The glut of free Kindle books- good or bad?

Anyone who buys (or sells) ebooks on Amazon should be familiar with the free book list that is ever-growing.  See this link for the top 100.  On any given day you can find thousands of fiction and non-fiction novels available to download without having to pay anything for them.  It’s almost impossible to wade through it all and to do so regularly would require more time than most of us have.  I did find one site that will send out daily emails listing only the ones they think might have the potential to be good reads.  That has made things a little easier when I’m looking for something different and want to discover new authors.  Yet I worry about what such a plethora of free books is doing to the rest of the paid market.

If readers (who don’t mind wading through some of the less than stellar novels to find the gems) are loading all these books then they have less reason to buy any.  In my case, if I view the updated lists every day for a week and only pick the books that really sound interesting, I’ll still end up with at least 10 or more.  Any longer than that and I’ll end up with more than I can read in a month. It also causes me to not give authors as much of a chance as before.  Should the intro for their novel not grab me, I’ll drop it without a second glance.  Hey, it’s free, so I didn’t lose anything but fifteen to twenty minutes of my day (maybe less than that).  With so many to check out, I don’t have time to waste on anything that doesn’t show great potential right off the bat.  That also means I won’t be checking on any of their other books.

On the other hand, I have found free books that were great and went on to buy more from those authors.  The freebies worked in those cases.  I have to admit it has taken me away from checking out as many of the .99 to 2.99 novels I used to look at with more regularity.  The thing is, at least I’m willing to buy indie/small pub books.  There are a lot of readers out there who have been burned by bad writing and won’t touch them unless they’re free (and maybe not even then).  More and more, I’m thinking the glut of freebies isn’t doing anyone any favors these days with there being so many (except, maybe, those that want to cut costs on their reading habits).

Nearly every author I know has put at least one book on the free list at some point in the last few months, particularly since the KDP select program started.  They only get a few days to try to get their novel up the ranks and most don’t get far.  There just isn’t enough time for readers to find them with all the others listed.   Despite the limited time they have for their individual give-away, it still seems like the number of free books grows all the time.  I wonder how much this is really cutting into sales of free books.  Not only that, but it could cause an even lower standard in writing.  If you pretty much have to give away thousands of your books to try to gain a decent readership, it makes it hard to spend money on editing for your work.  It wouldn’t surprise me if even the big publishers are being hurt by the free program.  I’ve noticed some of them are now using it to get notice for their authors.  Yet it may not help them much either when there is so much competition around.

This is a topic I could go on and on about, but I’ll stop there.  I would like to hear other people’s thoughts on the free program and how it is working for them.  As readers, do you take advantage of the free books?  If so, what do you think of it?  For the authors, how well has it worked for you?  In recent months have you found giving away your books for a short period of time helps later with sales, or not?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts.


~ by Suzie on May 9, 2012.

25 Responses to “The glut of free Kindle books- good or bad?”

  1. I heard it was very successful for authors when it first started, but the glut, as you said, as decreased that. I didn’t jump on the bandwagon right away, though I do have a book set to go free at the end of this week. But I’m not expecting the range of success that fellow authors have boasted. Still, I wanted to try it out for myself. I don’t expect to gain any readers or reviews from it, just a climb in ranking, which will in turn give me more visibility when the book goes back to regular price.

    As a reader, I’ve downloaded maybe a dozen free books, and haven’t read most of them yet. Also, like you, I’m less willing to stick with them. (Actually, lately I’m less willing to stick with any book that bugs me off the bat.)

    So overall, I don’t think the free days do much for authors or readers. But if indies want to climb the ranks on Amazon, they need to play Amazon’s game. At least until a better method comes along. Or you’re just that lucky to hit it big off the bat.

    • Angela, do be sure to let me know how the give-away does for you. I’m hoping it makes a difference and more readers find you.

  2. Hi Mistress, great post! This is a topic we’ve been discussing at length on one of the Indie forums. I am sickened by the number of free books and web sites that promote them day after day. I have nothing against the web sites, it’s just a reminder of HOW we’re selecting reading material today. The glut of free books has hurt sales on Amazon, and I imagine other venues. At present, I have too many FREE books on my Kindle Fire, won’t live long enough to read them. And I’m very selective about what I download — only two favorite genres and only books with mostly 5 stars. Number two, I’m very concerned that authors are setting several precedents — that future reading material should be free, and INDIE books aren’t very good, thus they have to give them away. This is precisely the battle we have been fighting far too long and now, we are contributing to that theory. I have expressed my displeasure with this program to my fellow colleagues and hope everyone will take a step back and see what its happening, both short-term and long-term.

    Thank you for posting about the subject and giving us an opportunity to express our feelings.

    Namaste, Keta Diablo

    • “won’t live long enough to read them.”. Lol, Keta, I’m sure this is true for many people. It is certainly a hot topic right now. Like you, I only download free books from genres I like. I go through their reviews and make sure the premise at least sounds interesting. Even then, though, you can still pick up a lot of books quickly. I’m really hoping this freebie thing doesn’t become a standard readers expect.

  3. I agree with all the comments. It’s good for exposure. Bad for business.

  4. The free book phenomenon seems to me to be something that can be good for an individual, but bad for the group as a whole. We all know authors who’ve had great success with free books. But as the other commenters said, we’re training readers to expect books to be free. The parallels with music are frightening. My kids certainly expect music to be free. That’s how they’ve been trained (despite my best efforts). But I don’t know what the solution is.

    • Remember when an author giving a book away used to be exciting? Now you see someone giving their book away and it doesn’t even mean much. You might not even check to see what they are offering. These days you can go on Twitter for five minutes (if you follow a lot of authors like I do) and see tweets for at least a few book give-aways in that time. I almost have to contain a yawn (naughty me). Never thought the day would come where I was so picky about free books. I am buying books in between going through the free reads, but I’m still not purchasing as much as before.

  5. I agree with the response above, too, that free might be good for an individual, but bad for the group. I no longer “buy” anything for my Kindle that isn’t FREE, unless I’m desperate to have it. Usually it’s a non-fiction book that I buy. Too many free choices to choose from in fiction. Great for Amazon and their Kindle sales. Whohoo…

    Do you think anyone is now going to make money at writing fiction? (I will be self-pubbing soon, but I think I’m just going to price it about $2.99, and if it sells it sells. Otherwise, I can’t see giving my hard work, plus the money, I’ve invested away for free. Perhaps I’ll change my tune when reality hits me that no one will read my story, but from what I’ve seen it’s really not helping translate into sales for these writers in the long term.)

  6. Excellent post. I’ve offered several of my books free in the Select program. I had a little more success in the beginning because it was new but now as you said there’s a glut of free books. Still, offering my books free has helped me gain new readers so I’ll continue to do it. I am selective in what free books I’ll download. If something doesn’t interest me, I won’t download it just because it’s free. And for the record, I have all my indie books professionally edited. I won’t put up anything that’s not been edited.

    • Good for you, Cara. You can certainly tell the difference between the edited and non-edited books. Glad the free campaigns have worked for you. I only worry that the sheer number of free books is going to continue to grow. It waters down the effect.

  7. I believe where the free book promos used to work, now there are so many of them, the gamble only succeeds for a select few where it translates into sales. I used to download free books that caught my eye. I don’t anymore because my Kindle is crammed full of books I will probably never read. I find I read the books I’m interested enough in to pay a few dollars for (I still refuse to pay more for an ebook than the mass market paperback, but that’s another argument). The books I plunk down a few dollars for are the ones I start reading right away. The free ones keep getting bumped down my Kindle queue. The reality is if an author has 10,000 free downloads, I bet over half of those are from people who will grab anything free whether they read it or not and it’ll just sit on their ereader, gathering dust. How does that benefit the author? 2500 of those left may start the book but not get past chapter 2 because it’s not a genre they normally read. Of those who force themselves to read a type of book they don’t normally read, a dozen or two will be the ones who post the ranting 1 and 2 star reviews saying they hated it. That can really hurt an author’s ranking. A reader who pays for your book is probably someone who actually wants to read it. I spent 2 years writing and polishing my novel. I invested money in professional editing. I’m not willing to give all that hard word away for free to a bunch of people who probably will never read it. I will be participating in a 99 cent sale in June for 2 weeks, but that’s as low as I’ll go. Then it’s back to $3.99. After all, 2 years of labor and love is worth at least the price of 4 tacos or a 2-pack of Skittles, don’t you think?

    • I have to agree with you, Lori. I definitely read the ones I pay for first. It is probably true that many people don’t read all the freebies they pick up. The sheer number you can get, even if you’re picky, causes that to happen.

      A part of me has wanted to do a post on ebook prices, but there are so many discussions about that out there that I’m afraid it wouldn’t be worth it. I certainly believe an ebook should be cheaper than a paperback for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, some of the big publishers aren’t listening. I mentioned this in my review of Jeaniene Frost’s next book, but she did convince Avon to drop the eBook prices on her previous novels from $7.99 to $5.99 so maybe some of them are starting to listen.

  8. You wouldn’t walk into a department store and expect to walk out with free merchandise, so why would anyone expect books to be free? A book is a product that the creator worked hard to produce. It has value and should be treated that way. Considering that a paperback romance at B&N sells for $7.99, similar books at Amazon priced at $.99, $1.99 or $2.99 are a deal. With so many books being offered free, the impulse is to load up on as many as possible. That means many of those free books won’t be read, and readers who wouldn’t normally read a certain genre might do so because it was free and then discover it wasn’t to their liking and leave a negative review, which could impact the author’s sales.

    I have worked very hard over 30+ years to develop a writing career, first in print and now as an indie, and I worry that this free mentality might lead to indie authors in general being categorized as non-professionals who have to give their books away.

    What I find even more disturbing, however, is the plethora of pirate sites operating globally that offer copyrighted works. Authors choosing to give their books away is one thing, but this outright thievery is disgusting.

    • I’ve heard about those pirate sites, Nancy. Not much irritates me more than stealing people’s hard work and either giving it away or selling it for a profit. I may do a blog post on that because it is a serious matter.

  9. This in an interesting piece to read with some intriguing replies/comments. I’m fairly open minded about it, and have personally used KDP select to promo an earlier novel. The first Free promo day was great, and pretty successful, achieving several thousand downloads in the UK and the US. And even afterward the promo day I certainly noticed a lot more movement with both my novels AND greatly improved sales for a couple of weeks.
    However… later free promo days haven’t been quite so successful. My thoughts therefore are… to only use one or two of the five promo days you are allowed within a 90 day period. If nothing else, it does help to raise your author profile and those whoread and like your free book will probably take a serious look at any other books you have published. In other words it kind of acts like a loss leader does in supermarkets.
    My other top tip is NOT to consider it unless you have more than one eBook published which have a number of good 4 and 5 star reviews… and just use it for boosting a bit of further interest in an earlier novel, as I did. A small readership can develop then from the exposure, as it has most certainly done for for me. I shall watch with huge interest how it might affect Amazon’s eBook sales in general.

    • All very good advice, Jan, and certainly important for newer authors to know. If you only have one book, the freebies aren’t going to do much good these days.

  10. I hear all of the arguments against free books. I even agree that it may be good for the individual and bad for the publishing business overall. I’m waving the individual author flag.

    I have a romantic suspense series (all three are short novels). A year into self-publishing, no one was finding the books. I released the first book free. Two months in the sales on the second two in the series soared. I was making money. Feeling bad about the free book, I raised the price to $.99 hoping to keep the first book as a loss leader. Sales stalled then went dead. Completely dead.

    I am so discouraged. I’m thinking of putting the first book free again. At this point I’d rather give away one book in the series to garner sales on the other two. I’m in this business to make money. But really, I do worry about reader expectations with pricing. I don’t know what the right answer is in this discussion. I can see both sides.

    • Nina, it is sad that you have to give away a book just to sell the others. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way around it with so many books out there. It’s become a fierce competition to gain readers.

  11. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. All of you have made good points. The free books might be great for an individual reader, and they do help get the author name out there, but in the long run it could be hurting sales of paid books. I’ve probably only downloaded a few dozen free books. Some of those were actually from iBooks, rather than Kindle, because my ipad lets me shift around on who I buy/download from, but even that number has kept me busy. The thing is, out of all those books I’ve picked up, I’ve only gone on to buy more from the author a few times. In those cases, it was always because it was the first book in a series. The author sold me on that first one and I had to read more. Due to this, I wonder how effective the free books are for non-series compared to series. It’s not easy to gain statistics on this, and results will vary depending on genre and quality of writing, but it would be nice to know.

    I’m not a published author now, but I am in the revision stage with my first book (in a series) which makes it more of an issue. I have been watching this glut of free books closely. It is because of the countless hours I’ve spent so far on the novel (and it’s still not quite where I want it) that I worry it will have to be a give-away just because that’s become the new standard. I may even need to wait until the second book is written so I can publish both at the same time so at least one can sell while the other pulls people in by being free.

    The thing is, on a 90k novel, I’m looking at more than $1000 to get it edited one time (I’d rather have two rounds of editing but not sure I could afford it). That’s not counting book cover costs, which vary. If I release two together, I have to double the amount paid out before making a single sale. That makes it quite daunting. So I can certainly see why authors are frustrated with the sheer amount of free books and how that might be taking away from their sales, or they’re finding it’s the only way they can get their work noticed.

    It means sacrificing one book so the others may live! Yet that book was no doubt as time and money intensive as the others. One thing I’ve learned is every novel is a labor of love. You certainly want them to do well.

  12. I don’t read on Kindle, so I can’t weigh in there. But I will say that despite having many friends whose sales have been driven up after a free promo, my feeling is that books of quality are worth paying for. I’ll pay for them–and I think the price should be roughly the same digitally or paperback or hardcover. I think an author should have enough income to edit and revise until his or her book really shines. It’d be upsetting if the democratizing force that is indie publishing results in more authors working for free as used to have to query for years and not earn a dime. If that is the case, it might be better to spend that time trying to find a publisher who will pay you to edit your work, than trying to stand out in a crowded sea of offerings.

    • Jenny, I agree that books of quality are worth paying for. The thing is, it can be hard for readers to find new authors with so many novels available. I’ve read some really great books that had zero reviews on them. It boggled my mind, but the fact was that no one knew these books existed. Unfortunately, give-aways are one way to get the name out. Even the big publishers do it, though they are more limited in their methods.

    • Susan, I definitely think you raise a good point, and that’s why whether an author publisher herself or has a small press or a big house behind her, it’s worth finding out how the book will be positioned and placed. I just worry that with 15,000,000 ISBN numbers projected for this year alone, ‘free’ will stop having any meaning. Conversely, we may see a book with a $15.99 price tag and *it* will call out amidst all the free stuff!

  13. […] a few weeks ago we discussed what made us keep reading some books we loaded on our eReaders while passing on others.  This was […]

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