When I published The Variant for 99 cents, I anticipated some potential readers would have practical or philosophical reasons for not buying it. So I wanted to give them an out:
If after reading the lengthy free sample, you decide you want to read the rest of the story but don’t want to pay 99 cents -— or for some reason can’t -— send an email to email@example.com.
If you can present a coherent case for why the story should be free (to everyone, or specifically in your situation), I’ll send you the .pdf at no charge. Note: In doing so, you agree to let me print your email in part or in full.
I was prepared to be sending out a lot of free .pdfs.
So far, I’ve only sent out 19. That’s out of 4,281 copies sold.
The longest request was 328 words; the shortest, a single sentence. I didn’t turn anyone down.
The most common theme in requests was economic hardship. Ninety-nine cents is not a lot of money, but when you’re watching every dollar, spending cash on something unusual seems hard to justify.
The New York Times article said that you would send free copy of your work to anyone with a good rationale. Well, times are tough. 99 cents may not be much money but I really do need the change. Thanks in advance.
I would love to get a copy of The Variant. I was very taken with The Nines and thought it didn’t get the attention it deserved. My case for not paying? I work in public radio and don’t even have enough funds to pay my credit card (right now I’m maxed out, so can barely cover groceries).
Johanna offers more detail than you might want:
The sample pages I read were compelling enough that I wanted to at least ask if you could see it in your heart please to share the rest of the story with me.
I’m disabled, on Social Security, I just left the hospital a few days ago and have still have a drain in my neck. My bones are infected. It is hoped I’ll recover. None of that matters, really, except that what little money I have now absolutely has to be used to pay for the many costs of daily washing pillow cases (which my home care provider does for me), buying extra supplies for rebandaging and cleaning the drain which they never give one enough of and expect somehow, actually, I don’t think they really expect anything afterwards. They don’t really think. Out of sight, out of mind.
Anyway, your story was captivating and interesting and thank you for letting me read a sample of it. Should you choose not to share any more with me, I understand. It’s not my right to read your words.
Sparing you the details of my current circumstances, I will say only that I am broke, tapped out, sapped, impecunious, impoverished, rabbit-eared (picture the floppy white pockets pulled out from a pair of tight jeans), depleted, and so on.
So, as I write to you on a borrowed computer, from a squalid hotel room, on an empty stomach, I ask for your kind pity, sir. Please allow me the pleasure of reading your work before my fading vision finally leaves me for good.
The second biggest group of requests came from abroad. Since the Kindle version only works in the U.S., I offer a downloadable .pdf for international readers. That still presents a challenge for some potential buyers.
I live in Belarus. Our country is one of the “enemies of the internet”. Belarusian people are limited in using the internet. The unlimited internet costs about our month salary. I’ve been using the internet for 8 years already, and still always have a chance to visit sites and download small mp3s and programmes. We can’t use webmoney at all.
I am a Film Student from argentina. For my screenwriting class las year had to do a Oral report on a screenwriter and chose some of your work and quiet frankly was taken by your writing. […] Well with this story wich i think is quiet interesting the problem is thaththis story has been made for the amazon kindle that in argentina is not available and basicaly impossible to buy.
I have a Kinddle and I would be very willing to pay 99 cents for your story, however, I am currently in Spain and I cannot download any text from here.
The PayPal barrier
Several readers who would otherwise be good candidates for the .pdf version had practical and/or psychological issues with PayPal, which processes the payments. For example, Blitzen is a Canadian teenager without a credit card:
Since I’m only fifteen, Internet-based retail seems to have a vendetta against me. I can’t buy things on Amazon without a credit card, which I can’t get, and I also couldn’t read Kindle books on an iPhone, which I don’t have, because I’m not in the US. A PayPal account is impossible to legally obtain for a person under eighteen.
Read the sample, really want to finish reading the rest of the short I have 99 cents for you the only thing is I don’t have Kindle, an iphone nor a paypal account. And do not want to open up a paypal account just to spend a dollar.
If possible I’d like to mail you a crisp buck to get the rest of the story or if there’s another arrangement you’d like maybe we can work that out. But I do really want to read the rest of this story, it’s very intriguing. And as a young writer who wants to make screenwriting and basically storytelling his profession I like how you’re using this story as an experiment to see how it works.
Just Not Getting It
My most and least favorite request came from James:
I recently came up on a NY Times story about The Variant and read about your offer in regards to receiving it for free.
At first I thought that you had found such a low price point (I’m an econ major) that you had indeed eliminated the possibility of anyone refusing to spend such a small amount. However as I was thinking about buying your story I found myself stopping short of doing so. Here is my analysis of why I (probably) won’t buy/read your story unless I get it for free.
I work as an assistant at a talent management company in LA. As I’m sure you know we don’t get paid much so I try not to spend money online. My reasoning being that it is simply too easy to get in the habit and before I know it I’ll be spending money I should use for something else.
However, I really want to read your story because I believe you are great writer and this is potentially a great story. While thinking about this dilemma my eyes wandered away from my iphone screen and they were drawn to pile of scripts on my night stand.
Then it hit me, I have right next to me 4 potentially great stories for free. Granted they probably aren’t, but together their combined quality, length, diversity of story, etc will most likely prove more satisfying (both in terms of depth/breadth of emotion and time) than your short story.
I’m obviously a special circumstance but I believe the underlying economic reasoning can be applied in broad terms.
I basically I won’t buy/read The Variant because I have a large number of what I percieve as equally good alternatives for free that are even more easily accesible.
I could be a child at a school library or the owner of magazine stand. The same principle would apply.
In any case, I’m just writing to point out this line of reasoning. There are a couple additional arguments for me not to buy the story or even why it’s hypocritical to for me to even think this way but I think this is enough for one email.
He still got his copy — “coherent case” is a pretty low bar to clear. But as an econ major, he seemed to have little appreciation for the time value of money. That was a lot of work for his free copy. And considering he works for a talent management company, is this a smart strategy for interacting with a well-known screenwriter?
Some observations and conclusions:
I suspect I could have priced The Variant at one cent and sold just as many copies. Anything more expensive than free is a barrier, both practically and psychologically. The get-it-free option was an attempt to lower that barrier.
I have no way of estimating how many potential readers didn’t buy the story. I can track visits to the landing page, and each time the free preview was downloaded, but conversion is tough to measure. Most sales were on Kindle, and once a click goes through to Amazon, it’s untrackable.
The bulk of free-copy requests came from people who saw the New York Times article, which included the email address without explaining the terms (i.e. reading the free preview first).
Very few people “cheat.” Simply requiring someone to send an email seems to be enough to discourage lazy requests, since it means divulging one’s address. If it were web form, I suspect there would have been many more requests.