Being Generous / by Josh Guess

My brother-in-law shared an interesting article with me today. You can read it here if you'd like, but I'll cover the salient points.

What it boils down to is this: author James Crawford was selling an eBook on the Kindle store as well as several other electronic storefronts, and Amazon may have made an error that potentially cost him thousands of dollars. You see, his book, which sold on the Kindle for $5.99, was marked down by Amazon's automated system to free. This happened because their system uses an algorithm that crawls the web for the same content, then matches the price. The problem was that Mr. Crawford was only giving away a three chapter sample for free, not the whole book. In the time his book was being given away, it was downloaded more than six thousand times.

Now, the book being free likely caused this incredibly high number. I'm not saying Amazon isn't at fault for this error, but he probably doesn't have a legal leg to stand on due to the user agreements we agree to as publishers. I had a similar (but much less severe) problem last year. If I were him, I'd be happy for the huge burst of publicity and name recognition from so many downloads. My larger issue with this story was actually referenced in the article as more of a side note--Mr. Crawford only takes a 35% royalty on his book, refusing the 70% option because he doesn't want to be forced to allow people to lend his books.

Yes, you read that correctly. He's forgoing half his profits because he doesn't want anyone to lend his eBook to someone else. This is absurdly illogical to me. I know over the years I've bought dozens if not hundreds of books based on being lent the first book or two in a series. I know for a fact through talking to my readers that many of them had the first book in Living With the Dead lent to them, then went on to buy the rest of the series.

Hell, for that matter, I give it away for free. Living With the Dead is free to read online, and again I know from fan discussion that even daily readers will buy the books for several reasons. To support me, someone who gives it away for free, or to have a handy copy on their phone or Kindle to peruse at their leisure. I'm sure there are other factors, but the result is what matters: I sell more books because I give it away.

Lending is a great way to get new fans. I don't get why this guy is against it, but my own experience tells me that his logic, whatever it may be, is faulty on this.

The other thing that this article made me remember was that I've wanted to do a post on this blog for a while about an option self-publishers like me don't have on Kindle or Nook.

I'd love to be able to make my books free to download on their stores. Right now, that's not an option. 99 cents is the lowest I can go. LWtD has three volumes out now, and one special edition that collects volumes one and two and contains a TON of bonus material. I'd love to give the first one away for free, to have the option to do it at will. If I had 6,000 downloads of book one as a free title, and even half that number of purchases of the other volumes combined as a result in one month, I could do this full time. Those numbers wouldn't just make me a Professional Writer (all caps, even) but would note a HUGE increase in my income. 3,000 sales in a month would average out to at least $6,000, and that's probably a lowball figure.

There are a lot of ins and outs to learn being your own publisher, but then there are just as many you have to know even with a book deal and an agent. I deal with my distributors directly, and I have to understand how they operate, what their rules are, and be vigilant in order to keep myself from inadvertently losing out or having what happened to Mr. Crawford happen to me. As I continue to spread my work out to different areas, get more name recognition, and try to improve my sales, it behooves me to know the industry as well as possible.

Which leads me to wonder why such a powerful marketing tool as being able to give away books isn't available to indie writer/publishers like me. The large houses can do it. It's not as though reading is a zero-sum game. I encourage people to read the authors I like, many of whom are fellow indies like Joseph Paul HainesAnnetta Ribken, and Lori Whitwam--all of them friends, but not what I would call direct competitors. People read books, and I don't know any dedicated reader who will turn down one book for another. It's a win-win. Letting us give away books on the Kindle or Nook would cost Amazon and Barnes and Noble a little money in transmission costs, but the potential gains in sales of other works or even those works when put back into the paid category FAR outweigh them. People who read my stuff are very likely to read the books those folks I linked above have written, because I include links to them in my eBooks. I suggest them, people buy their books, and everyone makes money.

Wow. Long rant is long. Anyone have thoughts on this? Feel free to chime in below in the comments. I'm curious what all of you think.