Tag Archives: pricing

Should eBooks be Available for Free?

Jar of Coins

This is not a post about self-publishing vs traditional publishing.

This is not a post about eBooks vs Print books.

This is a post about the way we think about pricing books, regardless of how they’re published, or by whom.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve read numerous articles regarding the “best” or “correct” way to price eBooks. I’ve heard stories about the benefits of giving away books for free as a promotional tool, and diatribes about the insanity of devaluing your own work by giving it away. I’ve heard arguments for pricing eBooks at no less than $4.99, and arguments for pricing eBooks at no more than $1.99.

I’ve not gotten involved in the discussion before. I’ve listened to the arguments, formulated my own opinions, and let it go. After all, I don’t have an eReader, don’t read eBooks, and don’t have any books of my own published (yet). So I figured the debate didn’t really concern me.

And maybe it doesn’t.

Or maybe it does.

Maybe it concerns everyone with an eye to the future and a care for the way artists interact with their fans and the rest of the artistic community, from writers to musicians to visual artists. Because when we talk about how we price our books, we’re not just talking about a simple matter of ‘Price = Cost + Profit’. We’re talking about wider issues.

We’re talking about the changing face of publishing.

We’re talking about the way the internet informs our choices, as both writers and readers.

We’re talking about the new and varied ways we communicate and connect with each other.

We’re talking about the way being an Author has changed and is changing.

No matter whether you’re self-published, traditionally published, or hoping to be published, I can guarantee you are well aware that being a writer is not just about being a writer anymore. It’s not enough to write a book. You’ve also got to market that book. You’ve got to build a platform and create an online presence and use social media and so on and so on.

As writers, we no longer connect with readers through book tours. We can’t sit in our fortresses of solitude, trusting in our publishers to get our books into bookstores, and trusting in the bookstores to put our books into the hands of readers. Now, we’re directly and intimately involved in the process. We connect with readers online, using blogs and Facebook and Twitter and whatever other social media sites you frequent. We forge personal connections with our readers, sometimes  long before they even are our readers.

But what does building personal relationships have to do with the price of eBooks?

Nothing. And everything.

Let me explain.

One of my heroes in the creative world is Amanda Palmer. If you don’t know her, she’s a singer/songwriter who first came to fame as half of the Dresden Dolls punk cabaret duo. She’s now a solo artist, touring and recording with the Grand Theft Orchestra band, and made headlines last year with her Kickstarter project.

She asked for $100,000 to fund her new album.

She got $1.2 million.

Amanda Palmer is a big believer in music being free. She supports downloading, torrents, file sharing, and good old fashioned copying of CDs to give to your friends. If you visit her website, it’s possible to download all of her music free of charge. All she asks is that if you like it, you come back and pay what you think it’s worth and what you can afford.

I’d love you to take a few minutes and listen to Amanda Palmer’s TED talk, ‘The Art of Asking’ where she says, “Don’t make people pay for music. Let them.”

One of my favourite quotes from Amanda Palmer’s TED talk is this one, in relation to her Kickstarter project:

The media asked, “Amanda, the music business is tanking, and you encourage piracy! How did you make all these people pay for music?”

And the real answer is: I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them. And when you connect with them, people want to help you.

You see where I’m going with this?

As writers, we connect with readers online, using blogs and Facebook and Twitter and whatever other social media sites you frequent. We forge personal connections with our readers, sometimes  long before they even are our readers.

We connect with our fans in exactly the way Amanda Palmer is talking about. We do it already. We blog and tweet and connect on a personal level. But we don’t take advantage of that.

We don’t ask for help.

We just tell them that if they want our book, they’ll pay the ticket price.

Imagine what would happen if we did things differently? Imagine what would happen if we offered our eBooks for free, and asked our fans to pay what they think the book is worth.

I’m not just talking about self-publishers here. As I said to start with, this is not a post about self-publishing vs traditional publishing. This is a question for everyone.

I know the current publishing model doesn’t support giving away books for free. I know the current model is all about making people pay, not asking people to pay. But we’re in the middle of major changes in the way that publishing works. And if we, as writers, don’t have the right to have some say in the future of publishing, who does?

I’d like to leave you with another quote from that TED talk.

For most of human history, musicians — artists — they’ve been part of the community. Connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance. But the internet, and the content that we’re freely able to share on it, are taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close, and about those people being enough.

Do you think eBooks should be available for free?

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Filed under Opinion, Writing