The Sword and Laser discussion

Do free e-books devalue entertainment?

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message 1: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 3 comments Exhibit A: I believe that creative/intellectual endeavors frequently bring value into the world, even when they are also digital objects.

Exhibit B: I have decided that the best thing (for me) to do with my novelAvoiding Space Madness is to give it away.

Exhibit C: I really like free stuff!

Providing my novel for free meets a variety of my goals. But it puts me in a precarious position vis a vis exhibit A.

Similar to the race to the bottom in the iTunes store, where many people no longer even consider purchasing a 5-dollar game, I wonder and worry if giving away a e-book for free contributes to letting people think there is a functioning business model that supports this.

My solution works for me, but it does nothing for the larger issue. I wonder if it wouldn't have been the moral thing to do to charge something as show of solidarity to my fellow authors?


message 2: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 178 comments I don't know about charging as a show of solidarity...

That said I think everyone loves free stuff as long as it is of acceptable quality. What acceptable quality is varies from user to user.

Some people will grab anything that is free because it is free, others will not because their time or space is limited.

Personally I fall in the later camp. While I love a good deal and do not like over paying I am not going to run out and grab every free ebook or app just because it is free. My time is limited and I would rather spend it with a high quality product vs. wading through a huge list of questionable quality freebies looking for the rare gem.

User reviews help narrow things down but they are not always enough especially if there are only a small number of reviews.

Lowering the price of a product may increase sales but if done industry wide may give the product less perceived value. Expensive products carry a higher perceived value. I.E. it is special when you spend that much money on something and you can only do so occasionally. If the price of an object is very low or free most consumers consider it disposable or of little value. They might buy a book and never read it and not care because it was cheap or free. However if they pay $15+ for a book they are much more likely to read it to make sure they get their moneys worth. It also makes them more demanding, if it was free they feel there is no point of complaining even if the quality was poor. If they paid what they feel is a median or high amount for the product and it is not of sufficient quality they are much more likely to complain.

There is also the fact that people are going to remember the books they purchased vs. a user who grabs 10-20 free books a week/month. If the book is great sure they will remember it but if it is OK or does nothing to stand clearly above the crowd (including full price competition) I believe they are less likely to remember it because there was no financial and thus emotional investment in the product.

message 3: by A.J. (new)

A.J. (ajbobo) | 72 comments If you have a number of other books available for sale then making one (or more) of them available for free might be a good way to generate sales of the others.

For example, I had never heard of John Scalzi before the relaunch a few years ago. But they were offering free ebooks, so I got a copy of Old Man's War. I enjoyed it so much that I bought physical copies of several of his other books. That wouldn't have happened if the first one hadn't been free.

message 4: by Gordon (new)

Gordon McLeod (mcleodg) | 347 comments My plan is to offer everything I write for free and eventually to make it available for sale too. Most people won't bother paying for it, I know, and that's fine. I'll just be after those who enjoy it enough to want to pay for it. The rest is all advertising.

I think this gives you pretty much the best of both worlds, where your potential audience can both discover what it is you offer AND be able to pay for it to show support.

message 5: by Kate (last edited Dec 19, 2011 03:07PM) (new)

Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments Does borrowing paperbacks from my mates lead me to devalue books? Does borrowing them from the library?

Just glancing at my bookshelf I can see books that I've bought even though they were available fee and legal online . My budget is fixed, but if I read someones work for free and I like it, I'll remember it when I have money to spend.

One of my favourite singers, Simon Clayton said something quite sensible about the conflation of value and price which I shall quote
"I think it [the internet] has exposed the disparity between value and price. I wouldn’t want to live without Paradise Lost – as such, I value it highly, but I’ve never paid more than about £2.50 for a copy of it – that doesn’t necessarily mean I value it any less, just that value is expressed in broader terms than money."
(Clayton's albums are sold on a pay what you like model, if he releases something when money's tight I may take it for free, when I'm flush I may throw him €20 for it.)

message 6: by Leslie (last edited Dec 20, 2011 08:09AM) (new)

Leslie | 3 comments It is interesting to me how this conversation has gone. I was coming at it from a much less practically-minded place.

For me, I want to ensure a world where people who are good at creating stuff, but not necessarily particularly great at developing new business models can thrive.

Crucially, that does not mean I would begrudge anyone trying to develop the True Fans it takes for a gift economy to work, or to harness "free" as part of a marketing strategy etc...

In my case however, I'm cheating, or at least playing a different game.

For a variety of reasons, I'm not really "harnessing" the free label as part of any other goal. If I was doing it to make money in some other way I might still give it away, but then I would do all the things around that act differently (as many other authors have). Indeed, I suspect that it may be hurting both my raw number of readers (because of lost perceived value) and my greatest monetary hope from the gift economy is to pay for the cost of hosting my website.

Since I don't have much to gain, I just hope my kind of game, doesn't contribute to making it harder for those who want to play the old game to succeed.

On the other hand, it may very well be that I have no idea what I'm going on about, which is the danger in having people who tell story's try and figure out business plans.

message 7: by terpkristin (new)

terpkristin | 4036 comments I don't think it cheapens it (personally). I do think that it can act as a gateway drug to an author or genre, especially for newer or lesser-known authors. I've found quite a few authors when Amazon or Audible have the first-in-a-series or first-work-by-an-author either free (Kindle) or really cheap (Audible).

I will also say that I've bought quite a few books from the Kindle Daily Deal sale. Haven't had time to read any of the ones I've purchased lately, but I intend to...

message 8: by Bob (new)

Bob (shack) | 103 comments I don't think it cheapens a book for an author to let people read books for free. If an author lets me read his book for free and I relly enjoy it I have no problem with sending that author some money in hopes he/she will write more. I would like to see this model more in the future as it will puch authors to write better books.

I suggest you check out Corey Doctrow's stuff ( He gives all his ebooks away under Creative Commons, sells the paper versions and still makes money on them.

message 9: by Micah (new)

Micah (onemorebaker) | 1071 comments A.J. wrote: " That wouldn't have happened if the first one hadn't been free. "

So said a great many people currently in rehab :) We are all just lucky books aren't considered a dangerous addiction.

message 10: by Gary (new)

Gary Oswald (monkeygroove) | 12 comments In the book Predictably Irrational, the author talks about the concept of free. He did some experiments with "free" just to find out how we respond.

Simply put, his findings were that free in and of itself is not the insensitive. The conclusion that he came to is that it is all part of a cost/value examination.

What is going on in our heads is that we look at the perceived enjoyment that we will get from something as a value, and then we look at it's cost. Free tricks us, because we are willing to go for something that is free over something that costs even if we will enjoy it less than the costing item because what we spend takes away from the "joy" value. (I would recommend reading the book to get the whole idea here.)

We are going to get books that we think we are going to enjoy. If there is a cost, we will pay for it, if it is free, then we think we got lucky.

I guess what I am trying to say is, the value of a book in our minds is not what we payed for it, but how much we enjoyed it. If we really liked a book, then we will read other things by the author, and tell other people about the book. That is just the way it works. There have been many books that I bought, but never finished because I thought they were pooh.

message 11: by kvon (new)

kvon | 561 comments Gary, was that the experiment with free Hershey's vs cheap Godiva's?

I know from talking to potters and other artisans that making the art is often the easy part; selling it is another thing altogether, that they don't pick up in art classes.

I tend to agree with Brandon, I would rather read something vetted by the editing process; I don't think you have to worry about that section of the buying public. I don't know about the folks who buy from self-publishers in general.

message 12: by Steve (new)

Steve | 7 comments I don't read free books. If the author doesn't place any value in their book then who am I to argue. My sister is a budding artist who is trying to get established but she doesn't give her work away for free in an attempt to get her name out there. She charges hundreds of dollars for her paintings because that is what they are worth to her.

message 13: by Kate (new)

Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments Steve wrote: "I don't read free books. If the author doesn't place any value in their book then who am I to argue."

Why should monetary value be the only sort of value.
I have a hardcover Complete Shakespeare that I paid €10 for. Do I value Shakespeare less than half as much as the Steve Jobs biography which I paid less than twice as much for? Hell no! I would cheerfully trade a world without Jobs' bio for just one sonnet.

I'm the treasurer of a scifi convention, I don't get paid for this, is my contribution without value?

There are lots of reasons for people to give away their stuff, reasons that are to do with maximizing their end profit and reasons that aren't about making money at all.

message 14: by Lou (new)

Lou (loumassignani) | 5 comments Yes

message 15: by Stan (new)

Stan Slaughter | 359 comments Free - if it is of good quality will make me want to look for that author again.
Free - if it is awful will make me want to avoid to avoid that author like the plague.

It is like an artist displaying their paintings in a gallery for people to look at. You are advertising your talent. If people think you are good, they will want more. How much more helps set the price for the future work.

message 16: by Maurice (new)

Maurice | 9 comments Exactly, Stan, a lot of indie authors have had promotional success by offering their work for free. A lot of people read their work, or even just see their name, that wouldn't otherwise have. It's simply a marketing tactic; IMO people really need to rethink their assumptions when it comes to cost and value. I see a lot of people stuck in the old way of thinking, that if something doesn't cost much (or sometimes anything), that it must not be good. That is simply not true.

message 17: by Gary (new)

Gary Oswald (monkeygroove) | 12 comments Yes, that was the experiment.

message 18: by Tina (new)

Tina (javabird) | 652 comments I don't believe the price devalues the work at all. What devalues the work in my mind is that so many people can now self-publish ebooks, there's not as much quality control. So if it's an unknown author, I'm more likely to take a chance if it's free, to see if I like their work.

I've picked up a lot of digital books since getting my iPad, some on sale, some free and some I've paid full price, and I honestly don't remember which ones I got free or paid for.

message 19: by Meripen (new)

Meripen | 8 comments If I go to a bookstore and see a book that really looks and sounds interesting and I'm not familiar with the authors work I'm a bit hesitant to spend money on it.
You can't always go by other peoples reviews because people like different things. But if you see the same book for free? No hesitation! You get the book and can see what you really think. Maybe come on GoodReads and review it.
The kicker is you are now hooked. Even if you don't buy that book, when you see the sequel of it or something else by the same author you are much more likely to buy it. It's like how people feel about blind dates. You don't know them, you might not like them when it's all said and done. Why waste your time and money on them? Only the hope of a great time.
When you walk into a bookstore, there are a lot of blind dates on the shelves mixed with some old friends. A free book doesn't devalue it, it makes it more valuable to you. If you like it you will read more, and that is a new customer for the writer. It's like cell phone companies giving you free or cheaper phones. Over time you will make them much more money than if you just bought one book if you are won over by the story.

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