Thursday, April 4, 2013

Giving it all away


I've long been suspicious of the so-called free or give-away days that are perceived as providing the principal way to the top for aspiring authors. For me, it goes against the grain and, while I like packaging things together to up-sell or to do deals, making an unlimited number of donations to the swelling libraries of others just doesn't sit well with me. Not only that, there's the old maxim of something that has no monetary value to one owner can transfer no monetary value to the receiver. No doubt that's a bit simplistic but I don't think it's a million miles from reality.

I've been told that I'm a quick writer but I still put countless hundreds of hours into my scribblings and I expect you're the same so that's why I urge caution regarding these freebie days and where they can lead. It’s like a blank check, a plague let loose or an open invitation to all and sundry to do their worst.

The usual concern is about people sharing your book around but, in all honesty, that's trivial. It might even be a good thing because your book will then either go to someone who's actually interested in what you have to say (as in 'great minds think alike' - possibly leading to future sales) or to someone who just happens to be on the wrong end of an unwanted gift (in which case you've given your book to someone who wouldn't have bought it anyway - no loss there).

It's not that which concerns me.

There are a growing number of sites which download books when they're free and then offer them (also for free) to anyone who wants them – even long after your freebie day has gone by. Thus, while your 5 freebie KDP days every 90 days are finite (for the other 85 days your book has to be priced at least 99 cents OR it has to be taken down altogether), this ‘freebie day’ has been turned into a ‘Groundhog Day’. Since we're all after a bargain, why would any of your faithful followers purchase your book at full price when they can get exactly the same for nowt?

While you are an unknown author, your sales will come from 'serendipity' - i.e. people stumbling across your work and liking the look of it. Once you've got a following, that's when the danger will begin as people search for either you or your newest title. That’s when they’ll type your name into a search engine and find the free gift that’s waiting there.

But what's in it for this scumbag site that's ripped off your book? If they're giving the book away, what do they make out of it?

To answer that, one needs to think laterally. Essentially their income (and, remember, they're doing no work at all - this is a 100% automated site) is achieved through 3 different streams.

Firstly, there's the sheer volume of traffic. The more traffic a site has, the more it's worth. Businesses will pay big money for sites with lots of visitors - both to buy and to advertise on.

Secondly, there are Google AdSense adverts (or similar), Amazon adverts and other book-related services which can be promoted. When a visitor to the site clicks on one of those ads, the host site earns money. Let’s say there are 1,000 visitors a day, the average click-through rate is 2% and the average PPC (Payment Per Click) is $0.50. That’s $300 a month for doing absolutely nothing. You’d have to sell 150 books priced at $2.99 to earn that.

Thirdly (and most sinisterly in my humble opinion), in order to get a free copy of your book, the downloader has to jump through a hoop. This can mean: complete a survey, leave an email address, download a cookie, click through an advert etc. Such data has considerable value to internet marketing companies who can then sell it on to 'relevant' businesses.

These parasitic sites address the issue of book distribution very cleverly. You'll find some text on their site saying your book was part of a give-away and that all they're doing is continuing in the same spirit. Since they don't actually sell the book, the legal water is slightly muddied. They also offer you the opportunity to get your books removed from their listings - not that anyone will actually pay attention to your irate 'Take my book down NOW!!!' request typed out vigorously, vehemently and venomously on their ‘Contact Us’ form.

Ah, but I've got DRM (Digital Rights Management) so my book can't be hacked - I'm safe (you cry). Unfortunately, it's no good clinging to that straw as it's stuffed full of Uranium (the densest naturally-occurring element) and most assuredly will not float. The simple plug-in that hacks DRM is freely and anonymously available on the internet and, in a period of about 20 seconds, your DRM'd book could be turned into an un-DRM'd copy along with other versions in HTML, Word, RTF, TXT and just about any other household format.

It's no good threatening these sites with legal action. You won't find actual contact details and, even if you did, they'd not be in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Europe etc. They'll be in a place where no-one will want to know about how you've had your rights infringed – be sure of that.

Talking of maxims - here's another one of mine. Anything that can be built by a human can be destroyed by one. Don't let the despicable bottom-feeders who create these sites steal your work. Instead of giving your book away, maybe offer something free when the purchaser submits proof of purchase, for example. Keep control at all times.

I have a nasty sneaking suspicion that there are going to be even more repercussions to this marketing experiment. Don't be a guinea pig.

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