Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Genie's Out of the Bottle

For years, I’ve read numerous articles and blogs from professional writers telling freelancers to never give away their work. I’ve heard the same from authors, agents and publishers. Ten years ago, the idea seemed incredibly foolish until the self-publishing revolution changed pricing, and ebooks changed the way we read books.

For a while, offering a freebie prompted sales of other books for the author, but for most authors the strategy isn’t as successful as it used to be. In fact, it’s not really working at all for those who haven’t built a body of work or learned much about marketing. Yet, free books are still being offered by the truck load. The millions of books on the market have made it harder for anyone to find an unknown author. After all, digital shelves aren’t cleared, are they? They’re just added to. The genie is out of the bottle, folks. The question is, is the genie good or bad? Can it be put back? Should it be put back?

I’m asking these questions after reading a fascinating blog by author Fergus McNeill who creates apps in his day job, and he has some serious concerns. He asks “when did it become acceptable practice to give away books for free?” To provide an answer he draws on his experience in the rapidly changing app industry, noting that game apps can be customized and accessorized as the gamer progresses, generating more income. Books can’t, at least not right now.

If so many authors aren’t making money from their books, then why are free books so prevalent? McNeill maintains that it’s because the platform-holders are making the money. Giveaways and ridiculously low-priced books aren’t going away. In fact, the tsunami of free and cheap new titles swells every year. For some people this is great, for others not so much. As McNeill points out, it’s a complex issue. But we’re past the point of returning to the old days and, on many levels, this is fine with me. Just as long as those hundreds of thousands of newbie authors around the globe understand that the tsunami of free books offered by their competitors will probably destroy their hopes and dreams of earning a living from their writing.

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