There’s no such thing as a free lunch ~ on the rightful exchange of energies.
I’ve seen a good deal lately about free books. If you buy e-books, you’ll probably have gathered a few freebies. Amazon allows its Select programme authors to make their books free for five days out of the ninety day exclusive period. Many authors believe that the exposure having a book available for free brings in sales later, especially if the book charts in one of the best-seller categories that run side by side, paid alongside free. When the opportunity to “sell” your book at the free option first came around, a lot of authors found that their books soared to the top of categories as people in their thousands downloaded it. As time went on, the numbers downloading became lower and the paid sales that came on the back of it dropped even lower too.
Today I came across Erika M Szabo’s blog post explaining how she has people messaging her and asking her when her books would be free http://lovetotalkalot.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/free-book.html I’m certain her experience is far from unusual. It would seem that the plethora of books offered for free has meant that a lot of readers now expect books for nothing.
Some time ago I stopped downloading free books, just because they were free. In fact, I stopped doing it within a few months of getting my Kindle. Most of the ones I nabbed remain unread, lost somewhere in the hinterlands of my device. I realised that the books that got put into the folder named Freebies seldom came out again. I have occasionally picked up a book that’s been offered free, but it’s generally ones I might well have bought. Currently I am reading a non fiction book about food in the books of Jane Austen. I’ll probably write a review when I finish it, as a thank you.
I’m sure if people thought about it properly they would understand that while authors do want their books to be read, they don’t really want to give them away. There’s something more complicated going on, something subtle and easy to miss. Giving away books can be part of a strategy to gain more readers: either on the off chance that those who grab it when it’s free will read it (and even better, write a review), or because the book has been given as an ARC (Advance Review Copy) in exchange for an honest review later. I know from other writers than ARCs often bring in poor returns; many readers never get round to writing the promised review. I don’t generally accept ARCs myself either because the time factor is such that if it’s a book I want to read in the first place, I prefer to buy it because that gives it greater weight in the sliding scale of what I an afford to spend time on. In my mind, a book I have bought (exchanged money for) is likely to be read far sooner than one that I have been given in the hope that I will review it. If I have paid money for a book, too, I feel that the basic exchange of energies is in balance. Once I have read that book, depending on how much I have enjoyed it, there is then a possibility that I feel the balance has been upset again. A book I have adored creates in me the desire to share it, to review it and to make up the deficit in energy. So a four quid book that I loved requires something more to settle the scales.
Of all the commodities today, for many of us, time is the most valuable. I’ve read scathing reviews of books that often refer to the time they have lost reading a book they didn’t enjoy, and often it’s only the fact that it was free or cheap that has redeemed it. But my time too is valuable. To write a book takes time and dedication and while you can argue that writers make that choice to use their time to write (and no one is holding a gun to their heads) I do believe that demanding unlimited free books is an obscenity. The motto of my faculty at university was Haec otia studia fovent which roughly translates as This leisure(wealth) fosters/favours study; one could use the same basic sentiment to declare that this leisure fosters creative works. Without the time taken out of other activities few books would get written. There are few authors I know who can write full time. Most of us have day jobs. We write for all sorts of reasons and while there’s some who write in the hope of making their fortune, I think most accept that very few succeed in that way.
My own books are the product of intense, focused periods of creative energy, with all the concomitant hours of extra work to polish and prepare them for public consumption. I have never made any of them free on Kindle and I probably won’t. However, I do happily give away copies to individuals and I have my own code for this. I don’t send out ARCs out before a book is published (but I may do something of the sort one day when I get all my ducks in a row) because I’d rather not create obligation in others. If a book has given enjoyment that is worthy of the very reasonable price, then I think that’s all square. The reviews that come in give me great pleasure and I’m deeply grateful for them.
Every free book has been the product of a lot of work and hope too. It’s greedy to gobble them all up and demand more of the same without offering something in return. An author cannot keep on churning out more and more of the same product endlessly without something going back to feed them, and for readers to see authors as mere providers of their favourite mental snacks will create even greater imbalance. Authors will get discouraged and they will give up. Many already have.
If you enjoy reading, whatever your preferred genres, remember that exchange of energy, especially if you “buy” free books. Make time to review the ones you enjoyed, or buy a book by the same author if you liked their style, let others know about books they may also enjoy.