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Free ebooks don’t drive sales, one author finds

The SF author Jeffrey Carver has come to the conclusion that offering his backlist as free ebooks just isn’t working for him.

I’ve been running the free-downloads experiment for more than two years now. Here’s my conclusion: The free downloads have significantly expanded my audience, and enabled me to meet some very nice people electronically. But they haven’t done much in terms of pay. Yes, some people have been generous with Paypal donations, and some who liked the books have gone out and bought my other ebooks—and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. But the theory that free downloads drive sales of books, which apparently works for some writers, does not seem to have clicked for me. I don’t regret offering the downloads—not a bit—but now it’s time to try something new.

via Pushing a Snake up a Rope

This same model appears to work for Baen Books, so I wonder why it’s not working for Jeffrey?

Actually, let me rephrase that sentence. We know this model worked at one time for Baen Books, but we don’t know that it’s working _now_. Market behavior might have shifted in the 8+ years since Baen first started giving away ebooks. This model might not be working for them anymore, either.

On the other hand, Baen saw an increase in paper books, and Jeffery didn’t mention them in his post. Perhaps that is the difference.

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Deborah Emin November 29, 2010 um 10:07 am

We are using free e-books for a series where the first volume has been out for a while and the new volume is about to be published. So, until the new book is available, we are giving away free e-books of the first volume. Once the new book is available, we will end that free download.
Our reasoning was that we needed more people interested in the series and we needed them to have already some reason to be enticed for the pre-publication price.
All of these experiments are contingent on the type of book and the type of platform, I have found, the e-reading public uses. Kindle readers seem to be the most involved as readers. But that is just our lopsided assessment.

Richard Adin November 29, 2010 um 10:49 am

I’m one of those who took advantage of Carver’s offer of free. I read maybe 50 pages and realized that his books aren’t for me.

I had a similar experience with Baen. I discovered that I don’t like Dave Duncan but I do like David Weber. So Baen introduced me to David Weber and I buy all his new books in hardcover (too bad Baen isn’t his publisher now); I avoid Dave Duncan whether free or not. Baen also taught me that I dislike John Ringo and several other big name SF authors.

The point is that free can work if the author’s writing grabs a reader.

igorsk November 29, 2010 um 3:16 pm

@Richard : Weber still writes for Baen (Harrington series, and hopefully continuation of Prince Roger and Hell’s Gate one day). The Safehold series he did with Tor because Baen’s schedule is limited by S&S (three new books a month AFAIR) and extra Weber books would had to come at other authors' expense.
It’s a pity that he didn’t work out a deal to put his Tor books on Webscriptions like David Drake did. I guess I’ll be reading Safehold books whenever Tor decides to wake up.

Zigwalski November 29, 2010 um 9:40 pm

People also have to know about it. I never heard of him before or even knew where to look for his free books. I just downloaded the Battlestar Galactica book and Eternity’s End. Don’t know when I will read them but now I have them for free.

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