Why buy it if you can get if for free?

cow and book

You’ve heard the old saying, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

Generally, it’s used as a metaphor to argue for abstinence before marriage–something along the lines of, “if a boy is getting sex from you, then why would he marry you?” If that’s the subject you’re interested in, then you need to join the thousands of people who read Beth Steury’s blog about abstinence and renewed abstinence because sex is not what I’m here to talk about today. Nor cows. Nor milk.

I’m talking about books.

So far in 2015, I have “bought” 80 free books. Seriously. I went through my Amazon account and counted. I have so many unread books on my kindle (321), that I just dump them in my cloud reader for a rainy day. Or a day when people actually start making me buy books.

Ebooks are either free or so cheap that we all have huge TBR (to be read) piles. What started as a promotional tool has become common place. It’s gotten so bad that we can’t even give books away for free anymore. It’s no wonder that when I host giveaways on my blog, I get so few responses. What is the enticement? And yet authors are still doing it…

If this is you, if you’re giving away your books for free and hoping for readership or reviews, then stop the madness. Or at least market responsibly. Here are my suggestions:

  1. It’s okay to give away the first book in a series (and two books does NOT count as a series). This makes sense. If I read your first book and like it, I’ll buy the rest and read them too.
  2. Instead of offering your book for free, offer it for a discount. That way you still make money. And, to be honest, I’m more likely to read something I’ve purchased than something I’ve gotten for free. It has more perceived value.
  3. If you want to spark interest in your book, do a Goodreads giveaway. Go ahead and give your book away…to 1 or 2 people at a time. Let people put it on their wish lists. Let them see if over and over again and be interested in it. They’ll eventually purchase it. And they’re more likely to read a book that they’ve purchased. (See #2).
  4. If you want to get more reviews, create a street team/reader group. Make those free copies count. Invest in people. Connect with readers who will actually read your book. Connect with other authors that write similar things. Don’t blast the masses. And when you do give that book away, ask for a review in exchange.
  5. And don’t make every one of your tweets be about you or your book. That’s just plain annoying. This suggestion has nothing to do with our topic, but my advice is also free. 😉

Supply and demand, folks. It’s simple economics.

HERE’S WHAT I WANT TO KNOW FROM YOU: How many books are in your TBR pile? How much do you spend on books each month? Are you more likely to read something that you purchased or got for free? What would you add or take away from my list?

Lisa Godfrees

Lisa Godfrees

20 thoughts on “Why buy it if you can get if for free?

  1. I agree. My TBR pike is so big that I’ve become picky about which ones i will download for free.


  2. You are 100% right. I’ve gotten about 50 free ebooks this year alone and like you, 99% of them go straight to the cloud rather than directly to my nook. My statistics last year were a lot higher but after amassing so many free books and not reading them I’m getting choosier. The free books I’m most likely to read are actually the physical copies I have won in giveaways over the past year. When I’m looking for something to read, my eyes go to the stacks on my bedside shelves (I don’t have a table – I have an entire bookcase) before I think about the virtual piles I also have online.

    So I guess I do think the blog giveaways don’t quite count in the free-books-bad category. They have a perceived value because they are won. And based on my personal experience, physical books are more likely to be read. Or the ones that I have committed to reviewing (although I’m pathetically slow at that.) There are books I have gotten for free that I read quickly but those are much more rare and books I was intending to purchase sometime in the near future anyway. And I can see how making the first in a series free would be wise.


  3. I’m with you on this. I do check out quite a few books from the library but mostly classics and best-sellers. I bought a book that has been on my TBR list forever. I was totally willing to spend $7.99 for the e-book but was able to snap it up for $0.99. I actually felt guilty.
    Lisa I’m like you, I am more likely to read a book I paid for even if it was only $0.99. And my TBR count is somewhere in the 300s too.


    • LOL. Gretchen. I feel guilty when I purchase used copies of books. If the author’s book is more than I’m willing to spend for an e-book, then I will buy a used paperback copy. There is a breakpoint in there somewhere. I’m fairly willing to spend up the $3.99, maybe even $4.99 for an e-book. But when the kindle copy is more than the paperback, I order the paperback.


  4. I’ve gotten to the point that life is too short to read books I don’t like. If I have to read half-way to three quarters through a book to get interested, the author started their story in the wrong place.


  5. It’s true. I won’t even consider/download free books unless they look like something I really, really want to read. And even then, books I bought (that whole perceived value) get read first. And I don’t even “shop” for books anymore except in my daily Inspired reads and Bookbub emails. Or if friends are making recommendations.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I should live so long as to read all the books on my Kindle! I too snag fewer free books now that my unread pile has become so large.


  7. Words of wisdom, girl. Preach it!


  8. I don’t take a free book unless I know enough about the book or author to believe I’ll read and enjoy it–and soon. (I usually look up an excerpt first.) I never have more than a couple of dozen books waiting TBR.

    Ågainst my better judgment, because people insisted it was a good idea to do a giveaway with an author interview (and some online reviewers required one), I gave away many copies of my own book with no sign that it increased sales. Most of the recipients who were complete strangers never reviewed it on Amazon or Goodreads. Not whining, just sharing the facts to prevent someone from making the same mistake I did.

    Many authors don’t do giveaways, and I still buy their books! Next time, I won’t give any away. My new publisher may choose to give away the re-published first book of my series free for a short period of time to increase interest in the series. I will trust her judgement.


    • That’s where a goodreads giveaway is probably smart. Winners aren’t quite random and it’s my understanding the more reviewing someone does, it ups their odds of winning? Especially if they review a book they won. But I could be wrong about that.


      • Sparks, I wondered about that and wish I knew how it works. I had only one Goodreads giveaway, but that winner did not provide a review. 😦 A note: I realized almost too late that the author has only six months after release to do a giveaway, and I made it just under the wire! A lot of people added the book during the giveaway, and some deleted it later, but I’m still open to doing one on Goodreads if my publisher recommends it.


  9. Great advice! I’d say I’m more likely to grab a book for free without looking into it much. I will pay more attention to the book blurb if I’m going to spend money on it. Then I’m more likely to read it because it’s made an impression on me beyond the flurry of “free for 24 hours!” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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