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Experimenting With Free

Lastbookstoreinamerica_frontcoverThis is ever so slightly off-topic, but I know that many of you are writers, or landscapers, or small business owners, or self-employed people of some sort.  If you are, you have been asked at some point to give your work away for free.  Maybe you’ve wondered if “free” is the new “paid” and if there’s some amount of giving stuff away for free that actually, paradoxically, weirdly, will pay off in some tangible way.

So if you’re a writer, you may know that a Great Debate is raging about Amazon’s new program for the Kindle, in which Amazon Prime members can “borrow” one Kindle book per month for free, Netflix-style. If you’ve published your own book on the Kindle, you can enroll in the lending library and get paid when Prime members borrow your book.  And you can give your Kindle ebook away, for free, for up to 5 days.  In exchange, Amazon gets a 90-day exclusive on your ebook.

So there is a HUGE debate about whether this is a terrible thing or a wonderful thing.  I won’t rehash it here.  I’ll just say that when I looked at sales of my novel on all other ebook platforms, I saw that I’d only sold 3 copies in the last 3 months through non-Amazon outlets, and decided I could afford to take it off the market for a 90-day trial period without unduly depriving the reading public of my literary contributions.

So my novel, The Last Bookstore in America, (which is itself about the future of books and bookstores in the digital age) is free to you Kindle owners through Thursday night. Go get it if you want it.  As of this writing, 13,500 other people already have.

What do you think of free?  Of course, this blog is practically free–we get a little beer money from the ads, but it’s never been enough to pay an actual bill. When is free worthwhile?  When (from a business or career standpoint) does it make sense to give something away?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by on February 22, 2012 at 8:24 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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15 Responses to “Experimenting With Free”

  1. Tara Dillard says:

    I love what I do for a living. Landscape design/contracting, book author, lecturing.

    To give back, aka thanks, I do pro bono. My pimp is the local Extension Agent. I’ve never said no to him. Have done lectures, community gardens, neighborhood squares, & etc.

    Many of my clients do pro bono too.

    Do I get paying customers from pro bono? Yes. But that isn’t why I do it.

    Most things I do for ‘marketing’ don’t bring clients. What I do from my heart? Always brings clients.

    Congrats on your book.

    XO Tara

  2. Emma Cooper says:

    I have the Kindle app on my iPad, but haven’t used it since I installed it. Seems like a good time to take the plunge :)

  3. Paul Riddell says:

    I don’t have any problems with giving away work for free, under certain circumstances, but I’m desperately sick and tired of the bozoids who keep arguing that we should all give away now for some unspecified reward in the future. From my experience (and let me tell you, you don’t get much better experience with the phenomenon than in science fiction publishing), the people who bellow and cry and throw tantrums about how “everything should be free” don’t want that free item as soon as it’s available.

    Or, to put it in one great example, I used to work for the house magazine of the Sci-Fi Channel, and I used to buy copies on my own dime and give them out as promos at movie preview screenings. At times, I was literally tackled by people wanting whatever free issue I had available, who’d then literally drop it on the floor and waddle off once they realized that this wasn’t something they really wanted. Worse, we actually even got one guy who wrote in to the publisher, furious that the freebie he received didn’t have a giveaway promotion that came with the newsstand copy, and he threatened to hold his breath until he turned blue until we sent him one for free. (I won’t even start into how he felt that his getting that first free copy meant that we “owed him”, because it’s obvious that we wouldn’t have remained financially solvent without him.)

    Now, please don’t let me stop you from this experiment, because I hope that this works out well for you. After all, Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling make all sorts of noise about how they love giving their books away for free. Of course, their readers are also getting their money’s worth.

  4. Karen Rexrode says:

    I completely agree with Tara, I regularly gave lectures for Master Gardeners for free, some 20 years ago. I owned a nursery and it was a great way to pick-up new customers. After about 5 years they started paying me. Now, most pay me and I sometimes get plugged into a symposium for lots more money. Like Tara, I did it from the heart, happy to be with like minded people, hungry for horticulture. So you never know, sometimes it pays off.
    It’s pretty hard to argue with 13,500 views of your book, who knows where that will go?

  5. Dottie says:

    We do giveaways with some regularity. Donations to raffles & such for local organizations – for the love of these organizations, Samples to chemically sensitive customers – in the understanding of the aggravation of finding products you can use & having to pay to test them, to retailers – promotion intended, and as FaceBook contest prizes & sometimes ‘just ’cause’…
    Yes, in the long run it appears that this does ultimately reflect favorably on sales.
    (P.S. there’s a Kindle app for the iPad?! I’ll have to get the book, too! – but I always prefer to buy a print copy.)

  6. Laine says:

    I just discovered a few nights ago that I could have Kindle on my Mac. It is not an ipad, just regular Mac. (The link is on the same page as the Kindle book you are looking at.) So I did it and have downloaded some old no copyright books from Amazon and Gutenberg. I just downloaded Amy’s book which I didn’t even know existed. It is taking a bit of adjustment to read a book on the computer and I think I will always like the physical book. The library is great for that. Good luck with this venture, Amy.

  7. Frank Hyman says:

    This Kindle give away sounds a bit like a ramped up offer of free books to reviewers–but instead of offering the books to dozens or hundreds of “professional” reviewers with perhaps hundreds of thousands of “followers” (i.e. readers of the reviewers’ magazine or newspaper), it’s being made available to “civilian” reviewers with a wide range of “followers” on their social media platforms–twitter, FB, Etc.

    And since the “cost” of each Kindle book is so much lower than under the old hardback/professional reviewer regime, you and the publisher/distributor can certainly afford to “ship” many more copies for free.

    Hmmm.

    Sounds like a new model that’s at least as viable as the old model, but at a different scale.

    As for giving things away for free generally I have two thoughts:

    One, if you charge enough for most of your work, you can afford to give some away to select audiences: non-profits, low-income clients, etc.

    Two, if you understand that “marketing” is more than just buying ads and renting billboards, than it becomes clear that the Targeted give-away of books, music, talks, etc. can be good marketing. But not All giveaways qualify as good marketing.

    Thanks for the post Amy–Somewhere in the Constitution everyone is guaranteed a right to their own opinion–but it’s always nice to run across a thoughtful opinion from the ladies at Garden Rant.

  8. anne says:

    Let me get this straight: in addition to the promotion (which seems to be working for you Amy), if you published your book on Kindle, you also get paid for each time a Prime member borrows the book? That seems like a no-brainer business decision to me, especially if the book in question hasn’t been a recent seller.

    My product is wine, and we get hammered by solicitations year-round, every organization assuring us that the exposure from their event will bring us tons of business. We get solicitations from everywhere: small private organizations in Minnesota (we are in Oregon), to big national groups, an average of 3-5 per week. So we had to come up with a policy that we could live with, to narrow it down who we actually give to (mostly local and causes near and dear to our hearts). That way, we feel good about giving, not taken advantage of, whether we see an increase in business or not.

    I guess it boils down to this: some giveaways are strictly for business, some from your heart. You have to decide each time which it is, and then you can decide if it’s “worth it” for you.

  9. Liz says:

    It seems we can give away things for free to give back or because we enjoy it, while others can be a marketing decision.

  10. I’m a cook and love to share recipes. I do a recipe handout sheet at my plant sales; it seems to attract customers that otherwise might buy their starter plants elsewhere. At the very least the sheets are an ice breaker and if they just take a sheet and leave that’s ok too. My contact info is on the sheet. Cindy

  11. UrsulaV says:

    I suppose I “give away” my art on-line, because I know that there’s a big difference between a jpg on a screen and actually buying a print of the art (or the original!) to hang in your home.

    What I don’t do is work for other people for free. The art is my own personal work, and I sell the originals and the prints. If somebody wants a custom illustration for free, they get a polite refusal. If they don’t shut up, I get less polite. I have happily donated work to charities, but I’ve also told very pushy jerks going “It’s for chaaaaarity!” that they can’t afford me. (Churches are the WORST. I will never do anything for a church, ever. Talk about entitlement complexes…)

  12. Gail says:

    I don’t own a Kindle but a Nook. Do I really like it not so much. I like the feel of a book in my hands though the ebooks are less expensive.
    I have a small landscaping business and also work part time for a small business. I do plant containers and many customers ask who did those and while many people admire that hasn’t resulted in much additional business for me.
    I handle the donation requests (this could be an entire topic!) and like the above comments its amazing the nerve of some organizations in their donations requests-NO means NO!

  13. KATHY TRACEY says:

    We’ve certainly moved away from the very direct method of selling goods and services: producing the product or service, assigning a fair value to it, and accomplishing the financial transaction. The giveaways and the “never pay full price for anything” logic, contributes to brainwashing the public, and leads to an underlying dishonesty in initially assigning a higher value than warranted. Prices are then dropped down to ” a special value”. I know this is marketing, but I cringe a little when I think where this is all going.

  14. Laura Bell says:

    I am not in the hort industry in any way but as a consumer (a very opinionated one, of course). However, twenty years ago, fresh out of college in an economy that could only look good compared to the current one, I volunteered my time to two different agencies for whom I was interested in working. I decided if there was no mention of trying to actually hire me after six months, I’d go elsewhere, even if it was another volunteer position. Three months later, as funding picked up & the powers-that-be realized the value of my skillset, the two agencies both made real, paying job offers. Paychecks and promotions followed.

    Sometimes it does pay to give away your services. But it is a wise thing to limit the offer to what you are comfortable “donating”.

  15. skr says:

    I think my view on this is best summed up with a quote from ‘Goodfellas’, “F*#@ you, pay me”. I’ve heard every excuse in the book.

    “Our funding didn’t come through”
    “F*#@ you pay me”

    “We think we’ve paid you enough”
    “F*#@ you pay me.”

    “It would be really great experience”
    “F*#@ you pay me”

    “You’ll get a ton of exposure”
    “BS, F*#@ you pay me”

    Now that said, I do perform some volunteer consulting work for a non-profit because they do everything I tell them to and I get to have some fun. I do perform free consultations for some real estate agents, but that is marketing and I do get work from them.

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