Interesting business model


As posted some time ago, I downloaded some free books from Amazon for my Kindle.  They are good to read when I am walking on the treadmill or elliptical machine since – as my friend pointed out – unlike a book, the Kindle does not have to be held open but always lays flat.  It's too awkward if I have to run on the treadmill but since my knee is probably going to need surgery, I am not doing any running anyway.

Anyway, I finished reading one these free books this past week.  I was going to write a full-fledged review of it but I as I thought through the flow of how that review would read, I realized it would be needlessly harsh.  I would have been beating up the poor author a bit because, frankly, the book was slow and boring.  As a technical piece of writing, it was well-done, but the plot was glacial, the characters inconsistent, and the background material derivative of half a dozen other fantasy books I've read.

(Muse:  And where is your book?  At least this author finished a book and has it out there, to be read.)


But it wasn't the book itself which really drew my interest.  The book was the first of the inevitable trilogy (no, I won't be downloading volume two).  The second book was also available for free download.  The third volume?  Available for $2.99.  Aha, the ulterior motive.  I found this an interesting variation on the old, "catch their interest, then reel them in," practiced by forms of legitimate and illegitimate business alike.  I think the author was going by the assumption that by the time the reader had invested time enough to read two volumes, they wouldn't mind paying $2.99 to find out how the third one ended.

Perhaps that's a good strategy.  But I don't think so.

For one, I work under the notion that people almost always make assumptions about the value of something based on how much they pay for it.  Not so much that nothing free can be good, but that most people assume the owner wouldn't give it away if they could make money off it.  This doesn't apply to every situation but I think it's a workable business rule.  So I think a free book enters a "quality gap," at least in perception.

Second, if I bust my ass and drop something out there, I want to get a little return on it.  Even it is priced at $0.99 a copy, I still want my $0.99.  I have given away exactly one story for free, and that was to a friend who asked for it in their e-zine.  Perhaps editors think my stories aren't always good enough to merit payment.  But as a matter of personal pride and self-worth, I think they are.  And I won't give them away.  If you think that's arrogant, that's okay; I know people in this industry who have less success than me – or no publications at all – who won't sell a story unless it's at pro rates.  That is their personal threshold, and everyone is entitled to their own.  Mine is that I want some return, even if it is minimal.

Finally, I think the notion that if folks read 2/3 of a series for free that they will buy the third, is a false assumption.  A few might … but the writing might simply not be of good enough quality to pull in the reader.  Me, I hit my dead spot about 75% of the way through the first book but went ahead and finished since I already had it downloaded.  I have no desire to know what happens in the next segment, since I never felt invested in the characters (they were flavorless).  If I am going to bore people to tears, I want them to pay me before they realize I've done so.

(Muse:  Selfish prick.)

No, I'm a realist.  I think I've always said this is a job and a business and should be treated as such.  Consider:

Scenario #1)  Reader reads my first e-book for free, decides they don't like it, and doesn't read any more.  Maybe they leave a negative Amazon review, maybe not.  They might give my writing another chance, they might not. 
Scenario #2)  Reader reads my first e-book for $0.99, decides they don't like it, and doesn't read any more.  Maybe they leave a negative Amazon review, maybe not.  They might give my writing another chance, they might not.

The only difference between these two scenarios is I at least have $0.99 more than I did before.  And yes, perhaps someone would feel ripped off.  I believe only the most vindictive miser would make that case over a dollar, especially if they have a preview feature for an Amazon e-book (can read the first 20 pages free) and read the reviews of those that read the book before them.  Most would simply shrug and move on to the next thing that drew their interest.

What do you all think?


2 thoughts on “Interesting business model

  1. In an e-reader context, where the store and account information is already loaded in regardless, the may-as-well-charge-$0.99 plan definitely makes sense. Especially because people whose taste I trust have reported that free e-book content is overwhelmingly terrible. In general, though, any time I have to register or enter my credit card information to obtain something is a barrier, whether it’s ten dollars or ten cents. Especially if I’m just browsing, as opposed to something specific that I wanted beforehand. The question becomes not “Would I rather read this free book or this $0.99 book?” but “Would I rather read this free book or do something else?”

    Actually, though, the same is sometimes true for me even if the information is loaded. You wouldn’t believe the checking and re-checking and “Am I really sure I want this?” I go through to pick up an iPhone app for $1.99 as opposed to one that’s free. I’m already paying $80 a month for the phone anyway, why does that piddly amount bother me so much? I think part of it is principle. There are enough really good apps available for free that the value correlation doesn’t exist, and not all of them have limited functionality or obnoxious ads either. (Kotoba and Zombie Highway are excellent examples.)

    Which brings me to:

    For one, I work under the notion that people almost always make assumptions about the value of something based on how much they pay for it.

    It’s true. Studies have been done that demonstrate a strong correlation, and Lesli has a charming anecdote about art dealing, where apparently it’s a thing to come in and say “I want a painting in the range of $XX,XXX – $XX,XXX” without necessarily caring what it is. I would trust a $75 bra a lot further than a $15 one for no reason other than the price.

    I think digital media is chipping away at this, though, at least in its own sphere. The quality of the smart phone itself may be popularly gauged based on its price–hello, Apple premium–but there’s basically no correlation at all once you get to the application level. I have one app on my phone that I paid for, and it’s not nearly the most sophisticated or best-working one. And I can tell you I will never pay for Web content again, whether it’s comics or fiction journals or news articles or anything. There’s too much out there that’s high quality and available, legally, for free.

    Books are more complicated because they have a legacy as paid entertainment commodities, which Web content does not. It’ll be interesting to see whether they go the way of similarly-priced digital media or not.

    As to what I would do… the reasons I would seek to publish traditionally are tied up in critical response and the dream of becoming an overnight phenomenon and that sort of thing, which I don’t have the wherewithal to make happen via self-publishing. So if I were to go the self-publishing route, it’s going to be something like sticking it up on a blog and forgetting about it. The work is already done; I don’t feel any particular need to be compensated for it just for the sake of being compensated for it. (But I recognize I’m in a weird little minority as far as that goes.) At that point the “publication” will just be so that anyone who wants to read it can read it with no barriers to access.


  2. This is Neil Gaiman’s experience with piracy and experimenting with giving away one of his books for free. … The result of his experiment was that he sold more books when he gave one away.

    Personally, if I try a new author and I like the story, then I am going to go and find everything else that they have written as well.

    When you’re starting out and working to build an audience and fans who will buy everything that you ever wrote, you have to do things to get people to read your work. And one of those ways is to give the books away to people who will read them.

    So while in the short run, you’ve got your 99 cents for the book you sold, in the long run you might not sell as many books as you would have if you had given the first one away.


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