The zero cost of production an ebook makes giving online books away vs. selling them a reasonable economic option, so long as you’re willing to “eat” costs related to bringing the book into existence (including editorial, proofing, design and your own tears and blood).
Traditionally, there are two schools of thought regarding attaching a $0 price tag to your book.
On one hand, eliminating cost eliminates “friction,” making it easy for someone to hit the “Buy” or “Download” button, without having to think about financial sacrifice associated with their part of the transaction. Certainly, the ebook version Critical Voter got the most “sales” during the KDP Select free promotion week I ran, and who would argue that there doesn’t exist a large market of people interested in getting something for nothing?
In addition, there is also a robust ecosystem specifically built around communicating the availability of free books, with authors often competing to get included on featured lists of free offerings at sites like Free-Ebooks.net. And if you care more about putting your ebook into people’s hands than getting them to hand over cash in exchange, you can encourage sharing vs. fretting about theft.
But price also has carries important signal. As described way back when, the biggest investment one makes in a book is not the money spent to obtain it, but the time dedicated to reading it. This means that people (especially heavy readers) will always be cautious about selecting what they open, lest they end up wasting precious reading/leisure time on a piece of trash.
Fair or not, books are judged by their cover price as well as their cover. Is your book being given away for free because no one would buy it? Is it a vanity project that may sound good in the blurb, but is likely to be poorly written, boring or incoherent? Does willingness to give something away means the author him or herself doesn’t value what they’ve created?
There are all likely questions someone will ask before deciding to commit themselves to reading what you’ve written. So with the near non-existent barrier to entry of the ebook market, how can you get potential readers to distinguish your masterpiece from Vampire Bodyguard VIII written by Fanboy McJibberish?
The solution to this dilemma might come from a distinction between “free” and “open,” a topic we will get to next time.