The very sweet Toni Betzner asked me for a guest post for her blog, My Write of Passage. Having noticed how I do a lot of giveaways and offers, she suggested I discuss the benefits of free.
This got me thinking. I keep reading contradictory information on this. Jack Eason complains that it attracts trolls. Effrosyni Moschoudi – and many others – have told me that free doesn’t work – in the sense that it fails to generate subsequent sales.
Also, this is a question that has troubled me a lot lately, As you all know, I’ve decided to keep Runaway Smile available in its entirety for blog visitors, wishing to both thank my followers and gain reviews.
So, does free work?
Quick answer: yes and no. It does as part of an overall strategy, and it can do wonders to put a new author on the map. However, it can be ineffective or even counterproductive if not used properly.
For New Authors
As I explain on my A-Z guide: How both my books reached #1 on Amazon, free books can be used to build a fan base. New authors keen to build their brand have used free to great effect. This can be done in innovative ways, like Matt Mason did with “Pirate’s Dilemma”, which he distributed via BitTorrent. As he puts it, getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing.
It has also been used in extremely creative ways by authors like Ksenia Anske, author of the Siren Suicides. Readers are encouraged to pay through a virtual tip jar, if they enjoyed the book. In a fascinating recent blog post titled I give my books away for free: here are my sales numbers, she announced that she has made $4,000 in little over six months that way. Her books were downloaded 1,600 times within the last 6 weeks. She also used her newly found fame as an author to raise money through Kickstarter, raising an extra $3,000.
What about the Rest of us?
I was reading a great post on how to monetize free, at the Author Marketing Experts blog. Penny, its author, was explaining how free stuff can help you sell more of the paid merchandise, but you have to be careful, because some people just want freebies. That’s fine, of course, but they are not your customers. She offers some helpful tips to help us maximize the use of free:
- Why free? You need to be clear as to why you are doing this. Unless you’re a charity, free content should be offered to make sales down the line. This can be done by helping build an email list, raise awareness, build your brand or get new people into your marketing funnel.
- What sort of free? Once you’ve figured out why you want to give away something, you can choose the what. For years, I’ve been giving away my Greek translation of the Tao Te Ching. I set up a virtual tip jar and waited to see what would happen. Four years and 7,000 downloads later, only one person had tipped – 10 bucks. Only ten people had actually thanked me for my work, despite me having a link saying “if you don’t want to pay, that’s fine, a simple thank you would suffice”. Then, a few months ago, I decided enough was enough, and set up a mechanism to ask for people’s emails before they can download the file. The book is still free, but I also link to a print version on Createspace. Downloads have plummeted from thirty a day to just a couple, but last month I made more from selling the print copy that I had from tips during the past four years. I also have collected hundreds of emails from people who are genuinely interested in my message. In my book (pun intended), that’s a win. 🙂
- Make sure it’s really free and worthwhile: A lot of people have content that is purported to be free when it’s not really free. For example, they will give away only a portion of their book, but you have to pay to read the juicy parts. If you give something away, make sure it’s something really valuable. Virtually any electronic product is easy to create and deliver, so put your best foot forward. After all, this is what you will judged by.
- Take names: One thing I learnt from my Tao Te Ching experience: You should never give free away without asking for something in return, even if it’s just a review or an email address. I see people do this all the time; they have a ton of free stuff but never collect emails. If that’s the case, the freebies you are offering may be of great value to your end user, but they won’t matter to your marketing. Get emails. Ask for reviews. It’s called an ethical bribe. You get something (a review or their email) and give them something (the free stuff).
- Make it easy to download: Don’t make free difficult. It should be easy to get your free stuff. If people have to jump through hoops, they won’t do it and the free stuff won’t matter. For example – put your free stuff on your home page. Add links to it on the sidebar. Remind people at the end of your posts. Accordingly, when you ask for people’s email, make it easy. A simple click or two is all it should take. Don’t ask for too much information. If you ask me for my address, birthday, and whatnot I doubt I will want your free stuff that badly. Shorten the staircase. If you make it complicated, it’s not really free, it’s bait. And people will call you out for it.
- Make the free stuff work for you: If you give away something, make sure that it works for you. Add links to your other books. Ask for a review at the end. Encourage people to follow your blog, Facebook or twitterfeed. Every giveaway should include a call to action. You are collecting names and email addresses and building your list, and that’s great. But what do you really want people to do? Define what you want them to do, and then include your call to action in the free stuff. You can also offer specials and change these periodically in the giveaway.
- Follow up! The best kind of free stuff is, as Penny points out, the gift that keeps giving. If you are collecting names and then never contacting your prospects again, what’s the point? People need to be reminded, and reminded again.The real key here is that free stuff can work well for you in so many ways, but free stuff without a goal is just free. Great to get free stuff, right? But then how is all of this hard work going to pay off for you?
- Will it slow down my sales? This is probably the most common question I’m asked on the subject. On my blog, I link to the free copy of Pearseus: Schism on Goodreads. Surprisingly enough, sales of the book on Amazon have increased since doing this. So, in my experience, free does not necessarily slow down sales.
If you still aren’t a believer of free, try it for 90 days and see what happens. If you do it right, free can monetize your audience like nothing else will. The biggest reason is that in an age of pushing things on consumers, your audience really wants to sample what you have to offer before they buy. Free is a great way to do that. It’s also a great way to stay in front of your audience, build trust, and develop a loyal following. But it has to be planned carefully, or it will be an ineffective tool at best.
Speaking of free, read my children’s book, Runaway Smile, online for free!