The November 5th episode of South Park, titled “Freemium Isn’t Free”, finds the boys addicted to “freemium” mobile apps. According to Wikipedia, “freemium” is a term coined in 2006 and is the pricing strategy by which a product or service (typically a digital offering such as software, media, games or web services) is provided free of charge; but money (premium) is charged for proprietary features, functionality, or virtual goods.
Apple and its iTunes app store received so much heat over “free” mobile apps that, in reality, are not free, that they had to re-identify them as “freemium” apps and disclose the manner in which those apps actually made money. It makes one wonder when other businesses are going to have to disclose the same thing?
What does this have to do with self-publishing? Well, a lot, as it turns out. Many large self-publishing companies use this exact same business model, although the population at large hasn’t quite identified the similarities between mobile apps that do this, and businesses in general that do this. But if you look closely enough, you can identify all the same practices, because some of the largest self-publishing companies are actually “freemium” in nature. They tout “free” on their website, but once you’ve drank the Kool-Aid, or downloaded the app, or whatever you want to call it, writers are discovering what they probably suspected all along: Nothing is free. And suddenly they’re paying $999 for custom covers at Company C*, or $3,199 for book video trailers at Company L* — services that they can get for under $299 and $499, respectively, at Outskirts Press.
Some of the most popular freemium mobile games right now are Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, and The Simpsons, and it might surprise you to know that the average amount of money those companies make per user exceeds the $0.99 they would make if they simply charged for the game in the first place. The way freemium mobile apps manipulate you into paying is by wasting Earth’s most precious resource: time.
Freemium self-publishers use tactics that aren’t quite so obvious, but include overcharging for additional services (like the custom covers and book videos), overcharging for author copies, and the coup-de-grace: manipulating you into actually giving away your e-book to their customers under the guise of “marketing” (but, you only “earn the right” to do this if they have an exclusive on your book, thus preventing you from making money elsewhere). Talk about adding insult to injury.
Most authors are so attracted to the “free” part that they don’t bother to investigate their long term costs; if they did, they might be surprised to know that the average amount those companies make per user exceeds the $999 they would make if they simply charged for self-publishing in the first place.
There is no such thing as “free” self-publishing. But there is freemium self-publishing. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware.
My NaNoWriMo stats for November 16th are:
|Average Per Day
|Words Written Today
|Target Word Count
|Target ~ Words/Day
|Total Words Written
|At this rate, you’ll finish
|Words/Day to finish on time
*I don’t name self-publishing competitors on this blog, but it’s not terribly difficult to guess the culprits.