Books: Giveaways and Ruth Brown — “If I Can’t Sell It, I’m Gonna Keep Sittin’ On It”

By Michael Katz

Today, in preparation for the June 1st release of my new novel Dearly Befuddled, I’d like to say a few words about book giveaways. Since I am a proud holder of an MBA in finance from the University of Wisconsin, I approach this topic with a good deal of reticence.  It violates a founding tenet of business, as articulated by one of the great titans of industry, Father Guido Sarducci: “You buy-a-something. You sell it for more.”

Mike Katz Befuddled Book coverBut in the world of Internet book commerce, the giveaway has become something of a practiced art. The theory goes like this: you give your book away for a few days. Lots and lots of people “buy it,” swelling your “sales.” This appears to make your book a best seller on one of their many Best Seller Lists (“Number One On Amazon’s Alien Romance Sports Bicycle Repair Great Restaurants of Austin List!”) The people who bought your book for free read it and write glowing reader reviews. The public sees your suddenly inflated rating and glowing reviews, then decides they must purchase your book, as well as your backlist of E-books. Real money starts showing up in your bank account. Sports Illustrated swimsuit models start lining up at your front door. (Example enhanced for marketing purposes…)

I should point out that there is an entire industry built around these giveaways. Sites and services charge fees in the hundreds of dollars to publicize your giveaways. In other words, you, Dear Author, are paying real American dollars (or gold trinkets, depending on your political persuasion) to give away your own book.

I know some people swear this method works. Personally, I am skeptical. For one, I think folks place little value on things they get for free. For another, I actually tried it with my Sussman/Glick comic mystery trilogy. Over the past year I gave away hundreds of copies of Last Dance In Redondo Beach and The Big Freeze, and saw only a minimal sales bump.

But don’t take my word for it. Here is one of the most famous cases in business history, as taught in business schools throughout the nation. It involves a young woman who owned a small used furniture store. She had in her possession a valuable chair. A customer felt she was overcharging, and wanted her to, in the vernacular of the times, “give it away.”

Thanks to our sister institution, the Katz of The Day Online Business School, we have a transcript of the case discussion, as discussed by the famous marketing professor, Dr. Ruth Brown. The clip omits the first few words of the discussion, so I present them here to you in front of the actual presentation.

Ruth Brown:

“I own a second hand furniture store, and I think my prices are fair;

That is until this real cheap guy came in one day,

Saw this chair he wanted to buy, but he wouldn’t;

Claimed the price was too high…

If I Can’t Sell It, I’m Gonna Sit On It.”

* * * * * * * *

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

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