Do Free eBooks Help Sales? Authors say: HELL YES.

I have a headsup from a publisher that free ebooks will be coming from their hallowed halls very soon, following in the footsteps of Avon’s online freebie of The Duke and I and Tor’s free ebook programs.

But do they help sales of other books? The Oprah/Suze Orman experience says so, since Orman’s book was on the NYT list shortly after the free PDF giveaway, but Simon Owens interviewed a few Tor authors who all said, resoundingly, “Oh, hell yes it does:”

Authors who go this route believe that the ebooks act as a form of advertising, arguing that the negative effects on sales from people reading it for free are offset by the word-of-mouth campaigns those same people will initiate. These creative commons evangelists also tend to point out that most readers don’t like long texts on a screen, a fact that may cause them to buy the print copy once they’ve sampled enough of the story online….

Every Tor author I spoke to for this article said they hoped the publisher would continue offering the ebooks even after the new site debut. When I asked them whether they would be willing to offer another book of theirs to the giveaway list there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation with their answers.

Romance readers seem like an ideal audience for the “Try a free ebook” giveaway program, since we are very much inclined to glom (nom nom nom) the backlist of an author whose books we enjoy. If Tor authors are reporting sales increases on books within a series after one of the books was offered for free, a similar model might work in romance. There are many romance whose series might experience a boost, especially series that are long as all hell, and therefore intimidating for those who are looking for new material but are hesitant to embark on a huge, lengthy series without taking the first book for a test drive.

Of course, Owens’ article does indicate that the free ebook giveaway from Tor is a temporary program that’s scheduled to end after the 20 July launch of their new site.

Note to Tor: Major Bummer, if it’s true. Free ebooks are brilliant! But even if Tor doesn’t keep up with the program, other publishers, I’ll bet, are getting in line to start doing free ebook offerings of their own, so you’ve definitely set a trend.

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  1. 1
    Mora says:

    Neil Gaiman talks about his experience with giving away American Gods here (I hope that works).

    Here’s a few choice quotes:

    In the Bookscan data reported for Independents we see a marked increase in weekly sales across all of Neil’s books, not just American Gods during the time of the contest and promotion. Following the promotion, sales returned to pre-promotion levels.

    Harper Collins sold a lot more of all my books while the free American Gods was out there, with sales of all my titles up 40% through independent bookshops.

    Appropriately enough, my word verification is “give57.” :)

  2. 2
    J.C. Wilder says:

    When I was first published the best advice I received was to give away free books. Right now I have a paperback up for grabs at:

    http://www.eroticromancewriters.com/contests.htm

    I’m so subtle…

  3. 3
    Wryhag says:

    I’m sure these giveaways work for print pubs—many readers are already familiar with the books and authors associated with Tor, Avon, etc.—but I’m not so sure they would work for e-pubs.  What do the rest of you think?

  4. 4
    Shanna says:

    I have to say this type of marketing definitely works on me. It’s also a great way for authors to keep fans engaged with a series when there are long breaks between books. Lynn Viehl has been really successful with that model.

    Now that I have a new iPhone I think I’ll be trying out more ebook content as well. BTW my code is “looking59”. I don’t look 59 but I feel 59 after spending 6 hours in line yesterday.

  5. 5

    I didn’t realize how popular the free download I have at my site was until I changed servers when I moved and had to take it down for a while. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, after all, it’s been up for more than a year. I got absolutely SLAMMED with email from people asking what happened to it. I have no way of knowing whether that has translated to sales, but since there’s been a two year gap between my books I hope it has helped keep my name out there.

    I’m thinking about doing another short as I’m such a slow writer. My next book comes out in August and if I time it right, about the time interest in it starts to wane, I’ll have the little short ready to go up on my site. That’s what I did with Rock Star and Rock Star Weddings. I think it can be very effective. I like giving readers a ‘try it before you buy it’ opportunity, plus it buys me some time.

    Novellas aren’t terribly time-consuming, and if it generates buzz it can’t be bad.

  6. 6
    Claudia says:

    I became a Scott Sigler fan after listening to one of his free audiobooks. He serializes audiobooks for all of his novels, but I don’t know how effective that will be in the long term.  Some will never buy a printed version, even though the printed versions are seldom the same due to revisions.  I imagine his NY pub won’t allow this for new releases, espeically the sequels to his printed works.

  7. 7
    Flo says:

    I’m all for free.  SOMETIMES it will hook me on an author but sometimes it won’t.  I think, overall, that if you hook someone on a freebie it’s a good thing.  But it really depends on what you have out and what you’re going to produce.  I think it might work better for a series.  Especially if you get them desperate to know what’s going to happen.

  8. 8

    I just like to point out that Baen Books did it first with the Baen Free Library, with much the same results reported above.  Backlist sales shot way, way up for authors with books in the Free Library. It probably didn’t hurt their new book sales, either.  Eric Flint discussed this in his “Prime Palaver” columns in the Free Library area.

  9. 9

    Addendum: my husband points out that he’s bought over 40 hardback books from authors that he was exposed to in the Free Library that he would not have bought otherwise, plus many paperbacks.

    Also, many of Baen’s hardbacks include a CD with the author’s backlist or the rest of the series in e-book form in the back of the book.

    Note that Baen does not believe in encumbering their e-books with DRM in any form, and offers a variety of formats. (Except PDF; the late Jim Baen hated PDF. Fortunately they offer HTML format, which can be converted into almost anything.)

  10. 10
    Joanne says:

    If Tor authors are reporting sales increases on books within a series after one of the books was offered for free, a similar model might work in romance.

    A friend just got a free book from Kindle and mentioned that she had lost touch with the author’s series and would go back to buy them and catch up. Someone else sent me a free ebook by an author I didn’t know and I loved her work so I bought all the rest of her books.  Does that mean it always works? If I knew I’d be Head-Honcho-Publisher-Bitch.

    Still, if it were my work I wouldn’t want to give it to anyone for free except for an occasional contest because it’s WORK and I am truly a Show-Me-The-Money-Bitch.

  11. 11
    Trish says:

    The Wild Rose Press has free reads, too! Lots to choose from for every category.

    http://www.thewildrosepress.com

    http://www.thewilderroses.com for the erotic romances.

    Trish

  12. 12
    DS says:

    The problem with TOR for me was that they weren’t ready with eBook versions of the other books in some of the series that they offered.  I was all set to buy the two other books by Cherie Priest after reading Four and Twenty Blackbirds then discovered they were only available in a hard copy verion.  They are on my list when next I order, but if I could have downloaded them that day they would already be on my kindle.

  13. 13
    Ann says:

    I’m really reluctant to try new authors because of the expense and the time (once I’ve paid for a book I feel obligated to slog through it). If it’s a free download I’ll try authors I would never have touched at the bookstore (or thought to look up at the library). I’ve found many great authors this way and I’m always willing to plunk down money for a book by an author I know I enjoy.

    I’ve never downloaded a free book that I “would have bought anyway” so not once has a publisher lost a sale by me downloading a book. I have, however, passed up a free read because the publisher made it too much of a hassle by tying you to the internet while you read (HarperCollins, please get a clue … they’re free too).

  14. 14
    Emmy says:

    This is interesting, because there was a discussion about illegal downloads a few weeks back, and several people said that they went out and bought the print version after they read the e-version of a book they gacked for free. No matter the space saving joy of e-books, there will always be *something* about that new book smell that makes me teh happy.

    I enrolled in the Tor program, and tossed their offerings into the TBR pile. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the ebooks they put out, and I’m sure I’ll be purchasing print copies of the ones I enjoyed.

  15. 15
    Aroihkin says:

    Like Claudia, I’ve also become a fan (or Junkie) of Sigler’s (and various others) due entirely to their free podcast novels. His books wouldn’t be on the shelf behind me if I hadn’t listened to (and thus “tried out”) his stuff first, and I certainly wouldn’t have been a part of his drive to take on Amazon when the print version of Ancestor was released.

    Those freebies, ironically, do pay off.

  16. 16
    Sasha says:

    I tried to download one of TOR’s free ebooks, and after filling out a bunch of stuff, discovered they are only good for PC users.  As a MAC user, I find this extremely frustrating. 

    Then again, maybe I’m blind and missed the MAC download ???

  17. 17
    Ann says:

    Sasha, I’m not sure where you’re trying to download. I get the weekly e-mail and just click on the download link (I’m on a Mac) and I’ve never had any problems. I download the PDF, though there is the HTML option as well.

    This guy has been posting all the links. Maybe try them there.

  18. 18
    geri says:

    Seconded (or is it thirded) on the Baen Free Library.  I read the first two Honor Harrington novels in the Library, bought the next nine, and am eagerly awaiting #12 (though I have a couple years’ wait still)

    (method82 is my verification word – yeah, I’d say free eBooks is a good method)

  19. 19

    This is good to know.  I’ve always wondered how free ebooks affected sales, and am pleasantly surprised that they’ve helped.  I am completely new to the ebook-reading experience,  and can’t wait to discover new authors whose works I would possibly not have paid attention to otherwise.

  20. 20

    A question from the author side:

    Are these TOR authors getting paid a royalty?  I’m betting they are.  I can only speak for Harlequin, but we get paid a royalty, even when they give the books away (print or e). 

    I have a serial daily read, coming out on eharlequin.com in September, and it while it’s 100% free to you, I still get money for it.  As far as I’m concerned, we both win.

    And an even bigger win for me, if it raises sales.  But realize, this should be a risk that sits totally on the shoulders of the publisher.  A writer should never feel they have to work for free, to get sales at a later date.

  21. 21
    lizziebee says:

    I am all for a free ebook. It totally gets me reading a brand new author, who I will then go out and buy. I’m even more inclined to buy ebooks off the website who is offering the free read, as soon as I’ve finished, if I’ve enjoyed the freebie that much. I’ve been quietly vocal about this for a while (at the same time that my partner, a musician, is quietly vocal about no-DRM music being available), and now that figures are showing the freebies are boosting sales, I hope that they continue.

    I’m a bit sad to realise that the Tor weekly giveaway is ending. :(

  22. 22
    Caffey says:

    As a reader, I definitely enjoy reading new authors/publishers from getting the free ebooks, and I’ve gone to buying more of the authors books after having read a free ebook from them.  So I picked up alot of new to me authors.  I love the Tor.com monthly ones. My son loves SF/Fantasy, so I’ve already ordered another book by an author he read from the free reads.  I didn’t know they will be ending it at Tor.com. Thats too bad because we got to try new to us authors.

  23. 23

    As an epublished author I’ve seen it help. A reader wins a copy of your book in a quickie contest from your blog or website and then goes back and picks up other of your books. Especially if you give away the first book in a series after you have a couple of the books ready to go.

    I could, though, see it being a bit of a hardship on the smaller houses and the epublishers who count on the sales of ebooks to keep it together.

  24. 24
    Caffey says:

    Just a couple of things.
    First, as a reader, I like ebooks. I use a ebookwise reader and saves so much room! If its one I want in print, then i’ll get in print.

    If ever that I hurt the authors sales or the publisher’s sales by them giving out free ebooks, I rather if they didn’t offer that.  I’d hate to hurt an authors sales.  My apologies if I ever did.

  25. 25

    I’ve enjoyed reading the feedback.  I think where it’s a problem for ebook publishers, is if a site is giving away their books for free, what incentive do readers have to purchase that ebook. None. Now some might argue that they’ll buy your backlist. I’ve had my entire ebook backlist given away, as have many other ebook authors, so that sure doesn’t help. It happened several times over the years that I wrote ebooks, and of course since then.

    Interestingly enough, last night I was cruising the Net and found one of my St. Martin’s books, Seduced by Magic, that was sold and released in Spain on the internet. Just someone scanning in the pages and giving it away free. Just google Seducia Por La Magia and the pdf file is right there. Since I currently don’t have any other books published in Spain, it just makes me curious. Will readers who also read in English buy my backlist? Could be. I don’t think the publisher put this one up though.

  26. 26
    Julia Quinn says:

    The Duke and I was the launch title for Avon Romance with this program, and while it’s too early yet to assess sales, I’m pleased with the anecdotal results.

    Also, the email conversion rate has been through the roof.  There is a link on the page where people can send the URL to their friends, letting them know about the free book, and it’s the highest Harper has ever seen.  I’ve been telling everyone to tell everyone—-maybe it’s working!

    JQ

    P.S.  The free book was only supposed to be available for a month, but they’re leaving it up until the RWA conference at the end of July, so if you want to read it, go go go!  (Details on my website)

  27. 27
    snarkhunter says:

    No matter the space saving joy of e-books, there will always be *something* about that new book smell that makes me teh happy

    Yes. YES. My dad was asking me about the Kindle the other day—what I’d heard about it, etc., and saying how great it would be for me when I travel, b/c it would cut down on the books, and would save me money. I said no, it would ultimately cost me more—because I would buy the e-book for traveling, but I’d need a hard copy, too.

    I am not downloading right now b/c I don’t care to be chained to either of my computers all day to read a book, and I haven’t got a reader of any kind. (My cell phone is SO not an option.)

    The weird part is I will happily read fanfiction all day…at my desk. But with “real” books, I want to be able to lie down on the couch, and there’s just something not right about having to put my laptop on my chest to do that.

  28. 28
    Malin says:

    Let’s see.

    - One free read online. (Over a month ago.)
    – To date: Eight books bought. (All the Bridgertons!) The rest of Julia Quinn’s books waiting to be bought, probably before the year is out.

    I’d say it was working! *g*

  29. 29

    I’d say it does for me, which is why I said yes when asked. Everything points to giving away a book to gain readers works. I know I’ve gotten hooked that way myself.
    We’ll see when tomorrow dawns…

  30. 30
    SonomaLass says:

    Thanks, Ms. Quinn, for the inside info on how yours is working.  I think that making an older book available, especially when it’s the start of a series, is practically a no-brainer.

    I first read The Duke and I because I found it at the library used paperback table for 75¢.  Practically the same as getting it for free, and of course it led me to the rest of the Bridgerton books and beyond.  (Loved Lost Duke, can’t wait for Mr. Cavendish!)  I got Touch of Evil as a free Tor ebook and then couldn’t wait to get Touch of Madness—which I never would have bought otherwise, as I knew it only from the Worst Cover contest (where it got my vote!).

    Excerpts are good marketing, but with series and lengthy back lists, I think free books are even better.

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