“Permafree” ebooks — the indie publishers holy grail?

If you’re an independent book publisher, you’re always wondering how best to market your books, and there are dozens of options to consider: do you advertise on GoodReads? Maybe you score a BookBub promotion? Giveaways on your website? Blog tours?

There are lots of great sites and ongoing discussions about what is successful, and how best to manage these things for yourself. Among those, there’s probably more discussion about making your ebooks “permafree” than almost anything else.

A permafree ebook is just what it sounds like. A book available on Amazon and other sites, with a permanent sale price of $0.00.

Some very successful indie authors swear by having some permafree books in your digital marketing arsenal. J A Konrath has several good posts about his experiences, and for once, reading the comments is a good thing! GoodReads has discussion boards to help authors help each other in getting permafree done.

It seems like there are several good reasons to have some permafree books. The biggest is if you have a series, giving away the first book as a freebie can lead to buying readers for the remaining books in that series. Also, if you’re actively growing your brand, free books is exposure, and exposure is good.

Alternatively, there are several good arguments for why free books aren’t a ticket to the Top Ten.  Lots of authors give away lots of books, but that doesn’t always seem to effectively translate into long term fans or continued sales. I myself have downloaded more than one hundred free books over the years, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever read any of them. I might have, of course, but it doesn’t seem like the free teaser has made me into a buying reader. All of my personal experience is anecdotal, of course, but it does seem to fall in line with many other’s experiences based on blog comments and posts.

I’ll be honest, I’m torn about permafree. I see that some folks crack the Top 100 in Amazon’s Free eBook list, and that seems great. If it’s generating other sales, it’s a loss leader, which is a concept that is tried and true in the brick & mortar world, so it should certainly work in the digital world. But that’s just the thing — I’m not sure it does work. It certainly doesn’t hurt, but I can’t find much in the way of good metrics for the long tail success of this strategy.

So, after all that, why not try it? Like I said, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try it, and if we’re strategic about it, maybe it helps.


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