When Free Isn’t Really Free – Guest Post by, Jaq D Hawkins…

One of my pet peeves in marketing is when someone offers something for free, but it isn’t really free. For example, recently I clicked on a free sample for a cosmetic, only to find that after getting your address details, they ask for a credit card because to get the free sample you have to subscribe to receiving a jar of cream every month and according to reviews, trying to cancel it is a nightmare! I closed the window and moved on.

In the realm of book sales, giving away free books has been a legitimate tactic since the indie publishing culture started. In the early days, free sales on Amazon would bump your sales figures and bring your book into that coveted top 100 where full price sales would follow. Amazon changed that so that the free books don’t affect the paid sales figures, but many authors still do it to draw interest and especially to generate reviews.

We’re probably all familiar with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, which allows a reader to pay a subscription and read all they like for ‘free’. No doubt it is good value for readers who get through a lot of books in a month. A few years ago, they started listing KU books so that the first thing you see while browsing their site is 0.00 as the price.

Oh goody! You exclaim to yourself. I can get that one free! Then under it is the price to buy. However effective this tactic might be, I’ve never liked any form of advertising that is the least bit deceptive. With my reader hat on, I’ve learned to look at the prices carefully and always check the top right of the page before clicking that ‘buy’ button.

We can’t control how Amazon displays our book prices, but we can control how we do our own advertising. For example, when using hashtags on social media, I absolutely will not advertise my book as #Free unless it really is free. When I see #FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited, I feel like I’m looking at a con job. There are hashtags for #KU and #KindleUnlimited for subscribers to use to find free reads, so why should I mislead a non-subscriber into thinking for a moment that I mean free when it isn’t free for them? I won’t do it.

Similarly, click-bait on places like Pinterest that show FREE on a grouping of books of a common genre or subject that then lead to a KU selling page feel very deceptive. There are genuine group free promotions out there so the ‘too good to be true’ adage doesn’t always apply.

Even on the Facebook ads that say FREE now on Kindle Unlimited, why capitalise FREE and not Kindle Unlimited? The eye sees that first word and at least for a moment, something that drew our interest appears to be free. The let down when that excitement plummets from the reality that it’s only for subscribers is not good for the author’s credibility.

On the subject of mailing lists, we are all advised to keep one and are often told to offer something free as an incentive to subscribe. Okay, fair enough. A prequel, a short story, even a first book of a series can be a good incentive to join a list that you’re free to unsubscribe from anytime. How many authors sending out monthly posts does it take before you start clicking that unsubscribe button? This is why my own mailing list policy is to only send out posts if I have a new book out or if I have a special offer that constitutes something new to the people who already read the books I periodically put on sale.

The point I want to make is about how we advertise that freebie. I’ve seen both; ‘click here for a free copy’ followed by a page to sign up, and ‘join my mailing list for a free copy’. The latter is the only way I would advertise. As a matter of fact, I’m slowly working on a book of short stories related to my goblin world that I intend to offer to my mailing list and new subscribers, but when I do, I will also mention that it’s free on Smashwords for those who don’t wish to subscribe. I don’t want anyone on my mailing list who doesn’t want to be there!

The gist of what I’m saying is, think about your offers and advertising from a consumer’s point of view. Have you been totally up front, or sent out a lure to catch a few more fish? Are you comfortable with that?

Even in the time between writing this post and proof-reading the following day, I clicked on an ad for a course advertised for FREE, only to find that it’s not free at all and there isn’t even a free sample, only a course I don’t really need for a ‘discount’ price. That marketer has lost my trust forever.

What about you KU subscribers? Do ‘FREE with KU’ ads draw you in? Or is ‘FREE’ redundant when you already know what your subscription allows? Lets have a few points of views from both reader and writer perspectives.

Jaq D Hawkins

Books available at:

Barnes & Noble





36 thoughts on “When Free Isn’t Really Free – Guest Post by, Jaq D Hawkins…

  1. I totally agree. In fact, I just wrote a post on my Facebook page about this very thing. My post read, “Wanna know the best way to ensure that I’ll not even think to check out your book? Start the post with “FREE on Kindle Unlimited.” Just so you know, KU is NOT free.” I get several responses affirming I’m not the only one who feels this way.
    I cannot stand when the ad says it’s free and it turns out there must be money involved in another capacity. Free should be FREE.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nothing is free in this world unless it is genuinely free. I do have Amazon Prime (because I order a lot of stuff off Amazon and save on postage and packing charges), but when they send me emails claiming that this movie is free, and this book is free, etc., etc. etc., I know what they are arguing is not correct because I’m paying prime membership every year.
    Nobody should mislead anybody in claiming something is free when it actually isn’t, and that includes something which is free but which you then have to pay postage and packing for. It’s such a shame that companies and people can get away with this. It’s almost as bad as scamming somebody.
    As for email lists, I have signed up for a few, but only those that I know will interest me. However, if they go on to bombard me with too many emails, then I will unsubscribe.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh yes, the ‘small charge for postage and packing’. I see that one on Facebook a lot recently. I did actually buy something from one of those, but clicked on it knowing that it wasn’t free and it was just a matter of whether I was prepared to pay what they asked, In this one case, £5 for a cute toy dragon was ok with me. I just wish the advertising had been more honest.


  3. Great points from Jaq, and a valuable reblog, Chris. I don’t subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, or Prime, and I am old enough and sufficiently cynical to immediately suspect anything offered for ‘Free’. I am sure that many people are frustrated by those tactics though. When I first started blogging, I signed up for lots of newsletters, hoping to support fellow bloggers. But most of them sent me as many as four emails a day, all feeling ‘computer generated’. I now decline to receive any at all.
    Knowing when to stop doesn’t seem to register with so many authors.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. So true. As a reader, I hate it as well. And as a writer, well, I have a couple of my books perma-free and that’s all. Everytime I see “FREE in KU” it annoys me as well. No. If you pay a subscription, it is not free. Thanks for hosting Jaq’s post, Chris. Fabulous!

    Liked by 3 people


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