I’m going to go on a tiny rant today. I recently read the latest Smashwords Yearly Report. The most depressing finding:
“Free books get about 41 times more downloads than books at any price….”
Now, one author blamed Smashwords for this, but I was quick to come back that Amazon started the whole free craze. Is it Amazon’s fault? Not really.
Readers will take a free book from an author who they have never heard of but are not as willing to spend $1.99 for said author. Is that the reader’s fault? Not really. We’ve conditioned them to expect free stuff.
Marketing advice says to use a free book to garner reviews, to hook readers into reading more of your books, and to get them to sign up for your blog. Is it the marketers’ fault? Not really.
Authors place their books perma-free or use “free days” to try to be competitive. Is it the authors placing their book for free who are to blame? Ok… a lot yes, but still, not really. (Yes, because if we as the publishers refused to play this game and stuck united to show that it is not ok to devalue our work, then this might not be such a prolific problem.)
So who is to blame? All of us.
Would you be willing to work for free? It just cannot be done. Yet authors are giving their books away for free right and left. Publishers are paying a pittance for royalties. It’s bad, people.
I work 80+ hours a week, writing, marketing, creating free content to entice readers, calling radio shows, podcasts, libraries, bookstores.
You don’t even want to know what I get paid. It is tragic. No one in their right mind would do this! All the great reviews in the world do not feed and clothe my family.
Why do authors do it?
Because we are led to believe that if we just push hard enough, get a good grassroots campaign going, build a big enough reader base, that someday we will be like Stephen King!
I know, we cannot all be Stephen King. But when I am being told that readers are not willing to pay less than they pay for their daily cup of coffee for something that took me longer to create than my son… Wow.
When artists are not supported by society, art dies. That is why we get cliche movies at the box office, mindless video games sucking at our souls, and trite TV shows that my 13-year-old can guess what will happen next.
We consumers tolerate it. In fact, some of us revel in it. Which is why the capitalist machine that drives the industry of art keeps slinging the same old garbage. And we complain. We bemoan that there are no original ideas left.
But there are. You just aren’t willing to pay for them. You aren’t willing to promote them. That is why they languish in obscurity under the oppression of “Free”.
Think I am being too harsh? Well, I understand. But this is not the first time I have said something along these lines!
I advocated not giving work away for free back when I first started publishing 7 years ago!
But I buckled under. I gave my books away for free.
I have given away five times the number of books I have sold. Would you give away 50,000 hours of counseling for free, in hopes of getting 10,000 billable hours?
Would you give away 5,000 ice cream cones, to sell 1,000?
No! It is not a sound business model!
But society expects authors to do so. And if those freebies resulted in something, maybe it would not be so bad. I gave away 75 copies of Hell School: Fresh Meat for reviews. If I had gotten 75 reviews for it, then that would have been worth it. Go ahead, take a look on Goodreads and Amazon. One could say I got 19 reviews, but if you pay close attention, more than half of those reviews are overlaps. I probably got 15, if I was lucky. And I know that a few of them were reviews from someone who bought the book (THANK YOU!!) So I gave away 75 copies of my book to get maybe 12 reviews…
I gave away copies of The Hunters for those who signed up on my blog. I am trading a book that took me a lot of work to produce for their email and tons of FREE content I provide to them each week. I got over 3K downloads. 856 remain on the list. I have 49 reviews. 49!
Seriously, people. When we create a world of givers and takers, the givers will run out of things to give. (or starve to death.)
Art will die. It is already dying, slow agonizing gasps, pleading for people to support it.
But why support art when you can get so much of it for free?
Well, we all know what readers can do. What can you as an author do?
Stop giving your books away willy nilly. Are you getting reviews from it? Are you keeping subscribers from it?
Don’t do it. I am done giving my blood, sweat, and tears away for free. I have a new policy. I only give away a handful of copies of each book a year to people who aren’t book reviewers/ bloggers. Book reviewers and bloggers, I will give those away and I will track their reviews. When they post mine, I share the crap out of it to support their work. Even if it’s a 2 star review.
What else can I do?
I am done taking other authors’ blood, sweat, and tears. Every author interview, every book review, and now on my Patreon. I use part of those funds every month to buy books from authors and gift those to my Patrons. It’s a win/win/win. My readers get that “free” book, the authors get paid, and I have patrons.
I have been getting A LOT of kickback about my Patreon account. There are a lot of readers who think that authors on Patreon are being unreasonable. Don’t believe me? Here’s a pretty tame thread on Goodreads discussing it. I’ve gotten far worse. But unless we as authors and reviewers change the dynamics, it will only get worse from here.
We cannot let our artists starve.
Until next time,