I’m very late to the free scene, but then again, you know, I’m Malaysian, and Amazon is where the indie-gone-free phenomenon mostly is. In the past, I’m led to believe that going free is a way for indie sales to get sales, eyeballs, and reviews – all of which would hopefully make these authors plenty of money. “Going permafree” is a phrase coined for the act of making something like the first book in a series permanently free in hope of gaining sales for the remaining books in the series. And then, if you have a Kindle Unlimited Account, books are practically free as long as you pay the necessary membership fee. I suspect that if you are American and you dabble a lot in the indie scene on the Amazon platform, you are surrounded by free, free, free stuff.
Back up to early this year, I notice something. I’m on a few promotional lists – Bookbub, InstaFree, etc – mostly just to see what the indie authors are up to in Amazon even if I can’t buy their stuff – and these days I get solicitations from more lists tailored after the big ones like Bookbub. All promise me the latest freebies and deals on Amazon. I can only wonder – what can these lists offer that those lists can’t? I also get unsolicited requests from blog tour companies – hello, would I like to take part in their events? I don’t even know who these people are.
I can only deduce a few things here. Blog tours are no longer hot, and participation is decreasing, so the online book PR companies whose businesses revolve around blog tours are now asking every blog they come across to be a part of the merry tour. On the other hand, promotional mailing lists must still be making money, as people are still setting up such businesses hoping to make money off indie authors. But the audience of such lists must be limited in some way, or else they won’t be asking random people to join their lists.
Will this affect the free business model, though? If what I suspect is true, that the supply is becoming greater than the demand, what will happen next?
Does free still work with readers? I do have access to the yearly “FREE! FREE! FREE!” blitzes at Smashwords and All Romance Ebooks, and at first, I downloaded everything. Really, I took everything, like a kid in a candy store given unlimited money to spend. And then, after a while, I noticed one thing: I never got around to read them. Even now, years later, many of them are still collecting virtual dust. I also notice a bad habit of mine: I begin to develop a certain blind spot for authors who sell their stuff at $0.99, unless they are already familiar to me, because there are already so many indie authors writing for market, churning out the same old bloody things like their peers. There are too many choices, I don’t have the time to comb through them all, unless I come across a particularly striking synopsis or cover art. It’s like the chicken or the egg, and at the end of the day, I’d rather just go to KFC and order some fried chicken instead of worrying too much about these things.
Strangely enough, I do pay more attention to titles in the $4.99 to $6.99 range. This is just bad of me, of course, but when I see these prices, my prejudice kicks in. The author who prices her books this way is most likely not churning out swill every week in order to write to market. She sees some value in her work. These are all unfounded assumptions, of course, but this bad part of me equates cheap to disposable. If you are selling me your full-length books for $0.99, I’d ask, “So, what’s the catch?”
Then again, I’m old school. I’m used to paying reasonable prices for things, and I get suspicious when things get way below the presumed market price. I only hope that the younger readers are not like me, they like the cheap prices these indie authors are offering.
Then again, I also wonder: if the author gives so many things away for free or almost free, why would anyone pay more for her other books? In other industries, it is well known that bargain hunters rarely overlap with the more regular customers – bargain hunters have fewer qualms about jumping from one brand to a cheaper brand, unlike more regular customers who may be more likely to develop brand loyalty. And given that there are so many indie authors writing gangster or billionaire erotica, why follow an author who jacks her later books to $4.99 when there are 300 more authors offering similar stories for free?
I suppose at the end of the day it is up to the author to chase after bargain hunters or not. Me, though, I get very desensitized to free quickly, because I have such – what’s the word, indie-phobe? – prejudices and also because my brain rejects the need to sort out the too many choices offered to me, especially when I suspect that most of these titles were written to cash in on trends. I don’t mind free books from authors whose works I am already familiar with and enjoy, though. Oh, I’m such a snob.