The Power of Free

coins in handsI subscribed to BookBub about a month ago to get emails about free and bargain books. At first, I was willing to pay $0.99 or $1.99 for books that sounded appealing to me. But now? With these emails coming to my inbox every day, I don’t even look at the books that aren’t free unless they’re by an author I know.

That probably sounds harsh. No one understands better than I do that artists need to be paid for their work.

But BookBub is advertising. You make your book available for free or at a discount so you can broaden your reach, not because you’re hoping to make a lot of money from the promotion. The goal is to attract new readers—readers who will love your work and buy the other novels you’ve got for sale. Readers who will tell their friends how much they loved your book.

When you look at the statistics on BookBub’s site, it’s pretty clear that authors aren’t raking in the cash by charging for their books rather than offering them for free. The more you charge for the book, the more it costs to advertise. For women’s fiction, the listing cost is $160 for a free book and $320 for a $0.99 book. Free women’s fiction books average 13,900 downloads, while the paid novels sell about 960 copies on average. At the 35% royalty rate for a $0.99 book, you’d be making about $336. Subtract the advertising cost, and the profit is $16.

But if you take the $160 loss to advertise the free book, and forgo the $16 profit, you reach 12,940 more readers on average vs. charging for the book. Are all the people who download the free book going to read it? No. Most of them probably won’t read it. But they’re far more likely to read the book if it’s on their e-reader than if it isn’t.

Although I write fiction, I’m also a reader. I subscribe to BookBub to discover new authors. When so many are competing for my attention, I choose the ones that offer me the best deal. Authors have to do what makes sense according to their own marketing plan. But I can’t help thinking many are missing out because they don’t understand the power of free.

What do you think? As a reader, are you more likely to download a discounted  book if it’s free than if it’s priced at $0.99 to $2.99? If you’re an author, do you have experience with promotions at different price points? What worked best for you?

About AndreaJWenger

Andrea J. Wenger is an award-winning writer and editor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She specializes in the fields of creative, technical, and freelance writing.

Posted on February 26, 2014, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I play around with the numbers but have avoided free – it seems like once you go there, it’s hard to come back. It’s such a delicate dance of response and profit!

  2. Thanks so much for the stats, Andrea. I would never have known this. I believe taking advantage of offering your book for free and getting possible new readers is a wise road to take.

  3. I am an avid reader and I also look for the free books. However, many times the free book will introduce me to an author that I have not known about. Then, if I really enjoy that free book, I nearly always check to see what else they have written and will buy those books. To me it’s a springboard to get acquainted with new authors.

  4. Ann, I agree. I’m not saying that an author should always offer one of their books for free (though that’s an option, as a loss leader to introduce their work to potential customers). During a paid promotion, I would think the primary objective would be to reach as many readers as possible. And the way to do that is by making the book free for a few days.

  5. Even my $.99 cent promotions with BookBub have garnered more profit and discoverability than the numbers you mentioned. It’s a fabulous tool to get the word out about your book. I have had two long-term free books and they work as loss leaders. It’s simply a business decision to make.

  6. Good to know, Christy. Since BookBub’s statistics only give the average for paid book sales, regardless of price, it could be that $0.99 books sell significantly more than the average and $2.99 books sell significantly less. Free books have a stigma, so there’s always a tradeoff – some people won’t download the free ones, while others won’t pay for an author they don’t know. Publishing isn’t one size fits all. Every author has to make a choice based on their own marketing goals. The important thing is to be informed so you can make conscious decisions. And sometimes, you just have to experiment to see what works for you.

  7. I have to confess that I go solely by the cover and the story blurb. If both of those intrigue me enough, then I don’t care whether the book is free, $.99, or more. The reader in me keeps jumping up and down, all the while screaming, “Buy me, buy me!!!” However, Andrea, I love receiving these posts so that I can discover new-to-me authors and books. 🙂

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