Is Writing Being Devalued by Giveaways and Cheap Ebooks?

indie authors and the value of free

Increasingly, at writing conferences and in the mainstream media, I observe growing unrest surrounding the proliferation of free and cheap literature, particularly ebooks. The reasons for sharp discounts and giveaways are legion (and some reasons are better than others), but regardless of the reason, I see greater peer pressure on and shaming of those who are seen to “devalue” literature in our culture.

Whole books have been written on this topic, as it’s an anxiety affecting creators in diverse fields. Some describe the phenomenon from a neutral and even historical perspective (“how have we ended up here?”), some are more activist in their approach (“fight and resist”), and still others are pragmatic (“here’s how to play with the hand you’ve been dealt”).

Given my position as a business consultant, I tend to focus on the last of these: how can a writer be competitive in the current environment and make a living? How can you reframe the problem as an opportunity and move forward? As someone who gives away much of her advice for free, on this blog, I am well versed in the power of free, and its disadvantages. And I’ve commented on strategic use of free here.

In my latest column for Publishers Weekly, I address this question again.

Posted in Publishing Industry.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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joanna elm

I tried to comment on your article in Publishers Weekly, but apparently that’s only possible through a Facebook account — which I don’t have. So I’ll post the comment here, if that’s acceptable: If you’re looking for a free cheese cube, I’ll give you a chapter or a couple of chapters in the “Look Inside” feature which is available for virtually any book offered on Amazon. That’s really the true analogy. More to the point unfortunately, as I’ve heard from friends who are self-published authors, freebies don’t usually translate into sales; they don’t even necessarily translate into being read. Very… Read more »

Angela

I know from my own experience that I have heaps of free eboks on my kindle that have been there for about 3 years – unread – while I keep buying ebooks from authors I know or where the blurb captures my attention. Free ebooks might be a good way to get a higher rank at Amazon, but in the end I found that it actually didn’t increase my readership rate that much, and the rank drops fast once the giveaway is over. Now with the glut of free ebooks around, every author in fierce competition to get readers any… Read more »

Angela

You hit the nail on the head! Said it so much better than I could 😉

Hearth Rising

Thank you Joanna Elm. This makes a lot of sense.

[…] https://www.janefriedman.com/giving-away-writing-free-cheap-yes-no/ “Increasingly, at writing conferences and in the mainstream media, I observe growing unrest surrounding the proliferation of free and cheap literature, particularly ebooks. The reasons for sharp discounts and giveaways are legion (and some reasons are better than others), but regardless of the reason, I see greater peer pressure on and shaming of those who are seen to “devalue” literature in our culture.” I have to admit giveaways are hard for me anymore with the amount of books I still have on my kindle and in print to read. That said, I am more tempted by books at… Read more »