So, one of the interesting (I hesitate to call it exciting, because that insinuates a pleasantness that doesn't often occur with the publishing business) parts of publishing is that when you're in charge of your own promotional efforts, you get to try a lot of new ideas. Toss in the added benefits of self-publishing (which I've described previously on my blog) and the complete autonomy behind setting prices and other aspects of the bookselling side of the business, and you have a vast smorgasbord of interesting.
I've toyed with varying pricing of e-books in the past, but there really wasn't a lot of stability in the numbers to draw from. So, earlier this year (late March or April), I set my novella Seeker as a free e-book through Smashwords.
The distribution of this title reaches out to Barnes and Noble and Kobo, among others, so the title was free through those outlets as well. Amazon eventually price-matched, but it took them until late May to do so. The earlier sites report back to Smashwords, so the numbers of free giveaways off sites beyond Smashwords has a lot of lag (more so than titles sold for a price), so for the purposes of this discussion, I'll stick just with the last month's worth of information from Amazon (which has instantaneous numbers for both free giveaways and sales both).
In the past month (May 25 through June 22), Seeker has given away 407 copies for free. This is a tiny amount compared to some of the numbers I've seen for KDP Select authors (who can offer their books for 5 days every 90, but a program I've previously denounced as ineffective for my purposes). However, as a comparison, over the past 2+ years that Seeker has been available for sale, it has sold less than 100 copies. So, I'd venture to say that we can confirm from this statistic that readers love free stuff.
But giving away books for free doesn't make authors any money, right?
That's where most people (in my opinion) get it wrong. Because most people are thinking in the moment, and that moment is limited to the book they're giving away free. But for those (such as myself) who have multiple titles out there, a free giveaway is a means to an end, namely to sell as many books out of the entire stable as possible.
So, let's look at my other books, shall we? First, we'll look at the next step up, the two Triple-Shot titles I have. Both are priced at 99 cents, and have had mediocre sales since their releases (less than one a month, based on the stats from my latest sales update). How'd they do this month? Each sold 4 copies. Still not as high as I'd like, but it proves to me at least that the free giveaway of one title gives a full sample of your work to a reader. If they like it, they're more willing to spend (at least a tiny amount of) money for more of your work.
Unfortunately, for my two small press Aston West novels, Heroes Die Young and Friends in Deed, I don't have instantaneous sales numbers to compare. But I have been keeping an eye on the sales rankings through Author Central, and can attest that sales for these two spiked once the giveaway started on Amazon. Whether they checked those out after checking out Seeker, and then the Triple-Shots, or just Seeker, is anyone's guess. But I'd venture to theorize that sales happened on these because of the same sampling process I mentioned before.
Only time will tell if a continued giveaway (I'm planning on leaving Seeker free until after the year's end, and then we'll see how things go) continues to yield the same results, but I plan on riding this out until I find out. And of course, I'll have to remember to come back and present an update along the way.
In the meantime, don't be afraid to try new things, even if it defies convention...