Is this Mass Suicide?


When I first came out with Red Clay and Roses, I told my millionaire cousins about the book. I mentioned that it was only $3.99. My cousin’s wife remarked, “Oh, we have a site where we get all of our digital books for free.”  I suggested they support a starving author. “Why, when there is so much out there to read for free? We haven’t paid for a book in five years.”

Maybe that’s why they are millionaires.

I’m being facetious. But I was offended. My own family would not pay $4.00 to read my book. Hell, I would have given them a free copy if they had expressed any interest.

If you have a series, I can understand the first book in the series being discounted. That’s a great opportunity for you to strut your stuff and build your audience, but I’m wondering if keeping books priced low is working to our collective advantage.

Some individuals have told me that their genre or their style of books only sells at lower prices. I wonder if that is the impatience of the author desiring a quick return.

I was noting the apps in the app store for my phone. You can barely find children’s apps for fewer than five dollars. Some are free, but they are crappy. The good ones are always going to cost you ten dollars, or more, because they know you are going to want the great ones for your kids/grandkids.

I’ve reviewed some terrific indie books on this site, so you know that I know there is a lot of good writing out there. Yet, if I wasn’t an indie supporter because I’ve also self-published would I be one of those who buys books only when they are marked for sale? You know they are going to be…BookBub, Ereader News Today, EBookie, Ereader Books, FreeBookSpot, FreeeBooks, ManyBooks, GetFreeeBooks…I could go on and on, but you get the point.

So very much out there to read, I would never run out of reading material. There are hundreds of places to get free books and if I am just an average reader, why should I spend any money on yours? About the only reason, would be if your free book was the first in a series or trilogy and I want to know what happens next.

We have created this FREE monster by collectively jumping on the bandwagon.

If you were an average reader who did not have a blog and had not been introduced to indies, what would entice you to read a book? It’s popularity? Endorsement by people you respected? A well-known brand/author? Word-of-mouth from people who share your interests and know what you like to read?

I have been on forums where people made comments that they would not pay less than five dollars for a book because they KNOW anything less than that is trash. Hundreds agreed in that thread. Really?

You are really craving ice cream. If I told you that you could have this really cool vanilla ice cream cone for free, or you could pay ten dollars for the chocolate one, which one are you going to take?

I have an author friend who has vowed not to give his books away anymore and won’t be doing anymore sales. His price is set at about $5.00. He wants his books to sell by word of mouth on their own merit. Is that literary suicide in today’s market? Is that suicide for an indie author?

Should we all try that?

What would happen if we did?

71 thoughts on “Is this Mass Suicide?

  1. I think you should charge for your hard work, unless like you said it’s a series and you want to draw in readers. Why give it away when no one seems to appreciate it? BTW, your “family member” sounds like a jerk. No offense, but he couldn’t spend $4.00 when he has millions– disgusting behavior.

    • I so agree. They are really nice people. They just have strong opinions about paying for reading material. Even best-selling authors reduce rates on sites like BookBub…why should they pay? Everybody is giving that stuff away. It’s why guys can’t commit to marriage. Ha!

  2. Complex issues raised here. It’s hard to know what someone who’s not a writer or a blogger might pay to read. I’d say advertising and word of mouth are powerful tools. Books are like any other product; some people will buy the cheapest brand, others will buy the most well – known, others the latest, etc. In any case, the information has to get out there, and advertising holds the key to that. Thought provoking post. Thanks:)

    • That is precisely why I do the ENT promos. It is more about exposure for me than anything else. How else will people know I have written a book? Amazon is not going to tell them.

  3. Reblogged this on knowleselle and commented:
    Susan may have hit the nail on the head with this one! I’ve often wondered along the same lines myself. Indie authors work ever bit as hard as regular published authors – more so if you do your own editing, book cover, and publishing along with all the marketing and publicity we have to do just to get a bite! Why shouldn’t we be rewarded as well as other authors are?
    When I first published Crossing The Line the price was around $5.00. It has been up and down since then and has settled at $2.99. I have even offered it free at times. I very rarely sell a paperback at $13.95. That’s the price I have to get to make a decent profit.
    Does anyone else have thoughts on this?

    • Thanks for sharing. I do wonder if we put the free sites out of business would we sell more if we got exposure on sites with our prices set to their regular price. I think we would. Oyster, Kindle Unlimited, and Scribd seem to think so. They don’t reduce rates. They just offer a collective bargain.

  4. Pricing is really hard. I write for one of those low-priced genres, and recently found myself resenting when a new release wasn’t available in a (cheap!) digital format.

    I would absolutely like to see more action taken against the free download sites themselves. Although I’ve dutifully sent cease and desist letters when my books are found there (they have to be sent by the copyright holder and not your publisher or agent), I know a lot of authors who don’t even think it’s worth it to do that. But I don’t mind the people who download for free–movies, books, software. After all, if the work is good, they might tell others. Sometimes I’m reminded of the scene from “You’ve Got Mail”:

    Nelson Fox: Perfect. Keep those West-Side liberal nuts, psudo-intellectuals…
    Joe Fox: Readers, Dad. They’re called readers.
    Nelson Fox: Don’t do that, son. Don’t romanticize them.

    • Ha! I’m really speaking more to sites authors sell on rather than pirated sites. Those sites usually attach so much adware that halfway intelligent people avoid them.

      But the free sites that authors subscribe to, if done away with in favor of sites that simply offer exposure. That might be a grand concept to help indies rise out of the Amazon depths.

  5. I tend to say author’s choice, so here’s what I’m doing. I don’t do the free books unless it’s a sale on my first one, which is typically at 99 cents. I refuse to go perma-free like many others because I don’t think that will help me in the long run. It does get translated to a lack of faith in the book whether that was the reason or not. As for not paying for anything under $5, I know a ton of people that won’t pay for an indie book that is over $5.00. You’re going to see that when a person makes such a statement, it’ll attract those of like minds. So it skews the view a bit.

    This year has seen a large rise in perma-free and I think that stems from the fear that traditional publishers are lowering their prices or are considering it. So many indie authors are trying to find the next price category that they can use to their advantage. I don’t really understand how making no money off your books is going to stick it to the traditional publishers, but maybe I’m just missing to point. I guess I could see why it’s done for a series. Still, free comes with a lot of stigmas and downsides.

    • I agree with your final point. I would love to see sites that simply promote all books at their regular price, but there may not be any money in that unless Amazon really paid a nice sum for click throughs.

      • I think that’s where those sites run into trouble too. Many authors won’t want to sign on with something that takes a cut of the royalties. Paying up front is one thing, but the idea that you’ll have to give away something that you earn from that promotion hits an odd nerve. I think it reminds me of an agent who takes a big cut and leaves the author with very little. Not really true, but it’s been engrained in me that such a thing should be avoided.

        • No advertisement that I have paid upfront for has ever netted me anything. The deal I have with ENT is that they get a percent of sales. It isn’t much for either of us really at 99 cents. But at least there is exposure.

          • Funny thing is that I’ve had the opposite. Though I learned nearly a year after using ENT that I did get a handful of sales through them. Not sure what took them so long to get back to me. I think I owed them a dollar and change or something. Truth is that when it was going on, I didn’t see much of an increase.

  6. I’d rather offer the occasional free promotion to actual readers than pay the equivalent price to advertise, though one wonders how many actually do read the free books they collect, or if they are just stored on a device somewhere. What I choose to buy, I read, and that crosses all price ranges and genres… and if I want a particular book I may well choose to check for special offers… but I will still buy it at whatever price is set.

    • I’m the same about what I pay for. If I want to read it, I just buy it, regardless of the sale. Most of the sites I have paid to advertise on have netted zero sales. ZERO.

      • I think there is a lot to be said for that point of view. Reading is a cheap hobby with all the stuff out there for next to nothing or less. The trouble is there is more written work available to us now than ever before, cheaper than ever before… and fewer people reading since the world embraced literacy for all.

        And God help those of us who write off the wall books, things with meaning, depth or message, especially if it is a choice between a book and flopping in front of the TV after a hard day.

        • So true. Everybody wants to be entertained. RC&R is NOT an entertaining book. It is not preachy either, but it has depth and was designed to make the reader think about some serious issues. Some people are so lazy they don’t even want to think anymore.

            • Thank you for saying so, Sue. My crime novel was written on a challenge by my husband to write something entertaining in the genre he most prefers. I had fun with it, but I can’t say I poured my heart and soul into it like I did with RC&R. I am also not nearly as excited to promote it. It is entertaining, even funny at times, and not a bad read, but it honestly was not written with the same passion and I am afraid that’s going to show. Another reason I want a pen name, or at least a different example of my my own name.

  7. Very good post. I have not had the advantage of giving my stuff away since the price is set by the publisher. I can’t really say how much a special would help, but my suspicion is the golden price is around $3.99.

    • I have heard that is the bench mark for new authors and I keep my price there. It sells from time to time, but the massive sales are always from a 99 cent promo (with a 35 cent royalty)…sad but true.

  8. Oh boy, don’t get me started on this subject! We can see what the free/pirated model has done to musicians — why are we letting ourselves get herded down the same chute?

    And yet, it seems like discounting is the only way to grab a few sales if only because the various promotional outlets exclusively list sale and free books. It’s their fault!

    Or worse… it’s the readers’ fault.

    • It IS their fault. And ours for submitting to them. And the readers for expecting it. And I so agree with the analogy to musicians and their dilemma. Remember Napster???
      Now you can You Tube any song you want to hear.
      Only problem is, I don’t think people will go to a book reading concert. Musicians admit that is where they make their real money.

      • True. Writers have just the one avenue for income, unless they become popular enough to join the lecture circuit or do internet tutorials or something like that.

        Plus, a lot of us hate being in public!

        • Audio books are taking in a good draw now and many have told me with my southern accent I should read my own book. I’ve thought about it…but that’s another investment of time, energy and money…I don’t know if I have it in me. :/

  9. This is a really key question, and I must admit that I came to the same conclusion as your friend some time ago… we have created this greedy freebie culture, so we only have ourselves to blame. Short sighted ir not, Im not doing it anymore. If we dont value our work, neither will the reader.

    • I have one more promo scheduled to coincide with Read Tuesday for 99 cents. After that, I believe I am done with the promos. I may drown in the sea of greedy freebies (I like that term) but I am dog paddling along forevermore at $3.99. If I don’t value myself, why should anyone?

      • I think more and more authors are starting to think this way. No one else gives their work away for free! Its fine for the odd promo but it has become the norm, which means that the genuine bargain is not seen as such, so in the end, even the promo becomes worthless. I’m no expert, I have only recently published my 2nd book, but I can see whats happening. There has to be competition but maybe too much price cutting has undermined the whole process.

  10. I tend to leave my prices at $3.99. I don’t sell a ton, but giving them away seems to devalue the effort I put in. In phase two, I will step up my promotional activity, and that will include some one day give aways. I have no idea if I’m on the right path.

    It would be nice if all authors would take a harder line on pricing, but they won’t. Someone will always try to be one cent cheaper. When we start paying readers, I’m not playing.

    • hahaha…that seems like what it is coming to, huh?

      My friend has had some very good luck exposing himself on ENT and then doing some Kindle Countdowns, but now that he has an audience he’s calling it quits on the 99 cent deals. I agree with that strategy, but I am not certain if it will work over the long haul. With so many greedy freebies, seems like some readers will just hold out or not read at all. That’s the puzzle.

  11. I am so with you on this. And I definitely agree that if we’d ALL raise our prices, we’d change the mindset; the problems are 1) the authors who want the quick sales because they know readers are greedy and 2) the Indie authors who work IS crap.

    Long before I decided to publish the Indie route, I tried reading some free books. I never finished one, because every single one of them was TERRIBLE. I haven’t read a free book yet that wasn’t rife with grammatical errors, poor flow, and/or badly timed plots (or no plot). I understand the hesitance to pay money for a book that you don’t know is well written, but I no longer go for the free or 99 cent books unless I know the author and why they charged that. Charging more for a book doesn’t guarantee it’s well written, but IMO it’s more likely. I also read reviews carefully for any sign that a book is well written before I purchase it. In addition, when I review a book, I always include what I think about the writing itself.

    • The Look Inside helps with that on Amazon. IF people will take the time to read. When I am looking for a book, I seriously read the bad reviews first, to get an idea if it was reader preference or if there are serious issues with the writing/structure/editing. I won’t download free books, I won’t pay 99 cents for one, and if I read the Look Inside on an indie work and decide I would like to try it I always pay full price to be supportive. I even pay for ARC copies and beta reads once they come out in order to support an indie I admire…also so my review goes down as a verified purchase. I am conceited like that that. I want my reviews respected as well. I won’t write a review for something I did not like, unless it is by a renowned author. This is just how I support the indie community, right or wrong.

  12. Thanks for spreading this idea around, Susan. I’m convinced that, given superior quality in both content and presentation, a reader won’t hesitate to pay the same five dollars for a book which offers ten or more hours of reading pleasure as for a twenty-minute coffee experience at Starbucks..

    • I truly believe that, Patrick. I also believe that there are quality readers just like there are quality writers and a good quality reader is not going to mind spending a few dollars on a good read.

      A poor quality reader is going to be looking for bargain reads and that’s likely the merchandise they are going to get…the bargain basement stuff. People may think that’s not a fair statement, but fair or not, it’s true.

  13. Completely agree that we are killing ourselves with pricing points that are free or relatively cheap. Problem is that most “promo” sites require a discount to be featured. So the only way we can participate in a promo is to cut the price. It’s a catch-22. There’s another way we’re hurting the industry but I’ll keep that to myself. 🙂

  14. I have a confession. I obtained a free book by a bestselling author whose work I’d never read. I loved the book and ended up buying everything written by her and paid full retail price. That being said, I completely understand and support your views on this subject, SK. Great post!

    • That’s why I can’t fault an author for promoting their first book as free or highly discounted. i just feel like we have to draw the line somewhere. Thanks for ringing in 🙂

  15. It’s funny how we’ll think nothing of spending ten dollars on a movie ticket and another ten dollars on popcorn and soda for a two hour movie, but we want a book for as cheap as can be. Books provide more hours of entertainment than a movie. I always try to buy an Indie author’s book. Sometimes I do take advantage of the freebies, because I stumble upon a blog post listing it as free for that day. I otherwise wouldn’t have known about it, so I take advantage of the giveaway. But other than that, I try to buy it to support them. On the other hand, I won’t pay much over $7 for an e-book, not even from the bigwigs. I don’t care if he is Stephen King, $12 or more seems too much. At that point, I’ll invest in the paper version, including the hardcover if it’s the only version out. I can’t explain why I feel that way. It makes no sense. Maybe I’ll change my mind over time, especially if my book shelves continue to be so full…

    Great post.

    • Thanks Carrie. It is a lot to think about. Regardless of who wrote it, if it is something I want to read I’ll buy it, but I don’t think I have paid over $7.00, but I know my husband has. Funny think is, some of the worst books he has read have been the expensive big names and some of the best are indies I turned him onto. 😀

  16. I am a reader and I have always expected to pay for my books. Before I started reading indie authors, I was paying $9.99 and up (mostly up) for mainstream Kindle books. However, I do hate it when I buy a book (at any price) and it has not been edited. In fact, watch for a blog post about that very subject later tonight. I do not flinch at paying for books – they provide me hours of entertainment. In one hour, I could easily consume a margarita ($4.50 – $9.00 or more). I have nothing to show for the margarita. But a book can stay with me for the rest of my life. It can change me. It can enhance me. I think it is time that authors value themselves a little more – and produce quality work.

    • Very well said. That is an important part of the publishing process, to value oneself enough to insist that your work be the best it can be before you put it out there. Not everyone is going to like everything, but at the very least it should all be grammatically correct with no typos and no spelling errors. I have seen some disgusting work in that regard from traditional publishers lately, even in a John Patterson book…so big names don’t escape it…I think there is a big push to produce faster than the next guy and quality always suffers against production when those numbers have to rise too quickly.

  17. There are still very many different kinds of readers. Many prefer 99 cents or free, many prefer $3.99 to $5.99, and there are many others. It is possible to create a brand, a perception, that one has books worth a higher price. Obviously, they must be packaged well and deliver on the increased expectations, and this might be much slower to develop, but there are higher-priced indie books selling well, so there must still be readers willing to pay for them.

    • I have seen and enjoyed some of those higher priced works. I have also read some that could command a much larger price than they did. I just hate to see so many sell themselves short. One author I know has written two books and they both sell well at a higher price, but another has his exceptionally well written books , all seven of them, priced lower than $3.00, and he sells very little. I have to wonder if he experimented with the market and gave a run with an ad at the higher prices if maybe he could actually boost his sales.

  18. What a fascinating discussion. I’m just an observer at this point. I don’t do Kindle reading. And my poetry book will be set at $14 by the publisher, so we will see how that goes ;).

    • You buy paperbacks though, and Amazon sets the price on those depending on the price we set, they always lower what we ask for by a couple of dollars so it appears discounted.

  19. I wrote a reply on here last night but for some reason it didn’t get posted, so apologies if this ends up as a duplication.
    I’m torn over this issue. Like any author I would like to get paid for my work, handsomely if possible. At the same time the biggest challenge facing us indie authors is visibility. I can’t get paid for my work if nobody knows it exists. Word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising but it is also the slowest (until you hit a critical mass many of us won’t reach). To help speed this process up we can advertise (which costs money), we can use social media (which costs time) or those that have a number of works available can give one away for free*.
    For nearly all my favourite authors, my first encounter with them was through a free book (usually being loaned by a friend). I think most of us are the same. Did we then only borrow further books? If we had no money, then yes, but then we would never have bought a book by that author. Most of us, though, went and bought further books from that author and often the book that was originally loaned as well. There will always be people who look to get free stuff. If there were no free books available, would they pay for them? I’m not sure. They could equally decide to get some other form of free entertainment. The point is, they aren’t, and never were, your target customers. Your target customers are people like you and me, who maybe don’t like risking money on unknown authors, but are happy to pay for books from those they know and love. Is this a shrinking market? I don’t know. Are we creating a generation of freeloaders? Given how enormous the book trade still is, I think we have a long way to go before the bottom falls out of the market. Don’t forget, the music industry may not be as large as it was, but it still pulls in billions per year despite high levels of piracy

    *there are other options but for the sake of clarity I’m string to keep things simple

    • For a first book or the first in the series free or highly discounted at least for a period of time makes total sense. I do know, however, many who wait for books to be offered free or discounted. I guess if my budget demanded, I would, too.

      • But if these people won’t ever buy a book unless it is discounted or free, they aren’t our target customer base. My background is marketing and we like to segment our customers into different behaviours (those that only read free books, those that only buy discounted, those that start with free but will then buy etc.). The difficulty for us as indie authors is that we don’t know how big these customer segments are, or which are growing, shrinking or stable. What we do know is that there are still plenty of people who pay for books (I’m one). If we gain enough visibility, our books will sell.
        The worry for us indie authors is that we don’t sell a huge amount of books (or at least, I don’t) so our natural instinct is to think each book given away is a lost sale. Instead we should think of it as an extra exposure. If the person reads the book and likes it, they are a new advocate. If they leave a review, the visibility is magnified further. Instead of worrying about these freeloaders, use them to gain enough exposure to sell books. There are many books now being sold for a decent price that were amiable for free for many months, if not years (Sand by Hugh Howey being one). Making a book free doesn’t necessarily mean it has to always be so.

  20. Wow, a lot of comments on this, unsurprisingly! 😀

    I set the price for my books and stick to it. I don’t do sale, I don’t do freebies. I worked darn hard on my books and won’t be giving them away when they cost less than some of the lattes at Starbucks!

    A great topic and definitely something to think on!

  21. Hi. You made some excellent points here, Susan. It’s probably human nature, overall, to get “great deals,” but to what end and to whose detriment? I say run a sale once in awhile, do a giveaway sometimes as part of a promotion, but don’t charge tiny prices in the big scheme of things, either. We indie authors work extraordinarily hard, as did/do The Famous. If people want to read indie authors, then they need to pay. As with my little jewelry business, my attitude is that I’m not running a charity organization to give everything away, including my books that I hope to publish in the next month or so.

    Indie authors should, I believe, not sell themselves short, nor be impatient and give the library away. Sales will come.

    (You caught me on a day where I’m tired of “family members” thinking they’ll be getting all my work/creations for free.)

    • LOL…I hear you 🙂 I have that same issue. I have made some things on consignment for friends, but my family has the distinction of having been gifted before so there is that expectation. I have also had friends ask me to make them something and give me specifications but not agree to go with me to pick out beads and I won’t do it…they say they trust me to do it and I refuse.

      Artists whether writers, painters, craftsmen all have to respect ourselves and that is sometimes difficult to do because we are altruistic by nature. We are close to our own souls.

      • You’re so right about this. I just remembered that my husband won’t set up a YouTube account or anything public to share his music and guitar-playing. He’s thinking (I perhaps rightly so) that some nefarious person will steal his original songs–

        And then, one more thought–why should indie authors, artists, et al be expected to give away their work? Would any professionals do that ad infinitum? I don’t believe so. 🙂

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