People love free products and services and to save money
For new authors, offering free ebooks seems like a sensible idea to attract readers who find free books tempting.
It is natural to think that the whole world is searching for anything free.
In the early days of ebooks, this tactic worked to some degree, if only to get a few book reviews.
But now with cheap ebook subscription services such as Kindle Unlimited and others offering generous free trials, the perceived value of a free ebook has diminished considerably.
If you are an author with only one published title, what do you get in return after giving away your only title?
Free stuff is rarely offered online for nothing
Social media sites always say, sign up for free. But as we have all discovered to our chagrin, in return for their services for free, we paid with our personal data.
Many authors fall prey to high-pressure vanity publishers, who offer free publishing guidebooks and free manuscript appraisals as a customer acquisition tactic to get someone’s address, email address and phone number.
Then you have a salesperson on the phone, trying to get you to part with a few thousand dollars.
Offers of free samples, a free version or a free plan almost always involve giving your email address in return. Once you have done so, you will start receiving bundles of marketing emails to convince you to move from the free to paid plan.
It is all about conversion. For some small businesses, even a five per cent conversion rate can be very profitable.
People still hunt for freebie sites using free stuff finder websites. On Google, there are over 110,00 searches every month for the phrase “free stuff”.
Finding freebies is easy, but rarely do they come with no strings attached.
The freemium business model
Operating an online business using a freemium product is now very standard practice. It is especially true for (Software as a Service) SAAS businesses.
For free, you get the very basic features. But to get access to additional features you have to upgrade to a paid plan.
Free users might only have feature limited access, but in exchange for this, they usually have to provide their email address. Then, of course, the emails arrive trying to get you to pay to upgrade.
The same approach is used for cloud storage. You get a few gigabytes for free, but after that, you have to pay.
Apple is a bit miserable on this front, offering only 5 gigabytes for free, which is hardly enough space to store a little of all the photos and music people have nowadays.
Online products for free are never offered without expecting something in return.
There is a wide variety of services and products for free online. But out of all of these free items, free ebooks are the odd one out.
What is the free ebook business model?
For many authors, enrolling in Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select and using the facility to offer an ebook for free for five days in each three month period of enrollment is considered a plan.
While all these methods are now standard practice, it means that there are thousands, if not a million or so free ebooks on offer every day.
But what do authors and publishers expect in return? What’s the marketing plan?
A wish and a hope that a few readers might possibly leave a book review? Then, of these very few reviews, how many will be good and how many will be one-star star stinkers?
It is surprising how few authors think of asking for a review. It only needs a small line at the end of an ebook asking the reader politely to post a review.
Smart authors who write in a series use the first book as a loss leader and hope to get readers to buy the other books in the series. Free ebooks can help, but there is always a pitch at the end of the book to promote the rest of the series.
But of all of these uses of an ebook giveaway, there is nothing definitive, such as an email address, being asked for in return.
How do you get something in return?
To start on the road to getting something of value in return, get to work on building an email list.
It doesn’t need to be very big, to begin with. Think about finding people who might agree to become beta readers for you. It’s hard work, but social media is the ideal way to find people.
If you have had contact with readers and perhaps have their email address, add them too.
Use your blog or website to attract readers. Add a contact form to your site including an option to join your mailing list.
Another way is to use the same method as smart marketers. Offer an ebook for free download from your site in epub and mobi, but only in exchange for an email address.
Once you have your mailing list, you can start asking for something in return.
Send free ebooks to your beta readers before publishing, and their feedback will be of immense value to you.
When you have a new book ready to publish, offer your entire mailing list a free copy, but ask them for a review in return. You can even be clear about where and when you would like them to post their reviews.
It is your book, and writing it was a tough job, so don’t be shy about asking for something in return for all your months of hard work.
Don’t give it all away – for nothing.
It doesn’t matter if it’s free movies, Black Friday deals, birthday freebies or free baby stuff with free shipping. All of these offers ask for something in return.
Yet so many authors and self-publishers give everything away with no thought of what they can get in return.
Wishful thinking is not effective marketing or book promotion.
If you are considering a free ebook campaign, take a moment to think about what you are going to gain from it. How will it benefit you and how will you measure that success?
Would you be better served by doing more book promotion and working to get more paying book sales?
Giving away ebooks is not as easy as it used to be. There are just too many on offer every day.
If you are going to use free ebooks as part of your book promotion, have a plan. Don’t work on a wish.
More reading: Is This Publisher Legit? How You Can Make Your Decision