What is the real price of free?

The reality of publishing is extremely strange to me.

Sometimes I’ll walk into a bookstore and consider whether I’ll want to buy something. I’ll sit there, and consider it for a while.

What do the blurbs say?

Does it look like it’s an easy read?

Is it a bestseller?

All these questions enter your head.

Here, in Chicago O’Hare airport where I write this from, a book retails for about 25$. It also weighs a few pounds. So even if I’m interested in a few books, and I’m ready to spend $50 bucks, at most I’ll be buying one book.

As I’ve discussed before, ebooks turn this all around.

Last month, I put out a short ebook through Seth Godin’s Domino Project. The price was zero, and it was promoted by pretty much every blogger out there.

I’m told a book is a national bestseller when it sells around 15,000 copies. This is considered a phenomenon, causing at minimum a blip on the national radar, versus most books, which don’t blip at all.

So what happens when you put a promotion machine in place, and give people no resistance to buying whatsoever? Well, the results are dramatic.

In the past month and a half, more copies of The Flinch were sent out than copies of Trust Agents, our previous book, over a whole two years. In the first day alone, Amazon showed over 15,000 copies were released, and it’s now sitting around 75,000.

Today we’re going to try that again.

Colin Wright and Joshua Millburn, two friends of mine, are trying the experiment. Alongside the Flinch, their books will be free for the next three days only (click on their names to get them). Already, only a few hours in, Joshua’s book has hit #1 in the short story category. Who knows how far it’ll go?

So back to the question at hand. What is the real price of free? Well, it isn’t a dollar sign.

It’s an opportunity cost.

What would you give for the opportunity to be in front of fifteen, seventy-five, or even a hundred thousand people?

Think carefully. We’re actually in a very unique time. Soon, the market will be flooded. You won’t have this chance for long.






25 responses to “What is the real price of free?”

  1. Dan Thornton Avatar

    Well, that’s at least 1 more download for each of them.

    What’s interesting to me is how the price point really does effect my decision purchases on the Kindle – there are several niche books which are priced quite highly in print, and therefore also have high prices as an eBook, despite the fact niche quantities and storage don’t impact on eBooks.

    And that means they don’t get bought, whereas I have a list of eBooks that are extremely reasonably priced to be bought each time I have the urge for an impulse purchase or taking a chance on a different author.

    Free takes away all of those issues – and I’ve definitely found myself hooked after ‘getting the first taste for free’. You can ask all the people that have received a Cory Doctorow book since I read my first one as a PDF on my laptop, or look at the fact I’ve been sharing the links for The Flinch publicly and privately.

    1. Shaun Renfro Avatar
      Shaun Renfro

      I downloaded “The Flinch” and I like it so much that I would like to have purchased it with money is there a way to retroactively do that? Writers still have to make a living.

  2. Sarah Kathleen Peck Avatar

    Love it. As things trend toward free, ideas especially, content will become king. Unfortunately, free can result in a whole lot of noise, and we’ll need new systems for determining what’s worth reading and not. And as we prize the ideas and the content, we’ll start to value those who consistently deliver good content, either personally or through curation of others’ work.

  3. Mike Haydon Avatar

    It also helps that The Flinch is a freakin awesome book. When I got it I just sat & read it right the way through without getting up. Loved it. Very thought provoking & I’ve already made a few life changes because of it. Thanks Julien

  4. Kyle Reed Avatar

    good point Julien.

    I have honestly seen this from domino project and have started working on an eBook about mentoring and connecting with 20 somethings. At first I had other ideas of working on meet-ups and events but seeing how well eBooks are doing I see it way more beneficial to release some content (what I can my product) to get out to people for free and then move forward with other ideas that I will charge money for.

    The window is open but it is about to be busted wide open.

  5. Richard Jones Avatar
    Richard Jones

    Content has been free for a long time, don’t fool yourselves; regardless of medium. Getting people to WANT to read it is key. Getting attention to your voice with the latest popular method before said method saturates is gold.

  6. Julian Summerhayes Avatar


    I love to see ideas spread, and this methodology will only grow and grow. But at what point will I, as the consumer, feel that I want something that has physical attraction? Something that feels like an artefact. My kids don’t read as much as they should and unless that spark can be ignited in some way, I also worry that more free stuff won’t make any difference to them. They want images, sounds and things done by their increasingly wide circle of friends.

    Best wishes

  7. Ken Brand Avatar

    I have on Amazon that I was selling in print and Kindle. The Kindle version was $9.99 and selling OK. After reading your Flinch book, I dropped my price to as low as Amazon would let me. I couldn’t figure out how to do it for FREE, there didn’t seem to me an option for it. Anyway, it would let me sell it for 99cents. I did that and it vaulted into the #1 position for real estate books and has pretty much been in the top 10 for a few weeks now. Like you’ve shared, it’s not about the money, It’s about getting your ideas out in the the hands of people who can benefit. Cheers and thanks.

  8. Jeff Goins Avatar

    Just got ’em both. Thanks, Julien. Going to try this experiment, too—though, it’s hard to make something free on Amazon unless you’re a big publisher. How’d your friends do it?

  9. Sophie Avatar

    I am one of those who took advantage of the free download of Flinch. Flinch is a little masterpiece and I read it at exactly the right time. I was looking for something to express how I was feeling and why I needed to make some profound changes in my life. Flinch was like a wake-up call and helped me through a very difficult transition. So, for me, free was priceless. Thanks.

    1. Maahi Avatar

      Falling while sitting down…. Interesting. 🙂

  10. Joshua Fields Millburn Avatar

    Goins — I’ve been meaning to get with you. Email me or hit me up on Twitter and I’ll explain how.


  11. Ernest Barbaric Avatar

    It was “Flinch” that gave me the required kick-in-the-ass to finish the book idea I’ve been working on for a while, and release it for free by the end of February (fingers crossed).

    World of publishing is changing (very slowly) and it may result in a shakedown much like the music industry experienced. Artists are releasing their work directly to their fans & followers and creating opportunities in the process.

    Just downloaded the two books you mentioned as well. Look forward to seeing this industry evolve, by force if necessary 🙂

  12. Alex Avatar

    It’s a shame this whole free-idea is restricted to the US.
    Here in Germany, there is no way to get the books for free.

    1. Stefan Avatar

      Nop there also Free at the German Amazon.
      Look again ^^

  13. Stu McLaren Avatar

    First of all Julien, congrats on your success – you deserve it man.

    I downloaded Flinch, read it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    With that said, I wonder, can you build a reliable business around “free”?

    If your audience becomes accustomed to always getting things for free, doesn’t it begin to set a dangerous precedence for your business when you do actually start charging for stuff?

    I’d much rather have a smaller (more targeted) audience of people who paid me for my content right from the get go than a massive audience who always got everything for free.

    Am I alone with this thinking?


  14. Joseph Ratliff Avatar

    While giving content away isn’t new as a concept… when translated into the industry of publishing… well now, I think we’re on to something here Julien.

    And, the format doesn’t cost a cent to deliver. 😉

    Great post man.

  15. Mat Sleightholme Avatar
    Mat Sleightholme

    Anyway to get them without a kindle?

    1. Julien Avatar

      Mat, you should be able to download them with just a basic Amazon.com account and read them in what’s called Cloud Reader.

  16. Mars Dorian Avatar

    It’s interesting, but how’s that model really different from a very in-depth blog article that can get spread faster and more easily ? Shouldn’t the blog posts be your word-of-mouth while your ebooks bring in some of the money ?

  17. Ben Winters Avatar

    Interesting thought. I’ve seen this same practice in a lot of new start ups and social media. Twitter and Facebook were add free for the longest time and you see where that got them. Of course giving your e book away for free helps some too!

    Ben Winters CEO
    Teaching you awesome.. 1 day at a time

  18. Luke Avatar

    Did you see what Pretty Light’s did along these lines:

    His music is great and he has exploded his audience.

  19. Adam Dukes Avatar

    I just downloaded The Flinch on Amazon. It looks like my night is planned. Just an awesome blog (thanks to Mitch Joel for RT’ing a post of yours)

    I am subscribed and look forward to all future emails from you.

    Thank you!

  20. Ben Nesvig Avatar
    Ben Nesvig

    After reading this, I decided to give away my book for free for a day. It’s hard to wrap my head around that 6,000 people downloaded it in a single day. Now I regret not giving it away for two days in a row. Thanks for the inspiration.

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