How Have Your Free Ebooks Impacted This Reader? And Other Questions Answered after a Year of Going “E”

It’s been a year since I purchased my Kindle and surrendered my e-book virginity, and since I keep records of how I consume books, I thought an analysis would be in order. By most parameters, I’m an avid reader and purchaser, so if you’re a published author, maybe you’ll discern a helpful pattern.

Books read in the past 12 months =  126

Consumed via paper =  42%

Consumed via e-book =  56%

Consumed via both = 2%

In my Kindle at Present, not including the 144 samples that await me, or the 18 books I have on the go:

Paid Free
Unread 44 83
Will Discard 9 17
Keepers 69 18
Total EBooks 122 118

Conclusion: In terms of my ranking, or desire to hang onto books, I find paid ebooks more desirable. Whether that’s because of bias–that I don’t want to believe I’ve been duped, and am therefore predisposed to be more generous after I’ve purchased a book–or whether it’s due to quality of the product, I can’t rightly say. My hunch is it’s both.

I’ve noticed that my e-book consumption has two distinctive patterns:

1. Immediate purchase and rapid consumption, provided the price is reasonable. (Less than a typical hardcover.) I go this route when

  • it’s a resource I require for an interview, blog post, or the solution to an immediate problem. In other words, it’s time-sensitive or eminently useful;
  • I’m rabidly fond of that author’s work, and they’ve never let me down, even if they’ve switched to self-publishing;
  • I’m rabidly fond of that author as a person and want to support their career.

2. Everything  else

What’s changed about my reading mindset?

1. When I read the words “bestseller” in a blurb, I look for the fine print before I get too excited.

Some authors are great strategizers.  They tinker with keywords until they find an Amazon category where their book will do well, then promote on that basis. I understand. I’d probably do the same. But I don’t equate “great marketer” with “great author”, and I bet I’m not alone in increasing cynicism.

2. If I’m on the fence about a book or I don’t have the time to read it immediately, I’ve taken to downloading sample pages, even if it’s cheap, even if it’s by an author I’d ordinarily purchase.

The reason? Recently, at least a half-dozen times, I’ve purchased a book at full price only to see it go free before I’ve had time to consume it. There’s something about missing a freebie that chaps my hide to a degree that missing “deeply discounted” doesn’t. When I’m in consumer-mode, I understand sampling and sales, but I don’t understand outright giveaways.

3. If a book’s premise sticks with me enough, I’ll buy it and read it long before one that’s been in my TBR pile for a while.

“Fresh” feels exciting. If it’s waited 3 months, what’s another 2?

4. E-readers make it possible to devour books on the treadmill or elliptical, and that’s played a significant role in my choice of vehicle.

I’m not fooling myself that this replaces true exercise, but I feel better for breaking up my sedentary periods throughout the day. What I would really love, for my keeper books, is the option of a free or deeply discounted e-book when I’ve bought the physical object.

What lies ahead?

Recently, I’ve become reluctant to download even sample pages. I attribute this to a glut of books.

I have a paper TBR pile that doesn’t seem to shrink. I have 144 samples already in my Kindle. I have 127 books in the e-queue. One author friend or another seems to be published every month, and I’m just talking about the NY-published ones. The self-published ones? Aye-aye-aye!

You get the idea.

I’ll always be a reader. I love books. But with a 2-year supply on hand, I’m increasingly capricious and demanding.

I don’t pretend to have answers, and I certainly won’t be prescriptive, particularly when I haven’t lived from the other side, but as others have asked, can authors afford the price of free?

What do you think? If you have an eReader, how does your consumption differ from mine? Have you noticed it changing with time?

I’m on the road, Zesties, so if I don’t respond promptly to a comment, don’t fret. No Outsmart-the-Tart this Sunday, either. 

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23 thoughts on “How Have Your Free Ebooks Impacted This Reader? And Other Questions Answered after a Year of Going “E”

  1. I have more than 2,600 e-books saved on my desk kindle. I transfered 80 to my regular kindle and have only read 7 so far this year!

    I have subscribed to several free kindle book e-mail services and that’s why I have so many. One thing that I discovered is that my big load of e-books helps me with my a-z challenge. I only need an “x” book. My books are about 80% free.

    I have been reading my print books more.

    I don’t download samples.

    1. Whoa, Carol. So you’ve essentially made the whole book your sample. I think many writers would be depressed to hear these stats! 80% of 2600 would be 2080. Am I understanding you to mean you’ve read 7 out of 2080 freebies, or 0.33%?

      I unsubscribed from the blogs I formerly read to learn about the free books. As they built up, I felt stressed, rather then plentiful.

  2. Have an Ipad and a Kindle – read with both. Still use paper books either by going to the store or ordering on line. And I use the library for reference, new releases that I don’t want to buy in case I hate them, and for the biographies.

    I read from 5 – 7 books a week. I’ve been able to explore genres I may never have seen or been interested in. And, I just got a massive box of print books – things that I read as electronic, sampled, or just wanted the paper copy.

    5 bookshelves stuffed with books – guessing 600+ titles.
    400 cooking and recipe books on the computer in reader form
    200+ on Ipad
    500+ on kindle
    at about a 60:40 free to paid ratio
    Paper books come from new and used purchases.
    My consumption of both has increased

    1. I know statistically I’m considered an avid reader, but you’re in a whole ‘nother class. I’d love to know your reading speed as compared to mine!

      When did you adopt ereading, Gaele? An with the ability to explore new authors, have you become anyone’s fan?

  3. Wowee, you are a voracious reader! I don’t keep track, but I would guess I’m about 80% ebook now. I have taken about a dozen free books, but I’m not sure I’ve even read one of them (excepting gifts from writing friends, beta books, ARCs for review, etc).

    Like Carol, I don’t download samples, either. I did once, for an old favorite author. I wasn’t loving the sample, but I thought, “It can’t stay this bad. I’d better give them a chance and support their career.” I bought it, and was wrong. It stayed that bad. Never finished it. Reading that story back makes me believe I SHOULD download samples, and trust my reaction to them.

    Thanks for the epiphany! Hope you’re enjoying yourself on the road, Jan!

    1. Vaughn, if you think I’m a big reader, read Gaele’s comment. And I have another friend who’s read a book a day for going on ten years.

      Yes, the sample pages are a must, but to make matters worse, be prepared for those sample pages to have been groomed and prepped to a quality that the rest of the manuscript doesn’t match. (To be fair, this is true of paper books, too, but it’s easier to catch with the physical product before you purchase it.)

  4. I don’t download samples – just never been in the habit.

    I have a few freebies, but most all my books are paid books. A lot of my kindle books are books I’ve bought to support authors I’ve met online – I thank the kindle for that! If their book goes for free, that does help me save some money but if it isn’t for free it won’t stop me from buying their book.

    Reading Vaughn’s comment does make me think I should look more often at samples! I think once my kindle begins to fill as my print bookshelves are, then I’ll be more careful about what I put on it.

    There are so many books to read, I’m behind – lawdy.

    On the other side of it, when my books are given away by my publishers for free as a promo, I have conflicted feelings about it — in some ways, I’m happy readers have a deal, on the other side, I fear they will think, the book is free because it sucks *laugh* which it does not! 😀

    1. Kat, I really don’t think you need to worry about “free” being equated with “bad.” Of late, I’ve seen NYT bestsellers do it.

      If I’m downloading to support the author, I don’t bother with sample pages, either. But if I hear about an interesting books, rather than keep a paper list of my Someday-Reads, I’ll download the sample pages then. It’s a physical prompt and I can try it out before committing.

  5. This reminds me of the old Twilight Zone episode where the main character is always trying to steal time to read, to the point of hiding away in the bank’s vault. Which is how he ends up the lone survivor after the world is wiped out. It’s just him and the books since much of the library miraculously survived. After the shock wears off he gets down to business and starts reading. I think there are days when we’d all like to visit that little corner of the Twilight Zone.

    I’m about four books behind right now. Analog versions, I won’t be doing ebooks for a while after my Aluratek experience. But now I use the Internet to hunt them down. I may have some free ebooks in my computer but I confess to a haunting feeling of guilt and the memory of one freebie that promised much but didn’t deliver. Perhaps it’s an unconscious association with the way some have downloaded music and cost the musicians wages and royalties.

    1. Now why did I have the impression you were a big ereader, Phyllis? Color me mistaken.

      I remember that Twilight Zone episode, and the impression he deserved his good karma. 😉

      1. I confess to a light sensitivity which might contribute to my dislike for e-screens. Naked sunlight gives me migraines and I’d look a bit odd wearing sunglasses to read indoors. Not that I claim to be normal or anything…

        I do read a lot of blogs but sometimes find the font and size almost painful. The worst are the reverse ink ones, with white lettering on a black background. Yours is awesome, BTW.

        1. You might be okay with the Kindle, Phyllis, though it is a dark grey on a light grey background.

          And I’m *thrilled* you find this blog easy to read. That was a must for me.

  6. Interesting stats, Jan! If I had to guess, I’d say that I’m probably still three-quarters paper, and the rest e. I think this is probably because the majority of my reading consists of ARCs, which mostly come bound for me. I do love my e-readers, though, especially for travel and treadmills. I tend to use my e-readers for similar reasons, when I want to pre-order something I’m really excited about and when I want to support a writing friend. I do download a lot of samples, usually after getting a glowing recommendation from a trusted source, but I don’t allow the samples to hang around for long before deciding whether to purchase or discard. I stick to bound books especially for non-fiction (or anything I will likely bookmark and underline), classics, or old favorites.

  7. I’ve been getting a good number of ARCs in electronic format, Jessica. Maybe 50%. Do historical publishers tend to send paper? Interesting.

    I should be decisive like you about the samples. I think I’d feel better with fewer options on my screen.

    Insofar as underlining, I’ve become fond of the ability to skip through a book electronically and hone in on the passage I want via the search function. But I still prefer the sensory experience of paper. No doubt about it.

  8. Nice post, Jan! I am 100% ereader. And, having had a Kindle since 2008, I don’t think I can count all mine, especially as I also have a Nook and a Literati, plus various apps for all the e-stores I buy books from….

    I have been working on an article on this very topic. Three quick tips for sorting out the ebooks:

    1. Amazon allows you to create multiple wishlists, which can be kept private. Use the wishlists to list books you may want to read. Since the list shows you price changes when you look at it, you can quickly scan for price reductions and freebies. And there’s no clutter on your Kindle!

    2. Free books cannot be sampled. However, you can use the Look Inside feature to quickly check grammar, proofreading and writing style. This is a must for zombie books, LOL!

    3. Use a service like EReaderIQ to track price changes. You can just sign up for notifications when a particular book goes free; you don’t have to sign up for their whole free books list (way too overwhelming!).

    Now, Jan, if we can just get you an Oberon Design cover….

    1. Glinda, this is brilliant. I had no idea about EReaderIQ. (Or most of what you’ve described, for that matter, never mind how to actually do this all.)

      Will you go into the mechanics in your article? If you do, please let me know when you’re publishing it. I’d be happy to read and link to it.

  9. First, the blog looks great!

    Next, I 100% relate to this post. I’ve stopped downloading sample chapters and free books because they just sit there. And yes, for some weird reason the free books NEVER get read.

  10. Jan,
    Wow, 126 books in a year. That alone is impressive. My Kindle has changed my reading habits because it is so easy and quick to buy a book I really want to read. There are so many books I want to read, but not enough time and there are few bookstores left in my region. Try getting the hot bestseller from the library and there are 30 people on the waiting list ahead of you. I’m up to about 35 books this year. I like to support authors I know by buying their books so the Kindle is great for that. Like Vaughn I read the free samples, but if I don’t like it, I will take a pass.

    Enjoy your blog. Keep up the great work.

    1. Well, hello. Nice to see you in this neck of the woods. 🙂

      I know many people who’ve lost their local bookstore. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. I have one within easy walking distance–though it’s a chain–and a library within the same mall. (Though it has a similar waiting list.) If I’m willing to drive twenty minutes, I could easily reach another half-dozen.

      I can appreciate why ebooks would be so important in your circumstances. 35 is still considered avid!

      1. I’m also lucky enough to have a local ‘brick and mortar’ bookstore in my area. It’s an independent as well. The owner is quite happy that I reverse troll online to find books to order in. Only two of the past twenty or so have been disappointing, and that’s over the course of a year.

        1. That’s a distinct advantage, Phyllis. For all its advantages, independent bookstores are underrepresented in our city. (We have one within driving distance.) Worse, they don’t reliably stock the kind of books our family reads. No romance. Little in the way of women’s fiction. Everything hardcover.

          Ideally, I’d act differently and order in, but when they’ve made no attempt to provide a service I enjoy, I haven’t felt bound by any sense of loyalty. My purchases there are haphazard and worse now that I buy many ebooks.

          1. That’s very strange–little selection and only hardcover–since publishers have offered deep discounts and extremely permissive return policies to brick and mortars since the dirty ’30’s. It’s allowed smaller bookstores to have a wide selection and the latest releases for decades.

            At one point in my checkered past I worked in a used bookstore/exchange. We had a large selection even with books being purchased by the pound. Maybe something else is going on there?

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