Free Ebooks — Do They Capture New Readers?


Cute. 🙂

Authors and publishers have offered free ebooks as a way to capture new readers for a few years. But does it really work? This marketing strategy is one of many used in our industry, and it’s rather intriguing. As a reader, I’ve certainly downloaded my fair share of free ebooks over this past 14 months while I’ve had an ereader. To begin with, I thought wow, this is cool. I get to try out new authors and see if I like their work. My intention was, if I did, I’d go on to buy more of their books.

The only problem with this, is that more and more free ebooks keep coming out. There’s an endless stream. Another problem is, some of those freebies were just plain awful. If I got a couple of chapters into the story and it didn’t capture me, I simply deleted it and began another. I hadn’t invested any money, so no harm was done. Only this got a little monotonous. Of the fifteen free ebooks I’d downloaded, only two were any good. Those are terrible odds, and in a way puts me off from downloading another from an author I haven’t heard of.

As a bonus though, because I’d received them for free, I wrote reviews for those two authors and posted them on Amazon. I felt obligated to ensure they received some sort of compensation for what they’d freely given. Although, I can’t help thinking is what happened to me the same for other readers? To answer my question, I checked out what authors and readers are saying about free ebooks. This information has come from a number of sources, from other authors and readers I’ve chatted to, as well as from reading responses within various group threads on Goodreads.

Here’s the overall feeling on free ebooks.

  • The power of free ebooks seems to be dwindling because of the flood of them this past year.
  • Readers are more apt to give a new author a try when they can read their book for free. They’ll happily buy other books if there are any.
  • A couple of authors mentioned that some of their free ebooks made it into the hands of readers who don’t enjoy the genre they write. They then left bad reviews stating so, but then that’s the risk an author takes.
  • Many readers said they’re more committed to reading an ebook they purchase, over one they receive for free. Freebies get put to the bottom of the pile.
  • Readers also found where a free ebook in a series became available, if they liked it, it hooked them into buying other books within the series.
  • Authors did report that they sold more books for a short time after their promotion, but then their sales dropped away again and back to normal levels. Because of this, they felt giving away free ebooks is something that should be done once they had a backlist. This marketing strategy would then see those readers who enjoyed their books, perhaps buying others they had available. (Of course, we all know there are some authors who’ve seen incredible success from “free ebooks,” and in some cases, it’s launched their careers.)
  • Also, a number of readers said after reading some terrible free ebooks, they’re learnt to check the reviews and the current average rating of any future freebies before downloading them. (This is exactly what I did this month. I’ve downloaded only one free ebook in May, and it’s from an author I know can deliver a good read. I too checked out the current star rating, and once satisfied, downloaded their free ebook.)
  • One author who experienced a huge boost in sales said she’s glad she gave away free ebooks. It was incredibly effective for her. She was there not long after the KDP select program began and that’s when she saw her success. She did state though, that Amazon have now tightened their algorithms surrounding their lists, and that means a free ebook falls far quicker after its free days. It’s not as effective as it was when she first began.
  • Lastly, the underlying point which really came through, was readers truly enjoy when they discover a new author from a free ebook. They go searching for other books they’ve written to buy more, but again that author needs to have a backlist to reap the benefits.

Interesting, isn’t it? Publishers and authors will certainly continue to use free ebooks as one of their marketing strategies, but I believe they’re starting to get more savvy on exactly what works and doesn’t work. As an author or reader, what do you think of free ebooks? If you’re an author, have you given ebooks away for free? Did you find success? Was it all you hoped for? Will you try it again? You know me, I love hearing from you. Drop me a comment and let me know how you feel about free ebooks? I’m all for authors supporting authors, and sharing all that important information.

Take care, and I’ll catch ya next week.


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12 thoughts on “Free Ebooks — Do They Capture New Readers?

  1. I, just like you, found myself downloading so many free ebooks only to delete 85% of them after reading a few chapters. Now I read a minimum of 20 reviews before downloading a new one if it is an author I haven’t heard of. I have gone on to buy several.books, from the authors that have a backlist, like you mentioned.

  2. Sad but true. I’ve done the free thing with my books, but usually only small spikes afterwards in sales. I did a six day free giveaway of all my books and it garnered some repeat sales, but nothing to brag about. I’ll probably just stick with discounted prices for any other promotions. I’ve downloaded several free ebooks and been pleasantly surprised by some and others were just down right awful. Funny thing is I read another book by an author that the first I read from her was not good, but the second one was really good and made me a fan. It’s so hard to tell. Thanks for the post.

    1. Stephanie, I like your idea of offering a discount for a promotion. The reader has then paid for the book, but still got a deal. They’re still more committed to reading it and not dumping it in that “free” pile that gets looked at last. Great. Thanks so much. 🙂

  3. Wow really good article, thanks for posting. I haven’t tried giving away free ebooks but from a reader I tend to be very selective of the ones I download. I think the discounted idea is good. I tend to put more time and effort into a book I paid for even if it is a little slow at the start.

  4. Hi Joanne 🙂
    Of all the points you listed, that one about freebies getting into the hands of readers who didn’t like the genre/subject and then left bad reviews, sent chills down my spine. I *never* considered that before. That’s scary. As someone who reads and writes in the more risque genres, something like that could really backfire. I’ve seen some authors offer the first few chapters of a book on their website for free to read. They have a way of leaving you at a point in the story where you HAVE to see what happens next! If I ever publish, I think that’s the route I’ll take. Readers get a taste of the story and can see my writing style and hopefully they’ll feel that buying the whole book is less of a risk.

    1. Hey, Cadence. I think having a chapter available is a good idea. It really appeals. Sometimes I’ve downloaded the first sample chapter on Amazon’s site, just in case I wanted to see more of the author’s work before buying it. In the cases where I did, I went on to buy the book. It’s a marketing strategy that truly works.

      It is a worry where the readers left bad reviews for the author because it wasn’t a genre they usually read. That left a bad taste in my mouth, too. There’s always so much for us to think about as writers. Writing a book is just the tip of the iceberg. We have to promote, market, and ten million other things. A writer’s job’s is endless, but still, I wouldn’t change what I do for the world 🙂

  5. Hi.
    Just like to say, interesting article. Only yesterday I published my debut novella ‘Eight’ on Smashwords, and yes, it is free. So far it has had 40 downloads, but as to what the readers will think of it, well, I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
    For me, being a author was never about selling a million copies, it had more to do with writing a book. Okay, it’s free as an ebook, but it will also be available in print to buy (not that I’m holding my breath when it goes on sale).
    I’m just willing to try and see where it takes me, if it means offering my first ebook for free, then that’s what I have to do.

    1. Hey, Sarah. Congratulations on your debut release. That’s fabulous. I love your point about “for you, it’s about writing a book, not selling a million copies.” The exact same goes for me. I want readers to enjoy the stories I write, and whatever income I earn is just a bonus. It’s about getting our books into the hands of readers, and in your case, offering “Eight” as a free ebook is exactly right for you.

      In the future I see myself offering free ebooks, but I’m not sure when. It’ll be a marketing move to make sure I capture new readers and get them as involved with my stories as I am.

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment. 🙂

  6. It seems I’ve heard a lot of mixed emotions in the publishing and writing world regarding e-books, but this a view I haven’t heard much on. Thanks for pointing these tips out, it’s something I will definitely pay attention too. I look forward to reading more on your blog!

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