an informed buying decision. We all still have to address the challenge of getting attention and generating interest to get even to that point but I don't believe offering the content for free minimizes those challenges in a meaningful or significant way. That said, if there are successful cases where free e-books have generated sales down the road, I would love to hear about it.

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    1. Great remarks about the samples. I won't buy any book unless I can read the first few pages. That's often enough to know what you're buying.

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    2. That's a great point, Darlene and Monkeybellhop. With Amazon and Barnes & Noble both now offering free samples, what's the point of the freebie? I agree the sample should be enough to make an educated decision. Thanks for commenting.

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  6. I should say that I removed the comment by Marco Mendonca because it was a simple promotion of a website for ebooks that I am not familiar with, and I don't allow spamming on my blog.

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  7. My wife and I are big fans of free books. In our case we tend to buy several other books by the same author if we enjoy the free book. So it's a win-win situation.

    Free books also help to build up your "profile" with Amazon because they then start recommending books one might enjoy. And, sometimes, that a good thing.

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  8. Never, ever will I publish anything for free. Doing the freebie thing might have pulled you up in the rankings when the program first came out, but that is history now. After spending months or years on your MS, you want to give it away? Makes no sense and devalues authors in general.

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  9. I hear both sides of it, but I have found over a dozen new authors who have offered a freebie and some of them have been on all kinds of best seller lists, including US Today & NYT list's.

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    1. That's the conundrum, Natalie. There are a dozen or so, but in a sea of millions. The odds are pretty low of reaching best seller status. I'm betting that there is more to their success than just the freebie offer. However, you raise a good question. How much of a role does the 'free offering' play in reaching best seller? Thanks for commenting.

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  10. Wow. What an article! It really gave me something to think about and articulated very well some thoughts I had in the back of my mind about promotion and such. As a reader, I was always weary of free books. I did equate free with lesser quality. When I published my first book, I did so at 99cents first. When I told co-workers the price, they were very surprised. They felt it should be higher. After experimenting with free a couple of times, I don't think I'll do it again. I'll price my work at what I think is a fair value. I may lower the price on Adventure Hunters when the sequel comes out, since it will eventually be a series, but I won't do free. The only time I would, would be as a gift or prize, as in a lottery or book launch. But I want to be Target. I want to be known as a quality author.

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