books · romance · romance novels

Are romance writers devaluing their work with free and discounted books?

helena fairfaxWhat do you think about free and discounted ebooks? Do you have hundreds of them on your ereader that you never read? Would you sign up to someone’s newsletter just to get a free book? Or do you think, “Why bother signing up to a newsletter, when there are thousands of free ebooks on Amazon all the time?”
There was a time – only a few years ago now – when someone came up with the great idea of offering one of their ebooks for free in order to hook in readers. A free book! This whole idea used to be new and attractive to readers. Paperback books are very rarely offered for free in bulk because it’s just too expensive, and so for authors to give away their work was once something excitingly new and different. But is the idea of a free book still as attractive today? Do readers now just expect to get all their ebooks either free or at bargain basement prices? Have we writers just shot ourselves in the foot by giving away our work?

I’m curious about this question as it’s been the subject of a major discussion in one of the author groups I’m in. There are two viewpoints: some believe we authors are killing our own business by offering work at rock bottom prices, and that we are devaluing what we are doing – that readers think because our books are free our writing is also worthless. There are others who think that offering books for free is a huge opportunity for an author to get known by new readers – readers who are otherwise reluctant to shell out cash on an author they don’t know.

Here’s a quote from Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, in Publishers Weekly: “Free devalues your work, right? Wrong. Free makes your work more valuable. As an author, you are a brand. Readers buy books from authors who have earned their trust. But to earn readers’ trust, you must first earn their awareness. If readers don’t know you, they can’t trust you—your brand carries no value to them. You’re invisible. Even if you’re already a New York Times bestseller, there are millions of potential readers out there who have never heard of you and have never read your stuff.

Free makes it possible to reach new readers who would otherwise never take a chance on you.”helena fairfax, the silk romance

I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought this week, as I planned to put two of my romance novels on special offer in the run up to Valentine’s Day. Was I doing the right thing by making my books available for 99p/99c? Am I devaluing them? I thought long and hard about it, and I realised that, yes, for me this strategy has worked in the past. I give away a free novella to subscribers to my newsletter, and this has brought me new readers who are actually engaged and who I know read each newsletter I send out, because they reply to me with comments. Many of these subscribers have also bought the follow up to my novella. If I hadn’t offered the novella for free, would I have had these readers? No, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t.

On a final note, I came across this quote today in a Guardian article on how Waterstones managed to keep afloat in a changing market: “Publishers pushed a cheap-and-cheerful approach with ebooks, and it seems to have become more the associated domain of trashy, poundshop-type products,” said Simon Lowe, a former bookseller.

helena fairfax, heartwarming romance, feel-good romanceTo anyone who doesn’t live in the UK, Poundland is a shop where everything – you probably guessed it – costs just a pound. I absolutely love Poundland. My best friend and I always check out the poundshop if we come across one in any town we visit. They’re the most fun place to shop ever. I still have the green frog my friend bought me for £1, sitting next to my pond, and the Poundland rubber ball I bought my dog is one of her favourite toys.

So if you love a “trashy, poundshop-type product” as much as I do, please do check out my books The Silk Romance and The Antique Love, only 99p/99c from now until Valentine’s Day :) (Although I have to say here that my time and research and the hours spent writing, plus the time of my editors and my cover designer, are worth far more than this price would suggest, and this offer is for a limited time!)

The Silk Romance is available from: Amazon / or via this universal buy link for all major ebook retailers: Books2Read 

The Antique Love is available from:  Amazon   /or via this universal buy link for all major ebook retailers:  Books2Read

I hope you enjoy the read!

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What do you think about this subject? If you’re a reader, do you have a stack of free books on your ereader that you never read? Have you ever fallen in love with an author after reading a free or discounted book? If you’re an author, have you found discounting your books brings you new readers? Or do you think it devalues your work?

If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

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23 thoughts on “Are romance writers devaluing their work with free and discounted books?

  1. Love this post, Helena, as it’s such an interesting and important subject. As always, I can see both sides of the argument but tend to agree with you overall. As a reader, I’ve discovered several authors new to me when I bought one of their books at a reduced price – and I now read more by them.

    Yes, I have far too many books on my kindle but that’s reassuring as I always have something to read if away from my paperbacks. As a writer, I’ve found reducing my books for a very limited period is worth it. I’m also in the process of making five short stories free to newsletter subscribers. I think in the end it’s a case of trial and error to find what works for us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rosemary, I can see both sides of the argument, too. It’s a difficult question, but like you, I’ve found new authors myself through discounted books, and I know that readers have found my books when I’ve discounted them.
      Good luck with your newsletter offer!

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  2. Helena, a fascinating article and relevant in today’s world of cut-price books. Although the prices are low and at a give-away the options to starting a push in sales are limited and surely this is one strategy that is known to work. I have read quite a few authors in this way and been happy to leave reviews and even contact them directly which has been lovely and hopefully enriching experience for us both. I do like a visit to Poundshop but always seem to spend much more than a pound or two!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, Annika, there aren’t many options to sell your books that are affordable. Indie authors have to try everything we can, as we don’t have the resources for marketing that the big publishers have. It’s a strategy that’s been proven to work, as long as you have written a good book.
      I always spend too much in Poundland, too. Good to meet another fan. My friend and I always have fun in there :) Thanks so much for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Honestly not sure – on a traditionalist slant, I’d say putting in years of work means I earned the right to sell at a decent price and I’m tired of underselling myself. But I also see it may hook readers. Trouble is, I also see it might work as a marketing tool, but in such a crowded market i suspect it’s being overused and people are just profiting by freebies.

    If I like an author, I’ll pay for him; but I always used to get Stephen King’s latest at an Oxfam bookshop on Byres Road – wait a few months and along it came at a third of the price – so I end unsure if devaluing yourself really works. The consumer always has an eye for a bargain, and if they can get it cheaper, they will…

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    1. This is what I wonder, too, James – is the strategy being overused, to the extent that there’s no longer a point even to trying it? I’m wondering if it’s a dying marketing tool. And readers are consumers – I’ve had to learn that the precious book I’ve toiled over is a “commodity” to people with an interest in my sales :(
      Thanks for your interesting comment. Best of luck with your own book sales!

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  4. It’s an interesting debate, isn’t it? There is in most of us the desire to get “something for nothing” and I am sure bargain reads fill up many a kindle/e reader, never to be ultimately read…. because as you say there are many hundredss to choose from each and every day. Very tempting for readers! Less desirable for authors perhaps?

    It is a chicken/egg. How do you become a “brand” until you have a readership? In some ways it has become very easy to pick up free/discounted books and I think this glut can lead to a devaluing of good work… the good reads get lost amongst those books that are of a lesser quality (I am thinking editing, proofreading and production). Maybe a taster if the author is writing a series. ….I think it is a very difficult question and it probably varies from author to author…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is such a tricky question, Trip Fiction. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over these past few days. Am I guilty of devaluing mine and other authors’ work? Yet how do I gain a new readership? When I’ve gone down the route of discounting in the past, I have gained new readers…and yet there is SUCH a glut of free books, as you say!
      I’m on the verge now of abandoning this strategy. The comments I’ve had so far have led me to think readers may just be inundated.
      Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your thoughtful comment.

      Like

  5. For established authors with several books out, the free strategy probably works. If you have one book out, and give it away…are you building a brand or are you saying, “I know, it’s my only book and it’s not worth .99.” I do think the .99 strategy works, or it has for me with Skeletons in the Attic.
    I also think…no, I know at least from my perspective…that I rarely, if ever, read a book I’ve downloaded for free. But I’ll read one I paid .99 for.
    I’ve personally run free giveaways of my short story collection, Live Free or Tri, and didn’t get a lot of takers. I’ve probably sold more at .99 than I have given away free (not that it’s been a runaway bestseller or anything). The idea of the collection was to get folks interested in my novels. I don’t think that strategy worked. More, I think people who have read my novels, went to find what else I’d written, and bought it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Judy, that’s so interesting that you rarely read a free book. I do start almost all the free books I download. If the quality isn’t good, I don’t finish them. If I like the writing, then I do go on to buy more from that author.
      I suppose we just have to keep trying different strategies. It’s a shame, though, that free books have come to equal poor quality. Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your comment. Best of luck with your sales!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. An interesting debate and one that will go on. As a newly established womag writer, i have stories to read for free on my website. Feedback is fab, but being paid for my work means that a fiction ed places faith in my ability. As a reader, well Helena, I’ve just signed up for your newsletter and grabbed your free novella! it’s worth mentioning that I also buy books from charity shops – I don’t always buy brand new, so i’m bagging a bargain and helping charity at the same time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting to hear your perspective as a womag writer, Sharon. Putting stories on your website is a great way to get feedback. And if a fiction editor pays for your work, that means readers are paying, too, by buying the magazine.
      Thanks very much for signing up to my newsletter. I do hope you enjoy the novella. Thanks for the great comment!

      Like

  7. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, I think giving away books or putting them on for 99 cents or a low price does devalue an author’s work.

    I spend over a year writing a mystery. My work is worth more than 99 cents. There are a lot of lousy books out there that are given away every day. I know an author who writes a mystery and has it published every week. One time I saw it was even 6 days. She often gives her books away, more than she doesn’t. I don’t want my books being in that category.

    Have a great day, Helena!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Susan, a mystery a week! Does that author have many sales? Like you, it takes me a whole year to write a book. I don’t mind offering a book for free if it will attract new readers to buy my other books. I am starting to mind the fact that a lot of the free books I download are such poor quality, and now I feel that my books are being lumped in with the rest. I’m beginning to think it’s time to move away from the discounts.
      Thanks for your interesting comment, Susan! Hope you’re having a great weekend!

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      1. Sure this author has a lot of “sales” because she gives her books away. If you “purchase” a free book, it looks on Amazon like it is a verified purchase.

        Readers love free books and lots of times, they don’t care if the book is any good. It’s free. They settle. One time I received a review where the reader said she loved my mystery even though she had to pay for it.

        What???

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      2. That review just shows that it’s true – there are some readers who are expeciting books for free these days. It seems like it’s getting a bit out of hand. Thanks for sharing that experience. On the positive side, at least the reader took the time to leave a review.

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  8. I’m just a reader and I’ve added new favorite authors from getting free and reduced priced books. In fact the series I’m reading now the first book I read was free. I’ve already bought 2 more and added more to my TBB list. I’ve also got some that I realized that book or author didn’t work for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that information, Sherry. It’s good to hear that the free and discounted books are sometimes working well as a way to introduce readers to new authors. Thanks for leaving a comment. It’s made me feel ot’s all worthwhile, after all!

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  9. Great topic and it’s garnering many interesting comments. I agree a free “gift” opens the author up to having more people discover her other stories and pay for them. I know I have read a free or 99 cent book and ordered a book from that author because I liked the gift. But if you don’t have but one book to give away or discount to 99 cents, I would suggest writing a short story or article as the giveaway. When I was just breaking in to freelance writing, the e-zines (online magazines) offered the promise of “getting known” as payment for being pubbed in their publication. I fell for it until I realized I was working hard for nothing. That’s when I determined I would never give away my work again. But, I did a free promotion on a self pubbed non fiction book and gave away 100’s of them. Made me upset with myself again, so I have vowed not to offer free books again. I will definitely do 99 cents though. Ha–not much more than free, eh? We have Dollar Tree here similar to your Poundland and I love it! So 99 cents is worth something!

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    1. Hi JQ, I’ve done free books, too, and given away a lot. I don’t think I’m going down this route again. I’m doing the 99c/99p promo at the moment, as my books have been out a while, and it’s showing some success. But any future books I’m going to ask a reasonable price and stick with it. Going free/discounted is a good way to find new readers, but there are too many poor quality free books out there now, sadly, and I’m worried about my writing being lumped in with them.
      Dollar Tree is a great name. If I ever get the chance to go back to the US, I’ll definitely look out for them :)
      Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your comment!

      Like

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