Marketing guru Ramit Sethi recently said that if you send people a link for something free they may find interesting, most of the time they won't click on it. This may not be true of your family and closest friends; then again, it may apply to them as well.
Why not, when it's free? For example an article, a report, a YouTube video.
People already have so many demands for their attention that it's easier not to click on yet another link, or to leave it for later (= never).
Sethi says these days you have to "sell free." You have to show people that it's something that will benefit them, just as you do when you're charging. In marketing terms that means there had better be a very good prospect that putting in the effort to sell free will result in income at some point down the line.
HOW THIS WORKS WITH EBOOKS
When there were not so many ebooks around, free worked well. If you had several books available, offering one free in hopes readers would like it and would pay for your other ebooks was an effective strategy.
It does still work for some people, but I think it's on the way out. I subscribe to two sites that send out daily emails listing free or highly-discounted ebooks. I very seldom download any of them. I already have enough to read and these books are by unknown authors. They may well be better writers than some of the well-known authors but I don't have time to download and sample these books.
WHAT COMES AFTER FREE?
If I had sure-thing answer I'd be selling it instead of giving it away for free :). However, my guess is that a new author will have to work even harder to develop a platform--to get known by potential readers first, and then offer them the chance to buy his or her books for a reasonable fee.
I believe that in this as in a lot of other things it will pay to be a contrarian. When everybody else is on Facebook and Twitter, those are not the places to be if you want to stand out. If others are still flooding the marketplace with free ebooks, you don't want yours to be considered part of that group.
What are some places most people consider untrendy? Here are a few:
* Newspapers (yes, they're dying but they aren't dead yet). In this category I include feature stories, display ads, and classfied ads.
* Magazines - same as for newspapers
* Local television
Having a website will still be important, but not the typical site that has just the cover of your book, your bio, and maybe a blog about how you came to write the book. This may sound harsh, but nobody cares--that is, nobody who doesn't already have some kind of connection with you.
In future posts I'll go more deeply into some ways that I'm starting to build a platform in Young Adult fiction, which is a new format and genre for me. I'm sure this will include things that don't work as well as things that do. I hope that will yield some information that will be useful to you as well.
In the meantime you may also find it helpful to get a copy of my book, Do Something Different, published by Virgin Books; it contains 100 case studies of people who came up with creative, mostly very low cost, effective marketing strategies. It's not free.