sssLeighAn author friend warned us yesterday that she intended to remove all of her freebie stories from ARe, Smashwords, and other stores. She confided that although people grabbed the free shorts, it did nothing to drive sales of her other books. I don’t know exactly when this goes down, but if you want to sample Alessia Brio for free hop over to ARe now because as of this writing (1 AM EST) she has one freebie left. I don’t know if the other shorts are coming back for sale or at all.

Sadly, I think Alessia makes a point about free as promo. A few years ago it may have worked as a loss leader and helped boost attention to an author’s other works. Now, though, I fear that free leads to rot – you snatch up a book that looks interesting, and it sits forever in your Kindle, unread.

I admit, too, that I am part of the problem. There used to be a time when I’d scour my BookBub and BookGorilla mails and click on a pretty cover, often by a new-to-me author. The problem? Well, I’m like most readers in that I gravitate toward authors I already enjoy. I can download a freebie by New To Me, but I’m more likely to pay for the new Stephen King book and read that first, then buy the new Alison Weir and read that. All the while, New To Me is forgotten until I decide to clean out my Kindle. Since it’s free, I don’t feel bad in ditching it.

As an author, I know I’d feel disappointed if people did the same with my book. There’s not much I can do on this end, though, except hope that even a small fraction opens the freebie and enjoys it enough to recommend it. Even the review that begins with, “Thank God it was free, otherwise…” might tempt somebody else into reading it.

1592921Is free dead as a promotional tool? I hear yes and no. Some authors may get mileage out of a loss leader book, while others hear crickets. In the case of E.L. James, having her “Master of the Universe” story available for free didn’t hurt sales of what became Fifty Shades. On the other hand, the 1Direction fan fiction that became After didn’t perform as well as some expected.

I used to have a number of free shorts available on ARe. They were mainly stories under 5,000 words – I don’t feel comfortable charging for work that short. Many were written as blog stories for promotional events, meant as “mini-sequels” in some series I wrote. Some readers might have expected longer works, because I did receive complaints about length. These days, I have only one free short available, …And Lily Makes Three. It may stay up, even if I decide to include it in an anthology. It’s not uncommon to find a short story in multiple books – how many literary collections have included Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”? All the ones I had in school, anyway.

Seems these days the new promotional tool is the multi-author box set. Dozens of stories for 99 cents. I’m in a few sets and will be in a few more this year. Is this the new free for authors? Do these guarantee the sales boost that free no longer guarantees?

Do you download free stories from authors, and if you do how often do you go back and buy other works? Are you more likely to grab a free book from one author or a 99 cent box set from many? I’d love to know what you think.