No Such Thing As A Free Book

I have over a hundred books in my Kindle cloud. Probably more than two hundred. I don’t know the exact number but trust me when I say there are lots.

And I’ve paid for only a fraction of these.

Free bookBefore you go getting your knickers in a twist, I came by each and every one by legitimate means: because I review them on my blog I have many books sent to me by authors and I have around 30 digital ARCs from NetGalley which have been read and reviewed, or are in the queue to be so.

But by far, the greatest number of titles on my Kindle have been free and I have read very few of them. From today, I’m not going to download any more free books and once I tell you why, I hope that you’ll join me.

The rationale behind giving one’s work away for free is to get noticed. Sell enough titles and Amazon may include your book in it’s “people with your buying history have also bought…” promotions, despite the fact they have paid nothing for it. And there is always the chance of joining that holy-of-holies, the Amazon Top 100 list. You know, the list of people who have given away the most books for free.

In what other creative sphere – in fact, in any enterprise – do producers give their work away? Would you do eight hours in a supermarket for nothing? Expect a surgeon to replace your aunty’s kidney for no recompense? Walk out of a gallery with a Howson original under your arm to a cheery wave from the custodian? Yet as writers, as ‘independent’ writers, that’s exactly what we have come to be expected to do.

Producing a book takes time. Time and, most importantly, money. To do it properly, we are told, you must hire an editor, engage a professional designer for your cover, have a website and full social media platform. Where a traditional publisher will perhaps speculate to accumulate, hoping to make back their investment and go on to make a profit, what’s in it for the independent? A minimum £500 spend, their book downloaded by many people who only do so because it’s free and then perhaps never even read it. Why should they value your work when you put so little value on it yourself? To give away your creations for free marks you as a hobbyist, not a professional writer who has belief in themself.

A quick look today at Amazon’s top 100 paid list shows nothing costing more that £7.20 in the top ten. And the £7.20 is the heavily discounted (from £20) pre-order from Dan Brown, such a publishing phenomenon that I’m not sure we should even consider him. Half of the books in the top ten cost less that £1. So if we’re not giving away our books for free we’re charging such a small amount for them, we’d almost be as well to. And with Amazon charging £0.20 or £0.59 for some traditionally published books, what chance does the independent have of getting noticed?

I acknowledge that it is only ebooks which are given away, not tangible, holdable,line-up-on-the-shelfable tomes. Is our work worth something only if we can hold it? Is the intellectual worth of our writing less when it exists only as a collection of 1s and 0s? Surely a book is worth paying for regardless of the medium through which you choose to experience it?

I have no answers for any of this. I don’t know what I’d do to change things as the free/low cost culture is so prevalent in the book world, but I do know this: I don’t have to encourage it.

From today I will no longer download any non-review book for free. I respect the amount of work a writer puts into his book and want to place a value on it, even if it’s as little as 77p. Only by having faith in ourselves can we expect readers to have faith in our writing.

I’m a writer and a reader, not a charity.

 

The social media thingamybobs:

44 Comments

  1. Viv
    May 2, 2013

    I have been thinking the same thing myself; indeed it’s been a while since I got a free book, except for some out of copyright classics.
    I’ve got increasingly frustrated by this mentality and have been fuming about it. It’s hard to swim against the tide too. I’ve chosen to NOT make any of my books free but I have always said should anyone want one who cannot afford the very modest prices, I would send them a copy with my best wishes.
    A book can take many years to write, or it can be written in a few weeks after years of gestation. Time for folks to remember that and also that they can download a significant sample free to help them decide if they want to spend about the same amount as they’d spend without thinking on a cup of coffee .

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Yes! I too would happily give away a file of my book if someone genuinely couldn’t afford it. Like you, it is the wholesale devaluation of books which concerns me.
      Thanks for commenting x

      • Viv
        May 2, 2013

        It’s also a downward spiral. If there is nothing beneath the free price, what then will be the next tactic to get noticed? Given the scandal of paid reviews, there’s something to ponder here. Or that you can, actually buy your way into the top 100, if you have enough cash to throw at it.
        I’ve shared a lot of fiction and essays and poetry on my blog over the years, and I am pretty sure some may have also been nicked. I’ll probably always write and I’ll also continue to write what comes to me, rather than as happens, chasing the next genre that is the biggest seller. (erotica is currently flavour of the month) Integrity will surely cost me, though.

  2. Viv
    May 2, 2013

    I have been thinking the same thing myself; indeed it’s been a while since I got a free book, except for some out of copyright classics.
    I’ve got increasingly frustrated by this mentality and have been fuming about it. It’s hard to swim against the tide too. I’ve chosen to NOT make any of my books free but I have always said should anyone want one who cannot afford the very modest prices, I would send them a copy with my best wishes.
    A book can take many years to write, or it can be written in a few weeks after years of gestation. Time for folks to remember that and also that they can download a significant sample free to help them decide if they want to spend about the same amount as they’d spend without thinking on a cup of coffee .

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Yes! I too would happily give away a file of my book if someone genuinely couldn’t afford it. Like you, it is the wholesale devaluation of books which concerns me.
      Thanks for commenting x

      • Viv
        May 2, 2013

        It’s also a downward spiral. If there is nothing beneath the free price, what then will be the next tactic to get noticed? Given the scandal of paid reviews, there’s something to ponder here. Or that you can, actually buy your way into the top 100, if you have enough cash to throw at it.
        I’ve shared a lot of fiction and essays and poetry on my blog over the years, and I am pretty sure some may have also been nicked. I’ll probably always write and I’ll also continue to write what comes to me, rather than as happens, chasing the next genre that is the biggest seller. (erotica is currently flavour of the month) Integrity will surely cost me, though.

  3. Margot Kinberg
    May 2, 2013

    Nettie – I really respect your point of view on this. I think about it myself; I really do. As writers, we do work very hard on what we create and for indie writers that work includes, as you say, cover design and a lot more. You’ve given me a lot (more) to ponder on this issue and good on you for letting your conscience be your guide.

  4. Margot Kinberg
    May 2, 2013

    Nettie – I really respect your point of view on this. I think about it myself; I really do. As writers, we do work very hard on what we create and for indie writers that work includes, as you say, cover design and a lot more. You’ve given me a lot (more) to ponder on this issue and good on you for letting your conscience be your guide.

  5. karenjonesgowen
    May 2, 2013

    When I read the title of the post “there’s no such thing as free” I assumed you meant the time wasted reading a horribly written/edited free Kindle book. I have quite a few of them on my Kindle– people who thought the way to get rich quick was to scribble out a “novel” as quickly as possible, have a writer friend look it over, and then click publish. Those kinds of books are indeed NOT free to me if I waste my time reading them. And I don’t. As an editor, I can tell in the first 1% if it’s going to be worth my time or not. In cases like these, it’s like the writer doesn’t value their work either, putting out a shoddy product. However, the free culture on Kindle is a viable promotional tool. After a few days free, an ebook can then get quite a few paid downloads and everyone’s happy.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Previously, if I had paid for an ebook only to have it set to free the following day, I would have been extremely unhappy. Now I refuse to encourage the freebie culture, I’d merely shrug. I do wonder, however, how many people will hold off from buying a modestly priced ebook in case it moves to free?
      I totally agree that many writers will self-pub a poorly formatted and edited book and that too devalues the industry.

  6. karenjonesgowen
    May 2, 2013

    When I read the title of the post “there’s no such thing as free” I assumed you meant the time wasted reading a horribly written/edited free Kindle book. I have quite a few of them on my Kindle– people who thought the way to get rich quick was to scribble out a “novel” as quickly as possible, have a writer friend look it over, and then click publish. Those kinds of books are indeed NOT free to me if I waste my time reading them. And I don’t. As an editor, I can tell in the first 1% if it’s going to be worth my time or not. In cases like these, it’s like the writer doesn’t value their work either, putting out a shoddy product. However, the free culture on Kindle is a viable promotional tool. After a few days free, an ebook can then get quite a few paid downloads and everyone’s happy.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Previously, if I had paid for an ebook only to have it set to free the following day, I would have been extremely unhappy. Now I refuse to encourage the freebie culture, I’d merely shrug. I do wonder, however, how many people will hold off from buying a modestly priced ebook in case it moves to free?
      I totally agree that many writers will self-pub a poorly formatted and edited book and that too devalues the industry.

  7. Nancy Jardine
    May 2, 2013

    Good one, Nettie. I personally cannot make the decision to have my novels available as free books- only my publishers can do that, but like you I stopped downloading ‘free’ books quite soon after getting my kindle. It was for no other reason than, also like you, I have a huge TBR list and my author friends who’re on the list take priority.
    Nancy at Welcome to she said, he said

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      It must be all the more frustrating when the decision is taken out of your hands… Thanks for stopping by x

  8. Nancy Jardine
    May 2, 2013

    Good one, Nettie. I personally cannot make the decision to have my novels available as free books- only my publishers can do that, but like you I stopped downloading ‘free’ books quite soon after getting my kindle. It was for no other reason than, also like you, I have a huge TBR list and my author friends who’re on the list take priority.
    Nancy at Welcome to she said, he said

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      It must be all the more frustrating when the decision is taken out of your hands… Thanks for stopping by x

  9. Robin
    May 2, 2013

    It isn’t just writers. Any artist who has yet to become a “name” is in the same boat. Musicians in our community are invited to perform for “exposure.” As a friend of mine has often quoted from someone I can’t remember, “Didn’t people used to die of exposure?” Yes – they did and they still are – figuratively, if not literally.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Good point, Robin. Although most people will happily listen to the same music time and time again and rarely read the same book – well, not to the same extent. I know this hits small bands most, but the big acts, the U2s and Stone Roses, they can make money from touring and merchandise. The writer is more of a one-trick pony and has fewer options to earn if his books are given away for free.

  10. Robin
    May 2, 2013

    It isn’t just writers. Any artist who has yet to become a “name” is in the same boat. Musicians in our community are invited to perform for “exposure.” As a friend of mine has often quoted from someone I can’t remember, “Didn’t people used to die of exposure?” Yes – they did and they still are – figuratively, if not literally.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Good point, Robin. Although most people will happily listen to the same music time and time again and rarely read the same book – well, not to the same extent. I know this hits small bands most, but the big acts, the U2s and Stone Roses, they can make money from touring and merchandise. The writer is more of a one-trick pony and has fewer options to earn if his books are given away for free.

  11. elegsabiff
    May 2, 2013

    To me the point of a free book was to get a review (good bad or indifferent) and get people talking. I did a promo on a story and got 96 takers, I was dead chuffed. Ask me how many reviews I got. Go on, ask.

    As a reviewer in the past I got books for free, as you do, with exactly that implied contract, and I naively assumed the same applied for ebooks. (I haven’t had my kindle very long). I’ve never downloaded a free book yet without reviewing it but recently read on Goodreads about people who have HUNDREDS of books which they’ve taken knowing full well they will probably never get round to reading them, never mind bothering to review. I’ll still take the occasional free book that catches my fancy, and report back, but with that in mind, and your comments, I certainly won’t go handing out my own again.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      You make a good point. If I have read a book and not enjoyed it, I must admit that I don’t review it. I would hate to dash anyone’s dreams. I have a ‘three star’ rule – if I can’t award it at least 3*, I won’t publish. I do explain to the author/publisher that it wasn’t my cup of tea and ask whether or not they want me to go ahead anyway: and not one has said yes!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment x

  12. elegsabiff
    May 2, 2013

    To me the point of a free book was to get a review (good bad or indifferent) and get people talking. I did a promo on a story and got 96 takers, I was dead chuffed. Ask me how many reviews I got. Go on, ask.

    As a reviewer in the past I got books for free, as you do, with exactly that implied contract, and I naively assumed the same applied for ebooks. (I haven’t had my kindle very long). I’ve never downloaded a free book yet without reviewing it but recently read on Goodreads about people who have HUNDREDS of books which they’ve taken knowing full well they will probably never get round to reading them, never mind bothering to review. I’ll still take the occasional free book that catches my fancy, and report back, but with that in mind, and your comments, I certainly won’t go handing out my own again.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      You make a good point. If I have read a book and not enjoyed it, I must admit that I don’t review it. I would hate to dash anyone’s dreams. I have a ‘three star’ rule – if I can’t award it at least 3*, I won’t publish. I do explain to the author/publisher that it wasn’t my cup of tea and ask whether or not they want me to go ahead anyway: and not one has said yes!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment x

  13. Peter Domican
    May 2, 2013

    I’ve given up on Kindle and gone back to books. I really don’t think they are doing any good for the whole industry. I’ve not had any problems getting books from real bookshops. They’re a little more expensive but actually this is forcing me to think more intelligently about what I want to read.
    We can’t live in a world where people providing content are working for free and companies like Amazon just milk it.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Yes, I do wonder what Amazon gets from all the ‘free’ product. A loss leader, perhaps?
      Thanks for reading x

      • Peter Domican
        May 3, 2013

        It sells Kindles and gets people hooked into the Amazon ecosystem whereby readers know this isn’t healthy but are seduced by cheap.

  14. Peter Domican
    May 2, 2013

    I’ve given up on Kindle and gone back to books. I really don’t think they are doing any good for the whole industry. I’ve not had any problems getting books from real bookshops. They’re a little more expensive but actually this is forcing me to think more intelligently about what I want to read.
    We can’t live in a world where people providing content are working for free and companies like Amazon just milk it.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      Yes, I do wonder what Amazon gets from all the ‘free’ product. A loss leader, perhaps?
      Thanks for reading x

      • Peter Domican
        May 3, 2013

        It sells Kindles and gets people hooked into the Amazon ecosystem whereby readers know this isn’t healthy but are seduced by cheap.

  15. elizasarahgraham
    May 2, 2013

    I had this same feeling when my recent book was priced by the publisher. The soft cover copy was $17.99 and the e-book was $3.75. I thought about saying, “wait a minute. Isn’t that a large discrepency?” but I was so into the publishing process I didn’t. Logic says that there’s no print costs so why would it be the same? But there is the creative labor that ought to bring it to a more equitable price point. And free? Only to close family and maybe one or two dear friends.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      I hear you. I do think ebooks should be cheaper than print versions, but that much…? No way x And thank you for reading x

  16. elizasarahgraham
    May 2, 2013

    I had this same feeling when my recent book was priced by the publisher. The soft cover copy was $17.99 and the e-book was $3.75. I thought about saying, “wait a minute. Isn’t that a large discrepency?” but I was so into the publishing process I didn’t. Logic says that there’s no print costs so why would it be the same? But there is the creative labor that ought to bring it to a more equitable price point. And free? Only to close family and maybe one or two dear friends.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      I hear you. I do think ebooks should be cheaper than print versions, but that much…? No way x And thank you for reading x

  17. t upchurch
    May 2, 2013

    Interesting issues. It’s tricky — I agree that work should be quality controlled and priced to enable the writer to earn a reasonable hourly rate, but if we don’t download the free books, what happens? Is the author penalised further, unless we buy it subsequently? I’m with you, and I don’t download many free books… but I’m not sure if I’m making it better or worse that way.
    I do have an exception — if I own the hard copy, whether paperback or hardback, I’ll grab a free e-copy if it’s on offer — then when I’m reading the book, I can have it to take with me when I travel. (At home, I nearly always read hard copy.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      That’s a really good idea, actually. But so many writers who self-pub (myself included) only do so as an ebook. Tricky one. Thanks for stopping by x

      • t upchurch
        May 2, 2013

        I have bought a small collection of ebooks that I’ve paid for — mostly anthologies, but also some written by friends, or writers I enjoy (and quite a few for the children in the car!) I think there’s a world of difference between £1 and free, as well — at least the latter gives hope (or pays for some teabags!) I’m wrestling with the idea of submitting flash to Ether Books; I’d love to, but a lot of the flash goes up for free. Maybe I’ll send a short story…

        • Annette
          May 2, 2013

          I do know of some writers who have had stories accepted by them and not had a penny 🙁

  18. t upchurch
    May 2, 2013

    Interesting issues. It’s tricky — I agree that work should be quality controlled and priced to enable the writer to earn a reasonable hourly rate, but if we don’t download the free books, what happens? Is the author penalised further, unless we buy it subsequently? I’m with you, and I don’t download many free books… but I’m not sure if I’m making it better or worse that way.
    I do have an exception — if I own the hard copy, whether paperback or hardback, I’ll grab a free e-copy if it’s on offer — then when I’m reading the book, I can have it to take with me when I travel. (At home, I nearly always read hard copy.

    • Annette
      May 2, 2013

      That’s a really good idea, actually. But so many writers who self-pub (myself included) only do so as an ebook. Tricky one. Thanks for stopping by x

      • t upchurch
        May 2, 2013

        I have bought a small collection of ebooks that I’ve paid for — mostly anthologies, but also some written by friends, or writers I enjoy (and quite a few for the children in the car!) I think there’s a world of difference between £1 and free, as well — at least the latter gives hope (or pays for some teabags!) I’m wrestling with the idea of submitting flash to Ether Books; I’d love to, but a lot of the flash goes up for free. Maybe I’ll send a short story…

        • Annette
          May 2, 2013

          I do know of some writers who have had stories accepted by them and not had a penny 🙁

  19. Jo Skehan
    May 3, 2013

    I have been guilty of downloading free ebooks on offer, and not reading them….still have several waiting to be read. I have given up on the freebies as I sometimes think the author is under-valuing him/herself by giving it away to so many people for nothing. However I have a few that were given to be by the author as a one-off and I’ve read and enjoyed them immensely and have passed the word on to all my friends. Personally I still prefer the real deal….the book I can hold in my hand, turn the page and put a pretty book mark in place when I have to stop reading (to sleep), but I acknowledge there are many who prefer the Kindle ebooks especially for travel.

  20. Jo Skehan
    May 3, 2013

    I have been guilty of downloading free ebooks on offer, and not reading them….still have several waiting to be read. I have given up on the freebies as I sometimes think the author is under-valuing him/herself by giving it away to so many people for nothing. However I have a few that were given to be by the author as a one-off and I’ve read and enjoyed them immensely and have passed the word on to all my friends. Personally I still prefer the real deal….the book I can hold in my hand, turn the page and put a pretty book mark in place when I have to stop reading (to sleep), but I acknowledge there are many who prefer the Kindle ebooks especially for travel.

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