Free Books – Helpful or Not?

As most of my readers know, I’ve been struggling lately with a pricing model.  I don’t really want to get rich, but I want to price my books fairly for all… meaning low enough that my readers will read them and high enough to fill up my gas tank at the end of each month (for the record, I do make more than that).

This means I’ve been doing tons of research on pricing models.  I’m noticing a pattern.  There are tons of articles, dated this year, talking about how the free book actually hurts a series and it is better to charge $0.99 than offer it for free.

Hmmmmmmm….mmmmmmm…mmmmm…. There might be something to this.  I have about 15 unread books on my Kindle at the moment.  Some of them have been downloaded from Story Cartel and are waiting for my review.  The others are a mix of free books and paid books.  Guess which ones I will read first?  That’s right, the ones that charged me money.  This has nothing to do with having a bad opinion about free books and everything to do with the psychological need to find out if I’ve spent my money on a good book or not.  And for the record, two of the free books currently on my Kindle have been there for months, because as I get other books that I’ve paid for, they’ve continued to sit and wait for me to finish reading the new ones. 

Now, let’s apply this to my own free book.  It has been downloaded over 6,000 times.  I have the exact number, but it would require me to open my tracking spreadsheet and I am feeling lazy this morning.  It also has a very low retention rate.  4.2% as of this morning, the highest it’s been.  Unlike my other series… Now, I have sold considerable less of these than I have given away of Dark Cotillion.  Basically, it breaks down to about 3,000 copies of Tortured Dreams and The Dysfunctional Affair.  However, both of those series have retention rates over 10%.  

So, today is math day.  With a retention rate of 4% (I averaged it) on the Stachan series, that’s roughly 240 book sales for Dark Illumination.  Now, of that, 169 were at $2.99, the others were at $0.99.  So I have made approximately $369.61 on the Strachan series in the year that it has been out.

On the flip side, I have made $680 on the Dysfunctional Chronicles, all at $0.99 since 3 of them are novellas.  And with Dreams & Reality I’ve made $600, but I have fewer books in this series than the others.  Also, while I did the entire year and one month that the Strachan series has been published, I used only a cluster of months for sales on the other books (June 2013 – September 2013).  

I’m thinking there might be something to the new theory that having a free book is actually not helpful.  (Also, I have taken marketing into account, and I have spent the same amount of money on marketing each series.)

Leave a comment


  1. this is a tough one. if i like a free book i will read the rest of the series but if i don’t like it i won’t so the author has lost the initial sale.


    • And there is the problem of people downloading the free book and NEVER getting around to reading it. Like me, they keep pushing back their free books in order to get their purchased books read.

      I don’t mind losing the initial sale, but let’s say of those 6,000+ downloads, only 3,000 have actually bothered to read Dark Cotillion. My retention rate is suddenly much higher than I initially thought, making my pricing experiment completely worthless (and the figures I’ve been reading make it unlikely that 3,000 have bothered to read the free book).

      That would explain why I have such problems getting reviews for Dark Cotillion. They say to average 1 review for every 75 sales and 1 review for every 150 free downloads of a book. So, theoretically, Dark Cotillion should have about 40 reviews and in reality it has 13. Some of this is because people hated it, but it makes me wonder how many of the downloads have actually been read…


  2. I read voraciously (5-6 books a week and I prefer epic length of 100k words or more, I also prefer series than stand alone. I like when the first book is free because it helps me decide if that series is where I want to allocate my reading dollars, I spend about $10-20 bucks a week on books. I do try to review the books I get for free more so than the ones I paid for but I am probably not your typical reader. I am loyal to my authors though and I even have a spreadsheet that helps me keep track of the series I am reading that aren’t complete yet because I read so much. Having the free book is the way I am introduced to a lot of series and I get my books from Smashwords #1, B&N for my nook #2 and Amazon Kindle for my iphone #3, although I will probably be buying more from amazon if I replace my nook with a kindle fire at Christmas.


    • I wasn’t sure I had any Smashwords readers. Nice to know! I’m curious as to how easy or hard it was to find Dark Cotillion on Smashwords as well as the rest of the books in the series.



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