I've seen a lot of controversy lately between various writing groups about the benefit of free books and 99 cent sales as a promotional tool. There seem to be three camps:
1) Giving away books devalues our work and should never be done. Many of these authors also frown on 99 cent sales.
2) Offering a book for free is a tool that can be used to introduce new readers to our writing and increase sales of our other books. These folks are usually divided into the perma-free and short term free categories.
3) Free no longer works because the market is glutted with free books. 99 cent sales are more effective.
So, here's my take on the subject. First of all, for me, writing is a business. My goal is to sell books, and noble ideals have nothing to do with it. Sure, I'm all about turning out the best product possible, but when it comes to promotion, I care about what actually works. So, camp #1, while I completely agree with the premise that our writing is valuable and should be rewarded as such, I'm not a big fan of putting conviction before sales. And since this is a free market society, and there are plenty of authors out there willing to give away their books, chances are moral conviction isn't going to lead to sales.
Now, the logic behind camp #2 is sound. I was all for giving away a book for free for a limited period to generate interest, but this was way back in the spring and summer of 2013. This strategy actually worked very well three years ago. But there were key elements to its success. First off, the free book had to be part of a series. The second and third books in the same series far outperformed my other back list books in residual sales. Also, interestingly enough, once the free week ended, the first book also sold very well for the same period of time as the others--usually about a month before they all started to fall off the radar. So, while I gave away over 20,000 downloads during the two week-long free periods, I sold around 900 books as a result. However, as 2013 drew to a close, these free weeks stopped performing. I had fewer free downloads and was lucky to net 100 sales as a result. It was all downhill after that. So, being a reasonably intelligent businesswoman, I quit offering my books for free since I've never been one to beat a dead horse! (Sorry about the cliche.)
Which leads to camp #3. This is the one I'm currently in, although I could change strategies if I see a benefit in the future. There are so many free books out there that people download them by the thousands and never read the vast majority. Having your book sit unread on someone's kindle isn't going to help you increase sales of your other books. Ergo, no benefit to you, the author! However, for thrifty people who troll the free and discounted books, I firmly believe if they even pay as little as 99 cents, they're far more likely to read the book simply because they paid for it. I know I would be... So, I think 99 cent sales for a book in a series will indeed net sales for your other books at full price if your sale book is strong enough to make the reader want to pick up the next one in the series. When it comes right down to it, no amount of promo will work if you don't have a great product.
However, there's a catch to this strategy. And it's a big one. Your 99 cent book has to get noticed, and that's damn hard in the current market glutted with free and discounted books. When left to my own devices, I see a little movement simply from posting about the sale on Facebook and Twitter, but we're talking a sale or two a day. The only thing that has actual worked for me to get big numbers (we're talking top #100 overall on Amazon numbers) is BookBub. I swear it's like magic, but it costs a LOT of money, and getting a deal with them is no easy task. I've been lucky in that my publisher has set up ads with them and paid for it. And why not, since when they do, I generate far more dollars in sales for them over the next month or two than the ad costs. Also, my overall sales have been on a steady rise as a result. Not spectacular, mind you, but better than they used to be. Part of that is due to having a pretty extensive back list at this point. Last month, my publisher got one of my books featured on Amazon's Kindle Daily Deals. For one day only, my book was 99 cents, and I topped out on their rankings at about #140 overall. Even though the book went right back to $3.99 the next day, residual sales for the whole series lasted a couple of weeks. So, Kindle Daily Deals is another promo option that actually works, but I have no idea how you get listed on your own or what it costs. It might be worth some research to find out, though.
So, let's hear your thoughts on Free vs. 99 cents? What camp are you in?
And as a side note, EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES, my first book in the Who's Watching Now series is currently 99 cents and will be all month. I have a BookBub deal scheduled for June 20th, so it will be interesting to see what transpires... Buy it HERE, or check out my other books on my WEBSITE.