by Helena Fairfax


What do you think about free and discounted ebooks? Do you have hundreds of them on your eReader that you never read? Would you sign up to someone’s newsletter just to get a free book? Or do you think, “Why bother signing up to a newsletter, when there are thousands of free eBooks on Amazon all the time?”

There was a time – only a few years ago now – when someone came up with the great idea of offering one of their eBooks for free in order to hook in readers. A free book! This whole idea used to be new and attractive to readers. Paperback books are very rarely offered for free in bulk because it’s just too expensive, and so for authors to give away their work was once something excitingly new and different.

But is the idea of a free book still as attractive today? Do readers now just expect to get all their eBooks either free or at bargain basement prices? Have we writers just shot ourselves in the foot by giving away our work?

I’m curious about this question as it’s been the subject of a major discussion in one of the author groups I’m in. There are two viewpoints: some believe we authors are killing our own business by offering work at rock bottom prices, and that we are devaluing what we are doing – that readers think because our books are free our writing is also worthless.

There are others who think that offering books for free is a huge opportunity for an author to get known by new readers – readers who are otherwise reluctant to shell out cash on an author they don’t know.

Here’s a quote from Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, in Publishers Weekly: “Free devalues your work, right? Wrong. Free makes your work more valuable. As an author, you are a brand. Readers buy books from authors who have earned their trust. But to earn readers’ trust, you must first earn their awareness. If readers don’t know you, they can’t trust you—your brand carries no value to them. You’re invisible.

“Even if you’re already a New York Times bestseller, there are millions of potential readers out there who have never heard of you and have never read your stuff. Free makes it possible to reach new readers who would otherwise never take a chance on you.”

I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought this week, as I planned to put two of my romance novels on special offer in the run up to Valentine’s Day. Was I doing the right thing by making my books available for 99p/99c? Am I devaluing them? I thought long and hard about it, and I realised that, yes, for me this strategy has worked in the past.

I give away a free novella to subscribers to my newsletter, and this has brought me new readers who are actually engaged and who I know read each newsletter I send out, because they reply to me with comments. Many of these subscribers have also bought the follow up to my novella. If I hadn’t offered the novella for free, would I have had these readers? No, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t.

On a final note, I came across this quote today in a Guardian article on how Waterstones managed to keep afloat in a changing market: “Publishers pushed a cheap-and-cheerful approach with eBooks, and it seems to have become more the associated domain of trashy, poundshop-type products,” said Simon Lowe, a former bookseller.

To anyone who doesn’t live in the UK, Poundland is a shop where everything – you probably guessed it – costs just a pound. I absolutely love Poundland. My best friend and I always check out the poundshop if we come across one in any town we visit. They’re the most fun place to shop ever. I still have the green frog my friend bought me for £1, sitting next to my pond, and the Poundland rubber ball I bought my dog is one of her favourite toys.

What do you think about this subject? If you’re a reader, do you have a stack of free books on your ereader that you never read? Have you ever fallen in love with an author after reading a free or discounted book? If you’re an author, have you found discounting your books brings you new readers? Or do you think it devalues your work?




Guest post contributed by Helena Fairfax. Helena writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was written through the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.