Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Free Books

No, I'm not giving anything away so anyone who got here by Googling the title will be disappointed. You might as well click on the next link in your search list.

One of the marketing tools that publishers have used over the past year is to give away ebooks, hoping readers will want more from an author or a series. It doesn't cost them very much, if anything, and they must think that it's worthwhile. Barnes and Noble has free book Fridays for nook owners and Amazon offers promotional ebooks as well.

Toward the end of last year, Richard Mabry wrote a blog post about the negative reviews he'd received for "Code Blue" when it was offered as a free ebook. The reason for the negative reviews? "Code Blue" is Christian fiction. Reviewers (and I use the term very loosely) gave the book one star because they didn't like Christian fiction.

Now, I'd seen this phenomenon before. Before purchasing a book, I do look at the ratings given by people who've purchased and read the book. It's a good way--within limits--of deciding whether a particular book is for me. Being the perverse person I am, I usually make a point of reading the one star and two star reviews. All too often, these "reviews" are not about the merits of the book, but about something else entirely. The reviewer complains about delivery time or that the cover was wrinkled or that they got the wrong book. These things have nothing to do with the merit of the book and make the overall rating totally misleading.

As a reality test, I decided to check the reviews for some Harlequin novels. Harlequin makes a number of books available for free, including several from its Blaze line. Harlequin says: "The series features sensuous, highly romantic, innovative stories that are sexy in premise and execution." I figured that, if there was one group of readers who found Christian fiction distasteful and rated it poorly on that basis, at the other end of the spectrum had to be those who found sexually explicit stories distasteful.

I was correct. In the same way that free Christian ebooks were blasted for their content, sexy romances were also taken to task.

My first reaction was, "What do you want, people? These are FREE books. It's not like you lost any money obtaining them." But reason doesn't seem to play a part in this.

I've downloaded several free ebooks that I didn't care for. Did I run to the Barnes and Noble web site and immediately give them a bad review? Of course not. I just archived them off my nook and, if I thought about it the next time I was on the BN site, deleted them from my library. I also learned to check out the book summary before downloading a book just because it was free.

But it made me wonder if readers--and book buyers--were influenced by those negative reviews. How many people purposely read the one and two star reviews before deciding on a purchase? Or do they just see that a book only has an average three star rating and think it can't be very good? I fear that it may be the latter.

And, so, it may be detrimental for publishers to give away free ebooks. Yes, they may gain some readers, but I think they also lose some. I'm no marketing expert and the publishers have probably figured out that they gain more readers than they lose this way, but it's sad that they have to lose any.
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