I’ve now self-published four ebooks on Smashwords. I decided to make one of them, which is a short guide to Bach flower remedies, free of charge and not surprisingly this has ‘sold’ far more copies than any of the other three which cost just $2.99 USD each.
Now that there is so much free material available on-line it is understandable that many people are reluctant to pay for ebooks. Would you be well advised to make yours free? There are various pros and cons.
Free ebooks could be a good idea for some writers, for example those who simply want as many readers as possible and do not care about making money. Or, if you wrote your book with the aim of helping others in need or mainly for the interest of your family and friends, you may feel it would be inappropriate to accept payment for it. Even if you are more commercially inclined, you may consider giving away one of your ebooks as a ‘loss leader’ in the hope of getting your name more widely known and encouraging sales of your other work.
On the other hand there are several reasons for charging. As one of the many part-time writers whose main income comes from other sources I don’t need or expect to make any significant profit from my books, but I do feel it is reasonable to want some financial return for all the work which goes into them, and to cover expenses. Although self-publishing is much cheaper than it used to be there are costs involved for formatting, editing, cover design and marketing, whether you employ expert help for these aspects or acquire the skills and equipment to manage them yourself. Then there are the ‘opportunity costs’ incurred by spending time on writing rather than paid work. It seems bizarre that when I was in clinical practice I could earn more from a one-hour consultation with a client than from a book which took literally thousands of hours to write.
While there are many excellent free ebooks available, the quality of others is very poor. Some writers, perhaps without realising it, feel that if they are not going to charge for their book it is alright to take a casual approach towards content, grammar, spelling and layout, instead of aiming to make it ‘the best it can be’. I believe that if the self-publishing of ebooks is to be valued as a respectable undertaking with high professional standards, new writers should usually put a price on their work.
Lastly, ‘people value what they pay for’. Many free ebooks get downloaded, but I wonder how often they are actually read.