What's the role of free books in selling Kindles?

Now that the Kindle 3 is available direct from Amazon UK it has started putting a ton of effort into promoting it.

Three of the more obvious ways are – really cheap ebook prices for bestsellers, lots of free books, and a banner in the center/middle of the Amazon.co.uk homepage.

It brings up an interesting question – What role do public domain free books and free book offers play in getting readers to buy the Kindle 3?

Impact of Free books and Cheap Books on Kindle 3 Sales

Imagine you’re a reader in the UK waltzing along Regent Street in your Burberry Coat and oxfords and you see someone with a Kindle. The purity of reading is being violated but you’re far too polite to scream for the Police. You also have to admit you’re a bit curious.  

Definitely not buying that – how common and shallow. Wonder what it’s like.

Then you’re on the Tube because you know how traffic is at rush hour and you see 2 people reading on Kindles (that’s more than you see in a month normally). Now you’re really curious.

What’s going on here? In front of everyone? Are we forgetting the sanctity of the physical book.  

By this point you’ve decided you have to find out more. So at home, at a time when your significant other is asleep or absent so your sacrilegious behavior stays a secret, you log on to Amazon UK and read up on the Kindle and see if the books you like are available (not that you’d ever buy it – just to check).

One of the first things that you will probably notice is that the books are really cheap. 

Cheap Books make the Kindle 3 very attractive

You are bound to notice that Amazon has priced Kindle books at absolutely ridiculous prices.

If I were American I’d say that’s cheaper than a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, we already have coffee more expensive than hardcovers here.

It’s cheaper than the cost of a Tube ride from Notting Hill Gate to Angel (if you don’t have an Oyster card, that is).

Suddenly all those people carrying around Kindles seem like they’re on to something. You make a quick calculation – If you bought kindle versions of books instead of physical books then you’d probably save more than what the Kindle 3 costs in 12 months.  

The temptations the devil puts in our way.

Surely, that price is turning good men to evil. You are sorely tempted but thankfully you are reminded of the smell of books.

The Smell of Books Tax

You think back to the smell of books and all the time spent in libraries. The times you sat down by the fireplace and read some of the most wonderful books in the world. It’s a lifetime of memories wrapped up in that smell.  

I’d save a lot of money. Could I give up the smell of books? Would it be impropriety? Perhaps it’s just a little sin – easily compensated by giving a busker some loose change.

So you’re in the midst of this struggle between the pain of giving up physical books on one hand and the pleasure of cheap Kindle book prices on the other.

You decide you might as well see what books are available and what people are reading. On the Bestsellers list page you run into another Kindle advantage.

Kindle 3 has Free Books

It dawns on you that this is not such a bad thing – this concept of free books.

You mean to say there are all these free books – If I had a Kindle 3 I’d get them for free. Really? There are even 2 that seem mildly interesting.

So now you are tempted by the thought of free books.

To make things more interesting there aren’t just a few free books – There are 1.8 million free public domain books and 20-30 new free book offers every month.

That’s almost as many free books as there are Black Cabs in London. Maybe Amazon are on to something here.

At this point the Kindle 3 is beginning to win out.  

Free books may very well be the Decider

Fundamentally, there are two roadblocks to people getting a Kindle 3 –

  1. The attachment people have to physical books.
  2. The initial investment of buying a Kindle 3.  

Let’s assume the cheaper book prices and advantages like portability and convenience balance out the attachment people have to physical books. It’s not a totally wild assumption – no matter how much people like physical books they’ll admit the prices are getting out of hand and it isn’t very convenient to carry them around or to have to make trips to a bookstore to buy them (that is, if the bookstore is still around and hasn’t gone into receivership).

The Kindle 3’s convenience and the cheaper book prices will win some people over and leave others almost ready to switch.

That’s where free books come in. Free Books (along with Cheap Books) help readers feel their initial investment in the Kindle 3 is justified as they’ll save more than that in the long run.

Free Books on the Kindle 3 = Kindle 3 Purchase Decision

‘Free’ is an amazing word – More people search for ‘free’ and free things than almost anything else. You even have people buying things they don’t really need because they want the free bonus that comes with it.

Plus free is something books have never, ever had. You can take even public domain books and used books and there were still prices attached. The Kindle 3 represents the first time we have free books that you can read just like you would a paper book.

So when you get readers already torn between the cheaper prices and advantages of the Kindle 3 and physical books and add in ‘free books’ you get a lot of them to go with the Kindle.

There’s an upfront cost of buying the Kindle 3. However, there are two ways readers can rationalize it in their heads –

  1. Keep saving $2 to $5 on books and after a few dozen books the Kindle 3 has paid for itself.
  2. Combine free public domain books with the free book offers (there’ll be at least a few a reader likes every month) and in 6-12 months the Kindle 3 has paid for itself.

We also have lots of independent authors offering free books outside the Kindle Store in PDF format.

Amazon’s strategy to sell the Kindle 3 in the UK is perfect – offer ebooks at really low prices and offer lots of free books. It’d be nice if they remembered that there are a lot of Kindle 3 owners in the US and offered some of those free books to us too.

4 thoughts on “What's the role of free books in selling Kindles?”

  1. I bought my Kindle in part because of the large amount of free and low-cost books. Just yesterday I was sitting in a park enjoying a break from my bike ride and finished my free book. At the end of the book was the ad for the next installment of the series and I bought it on the spot and starting reading it right away. My wife was impressed! When I finish book 2, I’ll likely buy book 3.

    I haven’t purchased a lot of books, but I have purchased some. I didn’t buy a lot of books before my Kindle either – I mostly used the library.

  2. I’ve got enough free ebooks now from Amazon and other sites to keep me going for years I reckon!

    Most of the current freebies on amazon UK are factual books – diet, health, money matters and self-help – rather than fiction. But luckily I enjoy these as well.

    I don’t feel too sorry for you guys in the US as you got the free word games!

  3. Several times (more than I would like to count) I have gotten a free book by an author and purchased more books by that author. Lots and lots of times. These ‘free’ books have cost me a lot of money!

    It is the same way with the $0.99/$1.99/$2.99. For that amount of money I am willing to give a new, untested author a try. Sometimes have been burned with a bad book that I don’t even finish. But quite often I have been blown away by the quality and (sigh) bought more and more books by the authors whose books I like.

    OT: Has anyone heard about Dorchester/Leisure going {almost}all eBook? Are they the first mass-market publisher to go this route?

  4. Good analysis.

    I went through a similar process in deciding to preorder

    I got into ebooks with the old palm V – great for reading without eyestrain due to no backlight. Then everything went backlit and I went back to PRINTING much to the annoyance of

    Then came the kindle (was amazon joking with the design) ,kindle 2 still expensive and still no pdf support.

    Now with the kindle 3 … it finally makes sense to me.

    I am starting a course (Diploma in Applied Theology) in September … I can save enough on my reading list to buy the wifi+3G version as although I have a massive reading list I can a small handful of physical books, a couple of dozen kindle price books and add dozens of free kindle and pdf books which the kindle can word index for me

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