I thought I'd write here about the experience... so here goes... My self-imposed title is: ‘Give till it hurts versus Give and do not count the cost.’ So of course ironically I’m about to tell you a load of things about costs, but hopefully without the chagrin which this post might have suggested in my former, less enlightened state.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve ‘given away’ any ebooks. That’s mainly because I’ve been trying NOT to sell only on Amazon. And to give away ebooks on Amazon you have to give them exclusivity.
I’ve been offering choice for the past couple of years, but purchasers of ebooks seem resistant to buy from any other online outlet, especially my own online store. This is a shame because having a digital sales channel on my online store costs about £100 a year. Like all things in publishing, it was a risk – and I found it a more palatable risk than dishing out more money to Amazon or the like to ‘advertise’ my ebooks.
Facebook ‘sharing’ is just giving time (after time after time) which is no easier to give than money when you’re not getting any money in and you see your writing time evaporating in a whirl of online ‘selling’ dressed up as social interaction. Giving till it hurts is pretty easy for me on Facebook. I don’t think I’m the right kind of ‘social animal’ for Facebook. And don’t even get me started on Twitter. I can’t compact anything I want to say into 140 characters (which you’ll have worked out by now!)
You hear all kinds of stories of those who give away ebooks and then see large spikes in sales. You hear all kinds of stories of those who ‘earn a good living’ on a monthly basis from selling their ebooks. Me, I don’t make £30 a month from a catalogue of over 80 titles. I must be doing something wrong. I’m probably doing everything wrong.
The first thing I’m probably doing wrong is assuming that every (or any) one else’s choices and preferences for reading material are the same as mine. I write things I would like to read, things which are important to me, and when I’m looking for something to read, I like to hunt around for other writers who write with the same honesty, and often (thought not exclusively) write about the sorts of things that interest me. I can be heaved out of my comfort zone as regards 2 if I’m convinced by 1.
The second thing I’m doing wrong is assuming anyone else’s buying patterns are the same as mine. I go out of my way to look for things. I follow through recommendations. I ‘research’ possibilities of reading matter. I don’t just fall for the initial hype. And I look for alternatives to Amazon. I think about who gets what in the transaction and while I’m as keen as the next person to get something for ‘free’, I do look to see the small print of what ‘free’ actually means. (For example, I can’t think of anything less free than the free market! A word does not a freedom make.) I look for the strongest producer connection I can with as few middle men as possible creaming off their share. I’d always buy direct from the writer if possible.
I’m believe I know that ebook sales is as much to do with marketing as it is to do with content. There’s the rub. I don’t want to engage in the pay to play world – but that’s how bookselling works. So I’m already stuck between a rock and a hard place. And I started out as a ‘professional’ writer decades ago, so it’s taken me a long time to turn from the position of ‘chasing the money’ to realising that creativity is not an industry and fiction is not a commodity. The consequences of that are quite far-reaching, believe me.
If I said to you: so this is how you earn a living. Okay. Give it up. And then keep doing the thing that you were earning a living at. For no money. Sounds ludicrous. Fortunately? I was never earning that good of a living. The key to freedom is not poverty, but frugality certainly helps. That and understanding the relationship between want and need. And learning not to ‘want’ things that cost money.
In order to teach myself this skill, for quite some years I’ve been a ‘give till it hurts’ type person. Not just in the world of books, but generally in life. I try to avoid the money economy (I’m very good at avoiding earning it and as nearly as good as it’s possible to be in a first world economy and not spending it – apart from the obvious ‘necessities’ of our world – bills, internet provision etc. My spending (or lack of it) makes me a very poor credit risk. The banking system and I have a healthy disrespect for each other.
I find giving quite a freeing experience – giving away something that means something to you can be strangely cathartic – and the more you do it, the more you want to give away. I’ve not quite reached Tolstoyian proportions yet (but then he had more of a challenge because he had more to give away) but I’m no slouch in the giving till it hurts grand scheme. However, it’s not good enough. Because I’ve come to realise that the ‘hurts’ bit keeps me less positive than I’d like to be.
So, more recently I’ve been working on a more enlightened position. Give and never count the cost.
Ironically I think I reached this position purely because otherwise it might hurt too much. It’s the only way out of that professional double bind situation I noted before. For me at least. I’ll not say my transformation is complete, but actually, I’m quite happy giving ebooks away now. Giving away writing is no longer the professional no-no that it was in days gone by. I want people to read the books I’ve written and those I’ve published by other people and that’s the primary goal – I’m McRenegade enough for that these days. But there’s just the little issue of the cost of giving it away! The bit of the equation that in a global capitalist ‘market’ driven world offers such a challenge to the practical everyday task of living in it without being ‘of’ it.
My dream scenario would actually be to give away a free ebook copy with each paperback sale. I certainly can’t give paperback books away for free (apart from those I own, which I happily do.) In selling paperbacks though, one is selling the tangible cost of print at least. Paper. Ink. Real costs not digital ones.
And at the moment I do sell more paperbacks than ebooks. Maybe that’s because I believe in them more and so do more to promote them. Maybe it’s because people are happier buying ‘real’ books from an online store that isn’t Amazon – and there’s the face to face aspect. When I meet ‘real’ people and explain to them about micro publishing and print on demand, a light switches on and they realise there is another way than the mighty flowing river.
But ebooks are another matter. People want the easy one click experience. And they want them cheap. I don’t blame them. My blood rises every time I see an ebook priced at £7 or more (which is becoming increasingly frequent.) At the same time, I find being deluged in ‘free’ ebooks rather like over-eating. For a while I gave myself a monthly budget – spend no more than £10 on ebooks and make up the rest with free. But like everyone else, I’ve now got bloated ereaders with hundreds of books I’ll probably never read. I’d say we’ve all got too much choice, but I don’t think that’s true. I think real choice requires real decision making processes, not just the blind clicking of ‘it’s free, grab it while you can’ which just pandars to the acquisitive nature of consumer capitalism.
I wanted to give and not to count the cost. But the costs are everywhere. Not just the financial cost. The moral cost and the emotional cost.. and I’ve gone on too long already. I think I have another post in me on this one and I’ll save that ‘cost benefit analysis’ for another time.
This is free after all, and by now surely you feel you’ve had your money’s worth.
If you have downloaded a free copy of Brand Loyalty (and you can do it again later in the month) I’m very happy and hope very much that you’ll actually put in the effort to read it. It’s an example of what I call ‘honest’ writing even though a lot of it is superficially ‘made up.’ And if you do read it, and want to talk about it, (I don't mean tell me about typos) then please do comment either here or on Wee Voices. If it doesn't cost too much of your time. I'm not touting for reviews, but where writing is a form of communication, it's nice sometimes for that to be a two way street.