How much would you pay for “Free”?

Free

Yesterday a friend and I were discussing audio books. I told her about my membership of Audible.com.

“It costs about $14 a month, but you get a free audio book for that…” As I said this, I thought “Well, duh, it’s not FREE, is it? Because I’m paying fourteen bucks for it….”

Free is a big deal these days. My kids want free music. People try to justify streaming pirated material for free, rather than paying for content someone has paid to make. We got rid of our cable because we objected to paying a huge monthly fee when we only watched a fraction of what was on offer. Now we have a Netflix account and can pick and choose what we watch, and when we watch.

It’s like the “On Demand” service our old cable provider used to have, but because we don’t pay for each movie, it feels “free”. It’s not, of course, but the monthly payment is much smaller than our old cable bill, and you don’t get reminded about it every time you choose a movie.

Once I started thinking about what I pay for free stuff, I started thinking about Windows 10 and Google Plus. Both of these are things I use every day. Both were given away free, but with the unspoken agreement that they would harvest data from my usage and use that to generate income for the parent company. In the case of Google, that didn’t bother me so much. Let’s face it, we all enter search queries into Google around twenty times a day, telling their algorithms more than enough about our lives and habits in return for speedy information. So, yes, Google can learn a lot about me from the articles I read and forward to friends, the comments I leave on posts and the links I post for other people to see. In return I get another platform to promote my blog, my e-books, my plays, the Appraisal Service… The things that earn ME money.

You may remember, I was less sanguine about Microsoft collecting data through Windows 10, but I’m wondering about that now. Looking at buying a new computer, I had to get a price for a new copy of Windows, and I realised that I saved over $100 with the upgrade. Yes, the data collection is a little sinister, and I don’t like the way we are given options to turn some of it off, but not all, and those options may be subtly turned back on again with updates and so on, but the software works. It powers my PC, which I use to write my blog, my e-books, my plays and the appraisals. Isn’t it a fair exchange?

The last aspect of free is the free offer. Famously, E.L. James posted early drafts of “Fifty Shades of Grey” on Twilight fan-fiction sites, before changing the names and publishing as an e-book. That free posting generated a readership that created the buzz that saw the novel rocket up the sales charts. The same can be said of “The Martian”, posted episodically on a blog as the author explored the story and checked his science, then was encouraged to publish as a complete e-book.

But fellow authors I’ve spoken to on G+ have their doubts about the free giveaway. Some have experienced great success with the giveaway and few follow-up sales. Some, like me, have had only modest results with the giveaway itself. My friend at the library ultimately wasn’t swayed by my description of Audible, and decided to stick with getting her audio books from the library.

“I love the free”, she said. I think she’s right.

People love the free.

 

Because this is all about the free, because it’s nearly Christmas, and because I haven’t done it for a few months, here’s a free book for everyone – Troubled Souls is free on Amazon .com and Amazon.co.uk. It’s a (recently expanded) collection of short, dark stories, with the opening chapter (FREE opening chapter!) of my zombie apocalypse novella “Eddie and the Kingdom”.

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