Cheap (Sometimes Free) E-Books

A service called BookBub provides to its subscribers a daily email which lists half a dozen or so electronic format books (e-books) that are being offered free of charge or at very deep discounts. All of their offerings are listed on either Amazon.com or the Barnes & Noble’s web site. The service is free — all you have to do is sign up — and there is no obligation. No minimum number of purchases, no added handling charges, nothing.

When I first received an invitation to sign up with BookBub (I have no idea how they got my name), I was suspicious at first. After a few weeks, I became convinced that they were completely legitimate. I was also convinced that they and their alien mind-controlling masters were probably going to rule the world some day: Both my Kindle and Nook boasted quite a few newly added books. In other words, for a person who enjoys reading books — fiction and non-fiction – to receive such a daily dose of temptation probably falls under the same moral classification as offering cigarette holders made of pressed cocaine that can double as swizzle sticks for large glasses filled with 100-proof bourbon (cigarettes and booze included).

What makes these offerings so insidious is that the books are not “remainders” in the classic sense. These are not dogs that publishers are trying to quietly get rid of so they can clear some room in the warehouse without having to pay for them to be pulped. No, these are clever lures, like the plates of “free samples” of fudge you see at some tourist stores. You go in with the honest intention of buying a couple of cute postcards and a refrigerator magnet in the shape of North Dakota, and the next thing you know you’re staggering back to the car under the weight of a full dozen flavors of fudge, half a pound of each. Same thing with e-books: These daily offerings provide selections that you wouldn’t normally (sober) come across. And they’re so cheap! A novel with a main protagonist who is a 19th century soldier of fortune? A history of the Popes? An obscure book by Pearl S. Buck that you’ve never read? The first four (of five) volumes of a science fiction series set on a distant planet settled by militant Amish? Just a few clicks and they’re yours.

The motivation for e-book publishers to offer books for free or almost free (99 cents to $1.99, typically) is pretty straightforward. Some of the books are electronically self-published novels by new writers, hoping that enough downloads will convince a commercial publisher to pick up their next book, particularly if the people who bother to submit comments are kind and generous with the number of stars they award. In other cases, an author is about to publish a new title in a series, such as in the detective mystery genre, and they offer a previous book as a way to bring new readers into the series. If readers buy an older installment at 99 cents and like the premise, perhaps they’ll splurge for a copy of the new book at full price. Most of these discounts are only offered for a few days (some for as short a time as 24 hours), so it’s not a big risk for their profit line and certainly cheaper (and probably more effective) than display advertising.

As is the case when signing up with any commercial advertising email list, you can either just ignore the daily offerings (the “delete” button is so much easier than throwing away catalogues) or “unsubscribe” (awful word, if it is really a word). If you want to see some interesting — and cheap — e-books, give BookBub a try.

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