I’ve been wondering more and more these days about what readers really make of the current explosion of free eBooks. If you believe the fad is reaching a peak, think again. There’s a lot yet to come, and it remains to be seen whether the craze will result in a welcome sea-change or inflict permanent damage to an industry that is being forced to reconstruct itself in the modern world of push-button technology.
Surely it can only be a win-win situation for readers. With a growing choice of e-readers at their disposal they can shop online in seconds, pay little or nothing to download their order – and begin reading a whole new generation of authors in a matter of seconds.
But does this era of free books devalue the work of the author? Better still, will it lead to readers being reluctant to spend more than a few dollars on a book on the basis that they can source literally tens of thousands of other titles on offer at minimum expense?
We seem to have developed a new book-selling policy that has five distinctive pricing categories:
Established authors with large armies of loyal fans can place themselves easily into the upper bracket, knowing their reputation for producing quality work will rightly earn sales from their readers. But what about the new army of less established indie authors? They appear to have little choice but to position themselves somewhere in the other brackets, and at some point have to consider ‘free’ promotions to gain a foot on the ladder.
But why are eBooks offered for free?
The reality for indie authors is that these promotions are the only realistic way of getting themselves noticed on Amazon’s online bookshelves. With more than a half-million fictional titles available for viewing, the chances of potential readers stumbling across an individual author’s work is pretty remote unless the book is placed among Amazon’s top popularity lists.
And the only way to appear on these lists is to produce ‘sales’ – even if these sales are set at zero!
Many authors have publicised the benefits of free promotions. They have found that by generating ‘sales’ they start to appear on the top 100 lists, which in turn gets them noticed by even more potential readers. When they make the switch away from ‘free’ the chances of generating actual sales are increased dramatically.
However, the dilemma of deciding a new price still remains. Does a 0.99 cent book appear to have less quality than a 2.99 book? Will readers risk shelling out too much until they are happy with the author’s work and are prepared to follow him into higher price brackets?
It should be stressed that the price tag on a book has no bearing on its quality. It’s simply a reflection of what the author judges to be his/her best guess at the price that will attract customers.
It should also be remembered that there are more and more short stories and novellas appearing on sites such as Amazon. These should obviously be priced at less than a full-length novel, though it’s not always apparent to the potential reader what category a particular book falls into. Readers should closely examine file size, estimated number of pages, and book descriptions to be certain if they’re buying a 5,000-word short or a 100,000-word feature.
The big winner in this free to low-price market is Amazon. Its ability to showcase a truckload of bargains under one roof is driving readers away from traditional book stores straight into their clutches. It might only be a matter of time before this migration becomes a monopoly!
It seems everybody wins but the poor author. Despite an enormous investment in time-resources and talent they are often left with little to show by way of a meaningful return on the effort they have expended.
My own view is that there should not be free eBooks (with the exception of the old classics etc.) and that a fair price for a full-length novel ought to be no less than 4.99, with novellas and shorts coming in at lower prices.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. The market has taken a turn in the direction of free and cheap eBooks, and nothing it seems will reverse that trend anytime soon.
FOOTNOTE: The photograph used above is by Martin Argles (reproduced from The Guardian).