Monday, July 02, 2012

Exclusivity and Free

I'm back from a two week vacation, and today I'm discussing the merits and problems with exclusivity and free ebooks with Blake Crouch, and his brother Jordan.

Blake and Jordan have a new ebook horror-thriller out called EERIE, which is currently free on Kindle.

Download it. It's a great book.

For the sake of experimentation, EERIE didn't debut on Kindle. In fact, it has been available for several weeks.

Here are the Crouchs to explain why.


JORDAN: Blake and I shared a room for five years while we were growing up. Bunk beds, one closet, and a single dresser. When our father finished the basement, he built a second, even smaller bedroom with no windows and a door that locked, behind which my older brother disappeared and was never heard from again. Twenty years later we find ourselves sharing another space. This time, it's the page.

I guess it should come as no surprise then, that our first book together is about siblings trapped in a house. EERIE [free on Amazon today] follows an estranged brother and sister as they try to uncover the mystery of the violent presence that inhabits the upstairs bedroom.

Here's this pitch:

From newcomer Jordan Crouch and Blake Crouch, author of the Top-10 Kindle-bestsellers Run, Stirred, and Fully Loaded, comes Eerie, a chilling, gothic thriller in the classic tradition of The Shining and The Sixth Sense.

TRAPPED INSIDE A HOUSE

On a crisp autumn evening in 1980, seven-year-old Grant Moreton and his five-year-old sister Paige were nearly killed in a mysterious accident in the Cascade Mountains that left them orphans.

WITH A FRIGHTENING POWER

It's been thirty years since that night. Grant is now a detective with the Seattle Police Department and long estranged from his sister. But his investigation into the bloody past of a high-class prostitute has led right to Paige's door, and what awaits inside is beyond his wildest imagining.

OVER ANYONE WHO ENTERS

His only hope of survival and saving his sister will be to confront the terror that inhabits its walls, but he is completely unprepared to face the truth of what haunts his sister's brownstone.

Although I’ve been writing for close to ten years now, it’s always been as a personal outlet, not a serious professional endeavor. I’m really excited to say that’s about to change. This book represents a lot of firsts for me. My first novel, my first collaboration with Blake, and my first foray into self-publishing. So in the spirit of the blog, I'll talk about the experience with the collaborative process as the Newbie that I am.

I've read Blake's stuff for as long as I can remember: the good, the bad, and the humiliating high school creative writing projects. It’s not lip-service when I say that he’s one of my favorite writers. So, when the opportunity to work together presented itself in November of last year, it was an easy decision. We already had the basic idea for what would become EERIE, and over the next few months, we sequestered ourselves inside a Google Doc and hammered out the first draft.

If you've never used Google Docs before, here's what you need to know: it's a word processor that allows multiple users to edit the same page in real time. Like a big dry-erase board. As a collaborative tool it’s great, but for two brothers, it’s the creative equivalent of sharing a room again. There's nothing more humbling than watching a sentence you just carefully arranged disappear word-by-word and be replaced by another thought entirely.

That's the license we agreed to give each other. If something felt wrong or lacking or just plain stupid, strike it. Sometimes it hurts, but the price of collaborating is giving up a certain amount of control. Of course, that's easier said than done, and diplomacy did not always prevail. But on the few occasions when we resorted to the nuclear option, we always ended with something better than we had before.

Writing is an intensely personal endeavor. If you can make it work with someone else, it’s awesome. If that person is your brother, well that’s pretty special.

BLAKE: This was my fourth collaboration. I've written extensively with Joe, and then with Joe, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson, for Draculas. I collaborated with Selena Kitt on our short story Hunting Season. But this was different. My brother has been a writer for a long time and got a degree in creative writing from UNC-Wilmington. I'd always wanted to collaborate with him, because he's one of my most important sounding boards in the writing process. We finally hit upon an idea we were both very excited about, and though there were some speed bumps along the way, we persevered, and are immensely proud of the final product. It's essentially a monster-under-the-bed story, something that plays upon every child (and inner child's) greatest fear.

I've rambled on at length on this blog about collaboration, so I thought I'd share my experience on EERIE from the perspective of its publication.

With the dawn of KDP Select last December, exclusivity has become an increasingly divisive and provocative aspect of self-publishing. There are essentially five viable platforms--KDP, Pubit!, Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, and Apple (no, I didn't forget to mention Diesel. On the latter platform, I've sold a grand total of 1 book in my entire career, and I have a feeling that's more than most.)

NOOK

For EERIE's initial release, Jordan and I decided to try the Pubit! Nook First program. This is Barnes and Noble's interesting take on exclusivity wherein, by invitation, they offer you merchandising and promotion in exchange for releasing a new work straight to their platform for a 4-week period. After that period, you're free to publish everywhere.

I don't know what other writers' experiences with Nook First have been, but for the most part, Jordan and I were pleasantly surprised. We sold about 1500 copies of EERIE (@ $3.99) in May for Nook, which I know is far more than we would've sold on Barnes and Noble on our own. There were some disappointments, however. Despite huge sales on a handful of days, our sales rank was wonky. It never seemed to correlate to a corresponding low rank. Even on days where we sold 400 books, our rank never dropped below 2000. I have no doubt this cost us many, many sales, a good chunk of money, and kept the book from every appearing on the BN bestseller lists. A real shame, because the marketing triggers that Pubit! pulled worked in a big way. The tech just wasn't there to support them, and their tech support staff just couldn't be bothered to give a damn.

But that aside, Pubit! clearly has some real marketing power, and the smaller window of exclusivity (as opposed to KDP Select's 90 day commitment) is a definite plus. When Pubit!'s tech support decides to follow the model of Kobo and Amazon and treat writers as customers instead of entities to be ignored, Pubit! could become a force.

KOBO

Also in May, I had the opportunity to drop my best-selling title RUN into a Kobo promotion involving email blasts, coupons, and prominent placement on their landing pages. I could not have been more pleased with the results. RUN reached the top 10 on Kobo's overall list, stayed there for several weeks, and the rest of my catalog sold well in response. When you consider the size of Kobo's market share, the fact that I sold more books on Kobo in May than I did on Pubit! is astounding. It was only a few hundred dollars shy of beating Amazon for May, and it did beat Pubit! again in June. Even better, Kobo did not request exclusivity. Their writer-relations people are some of the friendliest, most proactive, responsive people in the business. Suggestions and requests I made last year were taken to heart. It's no secret that Kobo is on the verge of unveiling their own platform (Writing Life). If there is a company that could one day compete with the mighty Amazon, it's these guys. They're inventive, have far, far reaching plans to bring writers what could become the slickest digital publishing platform ever created, and they get that writers are customers. They listen. Best of all, my titles continue to sell and rank highly on Kobo's bestseller list, a month after the promos ended. I cannot say the same for Barnes and Noble. There is no other platform (aside from Amazon) where I've seen this level of "stickiness." If someone asked me what's keeping the majority of my titles out of KDP Select, I would have to say these guys.

AMAZON

KDP Select opinion pieces are a dime a dozen. Amazon is still, hands down, the most lucrative platform for me. Even though the transition from free to paid sales appears to have weakened as of late, success stories like Ann Voss Peterson and Robert Gregory Browne are convincing enough for my brother and I to roll the dice and drop EERIE into KDP Select. I say this as someone who has had great success with free titles: they still make me nervous. I get the excitement of giving away 70,000 ebooks. The prospect of making new fans. But free, in the long run, is dangerous. It sets a bad precedent and level of expectation in the minds of readers. Am I a hypocrite for saying this while EERIE is free? Maybe. But if all the platforms did away with free, I'd be okay with that. As writers, we cannot keep going to that well. It will dry up. Kindles may be able to hold a gazillion ebooks, but readers can't read that many. The key is not being downloaded. It's being read.

This post is not going to end with a definitive conclusion on freebies and exclusivity. I'm uncomfortable with both concepts, even as I play the game. My sense is that the people who survive and continue to do well selling ebooks will be those who experiment, take risks, and adapt. We've said it before, but what worked yesterday, may not work today, and the possibility of a game changer (like KDP Select) is constantly looming.

JOE SEZ:  I predicted that ebook retailers would seek exclusivity back in 2009. It's an obvious conclusion to draw when retailers compete. If there is a commodity that people want, and it is only available at one place, they'll shop at that place.

The author is the brand. I've lost count of the emails I've gotten from Nook and Kobo ereader owners who are wondering when Shaken and Stirred (both published by Amazon) will be available on their devices. That's one of the reasons my ebooks are DRM free--so readers can convert to other formats like epub to read on devices other than Kindle.

So how effective is exclusivity as a sales tool for Amazon? I've had people email me who bought a Kindle just to read Shaken. But how many more of my fans are annoyed because they own a different ereader that doesn't allow for a one-click purchase of Shaken? How many sales are lost?

My guess is: a lot. Shaken and Stirred have done well, but Blake and I have done better on self-pubbed projects.

For me to be exclusive with a retailer, I have to know the sales I'm going to lose will be made up for with increased sales on the exclusive platform. Long term, that's risky. After the big initial sales push, sales will even out, and years from now the lost sales will really rack up.

This is a related dilemma I'm having with foreign sales. My agent has been great in selling foreign rights to my self-pubbed ebooks. But do I want to give up future sales (which I'd have if I kept my rights and translated the ebooks on my own) for immediate sales?

I've been nudging Amazon for years to release titles in epub format. Let Nook owners buy my ebooks on Amazon. And let Kindles read epub format. I think that would make more money for everyone.

But until that happens, we're going to have retailers jockeying for market share, and one of the ways to do that is to have exclusive brands (ie authors).

A lot of people ask me my opinion about KDP Select, and I made it known that I have opted all of my titles out of it. I dislike Amazon's desire for exclusivity, because it limits my readership.

Back in January, it was possible for an ebook to be released free on the KDP Select, then bounce over to the Top 100 paid bestseller list. This is still possible, but a lot harder to do, and I'm not sure it justifies removing a title from other platforms to do it. I'm also not sure it does what Amazon wants it to do: lure customers to the Kindle platform. If Amazon wants to sell more Kindles, it should have as many ebooks in the KDP Select program as possible. But when authors like me opt out, that hurts readers.

A lot of people also ask me if it is a good idea to sign with one of Amazon's publishing arms. Blake and I hit the #1 Bestseller spot because of the push Amazon gave Stirred, something I haven't been able to do on my own. But was it worth the sales I lost on other platforms?

I don't believe so. 

If Amazon wants me back in KDP Select, they'll have to offer more. And if Amazon Publishing wants another book from me, they'll have to offer more. Exclusivity, and signing away rights, isn't how I see the future. Authors should be able to keep their rights, and exploit them in as many ways as possible.

I might be missing some important parts of this story. No doubt Amazon is crunching numbers, and they probably know how to find that sweet spot among ebook sales and freebies and Kindle sales and Prime memberships. But I know I'm not the only author they are disappointing, and in the long run that won't be good for them. 

Like Blake, I'll soon be doing a thing with Kobo, and I hope to replicate his results. I like that Kobo doesn't demand exclusivity. They want to please their customer base and make their website a worthwhile place to shop.

That's the line a retailer has to walk. Bringing new people to your online store (and ereader) while also making your current customers happy. Exclusivity might bring in new customers, but it will also irritate your current customers as more and more authors leave the platform.

Amazon is THE place to shop online. The shopping experience is better there than anywhere else. They make shopping easy, fast, and enjoyable. It's understandable that they want to sell more Kindles and Prime memberships. It's understandable that they don't want people buying Nooks or Kobos. But if KDP Select was non-exclusive, and Amazon sold epub, that would benefit all authors and all consumers, and irritate nobody.

It is in my best interest, as an author, to try as many things as possible, and for many platforms to succeed. I want the whole world to read my ebooks. And I don't care what ereader they read them on, or what store they buy them from.

Kobo gets that. Amazon sort of does. B&N, not so much.

As I've said in the past, the only two parties needed are writers and readers. The retailer who treats its writers and readers well will flourish. You do this by learning what these groups want.

So I'll make it real easy:

Readers want as many titles available as possible, without DRM, in multiple formats. They want to get ebooks with one-click. They want lower prices, and free ebooks. They want a fun, easy, fast place to shop. They want to have titles recommended to them, either by algorithms or other readers. They want to be able to contact and interact with each other, and with authors. They want to be listened to and have their needs and concerns met.

Writers want their work to be available as widely as possible, in multiple formats. They don't want exclusivity. They want to be able to interact with their retail partners and publishers easily and promptly, and to be treated well. They want high royalties, and the ability to control price (including the ability to make their ebooks free). They want data that can help them optimize their pricing and sales, and platforms that make accounting and joint-accounting a cinch. They want to be paid promptly. They want the ability to work directly and outside the box with retail partners and publishers and try new things. They want a stable platform where titles disappear immediately if removed and appear immediately if added, and where sales and rank are updated quickly and accurately. They want more bestseller list categories (like Top 100 Female Police Procedurals Priced at $2.99) and more BISEC categories. They want to be listened to and have their needs and concerns met.

A while ago I blogged about about active ebooks. Go read it. This is what authors want.

Blake, why the hate for freebies?

BLAKE: I don't hate freebies. But why will readers buy ebooks if there are more freebies to download than they could possibly read in their lifetime?

JOE: Because that's human nature. We collect. We horde. We buy more than we can ever use. That doesn't mean we reach a point where we stop buying, or acquiring. We all have To Be Read piles. Ebooks have made them easier to attain and manage.

BLAKE: More than we can ever use. That's what worries me. If a TBR pile is suddenly 1000 books instead of two dozen, and my book is #899 in the pile, what are the chances I will be read? If someone downloads my book for free, but never reads it, they won't become a fan and buy the rest of my paid catalog.

JOE: There are a few things happening here. First, there's a difference between being owned and being read. That difference has always been there (and I say "owned" instead of "bought" to include freebies, and even though ebooks are essentially a licence and not a purchase). We all own more media than we'll ever be able to experience. The whole concept of the "cloud" plays into this. Why own anything if it is all always available to access?

But the cloud is still a concept that hasn't entirely caught on. People do like to own media. More people will own us than read us. It'll always be that way. There's no guarantee a book owned will be read, even if that book was bought. Adding more choice to the equation doesn't matter. We've always had a lot of choice.

BLAKE: But if I pay money for that book because I heard about it and found it through reviews or whatever, the chance that I'll read it is better than if I just grabbed one of 20 freebies listed on Pixel of Ink.

JOE: We read what we want to read, free or not. I've bought $30 Blu-Ray disks that sit unwatched on my shelf for 5 months, and instead I've surfed YouTube for free for 90 minutes. But YouTube didn't stop me from buying. And I'll watch the Blu-Ray eventually.

That's a human mentality. We want to be able to access media whenever the mood hits. So maybe we'll stock up on freebies for a rainy day, and maybe that rainy day comes and maybe it doesn't, but I don't see it limiting or hurting sales.

We have paper bestsellers because of a lack of choice. Only so many titles can fit on the shelf at Costco. More choice is a good thing. 

BLAKE: You don't think there's a segment of customers, possibly very large, who have so loaded up their Kindles since Christmas and KDP Select came into being, that they don't actively shop anymore, because they have so many titles they want to read?

JOE: You've been to my house. How many books do I have? Video games? Movies?

BLAKE: You've got a few.

JOE: I've got tens of thousands. And this morning I was on Amazon and I bought 5 new Blu-Rays, two ebooks, and a video game.

My rule is: I only use marketing strategies that work on me. Which means I think a lot about my buying habits, and my media habits. While I'm sure there aren't many people out there with tens of thousands of books, movies, and games, I'm also sure the principle of what I'm saying is widespread: having enough doesn't inhibit acquiring more.

If someone gets your ebook for free, it doesn't mean you lost a sale. They may not read it, but they might never have bought it either. And people may be downloading a lot of free titles, but not reading them. Free, however, is a way for a customer to try you without any risk. Even if only a small percentage of freebies get read and make readers into fans, I believe that's still worthwhile.

BLAKE: So you think the free model is viable for the long haul? You don't think it trains people NOT to pay for books.

JOE: You know my belief on this. Eventually, all media will be free, and artists will be paid by advertisers. People can't be trained to pay more. That doesn't work. They'll get it for as little as they can get it for, and that ultimately means free. Rather than fight that, I'm happy to give consumers what they want. So I've made my titles free, I have no issues with file sharing, and I'm looking forward to a future where ads are in ebooks. But that's the topic for another blog.

My final point is: don't fight what the customer wants. If customers want free ebooks, give them free ebooks. So far it hasn't hurt my sales, and I don't expect it to.

Readers are very good at vetting, at finding what they want to read, free or paid. Our jobs as writers should be feeding those readers in any and all ways that we can. If you find readers, the money will follow.


161 comments:

Milton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Milton said...

Joe said: "Eventually, all media will be free, and artists will be paid by advertisers."

Golly, Joe, what happens when your "advertisers" tell you they love you, but stop using the word "fuck" and leave out the sex parts?

The Daring Novelist said...

I've never liked the idea of exclusivity. I understand it, and I suppose, if I were a more prolific writer, I'd consider writing something just for one of these programs like Amazon Select or Nook First.

I'm neutral on Free. I like to post things on my blog for free, for instance, and I'll make a book free now and then.

However, I think "free" has become overused as a tool, and is less effective than it was.

Casey Moreton said...

I'm tempted to dip my toes back into Nook and try Kobo, but I make more than ten times from the Kindle lending library alone than I did at B&N on any given month. I just never got any traction over there. I'm all for experimentation, but the free promos do work (though admittedly to a lesser degree these days) and the lending library is found money for me. My ninety day on Select is up on a couple of my titles on July 9th, and I'm seriously considering testing those waters, but after past experiences on other platforms I'm not overly optimistic about what those results might be.

Kaladin said...

I think there's merit to Joe's take on this. I'll admit it, I don't buy any ebooks, I get them all free from torrent sites. I've downloading literally thousands, and continue to download more every day. Does this contribute to my TBR pile? Of course. Does that increase the odds that I'll read any particular writer? Again, of course. I regularly browse my collection for new books to read, I use this blog and others to point me to new authors, and to authors I just havn't read before. Now granted I'm not really the target audience of most writer's, since I bring no money to the table, but that doesn't stop me recommending the books I like to others who do buy them. Free, to people like me, just means a convenient way to download straight to my kindle instead of grabbing it from torrents instead. Is it a lost sale? No, I never would have bought it anyway. But once I've read it, if I like it I'll recommend it to others who do buy, so that free download has potential for sales now, and makes it more likely I'll grab it.

Sasha said...

I think artists being paid by advertisers would be a disaster. Wouldn't that mean that advertisers would be playing the same gatekeeper function as agents and legacy publishers? I wouldn't like to see them have that power. I also can't believe they'd be handing over much money. An author getting 70% of a £2.99 ebook isn't going to get £2 per book from an advertiser.

I don't get the idea that we must always give the customer what they want. Surely you could argue the customer wants free everything? A free car, a free house, free clothes? But it doesn't make sense to sell them for nothing. Why should books be a special case?

Lisa Grace said...

I just came off a free run with Amazon for The 15th Star. It was in the top #50 of the free store for it's run, hovering around the #36 - #41 mark for most of it.
Currently, it's at a 4K rank fifteen hours later. The 15th Star is also on the Hot New Historical Mystery Releases - #6, and on several sub-genre lists in the top ten to top one hundred.
For an unknown, with only five novels out, Amazon can place my books in front of readers in a way that no other program has.

Douglas Glenn Clark said...

Enjoyed this post because it exposes the ongoing riddle -- what will work?

I've just released The Memory Songbook thru Kindle Select (my first KS title) and saw my rankings improve considerably after 5300 downloads. That was a nice feeling.

But feelings fade fast if free doesn't eventually mean sales.

As Joe as always made clear, he wants to make his living -- and a good living -- as a writer. If free means royalties, I'll give it a try until the next big thing announces itself.

Thanks Blake and Joe for a lively exchange.

P.S. Power said...

My personal take on this issue is slightly different than some. While I agree that free is the way of the future, I don't think it will be solely about advertising at all. I think that we may well end up with a patronage system instead.

Basically in modern terms this means that people that like your work pay you to do more through donations.

Most won't do it of course, but if you reach a large enough audience with your free works, it should be an alternative to Pepsi telling you what to write.

This will also cut out the middleman even more than is being done in the current model of e-publishing.

Of course I also think that one is about seven to fifteen years away in time. There is a lot of money to be made for Indie writers for the next three years or so and if you have a big enough name at the end of that time you may get some advertisers like Joe mentioned as the next big change comes into play.

The rules over all will stay similar. Have a large catalog, have control over it and build a reliable fan base.

*This is what I've picked up/made up in my whole... twenty months as a writer.

So take it for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

$6,89 here in Poland for this book. Not really "free".

Scott Daniel said...

I'm with Blake on this one. I could see where the free promotion could help an author that already has a name and a lot of titles. But with unknowns, at least speaking about my own experience, it doesn't. While I only have two titles (neither being novel length), offering one or the other up for free brought zero bump in my sales or even reviews. Both of my stories were downloaded more than a thousand times each during their free promoton periods on KDP and one of them even briefly cracked the free top 100.

I think an author's work does have value and if readers are trained that it doesn't, we're cutting our own throats.

You need not look far as to how this has played out in other industries. It's no secret that the internet has essentially killed the newspaper industry. One factor in that death was giving away its product for free from the start. Had newspapers stuck together and charged for their on-line product from the beginning, I believe they'd be in much better shape today.

Ad revenue, alone, doesn't work. AOL has dumped millions of dollars into its hyper-local Patch community news sites. AOL lost more than a $100 million last year on that venture. Going to an ad revenue model for e-book publishing isn't, IMHO, the best option for authors.

Alan Tucker said...

Like your world destroying hamburgers, Joe, I think free is a slippery slope.

I've seen many posts/comments by regular folks on Facebook et al saying things like, "I don't buy any ebooks, I just wait until they are free."

Mind you, I'm using free to my advantage right now. The first book in my series is free everywhere. It's been downloaded thousands of times since it went free at the end of February, and sales from the subsequent books are picking up steam. At the same time, I'm very bothered by statements like Kaladin makes above: "I get them all free from torrent sites."

With that sort of mindset, how is an author, or any other artist, supposed to make a living? Your future where advertisers support the content isn't here, and frankly, I don't see advertisers wanting to search out particular books/authors for their promotions. They will want some sort of one-stop-shop, a book advertising conglomerate, to purchase ads from. Which will be one more thing we Indies will have to promote and pay into.

Spike said...

Hamburgers and movies are not free and movies sell ads to its customers, who pay for there entertainment. I believe you're too far in the future Joe, but visionary's are.
E.L. James book shows there are sales out there by the ton. Customers will pay, if you can get there attention.

Becca Mills said...

I don't know that I buy the idea that all media naturally trend toward free. I'm thinking it's more complex and unpredictable -- wavelike, maybe. At first TV was free. Then cable showed up, and it turned out that lots of people were willing to pay for TV. Some people would pay a lot, in fact. Then the 'net showed up, and things started moving toward free again. Now a number of online publications (like the NYT) are backing away from free, and it seems to be working for them. I think the reality is more of a patchwork: the human psyche is disorderly, irrational, status-conscious, and it's hard to predict what people will be willing to pay for, and how much they'll be willing to pay, because dollars aren't the only thing people take into account. The "all data will end up free" mantra has been around since the early days of the internet. I'm thinking that's because utopian ideas have a great deal of staying power. Not ready to drink that Kool-Aid yet.

And props to Milton, above: not sure I want to give advertisers power over my content by becoming dependent on them for my living. That's a scary-icky idea.

Dustin Scott Wood said...

Then again, you can always put dunces like me in you "paid" column. More than once I've had the moment where I realize, "Dang it! I wanted to read that, and it was free yesterday! But I still really want it - oh well, I'll just buy it." :-p

Margaret Yang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sasha said...

@P.S. Power - I can't see a patronage solution working either, in a market flooded with free stuff. I think readers will hope that other readers will pay for their favourite authors to carry on writing and won't cough up themselves, as per the well-established social psychological phenomenon of deferred responsibility:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_responsibility

If people won't pay £2.99 for an ebook that would get the author £2 in royalties, and, say, 1% of readers would be willing to pay something to read a book by their favourite author (probably an overestimate unless they're a really, really favourite author), are those 1% likely to pay £200 each or anything like it? I don't think so. I think that both advertising and patronage would be disastrous for authors.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I just never found any way to gain traction at the other retailers. As I suppose is the indie equivalent of a midlister, I have to go where I will make a profit and for me that is still Select. I still make more every month from KOLL borrows than I ever made on B&N. If I went back to B&N I still wouldn't have any sales tools there to push my sales. Kobo? Well, I can see them becoming a real force, but at the moment, in the US where my sales are mostly, they're not.

I don't love exclusivity, but I'm also a pragmatist.

Liliana Hart said...

I went with KDP Select with only one of my books, and I wasn't all that convinced I should have done it to begin with, but I knew I needed to at least try it. My 90 days started March 15 and ended June 15.

The book I selected was the first in a mystery series, and the strategy I had behind using select was to offer 2 free days at the beginning of my 90 days, and then offer the last 3 free days right at the end, just before book 2 in the series came out.

My first 2 free days had more than 40,000 downloads and hit #1 on the Free list. When it went back to paid, it easily hopped onto the top 100 paid list, peaking at #63. It stayed there for several weeks before it started to slide. I had several hundred borrows through Prime, and I was making a ton of money through sales because it was a $4.99 book.

But...

By the time I reached June that book was hardly getting any borrows and it was down to 25 sales a day. In the meantime, I'd been getting email after email from owners of other ereaders asking me when they'd be able to get the book on their device. I decided then to opt out of select. When my last 3 free days arrived (after having 40,000 downloaded the first time) the book was only downloaded 25,000 times. (And no, I'm not one of those people who believes a book can be saturated. There are too many new readers out there). It reached #3 in the free store, and when it went back to paid it didn't reach the top 100 again. It peaked at #186.

It was fortunate I had book 2 come out immediately following, or I know sales would have slid into oblivion again.

So while I was initially excited at KDP Select and what it was doing for my sales, it very quickly turned into something I dreaded doing.

Am I sorry I did it? No. You have to try things in this business, and it was information I needed to know. Will I do it again? Not unless Amazon makes some changes to benefit me.

Ty Johnston said...

Becca mentioning cable television got me to thinking ... what if something similar was the future for publishing? Imagine online "channels," basically publishers, where readers would pay a set fee each month to read whatever they want. These "channels" would have in-house writers and editors. Sort of like KDP Select, but more extensive (and probably more exclusionary). Imagine Hulu but for writers. Not saying I like or dislike such an idea, but I suppose it's a possibility. And perhaps it's already happening and I'm just not recognizing it.

I.J.Parker said...

A timely post. I'm in negotiations with KDP to upload 4 titles in my own name (the agent used to have them under their "imprint"). First of all, KDP insists I honor the one-year exclusives on all the books, even though they no longer do the promotion they did in the beginning. Secondly, I think I'm encountering their "stickiness" in that I cannot get any answers to my e-mails, even though I have agreed to honor the original deal.

I'm also disenchanted with Amazon promotion in the long run. So I agree with Blake that there is little to be gained by people downloading free books and then not reading them. I've seen no effect on sales of other books in the series, and the "free" title will not show sales for weeks after the free period. I still see a little bit of advantage in having my name out there among the "free" announcements. So I'm doing some very limited Select participation, using loss leaders rather than the novels.
My feeling is that it's time for Amazon to come out with a new plan to promote their authors.

Anonymous said...

The discussion about how many ebooks you can buy, download and read goes to the heart of the reasons writers write and that delicate balance of creating art and making a living.

A book read and enjoyed might lead to another purchase.

A book downloaded and unread might not unless the purchaser is, as indicated, a pathological hoarder.

But is selling unread books to hoarders the goal of a writer? Discuss.

In the past, writers seemed to prefer that their books were bought and read. The hope was that the enjoyment of the reading led to a second book being bought. A loyal 'readership' in the true sense was created. And a living made.

Is it a sad outcome when the Internet turns writing into the equivalent of those cable shopping shows where viewers with phone in one hand and credit card in the other wait for an opportunity to buy something, anything, to add to the things in the basement they bought last week but never used?

On a positive note ebooks take up very little space.

Anonymous said...

Liliana Hart said:

"And no, I'm not one of those people who believes a book can be saturated. There are too many new readers out there"

It raises an interesting question.

Yes, there are many new readers out there. But there are also many new books. In fact more books than ever before since any reader can now become a writer.

It seems reasonable to assume that as in the traditional market place, where a few books will become bestsellers and the rest will be lucky to earn out their advance, online will in time also reach saturation point where a fixed amount of money is being spent on ebooks beyond which it is difficult to go.

Fifty Shades of Grey sold incredible numbers and became an online sensation. Now everyone is jumping on the erotica bandwagon. If demand is 'insatiable' - forgive the pun - you'd expect the clones and copies to sell equally well. It's likely that they won't since, as Joe has pointed out previously, books are not fungible items. People look for particular books, not just any book.

You can double the number of books available but it won't necessarily double the amount of sales.

However, as yet, no one knows what the digital saturation limit might be. It might be near or very far away.

Did anyone see the launch of Google's Nexus 7 tablet? That's the end of the Kindle Fire. Better product. Similar price. Not that Amazon will mind as long as you can buy from them using it.

All it needs is an app via which you can read any format ebook and the competing publisher problem will be solved.

Karen Woodward said...

Blake, Jordan, Joe, thank you! This was the post about kdp select, self-publishing platforms, marketing, and so on, that I was waiting for.

Blake and Jordan, thanks for the free book. This one isn't going on my TBR list (which, admittedly, is enormous), I'm going to start it tonight! Cheers.

Glad to have you back, Joe!

Mike Dennis said...

Neither of you guys have addressed the fact that free books (on KDP Select) often translate into increased internal promotion on Amazon, raising the book's (and the author's) visibility. This invariably results in increased sales.

Now, I'm aware that Amazon has changed their algorithms since December, causing a dropoff in the post-free bounce, but I've had one title go free four times, and even with the dropoff, it's providing me with a lot more visibility and sales post-free than I would've otherwise had.

Kobo? Sony? Nook? I've never sold anything of any consequence on them. My guess is those media are helpful if you're selling a shitload of books already, which you guys are, but for those of us who have to scrounge for sales, KDP Select's free program is the road to more readers.

Mike Dennis said...

Neither of you guys have addressed the fact that free books (on KDP Select) often translate into increased internal promotion on Amazon, raising the book's (and the author's) visibility. This invariably results in increased sales.

Now, I'm aware that Amazon has changed their algorithms since December, causing a dropoff in the post-free bounce, but I've had one title go free four times, and even with the dropoff, it's providing me with a lot more visibility and sales post-free than I would've otherwise had.

Kobo? Sony? Nook? I've never sold anything of any consequence on them. My guess is those media are helpful if you're selling a shitload of books already, which you guys are, but for those of us who have to scrounge for sales, KDP Select's free program is the road to more readers.

Elena DeRosa said...

My Select 90 day exclusivity is up today and I have decided not to re-enroll my novel. Reading the comments on ENT and POI's posts from readers thanking them (never the author) for making the book free, some saying they will NEVER pay for an eBook, or, they're just waiting until a certain book goes free to download it, makes me think readers are being conditioned to expect something for nothing. As soon as they see the book on Amazon with "Prime Members can borrow for free" they assume it will eventually be free to everyone during a promotion, and are waiting it out.

The other negative of free downloads, besides too many people never actually reading it, is some copies will wind up in hands of readers who would not normally read your "genre" and are not your target audience. And they will be sure to let you know via a one-star rating.

On the positive side, I have had many readers personally contact me, leave glowing reviews, and make recommendations to their friends and family. Most likely they never would have heard of me without downloading my free book. My hope has been my book got into the hands of those who needed to read it.

If I find pulling the book from Select was a mistake, I'll just re-enroll it, and I don't even have to wait 90 days. That's what's great about being an indie...I can make my own decisions, even if they are mistakes.

Blake Crouch said...

@Elena

Totally agree with this. If someone likes the look of my book, but won't fork over $2.99 or $3.99 to buy it and support the time and effort that went into its creation, then I won't want them for a reader.

JDuncan said...

Not sure I'm looking forward to the day media is free and the creators are paid through advertising. How do you see this working for writers, Joe? I haven't pondered the idea much so my brain is spinning it's wheels, but offhand I'd say that I'm not excited about having to court advertisers in order to get any income from a book.

That said, are we looking at a future were ebooks have adds sprinkled through, in chapter headers and whatnot, where you get paid on click throughs? Or we looking at getting paid based on consumers buying a book with certain adds and you get paid based upon the purchase and the ads potential for click throughs?

Best selling folks would clearly have the advantage of advertisers paying them upfront to actually be put into the book, and I'm sure we're looking at the whole idea of ads being tailored to the buyer, whose information is pulled from purchasing data.

Honestly though, I just don't like the idea of becoming an advertising conduit. I bought the more expensive Nook for my wife because I refused to get the Kindle with ads. I hate ads. I can see putting up free media with the potential for getting ad money. That's a trade-off for free. I won't pay for media with ads in them though.

Curious what you are thinking about here, Joe. So guess you should get on that blog post. :p

Joe Konrath said...

If someone likes the look of my book, but won't fork over $2.99 or $3.99 to buy it and support the time and effort that went into its creation, then I won't want them for a reader.

Really? I'm happy to be read, no matter what they paid, and owned, even if I'm not read.

This is a gigantic global market. The more people who download you, and read you, the better off the artist will be. Money will trickle down. It's tough to be famous and not rich.

Blake Crouch said...

If free ebooks create a majority who don't care about supporting the artists who write the stories they consume, then this culture of low-priced ebooks for everyone will be destroyed. Maybe ad-supported ebooks are coming, but we're not even close yet, and I pay my bills when people buy my books. I'm happy to occasionally cast my net into the free waters to catch readers I couldn't otherwise reach, but I don't like the mentality it fosters. There are a growing number of people who want my books, but will choose to wait b/c they know I'll make it free one day. That is a problem. We're training a huge mass of people to be cheap m*****f*******. And I don't care to be read by someone who has never spent a dime on my work.

J Randall said...

Blake, I agree totally.

Anonymous said...

Quote from the pirate who uses torrent sites to steal our stuff:
"Is it a lost sale? No, I never would have bought it anyway."

If I leave my car on the street with a "For Sale" on the window, and a pirate takes it, then why wouldn't I consider that a lost sale.

The pirate telling me he wouldn't have bought the car anyway wouldn't make me feel any better.

CT said...

Interesting to see how everything is changing so quickly, it feels like Joe's thoughts on marketing strategies change with every post.

Casey Moreton said...

I have absolutely no problem giving away books to create a bump in sales. But what makes me crazy is when a person who GOT THE BOOK FOR FREE and doesn't enjoy it, then turns around and leaves a scorching negative review. That takes a tremendous amount of freaking nerve.

Sasha said...

Joe said: "I'm happy to be read, no matter what they paid, and owned, even if I'm not read. This is a gigantic global market. The more people who download you, and read you, the better off the artist will be. Money will trickle down. It's tough to be famous and not rich."

But it's pretty easy to be less than famous and go to the wall under this model, as with the legacy model. There's nothing automatic about money trickling down.

Anonymous said...

Joe wrote:
Really? I'm happy to be read, no matter what they paid, and owned, even if I'm not read.

This is a gigantic global market. The more people who download you, and read you, the better off the artist will be. Money will trickle down. It's tough to be famous and not rich.


Joe, I'm so glad you said that!

A couple of years ago I suffered a financial set-back and, for about a year, could barely afford to pay rent. (Yes, I had a job, but one that didn't pay very well!) I only had $3 a day to spend on food.

I had to think twice about spending even $0.99 on a book, although I allowed myself two or three 99 cent books a month, so when one of my favorite authors gave one of his or her books away for free ... wow. That put a spring in my step. It was great.

Some folks are poor, so poor that they have to think twice before even spending $2.99 on something not related to keeping them alive and keeping a roof over their head.

Now, I'm not saying that authors should give their books away for free, or at a reduced price, because some folks are dirt poor. After all, there are libraries.

Blake, Mr. Crouch, I guess I'm just trying to say that there are reasons other than being cheap or miserly, why a reader who wants to buy books at 2.99 or 3.99 doesn't.

I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but perhaps you meant that if a person can afford to spend 2.99 or 3.99 but won't, that you don't want them for a reader? I'd hate to think that you didn't want me as a reader back when I couldn't afford to pay for a 2.99 ebook.

In any case, I do love your writing. And, thank goodness, my financial fortunes are much better these days (*knock on wood*).

Susan

Christopher John Chater said...

The "what writers want" paragraph should be the eBook revolution's constitution.

Never liked KDP select as a long term proposition. I tried the Prime free trial, but wasn't super impressed. I hope someday they allow devices to roam freely, like brands of televisions, but for now I think the competition is keeping everyone on their toes.

I watch hours of free hulu, but did not upgrade to hulu plus because you still have to watch tons of commercials. I think they made a huge mistake by having a pay program. Free is great for experimenting with things you would not not have risked paying for. I did a LibraryThing giveaway for my book and more than once I received reviews like "I didn't expect to like this, but..."

Rob Cornell said...

This is a gigantic global market. The more people who download you, and read you, the better off the artist will be. Money will trickle down. It's tough to be famous and not rich.

So ranking is what it really comes down to? That's all that matters? And the money will follow?

I'm not sure I agree with this. Free only works if it makes you famous. But you can make a living without being famous, but not if you're giving away your work for free.

Naja Tau said...

I put a book on Kindle & did the free promotion thing. It was downloaded 400 times but hasn't gotten a single review yet- positive or negative in over a month. That kind of leads me to think that most people haven't read their free downloads.

This is a great post. It helps explain a lot when you get to see the mutual experiences of the ebook community.

Tom Maddox said...

Casey Moreton said...

I have absolutely no problem giving away books to create a bump in sales. But what makes me crazy is when a person who GOT THE BOOK FOR FREE and doesn't enjoy it, then turns around and leaves a scorching negative review. That takes a tremendous amount of freaking nerve.

I am not sure I agree with that logic because if you say that users should not be leaving negative reviews for free books then I would think you would also need to say they should not leave positive reviews either.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I have no idea what to make of KDP Select at this point, since I'm so new to this game. But as Blake mentioned, it has worked wonders for TRIAL JUNKIES, and all of my books are selling now. Some better than others.

The Prime library has been a boon, as well. I've had several thousand borrows and that added bonus has contributed significantly to my monthly totals. I'm not sure B & N and Kobo would generate as much.

I'm waiting to see how the next couple months pan out before I make any decisions regarding Select, but if I sell only a third of what I sold in June, I may consider staying there.

Casey Moreton said...

I am not sure I agree with that logic because if you say that users should not be leaving negative reviews for free books then I would think you would also need to say they should not leave positive reviews either.

You know, I person has the right to leave any review they want, but it's called looking a gift horse in the mouth. A free book is a gift. And often times the reader sounds so ANGRY that they didn't like the book. It was FREE. MOVE ON.

But also, when I stop to think about it, if I pay money for something, I feel more justified being critical. If it's a gift and I enjoyed it, I'm happy to leave positive feedback. But if it was a gift and I thought it sucked, no way in the world I'm going to slam it in public. But then again I don't feel the need to voice my opinion all the time.

Ellen O’Connell said...

I'm with Blake on the free bit. I can't tell you how many threads I see that start out "Recommend [some kind of book] here." After a short time of people recommending books they read and liked, the thread degenerates into "I haven't read this but it's free."

In the meantime, while I know everyone's different, I can't help but be affected by my own attitude. If I hear about a free book by an author I know and like, I'll get it, but I don't read through most lists of free books. Too many of them have turned into things I zap off the Kindle within a couple of clicks. I'd rather pay for something I know I'll like. Or get it from the library.

Maybe I'm part of a small minority, but there seem to be enough customers for my never been free books to keep me happy.

Tom Maddox said...

Casey,

I see your point. I don't think I have reviewed a single book on Amazon so trashing a free book is something I would never do myself. It just seems to me that if you are willing to accept the good reviews based on the freebies that you also have to accept the bad, as long as they are legitimate reviews and have valid points.

Now, if some someone posts a review that reads

"I hate paranormal romance novels and I would never spend a penny to actually purchase one but I picked up this one because it was free. It was awful. It contained all the same traits I have always hated about paranormal romances. Don't bother with it".

Than that person is just being an asshole!

Jude Hardin said...

I would like to see buy one/get one free as a promo option on KDP.

That way, we could still use free as a selling tool; but, we wouldn't be destroying the perception of value by pricing too many books at $0.00.

Anonymous said...

Casey Moreton said:

"You know, I person has the right to leave any review they want, but it's called looking a gift horse in the mouth. A free book is a gift. And often times the reader sounds so ANGRY that they didn't like the book. It was FREE. MOVE ON."

I don't care if they bought it or got it for free. If they read it and didn't like it, I'm glad they told me. It might affect my purchase, just as it would if they raved about it.

Writers give away free ebooks in the hope of getting reviewed. But if a book sucks, they should expect readers to say so, accept it and write a better book next time.

The internet means anyone can be a writer. It also means anyone can be a critic.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I see giving away free books as the price for a spot on Amazon's front table. Virtual co-op, if you will. But then it has worked pretty well for me so far, as Blake pointed out. I gave away 70,000 books, and while I didn't break into the top 100 in the paid list, PUSHED TOO FAR has made more money than any of my previous traditionally published books to date. Already.

The other books I've published with Joe aren't in Select, and they're doing well, too.

So right now, I'm sitting back with Rob, taking in all these comments, and being a knowledge sponge. Interesting blog, Joe, Blake, and Jordan!

BTW, I've read Eerie, and I loved it. Great characters who I really cared about, unexpected twists, and creeeepy. It was a really fun read.

Casey Moreton said...

Writers give away free ebooks in the hope of getting reviewed. But if a book sucks, they should expect readers to say so, accept it and write a better book next time.

Hey anonymous coward, I don't give away books to get reviewed. Write a better book than me and then we'll talk. But no, you won't because you can't.

Ramon said...

I'm having trouble with the free thing as well. Ultimately, I will never understand how people want to consume a product without paying for it; even at a fair price. I work very hard for ever dime I make and value the money I earn, but I don't want things for free. (Not that I would pass up a free video game or book or music) I want to pay for the product someone has painstakingly created for my enjoyment.

Still, I think that the whole free thing is going beyond what it should. I see so many people all the time say, "I haven't bought a book in a long time, but I've got plenty to read."
I admit that I'm new at this, only having four titles published, and I'm still learning. I just have a hard time with the free situation because of the attitude of so many readers out there of "I want free or not at all." That's my main issue. Otherwise, I could see the value of a free title as a marketing tool. We can't build our career on downloaders, IMO.

Joe Flynn said...

Blake, thanks for the tip on Kobo. I signed up to be notified when Writing Life is up and running. I'll be bringing out a new novel this month and knowing there will soon be a new, high quality platform from which to sell it makes it all the more exciting.

Joe Konrath said...

If I leave my car on the street with a "For Sale" on the window, and a pirate takes it, then why wouldn't I consider that a lost sale.

Because you no longer have the car.

Cars can't be copied. Media can.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Oh man! I paid for it a week ago! Because I like you!

Seriously, I love to read Blake’s stories because he has a handle on the feelings of men and children. Not to say he doesn’t understand women; he does. But his insights into men and children are especially fine. And he knows my adopted American west… there’s no faking that.

I’ll collect all his books, one way or another. And I’ll read them, as my family peruses my Kindle Fire with raised eyebrows… heh, heh.

Joe Konrath said...

If free ebooks create a majority who don't care about supporting the artists who write the stories they consume

Slippery slope, Blake. If you need readers to care about your financial well-being, you're in the wrong business. Why not boycott libraries? Those cheap bastards aren't paying you anything. Lending a book to mom? Hell no, she didn't pay for it.

As writers, we're lucky to find an audience who wants to read us. It's up to us to figure out how to benefit form that financially. Otherwise you're acting like the Big 6, trying to "train" consumers to pay more for ebooks. That's not a winnable fight.

People don't need to be trained to be cheap. We all naturally want to get goods and sevices at the lowest price. Sometimes free is the lowest price. Getting angry at those people who want something free is getting mad at them for eating or breathing.

And I don't care to be read by someone who has never spent a dime on my work.

A haughty, and silly, thing to say. And I know you don't mean it, because we're both tickled how many hundreds of thousand of SERIAL we've given away, and wee both know it lead to many new fans who did buy our work.

I'd much rather have a million people download my ebooks for free than a thousand people buy them. That would be worth it just in reviews alone. Plus it is great for word of mouth, other potential purchases, and counts as free advertising.

Some people are poor. Some don't spend money on anything. Some like bargains. Dismissing that large a group isn't wise.

My attitude is to be as widely downloaded/read/owned/known as possible. If yougavce away 10 million ebooks, you don't think Hollywood would come knocking? You don't think a fraction of those million would buy the sequel?

I'm dismissing your posts to you being grumpy because of your stress level. You're thinking analogue, my friend. We're in a digital world now.

Adam Pepper said...

I truly believe it is an honor and a privilege to share my work with people and I'm always thrilled when people give me their time. That doesn't mean I don't want to make money. I certainly do, but I also know there are some authors out there who I'll never give another moment of my time to at any price. They didn't deliver and I came away feeling my time was wasted. I want my readers to come away feeling they got both their time investment and money's worth. If you do that consistently, I believe the financial support will follow.

Jude Hardin said...

I'd much rather have a million people download my ebooks for free than a thousand people buy them.

I would rather be an auto-buy for, say, 100,000 people. It seems to me that should be the ultimate goal--to have a sizable fan base willing to purchase each book as it is released, at a fair price, without blinking.

I doubt if these free giveaways, in the long run, are going to help many authors achieve that goal.

Adam Pepper said...

You may be right, Jude but does that matter? There are always more readers than buyers. Some get books from libraries or borrow from friends. This idea that only paying customers should read our work is unrealistic. Paying customers are appreciated but. I'd rather embrace everyone who's interested in my work.

P.S. Power said...

I think that most of the people that get only free books are people that most likely would have been doing that already.

There is a presumption of value for anything you have to pay (or work) for. Some people will always try to get your work for free and on the web, if you become famous enough, they will. (Check out google, with your book title plus the word torrent...)

But those individuals probably wouldn't have paid for your work. they might chat about it though, if they like it and that counts towards advertising.

Kind of like sending out hundreds or thousands of friends to talk up your work for you. (Because sane people really don't strike up conversations to talk a book down.)

I know that I'd love to have a hundred thousand people out potentially telling others about my work.

Blake Crouch said...

Just reread my comments. This:

"And I don't care to be read by someone who has never spent a dime on my work."

was sloppily stated. I will clarify. If someone will only read pirated copies of my work, or won't EVER shell out 2 or 3 bucks and waits hoping I'll make the book free, those are the kind of readers I don't want. And why would I? Why do I care to gain readers who will never never never put a dime in my pocket in return for my work?

Serial was intentionally written as a gift for anyone who wanted to download it. The hope was that a percentage of those downloads would then lead to sales. They did.

I've seen the Amazon and free book notification site message threads where people state they will never buy an ebook again. That's a problem.

Free ebooks should be the exception, not the norm. They should be appreciated, not expected. They're becoming the norm for a growing segment of readers. This is irrefutable, and that worries me as it should everyone writer. My angst is directed toward that group.

Not people who download my work for free, love it, and buy more.

Not for people who are so financially strapped they have to choose between eating and reading.

I'm thrilled if they can get my books onto their ereaders for free and it gives them some measure of welcome distraction.

Jude Hardin said...

Some get books from libraries or borrow from friends.

Libraries and friends pay for the copies of the books they lend, and the people who borrow them actually read them.

Free ebooks only help generate sales because of the algorithms that follow the promotions, not because people are reading and talking up the books. That has been my experience, anyway.

Joe Konrath said...

They should be appreciated, not expected.

Wanting to be appreciated is just as silly as wanting readers to care about your financial well-being.

I understand your point. Writers work hard, and want to be compensated monetarily. But readers don't owe us a living. They don't owe us anything.

We're lucky to be read. A lot of writers hate it when I use the word "lucky", but I'm right. Having a sense of entitlement, or any expectations at all from those who choose to read you, is looking at the reader/writer relationship in an unhealthy way.

We're able to make people happy, make ourselves happy, and get paid for it. Readers have a right to expect good stories form writers. Writers shouldn't expect anything from readers. Doing so will only lead to disappointment, depression, bitterness, anger, and a loathing for the very group we strive so hard to entertain.

There will always be people who only read free books, just like there will always be people who leave one star reviews. Being angry at that is like being angry at water causing erosion.

If you don't have a problem with libraries or used book sales, you can't have a problem with free ebooks or piracy. They're the same thing.

If enough people read you, money will come. Shunning a large section of readers because they don't put money directly into your pocket is misguided analogue thinking.

Adam Pepper said...

Im pretty confident that the vast majority of readers would rather buy a book by their favorite author than read a freebie by an author they aren't familiar with. I think it's important not to lose sight of that.

Blake Crouch said...

"There will always be people who only read free books, just like there will always be people who leave one star reviews. Being angry at that is like being angry at water causing erosion."

I'm not angry at them. I'm saying that the current all-you-can-eat buffet of free ebooks is a breeding ground for "people who only read free." Those people who only read free don't support writers. I don't think it's a sense of entitlement to want to be paid for my job. Apply your argument to a plumber or an electrician. You think these guys walk around just feeling lucky for the privilege of getting to fix shit at your house? No. They have a skill. They want to be paid. So should writers. How is this whole "I'm just lucky to be read" any different than "I'm just lucky to be published by [insert Big 6 Publisher]?"

P.S. Power said...

Isn't there luck involved though? That plumber working on your house is one of several in the area, but you chose him. Maybe you read a review that said he (or she) does good work, or a friend told you about them, but that's still outside of the control of the plumber, therefore it can be fair to call it luck.

Same with getting a book deal from the big six. It may not be the best way to go for everyone at present, but it certainly has luck involved. You have to meet the right people, catch the editors or even the book agents at the right time in the right mood and a thousand other things outside of your control.

So... Luck.

That doesn't mean that the plumber isn't good, they may be the best, but making all the right connections takes more than skill alone.

*Which isn't an excuse for not doing the best work possible. That's a given.

Joshua Simcox said...

"Why not boycott libraries? Those cheap bastards aren't paying you anything. Lending a book to mom? Hell no, she didn't pay for it."

I agree. I buy as many books - both paper and digital - as I can comfortably afford, but there are a number of authors I read almost exclusively from my local library. I hope that doesn't make me any less of a fan--I do read and appreciate the work, and that kind of support has to be worth something. And if I enjoy the author enough, I'll usually find some way to contribute financially, even if I'm not shelling out 20 bucks for each new hardcover release.

But I understand Blake's argument. Writers aren't owed anything, but of course they hope to earn some compensation for their labor. If a large enough group of people is taking the time to acquire and read your work, it's not unreasonable to want at least a percentage of them to financially support your efforts, especially when the work is priced so affordably.

I bought "Eerie" a couple of weeks ago, so I missed out on the opportunity to pick it up as a freebie. Disappointed? A little. But it's a such a great read that I feel Blake and Jordan have more than earned my $3.99. I've also pre-ordered "Pines". I'm not holding out for a freebie there, either.

If you're a satisfied customer and you have a few bucks to spare, you should be willing to help your favorite artists pay their bills. It's the right thing to do.

--Joshua

Joe Konrath said...

You think these guys walk around just feeling lucky for the privilege of getting to fix shit at your house? No. They have a skill.

A plumber is paid hourly to do a specific job that he's hired to do.

You don't pick a writer out of a phone book, call him up, and have him come over to your place and tell him "I'll give you $60 an hour to write me a story about flying monkeys."

We're entertainers. We're not essential. We don't write to please specific people, because we don't know and haven't met the majority of the people who read us. As such, all we can do is hope there is an audience for the shit we think up. And yes, that is lucky.

Stopping a leak in a pipe, or installing a new circuit breaker in a house, is not comparable to pleasing a reader. Stories are arbitrary. The same story can be loved by one person, hated by another. This isn't the same as a leak being fixed.

No one owes a plumber, or a writer, a living. Neither an electrician nor an author deserves, or is entitled to, money. But a plumber's skills don't involve luck to be discovered, or appreciated. Every town has a limited number of plumbers in the phone book. And if the plumber fixes the leak, he succeeds.

The phonebook for writers (a bookstore, or Amazon) contains hundreds of thousands of titles. And if you're lucky enough to be read, that doesn't mean you'll have a satisfied customer, because the criteria for success are subjective and arbitrary.

As writers, we need to find and satisfy readers. Doing this isn't as cut and dry as fixing a leak. It isn't as essential as fixing a leak. And there's a lot more competition to be chosen than among those who fix leaks.

Being lucky to be read is no different than being lucky to find a Big 6 publisher. No one deserves it. In each case, it involves a lot of things beyond the writer's control.

I'm not saying we need to kiss anyone's asses, readers or publishers. But being grateful is more useful than being dismissive. It isn't in a writer's best interest to turn of readers, no matter what kind of readers they are. Nor is it emotionally healthy to bridle at the fact that sometimes we're read without being paid.

We're not skilled tradesmen, fixing and installing necessary things. We're artists, vying for people's attention amid thousands of other artists. And if you manage to find those people, you're damn lucky.

Joe Konrath said...

I'll put it in a more direct, succinct way:

No one hires us to do specific work. We do specific work without anyone asking for it, and hope some people will pay for it.

It's the difference between being hired to paint a portrait, and painting a portrait hoping some stranger will buy it. One is a guaranteed sale. One isn't.

Once hope enters the equation, luck is paramount.

Tom Maddox said...

I think the people who say they will only read free books are those that would not be buying the books anyway. If they could not get free books on the kindle then they would still be hitting used books stores, rummage sales and libraries to get their fix. I am not sure if they should even be taken into consideration when considering the viability of having the book be free for a few days.

Eerie, as of right now, is #24 in the free store and #1 in the free horror category. I certainly hope that translates into sales after the free period, but more importantly I hope it creates more fans who, like me, discovered Blake thanks to a freebie but who is now more than happy to purchase his other work.

Paul Draker - @pauldraker said...

Mobile apps followed a similar trajectory to eBooks, but they are farther along.

The history of the Apple AppStore is instructive.

Apple allowed mobile content producers to bypass the gatekeepers (Verizon/ATT/Sprint/etc.) in 2008. App developers could publish what they want when they wanted, to a significant number of iPhone users, for a 70% revenue share.

In 2008-2009 the top App downloads and sellers were low-priced, low-quality quickies - flashlights and fart apps.

In 2009-2010 consumers apparently got tired of the crap apps. Apps with higher production value climbed the charts. Prices trended downward for these, too, though. The $0.99 price point soon dominated the top selling charts. The less successful mobile app companies (i.e. those whose products consumers didn't love, and who got shitty reviews) decried the Apple pricing "race to the bottom." These companies bitched about Apple and sounded the death knell for mobile games. They did this even as their better-reviewed competitors made bank.

In 2010-2011, higher prices ($2.99 - $4.99) came back into play, especially for the emerging consumer favorites that came out of the low-priced "App Wars."

In 2011 a new business model rose to dominance with the advent of in-app micro transactions - freemium. Many of the top grossing apps became free. Consumers downloaded them and then voluntarily spent for more in-app "content" (virtual goods or currency).
Ads were a secondary business model, with "pay to turn off the ads" common.

So what does this mean for eBooks?

YMMV when it comes to interpretation. Here's what I think.

We're already seeing prices for many self-published eBooks rise from $0.99 to $2.99 - $4.99 without killing sales.

I think we'll see more authors benefit from giving away some books free, and charging for others.
Joe's ad-supported eBooks will become a reality - probably in 2 years. There will be other models alongside it, though.

Some people will still pay for eBooks, and not mind doing so, to avoid ads.

I don't know what the eBook equivalent of micro transactions will be. What kind of premium content can be offered to accompany a book? It's worth thinking about, people.

The lesson of the freemium model should not be lost on us writers.

Just as some people can't or won't pay $2.99 for a book, there are others who will pay far more for content they love. Why limit what they will gladly pay you to only that $2.99?

Thought provoking post, Blake, Jordan, and Joe.

And great comments, everyone. Some of them really made me think.

Ramon said...

While I can agree that there is luck involved in being read amidst the thousands of titles out there, I also believe that we as entertainers are indeed essential in a different way. Yes, society needs plumbers, doctors, electricians, etc, but I doubt anyone here would want to live in a world devoid of entertainment. It is a big factor in mental and physical health, and IMO is too easily dismissed as unimportant. I'm not saying we should be looked at in the same light as doctors or soldiers, but we do represent a necessary part of society. And while not everyone can buy every single book they want to read, and get some for free, $3-$5 for a book is not a lot to ask. The same people who will never pay for an ebook go to work every day, either at the movie theatre, or office building and expect to be paid for the work they do, no matter what kind of work it is. They put in eight hours and expect $80.00 (for example) We put in weeks, often months of work, and ask for $3-$5. Free is okay IMO, but not when it's exclusive.

Still, it is a good point not to be irritated or angry at free only readers, they will never go away. Still, I do hold a concern that their population is growing.

Rich Van Gaasbeck said...

Wow, I hope I spell disintermediation correctly...

I was working in networking before it was legal for AOL to attach to it, before green card lawyers and before web browsers. I've been predicting for two decades that all intermediation will disappear. I've always thought that we'd see consumers directly purchasing from manufacturers and service providers.

When web browsers and search engines came along I thought, aha, now buyers can find and connect directly with those making the goods. I thought all distributors, wholesalers and retailers would disappear. And why not? The intermediaries were providing two functions, storing the goods, and connecting with the customer. Why couldn't the manufacturer handle the storage (and limit it with JIT manufacturing) and the web provide the connection?

For two decades I've been wrong (or only partially right or ahead of my time). Brick and mortar retailers have been reduced and a lot of the wholesalers and distributors are no longer in the picture, but almost as soon as web browsers and search engines became available online "shopping mails" and other online retailers took their place.

I still don't know if I'm premature or just wrong, but think maybe there's a reason that we have Amazon and other online retails and aren't going direct from consumer to producer. I think the reason is that online retailers are not exclusive. The reason I started using Amazon was because I *knew* that I could go there and, if the book was available anywhere, it would be available there. Having 6 accounts for each of the Big 6 and having to browse 6 different top 100 lists to find books in my favorite genre is not an attractive alternate to going to a single site and finding exactly what I'm looking for.

Any knowing that, I've very surprised that Amazon is in the exclusive content business at all.


Rich
"Way Outside the Box"

Alan Spade said...

Joe, I'm most pleased with the evolution of your thoughts regarding exclusivity. It's very important to respect readers, and when you go exclusive, you disregard a great deal of readers.

Ramon said : "Yes, society needs plumbers, doctors, electricians, etc, but I doubt anyone here would want to live in a world devoid of entertainment".

Entirely with you on this one, Ramon. If you think writers and books, and entertainment are of no value, just imagine a moment a world where ebooks would be removed from all the servers, and books from all libraries and bookstores.

Imagine a world where all the writers would be on strike. I can tell you : people would be very, very upset. And angry.

I do aknowledge the promotion power of free ebooks, but I'm with Blake Crouch when he says you have to train the people, when they can do it, to buy your ebooks.

People who are trained to wait for the freebies are not a good thing. These are not always the same people that would go to torrents or piracy websites. Some of them are young people.

You don't want to devaluate your work, because in a way, that's what you are. If you believe all things will eventually turn free on the net, great ! So you end capitalism right now. The utopian of an entirely free world wide web is delusional in a world that stays capitalist.

Even if Internet is the thing in the world that nears the most with the communism ideology, history has shown what happens when you try to apply that ideology.

I think the commentary of Paul Draker was also very interesting and I agree with him. Ads will not replace payment. The two will coexist. Action means reaction. Many people are now trained to avoid ads.

As authors, we do have a power. We just have to not dismiss it.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those cheapskates mentioned in the comments, the one who downloads a lot of free books(legally, from Amazon etc).

I also buy 2nd hand books, and spend many hours at the library.

But I still buy books, if I love the author. I recently paid $15 for an author I love, as his book wasn't available in e format.

The people who download many free books are looking for the one author they love, who they wouldn't mind paying for. I buy about 1-2 books for every 20 I get for free, usually from writers I enjoyed.

The people who complained that free downloaders don't leave any reviews- you should be pleased. I don't leave negative reviews for free books if I don't like them. Maybe you should write better books?

So I have to agree with Joe Konrath here- my time is the most valuable commodity there is now(more than money), and you have to earn it. (This is what Godins permission marketing is about).

I as a reader don't owe you anything- not a living, not my money, nothing. You have to earn my respect, and if you do, I may become a loyal reader, buying your books even if they are overpriced.

But till then, shut up and put up.

Alan Spade said...

I agree the time readers give to writers is the most valuable thing they can give. I have a free short story which have received rankings of one star (in minority) on Apple, and I understand the people who have spent precious time on it and don't like it to give it just one star.

I understand the value of free stuff, but it's double-edged.

If you have children, tell them writing is hard work. Help them to understand. Every reader doesn't share the philosophy of anonymous 4:28. Every reader isn't educated.

P.S. Power said...

The problem with online reviews, especially of free things, is that the reviewer often has no reason to view the author as a person at all, and is free to hide behind a false persona (anonymous).

Both of these are things that have been shown to increase aggression in studies. Worse, the lack of fear, since there is almost no real online reprisal for those people leads to a nearly perfect storm mentally.

In short, for a brief period of time, many people online are basically psychopaths and deal with the world in that kind of a fashion.

It's a strong statement, and has to be backed up with real studies of course, but I'm not using the term as a simple insult.

What this means, even though the person attacking doesn't know it, is that they are actually acting like a person that is legitimately insane part of the time. Worse, this isn't some kind of isolated thing, most of us do it at one point or another.

I think it influences a lot of behavior that we all deal with on a daily basis, from bad reviews that are way harsher than should be given, to people participating in "flame wars".

Add to this the idea that something is given away for free and a certain percentage of people will most likely abuse the privilege. The amazing thing here is that so many people refrain from doing these kinds of things most of the time.

(Bringing it back to the discussion now...)

So will people be willing to buy things if they can get other things for free? Obviously. I'm not selling nearly ten thousand books a month as an unknown because everyone has given up on buying books! Remember, right now we have the most lush forest of free literature that is also new that history has ever seen! Everyone getting sales right now is proof that "free" doesn't mean the death of people buying.

Because even though some people will go a little crazy sometimes, most will eventually find their way back to reality and think about the fact that other people are involved in what they're doing.

Sasha said...

Reviews aren't a service to the author, they're a service to the community of potential readers. I used to leave reviews only for books I thought were great, because I didn't want to hurt any author's feelings (we are human) - but when a (purchased) book has been so bad that it has left me feeling ripped off, I've left negative reviews to warn others.

I don't think that giving away your book should protect you from unhappy readers warning others if they think your book is bad (not a genre they don't like, but of poor quality). If you're giving your book away for free, you're hoping to benefit from it as an advertisement, not giving it away for the good of humanity. It's not a gift, it's advertising, and you can't expect to gag unhappy readers and impose a pretence on the world that your book is better than it is.

Sasha said...

I really don't get this idea that authors should feel lucky to be read when someone is reading your book for free. Is that how you feel as a reader? "My God, this author is lucky to have me as a reader. He's done a year's work on this and I've paid him nothing, but what a stroke of fabulous good fortune for him that I've read him."

It's only lucky if it leads to income and if books end up free, I really don't think the advertising revenue stream can support authors at anything like the rate that a cut of royalties currently does.

Clay Snellgrove said...

With the customers ability to get the Kindle app and Nook app for Iphones and and Ipads and other Tablets, the author doesn't have to worry as much with who they chose to first publish with. I chose Amazon to release 'The Ball Player' and have had readers tell me they had Nooks but just put the Kindle app on their phone to read my novel. Love this E-reader explosion!

Merrill Heath said...

Joe said: You don't pick a writer out of a phone book, call him up, and have him come over to your place and tell him "I'll give you $60 an hour to write me a story about flying monkeys."

Well, of course not. The going rate for flying monkeys has never been more than $35 per hour.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Blake said, I've seen the Amazon and free book notification site message threads where people state they will never buy an ebook again. That's a problem.

People say a lot of things. Doesn't mean they'll hold to it.

I'd wager that a lot of those people will indeed buy an ebook if they want it badly enough. And if the book you gave away knocked their socks off (like serial), then they'll surely shell out a few bucks to buy your other books.

What this experience over the last month has taught me is that there seems to be an endless supply of people who WILL buy our books. Tens of thousands of them. I stare at the numbers in awe, wondering where they all were when I was traditionally published.

And my only conclusion is that my free period gave me exposure that I couldn't buy, and once you have that exposure, people will pay to read your books.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Put me in the Godin camp. Digital content wants to be free. And just because it doesn't fit a writer's business model, or a fantasy of how the world should be (funny how many fantasies of "the way things have always been" we've created since 2009) doesn't make it unhappen.

"Oh, but I'm WORTH $14.99!"

Yeah. Sure you are. Sure you are. Too bad you only get to make half that decision. The least important half.

"But I can't make a living doing what I love if all books are free!"

Lots of poeple love themselves into the grave every single day.

"But...but...Konrath promised me my Kindle millions!"

Joe said do what is best for you and be willing to change at a moment's notice, even if you need to ignore Joe to do it.

"But...but...I'm a WRITER!!!!"

You and six billion other bald monkeys.

I.J.Parker said...

Let me repeat something I said earlier: when a title has been offered free, I see no sales for a period of time afterward. My books don't sell in huge numbers, but I have daily sales for all my titles, unless a book becomes free. Then sales stop for a while. That should make it clear that I do lose sales. However, it may be that a few (a very few) of those who got and read the free book may later buy other books in the series. At least, one must hope so.

Anonymous said...

Yawn. Over-thinking reviews and free community readers. I made about 1K+ this month. I'm happy. Come back when you've got a few dozen books. Trust me, you won't care about any of it.

Message from 2015:
Ad-inclusion? Yes, we have it. Google was first in. They started with Apps for android via G-Play that connected through their book platform. It's annoying, sort of like TV ads pre-HD recorders. Still, last year Apple, Kindle, Nook and Kobo have joined in with their own platforms and Apps. I hear authors who opt-in get 25% of the list price and 10% of the purchase price of the item bought, plus 0.20c a clickthrough, or can get a flat $2.50 if someone buys from the link at the store, but forfeit the list price (some people get multiple payments per book!). That said, free ad-supported books are at a stable 25% and I read in the NYT that experts think it will level out at 30%. I don't really care much though because I usually just buy the book - ads piss me off, plus the author gets 90% of the list price and I don't mind as most bestsellers are $7.99 - way cheaper than back when I was 18 in 2010! The Amazon Nigeria Store is also excellent!

(Anonomous strikes again - from the future! Wat!)

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

I've come to the same conclusion about KDP Select and the value of going free vs. the "cost" of exclusivity. All of my books except one are now out of the program. For my major novel, RUNNING, more than 50,000 were downloaded, but recently those downloads have resulted in far less of a chart bump. I'm now selling it through B&N, and I'm working on getting it available via Kobo.

I've been offering RUNNING at $7.99, but it's on sale at $2.99 for the 4th of July (the anniversary of publication). I'm also getting it out in print in August, and getting it recorded via ACX. It's a campaign book, so this is the season.

Under a nom de plume, Frisky Dimplebuns, I put out short ebooks about comic adventures in the search for online love. I publish others, including books written from the POV of a young man with Down Syndrome. Coming up are four romances, three novels of historical fiction, a thriller about counter-terrorism, and a book of poetry, all by other authors.

Diversity, visibility, variety. Throw it up (eewww!) against the wall and see what sticks.

There's a whole new world of opportunities out there. I'm riding this horse to the bank.

Anonymous said...

@ Parker.
My math is simple ~10% read the book in the first month. 1% like me enough to buy another book of mine. One month into my promos I expect to see 0% improvement in the series I'm promoting. 2nd month I get a bounce. 3-4 are ok then it drops out.

For instance, I wrote a 10,000 short story for a series of 4 stories. All my linking hit on the 5.99 collection. That story hit KDP Select. 2 weeks later I sold double the usual on that collection (still single digits). Next month it was up (~30). Month 3 was the same, but through months 2-3, the promo started selling as well as the collection (its not in the collection), so people who didn't get it through Prime went saw it and bought it, not counting people responding to the ranking change. I have a dozen 'promos' doing the rounds. The pattern is the same and each new book I throw out sees more purchases (building a readership, perhaps?)

I'm saying respect: Time and the 1% rule. Do that and write excellent books and you'll be good. Your lows could be just time.

Jay Allan said...

A lot of writers don't get the fact that they are running a business when they publish themselves. Businesses give away stuff ALL THE TIME.

When I was in high school, a new radio station in NYC went commercial free for a whole summer. You can get free anti-virus software from Avast forever because they want to get to you to try to sell you upgraded service. Games like Doom, not to mention many apps today, offer free versions to get customer attention. There's a soap store around the corner from my apartment that has someone handing out free samples every day. Tons and tons of businesses bend over backwards to get people to try their product.

I don't mean to sound cold, but some of the people around here have to realize that they are not in the coffee house chatting about the freedoms and rights of artists. You are running a business. Put the "I'm worth X" or "I should be entitled to Y" or "I should get Z respect" nonsense aside or sooner or later you will be chewed up and spit out by the people who market their work like a business.

An e-book has no unit cost for the writer. There is a fixed cost in time and money to create it, but if one is given away or stolen no money is lost. IT is not like when you pay $50 for a cashmere sweater to stock your clothing store and someone steals it. Then you are out $50. A free or stolen e-book costs nothing out of pocket. It doesn't cost any potential money either, unless the pirate would have bought it, which is very rarely the case.

On the other hand, exposure can only help you if your work is good. For example, I'm a picky reader. I just like certain types of stories, and many things lose my interest quickly. I am therefore reluctant sometimes to buy something unless I've really read a bit and decided I like it. I'm far likelier to experiment on something that is free, but if I like it I will certainly buy the rest of the series at almost any price, and I'd be far likelier to buy different works by the same author.

There is no attitude more toxic to any business than to assume that your customers owe you anything.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"No one owes a plumber, or a writer, a living. Neither an electrician nor an author deserves, or is entitled to, money. But a plumber's skills don't involve luck to be discovered, or appreciated. Every town has a limited number of plumbers in the phone book. And if the plumber fixes the leak, he succeeds."

Have to disagree with you here, Joe.

I used to own a window washing business, so I'll use that as my example. It takes a lot of luck to get the client to choose your service over others. Once you can break through that barrier, you need to convince them to call you back. That comes down to proving you are a little better than everyone else. The windows have to be clean, yes, but it takes more than that. It takes going above and beyond.

My window cleaning company guaranteed our work. We wore matching uniforms. We did many extras which we threw in free. We added seemingly little touches like placing blind cords in a uniform way. Those details convinced home and business owners to call us back and recommend us to their neighbors.

See where I'm going with this?

A self-employed plumber doesn't automatically make a living any more than a writer does (self-pubbed or traditionally pubbed makes no difference). We face the same challenges as any self-employed business person, and you have to look at it that way. Success takes luck, AND it takes doing things a little better than the other window cleaners/plumbers/writers/whatever.

Free promos are advertising. Sales are advertising. Once people know about your book, they might like it. They might buy another or tell their friends. They might not be willing to spend a dime. We have no control over that. All we can do is make sure our books are worth buying and put ourselves in the best position to get lucky that we can. The rest is a leap of faith for any small business person.

I know you look at it this way, Joe. But the point you made was wrong, and I simply couldn't resist pointing that out. :)

Jill James said...

I love reading the various opinions. I didn't do KDP Select because I sell 2:1 on BN. It might have gone up on Amazon if I tried it but I wasn't willing to take that chance.

Joe Konrath said...

We face the same challenges as any self-employed business person, and you have to look at it that way.

You're wrong.

While it takes luck to find a client or a reader, there are only a dozen or so window washers int he phone book, and ten thousand thriller ebooks on Amazon. One takes more luck to be discovered. Simple odds.

Plus, as I said earlier, there is a difference between a being hired to paint a portrait and painting a portrait hoping someone will buy it.

Being hired to wash windows is NOT the same thing as a bum at a traffic light squirting your windshield with Windex, hoping you'll give him a dollar.

Writers are the bums. That involves a lot more luck to make money.

But thanks for playing, Ann. :)

Joe Konrath said...

Also, let me explain in more detail what I mean by "discovered."

If you have a leak in a pipe, you go looking for help. It's a necessity, and you have a limited number of choices to get that help. If the plumber does help you, that is objective, not subjective--he either fixed the leak or he didn't.

If you're looking to be entertained, your choices are practically limitless. And even if you are picked, the reader's reaction is subjective--they may feel you did a poor job even if you fixed the leak.

Being a writer isn't the same as being a tradesperson. A plumber can expect to be paid if he fixes the leak. A writer can't expect to be paid at all. That's the difference I mean, and why Blake is wrong.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Setting up a business in hopes of making a living IS the same, Joe. Sure the odds are higher the more competition you have (and there's oodles in the fiction world). But I'd say the window washer who starts with a bucket, a squee-gee and a stack of flyers faces the same challenges. People don't need clean windows. They can even do the work themselves.

Besides, there isn't direct competition in the writing world. Readers can buy many, many books from many, many authors. At the most, people will only have their windows washed a few times a year.

Those who have invested time and work in learning the writing craft aren't bums at a traffic light. They have the bucket and squee-gee, they just need to keep improving what they offer and put themselves in position to take advantage should luck come their way. And yes, they have to hand out freebies at times as enticement.

I pwned you, Konrath. Admit it.

Joe Konrath said...

Setting up a business in hopes of making a living IS the same, Joe.

Stay on point, Ann. I'm refuting this comment of Blake's:

Apply your argument to a plumber or an electrician. You think these guys walk around just feeling lucky for the privilege of getting to fix shit at your house? No. They have a skill. They want to be paid. So should writers.

These are not the same thing. My window washing analogy is apt. A pro gets called to do a job, and paid for it.

Writers aren't called to do jobs and then paid. They do the job, hoping someone will buy it.

To also hope it will be appreciated, and that the buyer will care about the feelings and financial security of the author, is wrong.

This isn't an argument about luck being needed to make a living if you're sef-employed. All professions need luck.

But writers need more luck, and should expect less appreciation.

I hire some dude to come out at 2am and stop my basement from flooding, I do appreciate him, and he earned his money.

I'm not going to appreciate an ebook I bought (or got for free) int he same way. it isn't as tangible, as personal, as direct, or as necessary.

Writers shouldn't expect readers to care. We should be grateful we have readers in the first place. Once you start thinking you're better than your readers, or that they don't deserve to read you, is a slippery slope to unhappiness and financial ruin.

Match. Set. Game. Pwned.

How fun is it to argue with two of my best friends on my blog? :)

Ann Voss Peterson said...

What I'm saying is that everyone WANTS to be paid. That doesn't mean they WILL.

Small business owners have to take that risk every day. Setting up a window cleaning business does not ensure anyone will hire me. And even if they do, it doesn't mean they'll ever call back. And if I guarantee my work, it doesn't even ensure that I'll be paid.

Once a writer looks to sell his/her work (and that's the key here, not writing, trying to sell), they face the same dynamic. The matter of degree is the only difference.

No one should expect readers or any kind of client to care. Their role is to be self interested. Period.

So I guess you and Blake and I all disagree. And I own both of you. :)

Joe Konrath said...

Once a writer looks to sell his/her work (and that's the key here, not writing, trying to sell), they face the same dynamic.

No, they don't.

One is hired. One isn't. Simple as that.

The person hired can expect to be paid for the job, even if it involves luck to get hired. The person not hired needs a lot more luck, because no one asked for the job to be done to begin with.

Robert Michael said...

Free is over rated as an advertising device. As it stands now, it is used as advertising dollars an author/publisher doesn't want to spend on other marketing efforts that cannot be directly attributed to sales.

The way it works is that it gives an untrue gauge of a particular work's popularity, which puts it into the eyes of potential paying readers via Top 100 lists. Algorithms.

It has worked, and then it hasn't. Results may vary, to be sure, but FREE is a great concept until it dilutes the market. I am not saying the market is saturated--it can hold millions of books--but a marketing device can dilute the audience and create a negative paradigm in which free becomes the expectation.

We are just beginning to set new pricing standards (.99 for shorts and backlists, 2.99 and up for new full-length novels, etc.) after a deluge of "Book-for-a-Buck" dreck almost crashed our self-pubbing party. We cannot allow the FREE glut to continue to harm sales.

I am all for lower ebook prices--lower than the Big 6 can market theirs--but Buck a Book and FREE are too radical. People are willing to pay, we should stick to that. It is a win-win situation. They get an entertainment value proposition worthy of their investment, and we are compensated for our work, imagination, and our marketing savvy.

Joe Konrath said...

A window washer called to a house and hired to do a job has a reasonable expectation of being paid, and a clearer knowldge of what it takes to satisfy the customer.

A writer isn't hired, should have no expectations of being paid, and satisfaction is subjective. He doesn't even meet the customer.

If you washed some guy's window, and he didn't pay, you have ample cause to be angry, and can sue him.

Try suing someone for not buying your book. Or liking your book.

The two aren't comparable. Not in the least.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

When someone buys your book, Joe, you have a reasonable expectation of being paid. Just as when someone hires your service, you have a reasonable expectation of being paid.

There are no guarantees in any kind of self employment. That's my point.

I've written books on spec. I've set up a business before I had any clients. They are very much the same. Both carry risk. Neither ensures you will make any money.

Only employees get paid for their time.

John Barlow said...

Has anyone every written a novel about a window washer?

I.J.Parker said...

I don't know about your view, Joe. It seems to me that a book is a product. The author has produced it and has invested time and money in the process. If a reader chooses the product, he ought to pay for it. If he doesn't like it after he buys it, he can return it for a refund or decide never to buy another product from this author again. Either way, value attaches to the product. And certainly, a reader who chooses a book and enjoys the book owes the author something. Most of my readers agree.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"And certainly, a reader who chooses a book and enjoys the book owes the author something."

The reader doesn't owe the author anything. If the reader enjoys the book enough, maybe they'll pay for the next one because they want the story. But that's totally up to them. They don't owe anything.

"Has anyone every written a novel about a window washer?"

I wrote one, John. :)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I used to wash windows for a living. It SUCKED.

Being a writer doesn't suck.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

(.99 for shorts and backlists, 2.99 and up for new full-length novels)

99 cents for backlist? That's nuts in my opinion. And I think $2.99 is low for novels. Novellas, yes.

I've priced everything $3.99 at this point and wonder if $4.99 might be a better idea. I do think some readers equate price with quality.

Ty Johnston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ty Johnston said...

If I'm understanding him correctly, Joe is basically saying writers (many of them, anyway) are "spec" workers. They produce work on speculation in hopes it will sell. We used to do this with advertisements when I was in the newspaper business, and I'm sure it's still going on today.

While I agree that readers don't necessarily owe a writer anything, I also think this practice of giving away books and/or e-books for free has gone a bit too far. No, I don't expect readers to owe me a living or anything else, but I also don't owe readers their entertainment for free. True, they don't force me to write, but I also don't force them to read.

Freebies as a marketing tool seems to be great if you're already a known author, or if you happen to get lucky and one of the few better-known sites promotes your freebie, but otherwise it's mostly spitting into the wind. Will some get lucky? Sure. But giving everything away for free isn't a way to build a platform from scratch, at least not at this present time. Maybe a year or two ago, but not now. There are simply too many "distractions" open to readers, especially free distractions; the chances of readers helping to build a beginning author's success through freebies is slim at this point, I'd say, though not impossible. Limited freebies marketed correctly might improve a writer's chances of success, but I feel that ship has sailed with the multitudes of free e-books out there.

I'll back Joe that luck is involved, and that one can work to improve their chances, but I think the days of freebies jumpstarting a writer's career have passed us by.

The good news is something else helpful to beginners will likely come along in the next few months or year. The bad news is that by the time everyone knows about it, it'll no longer be useful.

Joe Konrath said...

When someone buys your book, Joe, you have a reasonable expectation of being paid.

That's not the argument.

The argument is: When you write your book, there is no reasonable expectation anyone will buy it.

This is different than performing a job for money. A lot different.

Joe Konrath said...

99 cents for backlist? That's nuts in my opinion.

I'm giving it a shot this weekend, Rob. Me, Blake, and Scott Nicholson are pricing out entire backlists at 99 cents for three days, to see what happens.

Hopefully it'll be a repeat of last year when I tried it:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/02/list-experiment-update.html

Gary Ponzo said...

When I tried the KDP free promo my book was downloaded 10,000 times for 2 days and ran up the free list---however, when it transitioned to the paid list, the sales from the free promo didn't convert over and my book came back as if it had no sales for 2 days and dropped down to the cellar on the sales list. Won't be doing that again.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

No, as a business owner that is the same thing. For an employee working for that business, it's not. Self-employed vs. Employee.

But I see it's the service vs. product thing that's throwing you, Mr. Konrath. That is a difference. Except most products you might produce and sell require a much larger cash investment than writing does. Writing requires some cash and lots and lots of time.

Still doesn't change the fact that if you're self employed you're taking on 100% of the risk. Writers need to have a self-employed mindset and stop thinking like employees.

Merrill Heath said...

Joe said: Try suing someone for not buying your book. Or liking your book.

My God, man! I think you're on to something here! I will take this up with my attorney. This could be huge!

BTW, I put my Dad's novel, It's Always Five O'clock on KDP Select with a free promotion thru the 4th. It was selling no copies on B&N and was somewhat stagnant on Amazon, so I felt like a freebie promotion might give it a little juice. I have no idea if it will generate any sales for any of Dad's novels, but I wanted this book to get some exposure. So far I've had just over 1,000 downloads with over half of those being in Europe. So maybe this will generate some income.

I did one other book on KDP Select with mixed results. It's no longer on Select. I don't plan to do it again unless something really takes off with this promotion.

The plan going forward is to produce the best books I can produce, put them up for sale at a reasonable price, and see what happens.

Frank R. McBride said...

I'm giving it a shot this weekend, Rob. Me, Blake, and Scott Nicholson are pricing out entire backlists at 99 cents for three days, to see what happens.

Hopefully it'll be a repeat of last year when I tried it:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/02/list-experiment-update.html


Have you tried it the other way? I.e. putting it to a higher price?

Also - what happened after you ended the "List" Experiment? Left it at 99c? Put it back up to $2.99? If the latter - what happened to sales right after you put it back up?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm giving it a shot this weekend, Rob. Me, Blake, and Scott Nicholson are pricing out entire backlists at 99 cents for three days, to see what happens.

I can certainly see doing it for a short period of time to generate interest, but it doesn't seem practical over an extended period of time.

I know Ann did a day long 99 cent promotion that helped her ranking, but I can't see doing it much longer than that.

Anonymous said...

Casey Moreton said:

"Write a better book than me and then we'll talk. But no, you won't because you can't."

If this one star review on Amazon of one of your books is true - "If you can stand really really really bad writing ("He swayed with every turn, his spine absorbing each anomoly the road's surface had to offer"), the story is okay" - then I can understand your anger about getting bad reviews for books you've given away.

But I think Joe is worth listening to. Writers write the books they want to write. Finding a market is not easy. Luck plays a part. Be prepared for bad reviews even if the reader got it for free. Listen to criticism and the market. Write better next time. With luck the one star reviews will turn to three, four and five stars and there is a good living to be had from a job you enjoy doing.

Casey Moreton said...

Be prepared for bad reviews even if the reader got it for free. Listen to criticism and the market. Write better next time. With luck the one star reviews will turn to three, four and five stars and there is a good living to be had from a job you enjoy doing.

Anon, That review was for a book published by Simon & Schuster, not self-pubbed by me. There were absolutely NO copies given away for free. That reader paid the retail price of $7.99 and thus had every right to spew the nonsense contained in his/her review.

Michael Kingswood said...

I have to disagree with your final points, Joe.

I do not believe for a second that all media will be free. It cannot be, because businesses produce it. and those businesses have costs that must be covered. Beyond that, people in general are happy to pay for things that they like and that provide them good experiences. Just because said things are digital does not change that one bit. And people tend to want to support those who produce the things they like. Again, just because those things are digital does not mean this will change.

And finally...the day that advertising begins showing up WITHIN an ebook that I'm trying to read is the day that A) I Never buy a book from that particular author/publisher again or, if everyone is doing it, 2) I throw my kindle against the wall, stomp on it until it dies, and go back to paper books. And I'm quite sure many other people feel exactly the same way I do.

Michael Kingswood

Robert Michael said...

When it comes to pricing, as long as we can all agree that FREE is not a pricing strategy, but a marketing gimmick, then we are on the same page.

Lowering a book's price from $4.99 to .99 can mean a huge profit loss for an author, but it's a much better option than $0. Experimentation can be revealing, but I caution extrapolating techniques like this as a blanket marketing strategy. Too many variables (timing, genre, author back list, cover image, book description, sample pages, etc.) exist to make results of any one experiment applicable to all.

I am all for $3.99 or $4.99 novels. From established novelists, or in genres that I read often and am familiar with the quality, I would easily pay up to $5. And that is my point. Most people are willing to pay reasonable prices for entertainment.

Look at the Avengers. I paid $18 (plus popcorn and SUPER large Cola) to watch that in 3D with my wife. 3 hours = $3 per hour each for that entertainment value proposition. I read Stephen King's 11/22/63 (hardback, btw) in about 14 hours. That is just over $2 per hour entertainment value proposition.

A latte from Java Dave's? $4 for 20 minutes of pleasure (and 2 hours of caffeine affect)

I guess what I am saying is that we are looking for the magic bullet. Global buying habits have tons of room for selling books at reasonable prices without prostituting ourselves for free.

Michael McClung said...

Exclusivity, by its very nature, is only really beneficial when the commodity is in demand. Books by the vast majority of authors are not in that kind of demand. It's a tool that is misapplied.

Most writers need to distribute their work as far afield as possible. Not being a King or a Ludlum or a Crichton, our task is to gain readership, not maximize profits.

As for free, the same logic applies. I notice most of the comments approach free in Amazon terms - KDP Select etc. Talk about framing the debate. My personal approach to free is this: Some of my titles are free, and will be free forever. They are generally the first experience a reader will ever have of my writing, and they serve as a way for readers to self-select whether they like my style. They take the brunt of low reviews from those who took a taste and found it not to their taste. Those who did enjoy often go on to purchase nonfree titles and those reviews benefit from greater certainty regarding the writing/reading experience.

The free titles also advertise, of course, via an author's note at the end.

Really, as I've said before, the author's main enemy is obscurity, and he or she needs to use every effective tool available to combat it. Free is effective, exclusive is not. But like any tool, you should really take some time to familiarize yourself with it, or you might end up whacking yourself in the thumb/face/goolies.

X-Cart Templates said...

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Alan Spade said...

@Michael Mc Clung : I agree with your approach. The short story I mentionned is permanently free.

On the contrary, I only make my novels free on a short period of time, and the most scarce, the better.

Robert Forrester said...

"Michael Kingswood said...
I have to disagree with your final points, Joe.

I do not believe for a second that all media will be free. It cannot be, because businesses produce it. and those businesses have costs that must be covered. Beyond that, people in general are happy to pay for things that they like and that provide them good experiences. Just because said things are digital does not change that one bit. And people tend to want to support those who produce the things they like. Again, just because those things are digital does not mean this will change.

And finally...the day that advertising begins showing up WITHIN an ebook that I'm trying to read is the day that A) I Never buy a book from that particular author/publisher again or, if everyone is doing it, 2) I throw my kindle against the wall, stomp on it until it dies, and go back to paper books. And I'm quite sure many other people feel exactly the same way I do."

Have to agree completely. Ebooks are the wrong medium for advertising, because the audience isn't captive. Film distributors tried with VHS and Betamax when they first came out. They thought because cinema had adverts after the trailers, they could do the same with video. The big difference is that with a cinema ticket, the audience has no choice but sit there (or leave before seeing the film, go get popcorn etc, but a large proportion will see the ad). with video, people just fast forwarded the adverts, making them ineffectual. Online advertising has never worked the way people hoped, either. The newspaper industry has realised this. Cover prices on newspapers basically cover the distribution costs; it is the ads that pay the writer's wages, so when online turned up they thought free news on websites didn't matter they could still sell advertising space; only people consume adverts differently online, barely noticing them. The result is that online advertising goes for a fraction of the cost of newspaper ads. The same will be true of an ebook. If a 30 second ad pops up before you can sit read, are you going to sit and watch, or go make a drink until its vanished? Ad space in ebooks won't be worth much, unless you are a huge author. Mid-listers won't be able to make a living that way.

William Ockham said...

Here's some advice from a non-writer to those writers who have
Amazon's attention.

If you want to ask for something more in exchange for KDP Select, here's what's to ask for. Ask Amazon to share their data about how many people who downloaded your book actually read it. They know. They could tell you and greatly increase the value of KDP Select for authors. They could tell you how you compare to other authors (generally, in your genre, etc.). If they aren't willing to tell you that, why not? Are they afraid that it would kill KDP Select if authors found out no one was reading those free downloads? I don't think so, but I wonder.

You can be pretty sure that some who borrows your book from the KLL will at least start reading it. If most aren't finishing it, you need to know that, too.

Robert W. Walker said...

Joe, when the fuck do you have time to write; have you chained your brother to the desk and feed him only if he writes> is that it?

Anyhow...thanks for sharing.

Rob Walker

Anonymous said...

I am all for $3.99 or $4.99 novels. Most people are willing to pay reasonable prices for entertainment.

I agree with this. I purchase books at this price point all the time. In fact, on multiple occasions, I've purchased the Kindle edition of a book I already had on paperback, because I wanted to read the e-book. I carry my little Kindle in my purse-- I'm not going to carry around a paperback, much less a hardcover.

I do think that $9.99 for backlist titles is a ridiculous price. Case in point: the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, which I use mainly for night-time reading (because it's easy to find a good stopping point with a short story collection). How many of these books are there? Over a hundred!

And all of them are $9.99 on Amazon. I went to Goodwill yesterday and bought 5 for $1.25.

Seriously. If the paperback is widely available for 25 cents, then the publisher needs a reality check. I probably would have bought the Kindle edition of these if they were around $2.99. But $10? No way.

-Christy

Jill James said...

Have to agree about ads in ebooks. On that day I will go back to paperbacks.

Alan Spade said...

I've just seen a news report where an executive of the New York Times explained that if the newspaper was now for the first time of its history more profitable online than on paper, it was because of all the people who have been educated to pay music, videos, or ebooks on Internet.

There was a time where the NYT had decided to rely only on advertisements. This time is behind us, guys. The digital subscriptions bring in more.

Even in France, a country where piracy is not a void term, people buy more and more on Internet.

The utopia of an all-out free web is fading. I was a journalist when I lost my job because of that utopia. I don't want history to repeat itself with ebooks.

So here is the major strategic goal : to educate more and more people to buy if they want quality (not at the same price that the big 6, of course). And to offer freebies sparingly.

P.S. Power said...

Is the argument that "free is bad for books" one that only makes sense for the top sellers?

If you sell three books a month and a free giveaway gets you up to ten, you've benefited a lot.

If ten percent of the people that would have bought your rank one thousand book don't opting to try free things instead, that hurts.

But it seems it can, by definition, only negatively impact the top ten percent of sellers.

Isn't it kind of self-centered to attack something that helps most authors, just because it doesn't help the top few that much?

Alan Spade said...

The message is not : "free is bad for ebooks", but : "if you download only free ebooks, that's bad for the authors".

A very important clearcut. Now go and get this message viral.

Joe Konrath said...

I applaud all of those people who refuse to succumb to advertising in their media. You should NOT put up with ads in ebooks. Just like you've steadfastly refused ads on the web, on radio, on TV, in videogames, and in movies.

Please let us know how you surf the net without ads, get ad-free aps and videogames, watch TV with ads,listen to the radio without ads, and avoid those commercials and product placements in films. We'd love to know.

Oh, wait...

Ads are EVERYWHERE. Including in paper books. (Flip to the end of any paperback and check.)

So to you add haters: if you're reading this, you're on the net, which is loaded with ads. So you're used to ads. And decrying ads in other media is silly.

Ty Johnston said...

Joe, advertising within e-books might be the wave of the future, but as things stand right now it would be quite an invasive form of advertising.

Yes, yes, ads are all over TV, the Web, radio, etc., but for the most part those can be bypassed or ignored. That would not seem to be the case with e-book advertising, though admittedly it would depend upon how the advertising was inserted. If ads were part of my Kindle's screen saver, for example, it probably wouldn't bother me much. Nor would an ad at the end of an e-book. But if I'm reading along and suddenly an advertisement pops up, especially one that is a video or some such that ties me up for a few minutes, or is blinking and glaring and generally annoying, ... well, I'm not likely to read further. I'm likely to get angry, throw my Kindle across the room and swear to never use the damn thing again. Such advertisements would take a reader out of the reader experience, just as bad if not worse than does bad editing or bad writing.

However, business folks tend to be smart and/or at least adaptive, so if they can find a way to include advertising that is not intrusive, I don't think most e-book readers will notice.

P.S. Power said...

Alan Spade said...

The message is not : "free is bad for ebooks", but : "if you download only free ebooks, that's bad for the authors".


Is it though?

People that get things for free exclusively are rare. Most people have a budget that they spend on entertainment, one that holds x dollars per month.

They tend to spend it all too.

Now that doesn't mean that there is no one out there that uses only free works for entertainment, pirating all their music, movies and books for instance...

But those people were never your customer. They do not represent a lost sale to anyone, just someone that might mention you if they like your work.

Think about it, you can get cable for free by stealing it, but you don't. Or by downloading it all on your computer... But you don't. You pay for it, because it's a service and has a cost involved to keep it going. (Or it's just easier and expected. Either way.)

You don't spend your time at the movies sneaking in through the fire door, and a vast majority of people buy the expensive drinks and popcorn, rather than smuggle in their own, even if there is no penalty for being caught.

People can get things free and still be willing to pay for them. It isn't an all or nothing thing for most people.

The idea that everyone will "only get things for free" Is clearly not true. If it were no one would be buying our books, but they do.

Even when they're already out there on the internet waiting to be downloaded for free.

I get the idea being presented, but there is a hole in the initial premise.

If you get books for free and only for free, you hurt authors, but only if you would have been buying the works otherwise.

A book read for free helps an author more than a book that isn't looked at or bought at all.

Anonymous said...

Some people out there are willing to pay for ad-free media.

I'm one of them.

That's why I subscribe to Netflix and download songs. The only thing I watch live anymore is sports. Commercials are an opportunity to exercise my index finger on the mute button. As for Internet ads, they're just part of the border layout, LOL.

So, while you may be right, that ads are coming (and doesn't Kindle have a lower-priced version with ads--wonder how that's working?), I'm hoping some people will still pay a premium ($3-$5) not to get spammed.

Besides, if ads do become the only income stream for authors, wouldn't we just be changing one corporate overlord for another, this time with sponsors potentially telling us what we can and can't publish (if we want their money)?

Authors might end up being ranked by click-throughs like trad authors are ranked by Bookscan. We'll get dropped when the numbers don't add up.

So I see corporate advertisers as a different kind of gatekeeper, frankly. And I'd think fewer midlist authors would make a living in that scenario than do right now, either as trad or as indie.

But that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Jude Hardin said...

Flip to the end of any paperback and check.

I just flipped to the end of the paperback version of Crosscut. No ads! So if you want your thrillers advertisement-free, ladies and gentlemen, buy mine!

Ads at the beginnings and ends of ebooks probably aren't going to bother many people. They also aren't going to cost much, unless you're James Patterson. If all ebooks become free and authors have to depend on advertising to make a living, very few authors will make a living. A minute fraction of the ones who do now. Is that what we want? I don't think so.

And it's certainly not what readers want. Not any that I've ever heard of.

Last time I checked, there weren't any ads in the middle of the films I paid for or in the middle of any of the songs I bought. Advertisements would ruin those experiences, and consumers wouldn't put up with it.

Movies aren't free.

Music isn't free.

Ebooks will never be free.

Madison Johns said...

I have been watching the KDP Select for quite some time. I have noticed the trend changind drastically. KDP Select is not the goldnen goose is once was. Writers even the ones with large downloads are not making it into the top 10. I believe Amazon reports sales at a much slower rate that has me wondering if something has changed behind the scenes.

I opted not to enroll in KDP Select and as for giving writers something they want I dropped my price of my debut novel Armed and Outrageous from $3.99 to $2.99. While this may not be much incentive, sales have been building. Right off the bat I had Nook owners asking for the Nook versions and they have been to date my best supporters and fans. There were the ones recommending my book. Print sales are still around and I have sold a respectable amount. I am insitant that I will have my book on the top 100 list without KDP Select. I'm a stand alone among most of the writers in the groups that I belong.

Thanks for the great info and mirroring some of the things I have been thinking.

Michael McClung said...

Things Joe is right about:

Readers don't owe us a living. Readers don't owe us anything.

Free downloaders don't take food off our tables or steal from us, legally or otherwise. We have unlimited inventory in each of our titles. Don't confuse the fixed cost of initial production with any other costs, overhead, marketing, what have you.

Things Joe is wrong about:

The future for authors does not lie in free supported by ads. The only area that ever worked in print, even marginally,was in daily papers. The expected user experience for the ingestion of news is far, far different for that of fiction. And no, free to air television is not a good example of success. Its a diiferent medium with a different user experience with different conventions that were set up essentially from day 1. It's too late to train readers to expect ads within the story itself. Don't believe me? Look at movies. You see ads at the beginning, not during the show. All an advertiser can do during the show is product placement, which needs to be subtle so as not to distract from the storyline. When an ad has to be subtle rather than intrusive, it's value to advertisers plummets.

Of such things the future will not be built, not for authors.

Jude Hardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jude Hardin said...

All an advertiser can do during the show is product placement, which needs to be subtle so as not to distract from the storyline.

And from what I understand, most product placement is not paid for monetarily. The companies donate their products to the sets, and that's about it.

Michael McClung said...

Also, I really do know where apostrophes go, example above notwithstanding.

Alan Spade said...

P.S Power said : "The idea that everyone will "only get things for free" Is clearly not true. If it were no one would be buying our books, but they do."

Not everyone. Only people who not have been educated. Talk about that to a musician. Ask him if there are no kids who believe that MP3 should be free, because from the beginning of their childhood, they have consumed MP3 for free.

If you believe they are only people who cannot be educated out there, and that premise is true, you are right and I'm wrong. I don't believe it, though.

I'm very happy the trend (and delusion) of the years 2000 of a totally free Internet is fading, though. The net is more and more inserted in the global economy. Free will subsist, and that is great. But there are people (and authors) who can manage a living thanks to the web, and that is also great.

Anonymous said...

I think you are missing the point on advertising, Joe. Ads only work because of relevance or probability. Yo get these things with TV, the internet and other media, but not with books. With fiction there is no assurance that you have an audience that will be interested in what people are selling, apart from other books. However, this would be self-perpetuating. If everybody gives their books away for free and has to pay other authors to advertise in their books, where does the original money come from?

As for probability, if you shift a million books, then it is worthwhile for advertisers, because if only one or two percent act on the advertisement it will make them money. However, if you only shift a few thousand books a year, that equates to just a handful of sales, and won't cover the cost of advertising.

Pay per click would be the only way adverts that will work for low selling ebooks, but without the known relevance that websites have, click through rates will be low, and at just a few cents a go, will mean you need to shift thousands of books littered with ads just to make a few hundred dollars.

Merrill Heath said...

This is off topic but still an interesting article in the WSJ on what the publishers can learn from ebook analytics.

Your E-Book is Reading You

Joe Konrath said...

Ads only work because of relevance or probability.

I came up with a viable way to monetize free ebooks with ads many years ago.

It's not only possible, it's coming.

You can buy an ad free ebook for $2.99, or get the ebook for free, which includes ten ads between chapters, specially targeted for that specific reader.

My bet is that the majority of people will take the freebie with the ads.

Jay Allan said...

You would need a lot of data on your readers, collected in a way that allows some level of reliability on accuracy.

Targeting in the key, and that could be tough for some fiction. I could see non-fiction working very well that way - e.g. home improvement books sponsored by Lowes or Home Depot. There is a reasonable connection between the subject matter and potential purchases.

In fiction you could have something like an ad for an upcoming SF movie in a SF book and other things of that ilk.

The two big problems I see are:

1. There would need to be publisher-like networks selling the ads, which probably means a new set of gatekeepers, as there would be much more work on the part of the network/publisher to categorize things and sell the ads. They'd take a much higher % and they would probably cherry pick books. If they didn't then you'd have something like the banner ad networks that small web sites use to make a few bucks, but it's all remnant ads and not very much money.

2. Advertisers will be concerned about a free product. A book you know will be read has value as an advertising medium. There is a reasonable correlation that if someone pays for it, however marginal an amount, they will read it (or are more likely to do so). Advertisers will fear, with considerable justification, that free books will often go unread. Not sure how to deal with this one.

Anonymous said...

Joe Konrath said...
"Ads only work because of relevance or probability.

I came up with a viable way to monetize free ebooks with ads many years ago.

It's not only possible, it's coming.

You can buy an ad free ebook for $2.99, or get the ebook for free, which includes ten ads between chapters, specially targeted for that specific reader.

My bet is that the majority of people will take the freebie with the ads."

The problem is Joe, is the value of ads. TV ads are the most valuable and effective; 30 seconds in teh Superbowl nets $5million+. However, the Superbowl gets 100million US viewers. The advertising equates to 5 cents per ad view. A magazine like Cosmopolitan, with a well-defined readership that advertisers can target with stuff they want, such as fashion, perfume etc, sells a full page ad for about $10,000 (depending on where it is in the mag. It sells half a million units, but each is read by more than one person. Therefore, its ad space is worth about 1 cents per view.

How much would ad space in ebooks be worth? With very little targeting and as people have pointed out, a large proportion of downloads never getting read, not to mention the saturation of the market (there are a few hundred quality mags competing with Cosmo, tens of thousands of ebooks), advertisers will at best pay a fraction of a cent for a full page ad.

Look at the best case scenario. If you sell 10,000 ebooks at 2,99, and make 20k. Even if you increase downloads to 100,000 by giving it away free (very optimistic), even if ad companies will pay half a cent per view (and that is very doubtful), a full page ad will only net you $500. To make your $20k, you'll have to sell 40 full page ads. That is do-able, just, but personally I can't see ebook ad space being worth even a fraction of a half a cent per view. It will be akin to the current CPM rates on the internet. In which case, you'll need to have far more ad pages than text. Pay per click will be the most attractive option for advertisers, but that will pay peanuts.

Anonymous said...

Sorry my cosmo figure is out (missed a zero out), but the PCM is the same $10 per thousand views or 1 cent per view.

Edward M. Grant said...

Please let us know how you surf the net without ads

NoScript and a hosts file that blocks known ad sites.

That said, I actually appreciate ads for similar books at the end of the e-books I read, because they allows me to find other writers whose books I want to read. But ads for soap or instant noodles between chapters wouldn't go down well.

Jude Hardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jude Hardin said...

You can buy an ad free ebook for $2.99, or get the ebook for free.

There's just not enough difference between $2.99 and free to warrant putting up with the story-killing nuisance of ten advertisements. I can see where this might work with mega-sellers whose books are priced $12.99 and up, but there's no real motivation for those authors to rock the boat. They're already mega-sellers; they don't need to bitch up their products with tacky commercials.

Robert Michael said...

Adverts in books = magazines

Look where that has gotten them.

Open most magazines and you see more ads than articles. It has gotten so bad that some ads will masquerade as articles just to stand out.

When books become free and ad-driven it will signal a further death-knell of publishing in general. Huge mistake, because where do you go from there. You just taught an entire market that your "product" was worth $0 and a waste of their time.

People don't want ads. That is why TIVO/Hopper/DVR is so popular, forevermore. Readers want an experience, entertainment, and an intellectual/spiritual/emotional engagement. None of the those things are provided with an ad.

The best ads I have ever seen in a book are excerpts for another novel--usually the next book in a series, next book by a particular author. Those sort of marketing efforts will point a potential reader to that other product, but I cannot see how it will pay the author if that product is free.

Cynthia Washburn said...

I'd like to see Amazon update their payment system so they don't treat non-U.S. writers differently than U.S. writers. So, not automatically holding back 30%, not waiting until the amount to be paid is tenfold, not charging an $8 cheque issuance fee.

Christy Pinheiro said...

etI'd like to see Amazon update their payment system so they don't treat non-U.S. writers differently than U.S. writers.

Withholding 30% has nothing to do with Amazon. That's the IRS. If you want to make money off American buyers, you need to pay US tax. If you don't sell books here, then you don't need to worry about it. Simple as that. Sign up for an LSI account or some other distributor that operates overseas. Amazon is an American company, and they are required to follow US tax laws.

The Solution is to get an ITIN (which is free) and file a return, and get all your withholding back.

If you are a citizen or resident of any allied nation, your royalties are taxed at a maximum rate of 5% to 10%, and most countries have a reciprocity agreement with the US, so you'll get credit for the tax you pay here.

This is a business. Get an accountant-- there's thousands of them that specialize in this.

-Christy

Anne Francis Scott said...

I think the free promos are still good marketing strategy. I picked up a free copy of EERIE. A page turner. I will definitely read more by Blake/Jordan Crouch. And yes--I'll even pay for the story!

Anonymous said...

@ Blake and Jordan: Great book. I downloaded it thinking what the hell, its free, I'll check it out. I don't normally read horror (which I thought it was going to be) but when I started it I couldn't put it down. I read it from start to finish in roughly 3 hours. Definitely a page turner. You guys have made a fan out of me. No, they didnt pay me to write this :))

Drew Merten

Amber Jaeger said...

I pay attention to my buying habits and this is what I noticed: I'll download a bunch of top free ebooks for a rainy day. The ones that I don't like get deleted. The ones I do like I happily shell out a couple bucks for the rest of the series or other books by the same author. When I'm out of books, I do it all over again. Free ebooks means I can find the authors I actually want to pay with out wasting my money on books I don't like.

Walter Knight said...

Last Christmas shopping season the big thing at Amazon was Kindle Fire and Prime Membership.

What will be the big sales push at Amazon this Christmas? A new Model of Kindle? Care to speculate?

Becca Mills said...

Joe, I don't see how your ad model works for indie authors who don't already have a large audience.

Sure, you could make ad space available in your books, and companies would come calling. And big publishers would have no problem, just as FOX has no problem drumming up ads for its new TV series every season.

But what about me? I'm an unknown, first-time author. Would I write my draft and submit it to Boston Market hoping to get them to buy an ad? Why would a company take a chance on me, an unknown whose audience might not build for several years, or might not build at all?

And how would companies handle the mountain of requests? Would Boston Market hire on dozens of staffers to sift through the hundreds of thousands of ebooks being submitted to them as possible advertising venues? Doubt it. I think it's more likely they'd take a "don't call us, we'll call you" approach to everything that's not coming out of a big publishing house.

Maybe advertising agencies would spring up dedicated to just this labor-intensive task: sifting through all those 100Ks of indie books in order to group them into advertising bundles appropriate for various merchants. Some bundles would be more desirable to authors than others, I imagine, because they'd be offered to larger advertisers at a higher cost. What would I have to do to get my book into any of these bundles, much less the higher-paying ones? Perhaps product placements, like in big-budget movies (who can forget the scene in Independence Day where Jeff Goldblum easily plugs his prominently branded iMac into the alien mothership to upload a virus -- and this back in the day when Macs and PCs couldn't even talk to each other). As an unknown, I might have to do much bigger product placements in hopes of catching the attention of advertisers. Maybe Boston Market would need to be my characters' fave hangout spot. Maybe I'd need to talk up Boston Market products that were underperforming in comparison to their tried-and-true roasted chicken. So, what, my characters would have to sit around Boston Market all the time eating meatloaf?

cont. ...

Becca Mills said...

... cont.

Silly as that would be, even that opportunity probably wouldn't be available: there are just too many indie books out there. Realistically, no one can sort through them all in order to choose advertising vehicles.

So maybe Amazon (and other e-retailers) becomes the ad agent? They could accept advertising on our books' behalf and just shovel it into every incoming manuscript, then pay us a percentage of the ad revenue for each download. But would advertisers really want their products associated with some of the functionally illiterate stuff out there? With something racist? With something sexy? With something religious or anti-religious? I can see the corporate complaints rolling into Am as different advertisers with different clienteles get upset about the books their products are being associated with. What a headache for Am. So either Am would have to sort through their hundreds of thousands of indie books to the degree that advertising didn't end up on inappropriate books, or (more likely) they just wouldn't want to get into the whole mess to begin with.

Let's not forget that almost all forms of entertainment make some, most, or all their money off end-point consumers: films, magazines, paintings, ballet, musicals, video games, pop music, museums, porn, professional sports, circuses, and probably a dozen other things I'm not thinking of right now. Broadcast TV and web sites are basically the only exceptions, and I'm not sure broadcast TV really counts, these days, since so many consumers have cable, and cable companies have to remit some of their fees back to the channels they carry. And as for the web, now a number of popular sites are moving back to the consumer-pays model. I don't see any reason why books should be different. Accepting a few ads in return for a discount? Sure, no prob. But NO end-user revenue?

But more importantly, I just don't see how your proposed system works while preserving the open door for new indie authors to put their books out there and slowly build up a revenue stream. It sounds instead like putting de facto gatekeepers back in place: authors who had big publishers' push behind them and indie authors who were already famous would get advertising, and their books would be available for free. Everyone else would have to give their work away or fight the very uphill battle of "please buy my unknown, unproven book for $2.99, even though Konrath's latest is free." Maybe every year one or two Mill River Recluses or Wools would emerge, and a new author would join the ranks of famous indies, but how would the rest of us make a buck?

Rob Mathis said...

One thing is certain. The publishing industry is in an unprecedented state of upheaval. This is mostly due to legacy publishers being put on the back foot by e-publishing and their continuing inability to effectively address this phenomenon.
What’s not certain is what the industry will look like when the dust settles. Right now, the readers are the gatekeepers to success. The free market at its best. That’s why Indie writers like Konrath, Hocking, and others are currently achieving such great success. But I don’t know how long the current window of opportunity for Indie authors will last.
The danger is that other gatekeepers will spring up to replace legacy publishers. Milton’s comment about advertisers is spot on. When viewed in the context of Joe’s statements about advertising, it makes me wonder advertisers are destined to become the next gatekeepers. If you thought editors were frustrating, imagine being told what and how to write by advertising execs! Some might argue that’s already the case.

Wanda said...

Joe
I love your way of thinking! I find myself totally inspired to WRITE a good chick book every time I visit your blog!

I like freebies...but I buy tons of ebooks too.

Walter Knight said...

Kindle Fire has an updated model coming out in late August. That should boost Amazon Prime membership because buyers of Kindles get free Prime memberships for a month.

Enroc said...

"Erie!"
"Forecast the past" (with six breasts on cover)
and, of course,
the "Jack Daniels" novels.

Just a few sample of titles/descriptions/characters from Konrath and the friends he pushes.

It really surprises me that Konrath is on the cutting edge of publishing. Looking at the nature of his work, I would have expected him to cling to formulaic methods.

My next story will be titled "GoogleTits!" and will be the first installment in a never ending series where a middle class, ex army captain, New York detective winds up having to battle terrorists from one strip club to another. Just when you thought you might get bored, BAM!, my detective, Captain Morgan Danger Freeman, will be pitted against an all female army of naked vampire terrorists offering killer blow jobs!

Put that shit on Kindle. First free, then for 69 cents, suckers.

Enroc

dafaolta said...

I work at a Library, so I can speak to this situation to an extent. We have lots of patrons who only read a book once and they are the mainstay of our system. They want the latest book in the series they follow or the authors they follow, but they don't want to reread anything unless it's been a loooong time between books and they need to get back in the groove.

We have had as many as 7 people waiting for 50 Shades alone, rather than risk the $9.99 for the ebook or whatever the print version is going for now. I think of this as one of the central reasons to have Libraries: connecting readers to writers they would never have found otherwise.

Personally, I've been buying ebooks for 10 years now (8/8/2002 purchase date) and I've paid hardcover prices for books I couldn't wait to read. Naturally, I prefer to pay less for my electrons than I would pay for paper, but I have to admit I have bought books that cost more in electrons than they do in paper even still. It's a struggle to justify it even when it's an author I have everything they've written.

In terms of freebies, I'm more likely to avoid books that I wouldn't have considered reading free or not. I don't feel, personally, that it's fair to the author to download a book that don't sound interesting. I don't usually write reviews, but that's as much because I still have trouble going back and analyzing parts without giving away serious plot points. It's fair of authors to expect reviews for freebies, I think, as well as books I paid for.

Jacob Chastain said...

This is a dumb argument "advertisers will be the new gatekeeper"... have you been to YouTube lately? They don't choose where Rey put their ads, you hit a button that says you want ads and that is the end of it. No gate keeping, only money to be made.