Why You Should Not Give Your eBook Away For Free

Why You Should Not Give Your eBook Away For Free
Why You Should Not Give Your eBook Away For Free

So you’re thinking of giving away a copy of your book. Unless you’re brand new or seasoned, I would advise against it. Or do what you want. So should you give your eBook away? There are just a few things to think about before you drop the price of your next bestseller.

But…you’re giving away an eBook right there on the side of your website! That’s a culmination of a bunch of blog posts, put in one convenient spot. Onwards!

People who get a free copy won’t convert to buyers. There are two distinct markets when it comes to anything really: the buyers and the freebie hunters. I know if I go onto Amazon and I’m searching for a book about dogs, and I click on the top free category, I’m not leaving the free category. It’s already in my mind to not pay for something like that. Even if it’s an absolute hobby of mine, I already have a wealth of knowledge resources I can snag for free.

For instance, there are hundreds of new adult fiction books published every day on Amazon. Hundreds of those books are put into KDP Select and are set to a 5-day free promotion every day. If I’m an avid reader of literary porn, and I know I can get new quality erotic stories for free every day, why would I pay for it?

Hell, most of them probably won’t even read the book, depending on the genre. There was a time when I would go on Reddit’s free eBook page and go on download sprees. Never read any more than 2% of those books, and they were deleted from my Kindle library with the quickness.

Your e-mail list isn’t going to grow substantially by giving away a book. Even if you offer another free book for signing up, your list will merely be tainted by freebie chasers. They will hop on your mailing list, snag the download, then unsubscribe. I know this because it happens multiple times every month for me.

I can’t help but laugh at self-publishing authors that brag about how many books they gave away in their most recent promotion. Last I checked free never paid the bills. 2,000 free downloads of your subpar eBook do not indicate any level of success. If that joint wasn’t selling more than a copy a week, then you gave it away for a few days then it sprang to a few copies a day I would say it was worth it. Unless that’s the case, sit the fuck down.

When to do a giveaway?

It seems to me that the only time to do a giveaway is for brand new authors and salty seasoned veterans.  For those mid-listers who have a moderate fan base, but aren’t immediately boosted to best seller status upon release, stick to a reduced price book as your “lead” or whatever you want to call it. Of course, it’s up to you to decide when you’ve gone from a new author to a mid-lister to a veteran. I would say if your mailing list provides you with a few dozen sales on the first day, you’re no longer new.

Even if you have written 10 books, but you get no sales, you’re still new.

What is the benefit to doing a giveaway for new folks? It’s definitely not to gain exposure, at least in the way you might be thinking. On all the major eBook storefronts, they have a section that shows what other customers also bought.

That’s the money when doing giveaways (for new authors, anyways). The population of the also bought section will link your book to other books and vice versa, so someone searching a book of a similar subject may stumble onto yours.

In some genres, doing the permanently free thing can be incredibly effective or a complete failure. Genres with a high amount of authors pushing out content, like adult fiction, unless you’re a heavy hitter, you’re best sticking to the KDP 5 day free promotion (if you’re in the dreaded Select) to populate your also bought section.

In a genre a bit less flooded, like, I don’t know, programming with Python, a loss leader might help out to get people to see more of your work.

So there you have it, folks. When should you give your eBook away for free? When you’re brand spanking new, or when you have such a massive following that it doesn’t really matter.

But you can do whatever you feel comfortable with.

Big dawgs gotta earn.

EDIT: There may be some confusion, after looking at the comments. New authors SHOULD give away their books for free. But

  1. Don’t expect reviews to come pouring in unless you initiate them (tell your friends and family, even if they might be deleted).
  2. Use it with the intention of populating your also bought section.
  3. Don’t think that just because your book was downloaded during a free period that it will translate to a certain number of paid downloads when the free period is over. 
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Justin Charnell

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I spend my time working out when I feel like it, being a gorgeous webmaster, and learning things. Former Marine, total POG (0651). I drink too much. PlayStation 4 on occasion. Gummy multivitamins and gallon jugs of water.
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  1. The first point is wrong. Yes there are two markets. You shouldn’t try to get the FREE readers and then try to sell them stuff. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them; it’s far easier to get more downloads with free, so in the beginning, if you want a lot of quick reviews posted quickly, give the book away to the freebies. (They aren’t going to pay for it anyway – you aren’t losing money). But it’s great for visibility, driving lots of downloads, and getting reviews. The second point you make is that it *might* be OK for newbie authors. As far as I know, about 99% of authors are either brand new, or have been doing it for years and STILL have zero list, no purchases and their books are ranked so poorly nobody ever sees them. UNLESS you’re already making good money with your books, free is a smart and powerful option (mid-listers and successful authors keep saying it’s not a good idea, but then newbie authors decide not to do it and miss out on a powerful marketing strategy.)

    • New authors SHOULD give away their books for free. But they shouldn’t expect reviews to come pouring in unless you initiate them (by telling their friends and family, even if they might be deleted), they should use it with the intention of populating their also bought section, and they shouldn’t think that just because their book was downloaded a number of times during a free period that it will translate to a certain number of paid downloads when the free period is over.

      • True, and most people don’t use free campaigns well; it won’t work if you don’t manage it or promote it right. I build up a list first, then offer them a free book, and make a contest/incentive to drive reviews.

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