Blasphemy! Double Blasphemy coming from a writer. Of course your work has value! How dare I say that there is no value to free books or the famous 99 cent model? The common belief is that this gains you far more of a following and draws interest in your more high priced works. No, it doesn’t.
More accurately, it doesn’t gain you more than it risks losing you. I am personally disinclined to bother with digital readers. Sure, I own one, but I have never valued an ebook as highly as a physical book. My kindle stopped working after a little over a year and I never bothered to pay the high price to replace it. I only ever downloaded free books onto it anyway and by and large none of those books inspired me to seek out their authors. Why would I? I could find hundreds of great writers who had no idea how good they are for 99 cents or free, so why buy the expensive ebooks from them? For the price of the kindle itself, I can buy fifty or more great physical books.
These physical books have no issues about being only on a single e-reader. They do take space, but to be honest I never wandered around with the kindle for more than one book at a time anyway. I can instantly go to the exact page by doing a quick flip and never have to fight with the interface. Sure they could burn or get destroyed in water, but so could the kindle and I never had to worry about a magnet going across them or data corruption. Best yet, I don’t have to worry about licensing issues that can cause my ebook to suddenly not be there any more (yes, this has happened to me) after having paid for it.
I am not saying my physical books are better than ebooks. Each has benefits and flaws the other doesn’t, but to me physical books simply have greater value. I suspect that even the people who love e-readers still devalue ebooks. Why? Well if you drop 100 to 200 dollars every year and a half on something to read with, you probably don’t want to turn around and drop a few hundred more on books. You pick and choose a few expensive ones that are worth it and stock up the rest with freebies.
As a writer, you will make a little money at 99 cents, but not much of a continued following. You are likely lost in a sea of other authors, both good and awful. Half the time your book isn’t even read for over a year after it was added, if not more. More and more, data is showing that the free and 99 cent price points are utterly without value to you personally as the author. The current grail sits at 2.99 to 3.99, but that is probably going to change again soon enough.
Price your book what it is worth and live with the fact that you don’t get quite as many impulse downloads. In the end, the value comes from repeat readers anyway, not the person who buys one cheap book and then never looks at it. You can’t make a career out of that!
One last note here. I am not saying never release a free book or never price a book at 99 cents. Just realize what that means and understand why you are choosing to do so. I have offered up a free pdf RPG for example. I also intend to release a 99 cent ebook in the future. The ebook is not going to gain me much extra money, but it is not adding a lot of extra content either. Three or so ‘chapters’ added to the serial flash fiction that you have already read for free. I plan to have it professionally edited, have a nice piece of cover art, properly format it, etc. What I gain isn’t going to be a lot of money, but since I can point back to this blog where the content is free, they can follow through with their inexpensive purchase and obtain added value.
In return, I will gain further readership. Sustained readers who will regularly read my work and may decide they want to buy one of my physical books or an ebook with a higher price point now that they are familiar with me. Everyone gains. The reader gains something they may enjoy and will gain a steady stream of further writings and I gain readers. No losses on either side. Too many people write that ebook expecting only gains and mark the price as a ploy. Don’t make it a ploy if you use it. Make it a way to offer something extra to the reader.