Do you want to start a fight among fellow authors?
Okay, probably not. Stick with me for a second.
The quickest way to get authors to fight with each other is to jump into an author group and declare that the first book in your series should or should not be free.
Why would this start a fight? Because authors are very passionate about their work and their business. There are different arguments over whether or not a book should be free. Some feel that it is a terrible idea, While others believe that it is a fantastic way to promote your work.
So which is it? And why would a Kindle book be free to begin with?
Let’s start with the second question.
Have you ever walked into a grocery store and seen a special promotion on the end of an aisle? Maybe it’s for a bag of potato chips. Perhaps the chips are normally $4, but on that particular day they are buy one, get one free.
It’s such an interesting promotion, because we all go for it and yet we don’t quite understand why it’s being done. This company is giving away potato chips? Doesn’t it cost money to produce these chips, so they have to charge for them?
Some might feel that the chips are free because the profits going to the company are so high on a normal bag. They assume that the company is marking up the price of these chips so much that they can give away a bag and still retain a healthy profit.
That may or may not be true depending on the situation, but there’s actually a different aspect of marketing going on here. It’s called a loss leader.
What is a loss leader? Simply put, a loss leader is something that’s giving away to a customer without generating a profit. Why would someone do that? Because they are trying to get you to spend more money.
Hang on a second. Giving something away to get them to spend more money? Does that make sense?
Yes. And that’s why stores continue to do it. The idea is that you condition your customer to spend more money at the store by giving them something for free. They spend a little more time in the store, or they might buy something that needs something else because they bought the free thing.
Allow me to explain that last sentence.
Let’s go back to that bag of potato chips. If you went into that store and you weren’t planning on buying potato chips, you might decide to jump on that deal. But now that you have chips, you buy a container of dip at full price. And maybe a case of soda to drink with it. If so, you’re doing exactly what this promotion was designed to do.
Or perhaps that deal causes you to stop for a few minutes. You consider the deal, and even if you don’t take it, it’s right across the aisle from the ice cream. You decide that you are in the mood for ice cream, so you turn and grab a tub. You wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t stopped to look at the potato chip deal.
Do you see how this works? A loss leader is designed to help stores sell more. It’s a simple concept, but it’s actually very effective, and that’s why companies continue to do it.
If you are an author, using this concept can actually work to your advantage. While you don’t want to just give away a book every time you put it up for sale, you do have an opportunity to take advantage of some fundamentals of marketing if you want to build a promotion that sells more books over time.
For example, you publish your books in a series. Because you do this, you have more books to sell to your potential reader. If you give away the first book, you get your book into the hands of people who might not have bought your book otherwise. They fall in love with your book, and they decide to buy the next book in the series at full price.
This is taking advantage of what is called the lifetime value of your customer. It is very important to understand this, because it leads you to make a lot of different decisions about your marketing.
That’s why many authors make their Kindle books free. Or at least, they make the first one free. They give away copies of the first book to pull more readers into the series.
But what’s the argument against this approach?
Let’s get the easiest answer out of the way first: if you only have one book to sell, or your book doesn’t lead into another book in the series, then making the book for free is probably not a great strategy.
Let’s also talk about one of the main objections to giving away a book for free. Some authors will tell you that it devalues your work. You put a lot of effort and time into publishing that book, and giving it away for free is an insult to the work that you’ve done.
This is what an artist thinks when they are approaching the marketing of their books. They think only of the value that they put into it, and not the value that the reader is going to see.
I would argue that this is a mistake. While you may or may not decide to make your first book for free, giving it away as part of a marketing strategy does not mean that your time and effort are worth nothing. It just means that you are taking advantage of a longer-term marketing strategy.
There is, however, a valid concern that is brought up by many authors. If you give away a book for free, that conditions your reader to expect your work for free. It devalues your work in the eyes of the reader.
There is some truth to this. If you give away your book in exchange for a person’s email address, you may just be giving them free reading material. They may never buy another thing from you.
And that’s okay.
Using a loss leader is a numbers game. Back to that potato chip analogy. There are going to be people who will only buy your potato chips when they are on sale. They may not need to buy anything else, and they may just simply take the free potato chips and run.
That’s okay. You’re going to get some of that. That doesn’t mean that other customers will do the exact same thing. Again, this marketing strategy works for a reason. And it is very time-tested.
Will you have some freebie hunters? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that they all will be.
In addition to that, you have to have confidence in the quality of your book if you’re going to give it away for free. Many authors claim that the freebie method doesn’t work because it didn’t work for them. But frankly, not all authors are created equal. It could just be that the author gave away the first book for free, but the quality of the book was not good enough to attract readers into buying their next book. Or perhaps they didn’t build a strong enough marketing funnel to get those readers into the next book.
As you can see, there are other factors at play. It’s not just as simple as whether or not to give away a book for free. You have to have a proper system in place, and you have to have a quality book that will attract your reader and keep them reading your stuff.
If a company gives away a free bag of potato chips, but those potato chips aren’t any good to eat, then the marketing is a failure. But that’s not a failure of the marketing strategy, it’s a failure of the product. As an author, it’s up to you to make sure that your product is the best it possibly can be, even if you’re giving it away for free.
Giving away a book for free is still a very valid form of marketing. You may or may not decide to do so. But understand that it is a part of a marketing strategy that has been successful for many authors.