Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Highs & Lows of Kindle Freebies

With the holiday season around the corner many people, like me, are cutting back on some expenses in order to help fund the upcoming events of heavy eating, partying and gift buying. One of my hobby expenses is book buying - but it's not an area where I want to make any sacrifices. Reading is what I do, and without it I'd be a little lost. So I find myself, more than ever, downloading lots of free ebooks. I am skipping the NY Bestsellers lists and instead checking out free book links, as well as the Top Sellers List in the Kindle Store, of which a large proportion are free. For the first time since I owned a Kindle I probably have a couple dozen free ebooks on my Kindle waiting to be read. Many will be read quickly, others will sit there for months waiting for me to be in the right mood for them & I'll still buy a few bestsellers with a sticker price if they pique my interest.

At the time of writing, there are more than 18,000 free ebooks listed in the Kindle store. This is in addition to the free ebooks that can be found on sites such as (sci-fi),, Guternberg and There's a whole host of freebies out there & if you so wished, you'd never need to pay for another book again.

Types of freebies

Freebies basically fall into 2 categories: Public Domain and Promotional Freebies
  1. Public Domain

    Many of these freebies are "public domain" books - that is, books that have fallen out of copyright & are public property and can be reproduced by anyone. Classics that range from Pride & Prejudice, War of The Worlds, Treasure Island, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.... Thousands like these can be gotten for free in ebook format. That's great news: a huge selection of masterpiece classics widely available at no cost! Who could complain? Well, no-one I am sure!

    The downside, or rather difficulty, comes with which one to choose? That's right - often there is more than one edition of the same ebook, just as there are numerous publication of the same book on paper. Currently there are dozens of Kindle editions of Pride & Prejudice, some free, some just pennies. They may vary slightly: some are combined with other Austen novels such as Emma or Mansfield Park, some are formatted slightly differently, or with an interactive table of contents.

    How do you choose which to purchase when they are multiple ebook publications? Well with freebies, it probably doesn't matter, does it? You could simply download them all, pick the best format & delete the others. For those ebooks with a small price tag, you can still download a free sample to see how you like the formatting*. Ultimately it means choice: a huge sampling of excellent reading material at very little or no cost at all.

    [*Note: for those new to Kindle, formatting issues may include such things as poor paragraph spacing, lack of indenting, text size issues. This really is similar to paperback editions. There have always been some publications that I avoid, for issues like poor paper quality, tiny print, offset type into the margin etc.]

  2. Promotional Freebies

    This category of freebies can be quite interesting, in my ebook :-) Promos can simply be authors of series throwing out book #1 in a series for free in the hopes of grabbing additional readership that will continue on to buy the rest of the series. One such as example is James Patterson's Angel Experiment, book 1 in the Maximum Ride series. This has been on free offer for some months, and in my case was certainly successful in me downloading book #1 and buying the rest for my daughter to read.

    Other promos include up and coming authors and/ or indie authors who may or may not be self published and trying to make a following for themselves. Or who simply want their books out there to be enjoyed.

    There are times when these promotions are short-lived. Recent examples are Unbreakable, The Christmas Bus and Mania - books that were free for a day or two, then upped back up in price, so you must grab them when you see them. [Update: Indeed, Unbreakable has gone back to a freebie today, so see how quickly things change?]

The Highs & Lows

One of the best things about freebies - aside from the savings - is the discoveries one can make. Authors previously unknown to me, genres I would never have before considered are all opened up to me for free! From reading nothing but horror and sci-fi a year ago, I am again reading the classics, thrillers, family drama and even romance (well, just a little of that). I've discovered authors such as Boyd Morrison, KA Thompson, Al Past, Ed Patterson, Joseph Finder - authors I wouldn't have read before because they weren't in the promo racks of Barnes & Noble.

But coupled with that high, comes the low of reading bad books. Books that I might pick up just because they are free. At 9.99, I wouldn't get them because they are not my area of interest. But as a freebie? Why not? If I don't like it, I can delete it. No loss there. But this is also a risk for the authors when it comes to reviews. Typically, a book at 9.99 might only draw the readers who have an established interest in the genre or the author. Reviews - good or bad - would be from those who started the book with a passion for it. With a freebie, reviews are coming from everywhere, including readers who have no interest or feeling for the subject.

With such free books, you might see many mediocre or 1 star reviews that start with "I only got this because it was free...." & then go on to say how they hate romance/ horrors/ spy novels etc., and so bringing the average star score of a book down. In turn, those low average ratings from disinterested parties may turn away the true fan base of that book so when the price goes back up, profits might not reach their potential. It's a risky strategy, I'd say: free promo to get good reviews & more readers doesn't always work. This must be disheartening for any author. I'm sure there are authors out there who must think "If you hate this kind of book, why read it?".

For that reason, even if I've hated a free ebook, I've usually refrained from reviewing it when I only downloaded it because it was free. I say usually because in many cases I am not a good judge of a genre that is new to me. It might be a great book in it's field, *I* just didn't like it. That said, if I feel it's a bad book because it's poorly written, I'll jump in and say so.

In my opinion, such poor reviews from readers who don't like the genre are not much different to the 1 star reviews given for high pricing. There are many cases in which people give a 1 star even when they haven't read the book simply because they feel it is too pricey ( see related article: $9.99 boycott & 1 star reviews). In summary of that article, these reviews are not helpful to those of us who are trying to select a good book!

If you noticed though, I said "poor reviews from readers who don't like the genre are not much different" - I think they are a little different - but only a little - and that's because if I read a review from a fellow horror fan that says a romance was too slushy, chances are I'd think so too, so I'll skip it. But that's pretty much where I can draw the line, and I totally understand why a romance reader would be frustrated by that neg review: they might be looking for slushy story & dragging the rating down doesn't help them choose a good romance when skimming the index of the Kindle store.

A tricky business, reviewing & choosing a book from reviews. As I said in my 9.99 Boycott article, I disregard 1 stars based on price and now I am beginning to disregard 1 star reviews for freebies too. I take these books for what they are - free ebooks that I may or may not like. There are thousands to choose from & that suits me in my current cost cutting mood. I didn't buy my Kindle for cheap or free books, that's just a usually pleasant bonus. And whatever your favorite genre, I'm sure there's something out there for you.

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