I'm guessing all you Select authors out there know exactly what I'm talking about when I mention a downside in listing your ebook for free. What is the downside? I imagine authors and publishers could argue back and forth over all the pros and cons that go with free distribution of a work, but there's one thing - one downside - that I notice every time I do a free giveaway.
The one star review.
Without fail, in the days proceeding thousands of free downloads, someone shows up on Amazon or Goodreads and slams that novel they got for free. Of course, they rarely disclose that they got the book for free. In fact, I had a reviewer once title their review, "A Waste of Money." Ha!
Anyway, after talking with other authors, I learned that this was just par for the course. If you were giving your book away, you could always count on a couple one-star reviews coming in shortly thereafter. Intrigued by this, I began checking out these angry one-star reviewers, peaking at their ratings, the other books they reviewed... Most of these people (that I found) have a helpful rating below 50%, and some of them have only reviewed a few books (or some stuffed animals). But aside from why a person who hated a book would spend more time writing a thesis on how much he or she hates the author and his or her work, there is one thing that I suspect to be the main contributor to this downside of free.
If I'm about to spend upward of five bucks on a story, I want to be as sure as I can be that I'm going to enjoy the book. That means I'm going to put a little effort into finding out about the novel before I buy it. And I think most people would do the same. If I see a book cover that catches my attention, I may check out the book description. Further intrigued, I check out the price. Five bucks. Hmmm... I'm gonna do a little more digging before parting with my bucks. I'm going to read the book reviews. I'm going to read some 5-star reviews to see who loved it and why. Then I'm going to read some 1-star reviews to see who hated it and why. Then I'm gonna try to find a 3-star review that may be more level-headed in their opinions. Once I've gathered this info, I'm sure I'll have a better feel for what to expect out of my purchase. Heck, I'll even try the product tags to see what kind of topics the story touches on... Once I do all this, I can rest assured that I'm making an informed purchase, thus increasing my chance of liking the book.
Because, let's face it, people are different. They like different things. What I enjoy, I know others hate, which means what some of what I write isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea either. But I'm also confident that those who share similar interests should enjoy my stories. That's the good thing about product tags and reviews, it gives the reader the opportunity to weed out the stories that deal with things they don't like and would rather pour bleach into their eyes than read about. That's the nature of the game. People will hate your work, people will love your work. Though why someone who hates your work feels the need to share that hate with the world is something that I find fascinating. When I read a book that I love, I want to share it with the world so that other people can experience the same joy I got from reading it. That's what motivates my book reviews, drawing attention to stories that I like. Why would I write a bad review for a book just because I didn't like it? What's the point? So people that would've never read the book to begin with (even if they had heard of it) can know how much I hated it? Why would I need everyone else to know what I hate so much? Why would I put time and energy into spiteful, hurtful, bitter reviews in an attempt to deter others from reading it - others that may never have even heard of the novel if not for my review? What good is my review (and the time it took to write it)? What purpose does it really serve? The good review I get. Completely. You're sharing a source of joy, of wonder, of happiness because you want other people to experience the same. "Hey, I heard this awesome song the other day. You should listen to it, I think you'd like it too." Rather than, "Hey, I listened to this song the other day...no, you probably never heard of it, but let me just tell you for the next half-hour how much I hated it and what I think of the idiot that wrote it."
I know I'm going on a rant here, but the psychology behind the reviewer is so interesting to me. Sure, there can be objective reviews about a book - ones in which the author doesn't know how to string a sentence together, but I'm talking about the reviews that slam a story because of the "message" the reader didn't like... Enter objective statements concerning subjective ideas and opinions...the ones that state the reviewer's opinion as THE fact and suggesting that any deviation from his or her belief is the product of intellectual depravity unfit for existence within their enlightened society. I know you've seen these reviews...the ones written from a deep and mysterious resentment. Indeed, some of these reviewers seem to believe the author has no right to write anything they won't agree with, when it's really the responsibility of the reader to find out ahead of time whether or not the story they're about to buy will offend them. If someone doesn't like erotica, then what sense does it make to buy erotica and then write a review trashing it for being erotica? Or if someone doesn't like religious fiction and buys a religious fiction book and then rants against it for being religious fiction...what sense does that make? For the most part, I think people understand this and respect the tools of discernment available to them. For example, my novel PROGENY could be considered religious fiction, though not to the extent that I believe most people will be turned off by its religious undertones (would anyone classify The Exorcist as being a religious story?). And indeed, I think the reviews bear that out. Are there some that hate every sentence within the book because of those religious implications? Of course, and they've made their objections loud and clear. But the fact is, if someone wants to buy Progeny, all it takes is two minutes of skimming some reviews to become fully aware that there are people enraged at the "religious" elements of the story. If a person is overly sensitive to religion or conspiracy or whatever, then those reviews should be a red flag for them, letting them know PROGENY is not for them. And so they move on. It would be nice, if these particular reviewers understood that their opinion on these things they don't like are just that - opinions. And thus if their reviews read, "I didn't like this..." Or "this wasn't my type of book..." okay, fine... But we all know that's not what I'm talking about. But I'm getting way off topic...
So what is one of the biggest contributors to the downside of free? Free. The fact that the download requires no commitment from the reader at all. They're not putting anything up for your free story. All they're doing is hitting a button. Because the story is free, there is no need to gauge the wisdom of the purchase. There is no purchase. Whereas spending 5 bucks will ensure that I know what I'm buying, a free book requires no such care. I can afford to download a book I'll hate. I'll take the chance because it doesn't cost me anything. Why read reviews? Why search the product tags? It's free, who cares? If I like it, great! If I hate it, well, then I'll go online and try and get as many people as possible to know how much I hate it! I'll try and ruin the book and its author for "tricking" me into reading something I wouldn't like. How dare an author have views that are not my own! How dare they list it for free and tempt me to read it! I want my money back...or rather, I want my time back! I can't believe I wasted all that time reading a free book that I hate! Who made me keep reading it anyway? The author must have made me finish the horrid thing! And now I must vent my frustration to the world and try to prevent anyone else (for everyone else must think as I do) from making the mistake that I made in downloading this free book that has views I find intolerable.
So...why do those one-star reviews pop up after free days? I think certain people download the book simply because it is free. They start reading it (and for some reason finish it) and discover elements within the story they weren't expecting (though what they were expecting from a free novel they didn't investigate is anyone's guess...). Making someone pay for a story is a sure way of making them really want it before buying it. Listing it for free is to invite people that really have no business reading your novel at all...people that don't like your genre and wouldn't normally pay two cents for it. They take a chance on it, which is fine. What I don't understand is why the chance ends up being a one-star review attacking the author and his or her work. For what purpose? On the other hand, there are many upsides to giving your book away for free. BECAUSE people are different (and if you're writing is good), chances are you will be bringing in many more fans than enemies. Most people won't finish a book they aren't enjoying and won't bother reviewing it. But there are those people out there that you're hoping to connect with...those people that, in taking a chance on a free book, will love it and come back for more. So all in all, I think it's well worth it. Ignore the one-star reviews, everyone knows what they are - which is why most of them get rated as unhelpful. If you read a book you like, share it with the world. We might like it too. If you read a book you hate...I don't think many of us really care.