BookBub and Other Bloodsuckers Preying on Writers

One of the unfortunate developments of the publishing revolution that now makes it possible for almost anyone to publish a book is that an entire industry has sprung up with the single minded purpose of sucking money from writers who are desperate to get word of their books to the general public. Think about it. There are so many books out there now that readers have trouble cutting through all the noise. A new mystery? If your name isn’t Michael Connelly or James Patterson or a handful of other authors with millions of fans, then your book is liable to languish with no reviews and very few sales because people just haven’t heard about it.

Into this vacuum has rushed a number of companies who offer authors the opportunity to PAY huge amounts of money for the privilege of offering their books for vastly reduced prices or even for free in order to attract readers who might or might not review it and might or might not tell friends about the book and might or might not purchase other books you’ve written.

I refer to these companies as bloodsuckers because they profit regardless of how successful or unsuccessful authors are. They are like the early shopkeepers in California who figured out they always win by selling miners tools and clothes. Even if the miners failed to find gold, the shopkeepers won. In fact, it was to their advantage to spread stories of miners who struck it rich to encourage more miners to head west. In effect these marketing websites sell the dream of bestseller status to authors, particularly self-published authors who do not have a major publisher’s marketing department behind them.

The biggest bloodsucker out there is BookBub. This company has hundreds of thousands of subscribers who download free or heavily discounted books. Authors pay outrageous sums for that privilege. Have a cozy mystery that you want to discount from $2.99 to $.99. BookBub will charge you $900 or so. If you offer the book for free, then the cost is around $410. Think about that for a moment. If an author is selling a book through Amazon for $.99 instead of the normal $2.99, then he receives around $.30 per book as a royalty. Even if the book is enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Direct program (KDP), the author would only receive around $.70. The last time I looked at BookBub’s website, it estimated an average of around 3,000 downloads for a cozy mystery priced at $.99. IF the author was very lucky, the book might just about break even with no profit. Of course the author could offer the book free and pay around $450 for that privilege. BookBub’s website claimed on the day I last looked that an average of 30,000 or so readers might be attracted to a cozy mystery if it were offered for free.

Companies like BookBub entice authors by whispering that visibility is worth losing money or breaking even. That might be true if an author has a series and offers just one of them on sale. Theoretically, the reader might be so entranced by the free book that he or she decides to pay full price for the rest of the books in the series.

Here is why this value proposition breaks down. I talked with a BookBub subscriber. Her response to my question was that she routinely downloads a number of FREE books when she receives the latest blast. She may or may not get around to reading those books. She told me she NEVER pays for a book since she can find so many free ones on BookBub.

As a disclaimer, I’ve actually used BookBub once– I lost money. I tried a few other times with other books but didn’t get accepted for those books. It seems the company gives preference to authors who offer their books through a variety of websites, not just Amazon. The rub, of course, is that while that might be more appealing for some of BookBub’s subscribers, it actually costs authors more money since not going with an Amazon exclusive means sacrificing HALF of the potential royalties.

There are dozens, even hundreds of other companies like BookBub. They offer the author a way to reach potential readers at prices that make it virtually impossible to turn writing into a profitable business. My own personal experience is that writers are better off working with Google and Amazon itself to offer targeted marketing rather than with companies who prey on authors. Think about it for a moment. These companies get paid through the backdoor for the privilege of being able to offer something free through their front door. What a concept!

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