Why Free Books No Longer Sell

Back in the early 2010s, before I started writing, various blogs talked about how putting the first ebook in a series for free would net you many buythroughs to the rest of your series.


But that tactic will not work in 2020 onward, or at least, won't work very well.


I currently have about 130 ebooks on my Amazon account. I haven't read at least 50 of them. Can you guess why?


I got most of them for free.


This isn't to say that I turn down free books. It's quite the opposite.


I'm subscribed to BookBub. I find new books through organic discovery. I browse the Kindle store (and the occasional physical bookstore) to find what I want to read next. Ebook covers and blurbs are the deciding factor for me, whereas blurbs are more important to me for physical books in bookstores - because often bookstores shelve them spine out.

Nowadays everybody puts their first book in a series for free, or at least temporarily for free. When everybody does it, people like me get tired of it. We have so many books to read that we want to value our time more.


Looking for new books used to be fun. I used to take my time reading blurbs and examining book covers to find what I wanted to read next.


But now the market is so oversatured with this marketing tactic that it's overwhelming. We assign value to objects based on the value we paid for them. So if I don't read a free book right away, it's going to take me a year to ten years to get to them.


That's not to say I won't try this tactic myself when I release my books. But I'd rather get one hundred loyal readers over a slower period of time, than a thousand people who download my first book, and have nine hundred of them forget about it. Because if they haven't bought it yet but are interested, they may still buy it later.


So what's the solution? If permafree books don't work, what should we do?


I think 99 cent books are the new free books.


If a book is priced at 99 cents, I still have to pay for it. It's not a lot of money. But it's also not an insignificant amount of money. I still need to think whether it's worth my time to buy that book or not. And because I paid for that book, I feel like I must read it.


That leads me to my next point. Advertisements.


Nowadays authors are having to spend more and more money on advertising.


But maybe that's a good thing.


Maybe readers will be tired of seeing the same old books in advertisements all the time, and go back to using the "Also bought" section on Amazon.


At least, that's my hope for 2020 and beyond. I hope organic reach will come back so ads won't be so expensive!

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