Why is my book free?
For the next ten days anyone who wants one can download a free copy of my last novel, The Reincarnationist. But why is my book free? It’s a question everyone has been asking me.
Well, it’s not because I’m independently wealthy or because I think The Reincarnationist is worthless.
My book is free because my husband always asks me to bring home cookies from Sant Ambrose whenever I go into New York City. It’s because I wear one of the L’Oeuvre Noire perfumes by Kilian. And it’s because we both use L’Occitane Verbena Shower Gel. And what all those things have in common is at one point in my life as a consumer – or his – we sampled them.
When I was the creative director of Rosenfeld, Sirowitz and Lawson, a NYC ad agency we introduced a new Charles of The Ritz fragrance to the tune of 40 million in TV commercial and print ads. You’d think that was enough to launch it, right? It wasn’t. We still made sure that every woman who stopped at every perfume counter in the country got a lovely little pink bottle of the stuff to take home and wear for a week or so. And when we introduced a new breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s we gave out coupons to lunchtime customers so they could come back the next morning and eat for free.
It’s because trying something for free is the best way of discovering it. And free doesn’t mean sampling a quarter of a cookie – it means the whole cookie. It doesn’t mean someone spraying my wrist with perfume – it means them putting a small bottle of the fragrance in my shopping bag. It means spending a weekend in a hotel and taking two showers using the same soap. It doesn’t mean reading the first five pages of my book online – it means reading my whole book for free as a way of discovering me as an author.
As consumers we are faced with hundreds of choices – and when it comes to books thousands of choices – with every with every purchase.
So how do you choose?
I was a reader before I was a writer – one of those kids who walked home from school with a book up to my face, about to fall in the proverbial sewer hole because I couldn’t see where I was going. And now I’m one of those people whose books are triple shelved and who can’t go anywhere without carrying two titles -one that I’m reading, and one back up.
And so as a reader I’m suffering along with every other reader by a wealth of books (over 1000 novels are published every month) but not a wealth of wallet and so every time I walk into a bookstore or go to a bookstore online I’m confronted with more titles that I want to read than I have money to buy.
Books on their own aren’t insanely expensive compared to other things – three large cappuccinos cost more than a paperback… two and a half gallons of gas cost more than a paperback. But these days we are all watching our dollars and I find that faced with so many books to buy, I wind up with choice fatigue and all too often end up buying the safe bet – the book by the author I’ve read before who I’m sure will offer a satisfying read and passing over new books by authors I haven’t heard of even if they look interesting and exciting, because I can’t buy everything and I can’t afford to make many mistakes.
But if you buy books this way you’re bound to miss out on a lot of exciting discoveries.
Back in 1999 and 2000 a few of us… a very few of us… Douglas Clegg, Seth Godin and I… offered free electronic copies of our books in an effort to market them differently, to reach an audience we otherwise wouldn’t have reached and to test out a new marketing concept for books. Despite the industry screaming we were crazy, it worked. We each wound up selling many more copies of the books that we gave away that anyone expected and for each of us the experiment was a success. Back then many thought it an audacious move and even though we proved free books led to increased books sales it’s been hard for me to convince any of my publishers to try it again. Until now. I guess it’s an idea whose time has come, or I’ve gotten more persuasive, or the VP I asked at my publishing house recently got a nice sample of new moisturizer at the department store… but whatever the reason, I’m thrilled.
For the next ten days The Reincarnationist is free to anyone who wants to download it. Why? So readers like me can take a chance on… well… me.