A few days ago I talked about the strategy of making books permanently free to increase sales. (See: Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales)
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the idea is that if you, for instance, make the first book of a series free that its value as a marketing devise will far outweigh your lost revenue.
I wasn't sure how that post would be received since there has been some resistance within the indie community to the idea of giving away ones work and was pleasantly surprised by the wonderfully helpful comments the article received.
In this post I want to look, first, at a variation on the idea of using permanently free electronic books to increase sales of your other work: make the ebook version of a book free and use it as advertising for the paper version. Then we'll look at another indie author--Robert J. Crane--who uses the technique of perma-free to sell books AND he has been so kind as to share his sales figures.
(By the way, if you have tried perma-free to increase sales of your work please contact me, I'd like to hear about your experience.)
1) Make The Ebook Version Free, Charge For The Paper Copy
Example: Seth Godin
The first time I heard of this strategy I thought I had to have misheard. But, no, offering the ebook version of his paper books has worked out well for author and entrepreneur Seth Godin.
In 2001 Seth wrote Unleashing The Ideavirus. I'll let him tell you about it:
Seven years ago, I wrote a book called Unleashing the Ideavirus. It's about how ideas spread. In the book, I go on and on about how free ideas spread faster than expensive ones. That's why radio is so important in making music sell.Unleashing the Ideavirus is still selling strong. Over on Amazon, the paperback version is at #34,038 (excellent!) while the Kindle version is sitting at around rank #152k.
Anyway, I brought it to my publisher and said, "I'd like you to publish this, but I want to give it away on the net." They passed. They used to think I was crazy, but now they were sure of it. So I decided to just give it away. The first few days, the book was downloaded 3,000 times ... The next day, the number went up. And then up. Soon it was 100,000 and then a million. ... I didn't ask anything in return. ... Here it is. Share it.
A Google search finds more than 200,000 matches for the word 'ideavirus', which I made up. Some will ask, "how much money did you make?" And I think a better question is, "how much did it cost you?" How much did it cost you to write the most popular ebook ever and to reach those millions of people and to do a promotion that drove an expensive hardcover to #5 on Amazon and #4 in Japan and led to translation deals in dozens of countries and plenty of speaking gigs?
It cost nothing. (You should write an ebook)
Let's think about that for a moment. The ELECTRONIC copy of Unleashing the Ideavirus, the format Seth is giving away for free (the link is right here), is downloaded more often than The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (#223,261), published in 2003, two years later.
It's true that Seth's book is $7.86 while League is $11.87. That probably has an effect on sales, but my point is that offering the book for free doesn't seem to have hurt sales of even the electronic version!)
That's just one example. Here is a listing of 15 books Seth Godin has made permanently free.
Here is Seth Godin's blog post advocating writing an ebook with the intention of making it permanently free: You should write an ebook.
Example: David Gaughran
David Gaughran released Let's Get Digital, in July of 2011. What caused a lot of commentary at the time was that, like Seth Godin, he gave away a PDF copy of his book on his website (it's still available here: Let's Get Digital). David did one thing differently from Seth, he put up a donation button for anyone who wanted to contribute to his continued financial well-being.
So, did making the PDF perma-free pay off?
On Amazon.com the Kindle version of Let's Get Digital is priced at $4.98 and is at rank #26,388 which is good. In fact, the electronic version is selling the best out of all David's books, at least those on Amazon.com. I'd consider that a success.
Thanks to Leauxra for drawing my attention to these examples.
2) Eric Flint and the Baen Free Library
Baen Free Library was founded in 1999 by writer Eric Flint and publisher Jim Baen "to determine whether the availability of books free of charge on the Internet encourages or discourages the sale of their paper books" (Baen Free Library, Wikipedia).
Eric Flint concluded that making an electronic version of a book available for free enhances the sale of the paper version. Is he guessing? No. Eric shares his sales figures for Mother of Demons, a book he made free for electronic download around 2000 and persuasively argues that giving the electronic version away for free helped his sales. Eric writes:
Almost eight years ago, I put up my first novel [Mother of Demons] for free online—as a result of which it got most of its sales since then, and is still selling well enough that even after the mass market edition finally runs out, the publisher is going to keep it in print in a hardcover edition.So not only doesn't having your book up as an electronic copy, free of charge, hurt the sales of hte paper version, but it helps it. Sound familiar?
Nobody knows exactly what percentage of first novels never go out of print for ten years and then get reissued in a hardcover edition. But the percentage is probably somewhere in the top one-tenth of one percent. (NOTE: need sub-title) ["Note: need sub-title" is the subtitle. See the reference section at the end of this post.]
Thanks to Antares for not only telling me about the Baen free library but providing me the links as well.
3) Independent Author Robert J. Crane: Perma-Free Works
Indie author Robert J. Crane left a comment on my first post where he generously shared some of his sales figures. I have Robert's kind his permission to reproduce his comment here:
I have two books set to perma-free, the results are thus:Wow! Look at that jump between August and September in terms of sales: 1,590 units more. That's over 5 times better than any of the previous months. And at 70% of $4.99 that's over $5,000.
Released my first book [Defender] in June 2011. Between then and June 2012 I never sold more than low double digits (best month was something like 25 sales across 3 novels and 2 short stories).
Set my first series book free in my high fantasy series in July 2012, my urban fantasy series first book [Alone] permafree in September 2012.
July 2012: 169 sales
Aug 2012: 319 sales
Sep 2012: 1759 sales
Oct 2012: 2727 sales
Nov 1st to 20th: 3008 sales
Most of these are at $4.99 or their foreign equivalent. Hope this helps give a little inspiration or data to make a decision off of, at least.
Needless to say, I highly recommend perma-free.
Here are links to Robert's perma-free books:
- Defender: The Sanctuary Series, Volume One
- Alone: The Girl in the Box, Book 1
Here is an excellent article Robert J. Crane wrote about how he became a self-publisher: Why did I self-publish? He is one of the few writers I know who have a degree in Creative Writing.
Perma-Free: A Strategy Worth Trying?
I think so. The data I've seen so far is compelling: free works as a sales tool.
What do you think?
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NaNoWriMo Update: Well, I'm at 39,034 words. Whew! I tell you, that was not easy, it felt like the words were being pried out of me. (shiver) Hopefully the words will flow (versus wrestle!) tonight. I hope to have 41k done by tomorrow. :)
Other articles you might like:- Rejection Enhances Creativity
- How Often Should A Writer Blog? Answer: It Depends On Your Goals
- Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid
Reference Links:- Thirteen Steps to Write and Publish a Free Ebook In Thirteen Hours (from Problogger.com)
- Baen Free Library
- A series of articles by Eric Flint on the topic of piracy and whether it hurts book sales (short answer: No!): Prime Palaver.
- Eric Flint: Salvos Against Big Brother. Towards the end (it's a LONG page) Eric shares his sales figures for Mother of Demons, a book he made free for electronic download around 2000. He shares several years of data and persuasively argues that giving the electronic version away for free helped his sales.
- Note 1: "NOTE: Need sub-title" is the title. I guess it was a note to someone to get the article a title, but it was never done. Works for me! I also wanted to note that there is no direct link to this article. It is one of several that have been pasted together on a webpage. The only way to go from one to the other is by scrolling or searching on the name of the sub-title.
Photo credit: "Free Daddy and His Little Shadow Girls at The Skate Park Creative Commons" by Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.