7 Reasons Free eBooks Hurt the Industry

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Free eBooks appear as an excellent tool to introduce a new author, build a reader audience, and obtain reviews. In fact this practice has, over the past three years, become the primary marketing tool for Indie Authors. “Free” however can create economic issues for an industry and based on market principles free ebooks may be hurting more than helping the Indie Author.

There is, of course, no doubt that if the goal is downloads and short term exposure goals, “free” can deliver excellent results. According to Smashwords’ 2014 ebook survey, “free,” garners 39 times more downloads than other price points.

Lower books costs and pricing are the call to action in an industry that has struggled to maintain sales. Companies like Scribd and Oyster both recently launched a “Netflixs for books,” offering monthly subscription services that provide unlimited reading of eBooks. And Amazon just announced “Kindle Unlimited” that offers the same type of service.

The subscription model is a new way to entice readers to switch to the eBook platform. There may be a couple of reasons for that push. The first is that the previously explosive market share growth has slowed. The second is, with the influx of “free” books available, the popularity has waned for many readers.

In Mark Coker’s Smashwords survey, he notes that although 2014 free ebooks had 39 times more downloads than any other price point, the numbers have significantly dropped from the 2013 performance of 91 times and 2012’s 100 times.

Understanding the issues and complexity of the ebook and Indie market is difficult. And “free” may be losing its charm for a number of reasons, most likely the stigmatism of what a reader might “expect” from a free book.

The downward trend of free books is a good thing. Free ebooks have an effect on the self-publishing industry and it is not always positive. In fact, economic principles suggest that “free” hurts more than it helps.

It is a complex issue and one I found required more than 3,000 words to explain— a length not suited for a blog. So instead I created a video presentation to explain the 7 Reasons Free eBooks Hurt the Industry, which you can view by following this link to my YouTube channel.



** In the video, I state that Amazon has 80% of the ebook market share. Some experts suggest 67% and with reporting methods and changing numbers the exact figures can only be provided as estimates.


7 replies »

  1. This was very informative and eye opening. I’ll admit to being one of the “free e-books” authors during promotion times. On KDP select free days I gave away about 7,000 e-copies, probably more (I didn’t add up the two times I did it), and where are my reviews? Ha! My book has probably long been deleted from the dusty digital space. Anyway, I agree about it impacting the value of the content in readers’ minds. But I suppose if one had several books in a series, giving away the first one might be worth it to hook readers into the rest? Or at least the 99c price point? All these “formulas” to sell are just trial and error either way and it never works the same for everyone.

    The inevitable “upload and storage fees” will help weed out the seriously passionate writers from the rest, I agree. I also like the idea of the “consumer report” seal of approval. That would be very helpful for all indie publishers.

    Awesome post!!!
    And this: “Follow your passion but treat it with respect.” (Word! 😛 )

  2. My own personal jury (if I may call it that) on the desirability or benefits of free books is still out. I have used the Amazon service once or twice but have yet to see the staggering number of downloads or reviews that some people claim. However, I suspect that the number of downloads of “free” as opposed to “priced” is meaningless anyway. We humans can’t resist a “free lunch”.

    • I agree “free” is magic – although it was interesting how the gap between free and paid is growing smaller. It is still probably the best mechanism for getting downloads…but I stand by my thoughts on the potential downside – thanks for stopping by!

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