The Cost To Go Free

The Cost To Go Free –

They’re everywhere—free eBooks.  In Amazon’s Kindle Store there are 139,023 free eBooks as of this writing.  There is a plethora of websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, all specializing in free eBooks.  And at what cost to authors, publishers and the publishing industry, in general?

 A Marketing Ploy

Coming from a long history of sales and marketing, I understand the strategy of “free.”  It’s one of the oldest come-on’s around—priming the pump to get the word out and the customers in.  As Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr so aptly demonstrate in the cult-classic satirical comedy, the Magic Christian, the word “free” is magical when associated with money.  People are basically nuts when it comes to bargains.  And of course, in the minds of many, “free” appears to be the uber-bargain.  But is it?

You Get What You Pay For . . . If You’re Lucky

The multi-billion dollar question to ask is, Who benefits most?  Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

  • Is it the authors?  I’ve read author accounts recently where due to the high saturation of free eBooks, the “free” for a few days to up rankings and jump-start sales has failed to produce tangible results.


  • Is it the publishers?  I’ve yet to see a successful publisher tout “free” as an effective marketing strategy.  Makes you wonder.


  • Is it Amazon?  Ah . . .  Now the pig is out of the poke.  It’s all about eyeballs.  Free eBooks are a huge traffic generator.  And for Amazon and other online book retailers, free eBooks are pure gold.  It costs them virtually nothing for all that site traffic.  Once at the site, a consumer, drawn in by the lure of free, is much more like to buy something that isn’t free at all.

“Free” Rationale     

Certainly some bargain hunter-types end up paying nothing for eBooks—download them and leave without paying a cent.  But ask them after the fact and I suspect that most bargain hunters never get around to reading all those free eBooks.  It comes down to a game, a shopping game, where he/she who gets it free, wins.  Most die-hard bargain hunters could care less about the content.

Then there are those who believe they are entitled.  To this way of thinking, everything should be free—it’s their right.  Like the early Napster phenomenon, selfish people with no respect for the work of others (especially artists) will rip off whatever they can, whenever they can, just because they can—in essence, criminal.  Guess that’s one way to get what you want out of life.

My Audience—the Readers

As a mystery writer and self-publishing entrepreneur, I’m convinced that feeble attempts to buy the hearts and minds of genuine readers are at best, ineffective.  And at worst, degrade the value of good content.  The way I see it, any discerning reader looking for a good value in entertainment will not turn away from a good book at $.99, $2.99 or even $9.99 in favor of a poor book for free.  While price-point is important in this highly-competitive marketplace, it is not the determining factor for most readers.  I’ve come to the conclusion that my audience is not the “free” eBook bargain hunters.

End Game

That’s not to say I won’t use up those KDP Select “free” days for my mystery books.  Combined with other marketing and PR strategies, those “free” days can still be effect tools to help drive traffic to a predetermined destination.

In the end, we all have to decide for ourselves what works and what doesn’t.

Has “free” worked for you?  Don’t hesitate to comment.

I’d appreciate seeing your experiences and thoughts on the matter.

(Here it comes—the blatant self-promotion for my newest mystery book on

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Michael Allan Scott and a clickable link back to this page.

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