Story Worms: What’s the Worth of Permafree?


However counter-intuitive it may seem, making the first ebook in a series free is becoming an increasingly popular strategy for indie writers. Of course, as with any equally controversial tactic, there is a very strong divide and a lot of heated debate between the yays and the nays.

I can understand the arguments on both sides; after all, why would you give away something you’ve slaved over for months, maybe even years? Surely your blood, sweat, and tears are worth some compensation. And I completely agree. I stopped submitting to non-paying and exposure only markets a long time ago, and even Horror Tree itself no longer lists them.

There’s also the argument that authors giving away their books devalue the work of all authors, with readers expecting to get ebooks for free. It’s a fair point. We’re living in a culture where people expect to get ever more for less and less. Where hard work, talent, and particularly creativity are hugely undervalued. It’s not a culture we should be perpetuating.

Others feel it encourages low-quality ebooks; rushed, unedited, with poor DIY covers. The indie market has fought hard to shake itself of its low-quality reputation, and it’s a reputation that, even now, it’s only partially rid itself of. There are still many readers refusing to read self-published books.

But the permafree model is one with a proven track record. It’s also one that focuses on the long game. It requires patience and a strong nerve. It’s not about making a quick buck (obviously), it’s about gaining loyal readers and nurturing a relationship with them over time. Why? Because a loyal reader will buy your future books, they’ll review them, and they’ll recommend them to family and friends. And I’m sure I don’t have to explain the value of that.

Like it or not, we live in a society where the consumer is king. And the king likes to try before he buys. This is hardly a new thing, nor is giving away free trials to get future sales (and, hopefully, brand loyalty). We see it with free tasters offered in supermarkets, or at farmer’s markets. We see it with the free sample packets of cosmetics in magazines. It’s been a marketing model for years, and if it wasn’t successful, no one would be doing it anymore. Mind you, a small free sample hasn’t cost these companies months and months of hard work.

So it does remain a controversial approach, and there will always be those that speak out against it. After all, should we be encouraging readers to expect books for free? But on the other hand, we’re struggling for visibility in a saturated market, and against those with much bigger marketing budgets than we have. We have to do something if we want to sell our books beyond a few copies to friends and family.

In my next Story Worms post, I’ll show how I made my book permafree, and reveal the results from the first few weeks.

In the meantime, let me know what you think about the permafree approach.

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4 Responses

  1. I see the value of doing the first book in a series as free, but I want to point out the look inside feature. All the retailers do it, so if you want to go devil’s advocate, you could argue that is the free sample. Of course, a book can have a killer opening and then the rest of the story sucks (have had that happen) or visa versa. Despite that, the look inside exists and I wonder why those never caught on as the free sample. Why did it end up being the first book?

  2. Angeline says:

    That’s very true, and it’s an interesting question. I have also seen people complaining that the opening book was great, while the rest was terrible (authors taking advantage of free editing offers on their opening chapters perhaps?). It would be interesting to know how many readers use the look inside feature. I know I do, just like when I’m in an actual bookshop I always flick the book open to read a bit before I buy. Plus, of course, it’s easy to fill your Kindle with free books you’ll never read.

  3. Permafree seems not just useful but, to be frank, *necessary* for the self-pub market. Exactly because there is so much crap out there, I am very unlikely to spend even a dollar on an unfamiliar author.

    When it comes to short stories published in zines, traditionally published books, and the like, there’s been a vetting process. Other people, whose judgment I can trust, have already put their money where their mouth is. If a fiction magazine that pays at market rates has 20,000 words in an issue, then the editors evidently think that the stories contained therein are worth more than a thousand dollars. I feel safe in spending a dollar or three of my own in that situation.

    Self-pub books don’t have any of that, and even a rabid fanbase isn’t enough to guarantee that I’ll like it (e.g. Twilight). Permafree is a good solution to this problem.

  4. Angeline says:

    That’s a very good point, and, without any gatekeepers, there will always be poorly written books being published. And you’re right, even a big fan base isn’t a sign of quality.