How Does “Free” work?

Eduardo Saverin: You don’t want to ruin it with ads because ads aren’t cool.

Mark Zuckerberg: Exactly.

“The Social Network” Movie (2010)

I’m interested in things that are ‘free’.  Up to a point.  When something is on ‘buy one get one free’ I usually only get one, to the bafflement of the person on the checkout.  “But it’s free!” they protest with increasing shrillness, “It’s free!  Buy One Get One Free!  You can get two for the same price!  You might as well.”

Is it free though?  Is the space it takes up in my home free?  Is my time free?  Is my brand loyalty free?  Of course I don’t say that.  I just say: “No thanks.  Yes I understand that it’s free, but I really only need one toothbrush.”  The checkout assistant makes that face – the one that says “I’m wondering whether to file you under ‘Stupid’ or ‘Crazy’ right now.  But you’re a customer, and you’re usually polite and you have a cute son.  So I’ll smile and we’ll both pretend that this awkward moment never happened.”

I am not a ‘freeloader’ which my Pocket Oxford defines as ‘a person who takes advantage of other people’s generosity without giving anything in return’.  I’m interested in things that are free but I still want to give back.  So I do like ‘free’ – but only if it’s really free and fair for everyone involved.

So when is ‘free’ the right price point for the reader?  Oh, it sounds so obvious doesn’t it?  Intuitively, we think we’d like everything to be free.  And yet, my experience of getting free books hasn’t been entirely positive.  Has yours?  Ever downloaded a free ebook that turns out to be an 8 page pdf of pure advertorial?  Or read something free, enjoyed it, bought into the brand – and then found that the free sample wasn’t representative of what was really on offer?  And the worst of all – you sign up for a free e-book and newsletter only to find that you’ve actually hit the button marked: ‘Permission to stalk me across all media in perpetuity with aggressive hard-sell tactics creating an involuntary gag reflex whenever I see this author’s name.’  I suppose all those words wouldn’t fit on the sign up button… so they just went with ‘Subscribe’ instead, but that was what they meant.  I find that the negative brand associations in these cases are worse than if I’d paid for the book.  A bond of trust is created when something is free – it’s a deeper relationship than when you pay for something.  It’s emotional.

Also don’t you find that you abandon a free book more quickly than one you bought?  I ditched a kindle sample on the fourth page yesterday.  Actually the first few pages were a self-promotional prologue from the author so it was technically the first page of the actual book when I gave up and deleted it.  If I’d paid I might have struggled on for a few more pages, but it was a free sample.  I wasn’t invested so I wasn’t prepared to put up with poor writing.

On the other hand, I got a free e-book copy of ‘APE Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur’ by Guy Kawasaki as part of my NaNoWriMo winners’ goodie bag.  I’d read a few articles by Guy Kawasaki before, and I liked the cut of his jib.  The giveaway was well-targeted – a NaNoWriMo winner has just written a book so we were the perfect market.  I was excited to get it and devoured the whole thing in a few days.  I’ll probably read it a dozen times and refer back to it a dozen more.  So the next time I’m browsing and Guy Kawasaki’s name pops up, I’m going to be within a nanowrimo of pressing ‘Buy Now’.  In this case, ‘free’ worked.  Not just for the reader, but for the writer: I’ve become a fan.

“Fans, true fans, are hard to find and precious.  Just a few can change everything. What they demand, though, is generosity and bravery.” Seth Godin – in Tribes

So why did it work – not just in terms of my getting a freebie, but also becoming a fan who will buy more books?  The recent income survey at Beverley Kendall’s blog backed up how well the intelligent use of ‘free’ can work for writers.  The vast majority of the self-published authors surveyed who were earning significant amounts of money from their writing had work available for free, and believed that it had been a factor in their success.

I’ve put my novel on KDP Select so it will be free at various points in the next 90 days (details will be on Twitter).  This will be my first experiment with ‘free’.  I have low expectations at this stage – I’m just dipping my toe in the water while I write the next book in the series.  But I intend to create at least one book that is permanently free in the series I’m writing, as well as promoting others from time to time.

If ‘free’ is going to work for the reader, then I believe that the writer has to give them a quality product – a level of quality that they would have been prepared to pay for.  Also it must be a fair representation of what the reader will get if they choose to invest in other books or continue following the blog.

When ‘free’ works for the writer they find fans.  Reader loyalty doesn’t need to come in the form of money – spreading recommendations, reviews, and encouragement are all valuable to writers.  So now I’m just working on creating something that’s good enough to be free.

London in love

London is the most romantic city on Earth.  Yes, that’s right, more romantic than Florence, New York and even Paris.

Okay, I admit that I’m biased.  I fell in love here, so every single paving stone of this city is soaked through with associations.  Camden market might seem very unromantic to other eyes, but as I walk past I can see the day I met my husband.  That swooping feeling when you dream that you’re falling – it’s still there every time I pass by.  When I walk to the end of our street I can see us together seven years ago outside the hospital.  I’m holding a tiny scrap of a baby against me, Dave is wrestling with a car seat for the first time – a brand new family.  I walk past that spot almost every day and there we all are, a memory tethered to the doors of the hospital like a balloon – visible only to me, but none the less real for that.  That’s why for me, this is the most romantic city on Earth.

So you’re in love, you’re in London, and you want to go on a date… for free.  Where do you go?  My top five ideas…

1.) A Sunday walk along the South Bank  Again I have to admit my bias – my husband and I walked along the South Bank together the morning after he proposed.  But even for a first date you won’t struggle for conversation, with the river to watch and the book stalls to browse.  If the date goes really well you can continue it at Tate Modern.

2.) A picnic in Regent’s Park or, if you’re double-dating and want a more convivial atmosphere try Primrose Hill.  But Regent’s Park is perfect if you just want to lie on the grass talking and sunbathing- the park is big enough that you can have quite a big patch to yourselves.  Just don’t set up too close to The Hub or you’ll find that the lovely quiet spot you’ve chosen is actually the middle of a cricket match!

3.) A snowy day on the Heath.  If you’ve fallen in love in winter those endless days of lazing on the grass will just have to wait.  In which case, go to Hampstead Heath together in the snow.  It’s like visiting Narnia – right down to the lamp post in the middle of the woods.  Some of the pubs in Hampstead have open fires if you need to warm up afterwards.

4.) Meet me by the statue  Long distance is hard.  Meet by the statue at Saint Pancras after an absence – the perfect reunion.

5.) National Portrait Gallery – with every face, I think about who they were and who they loved.  Emma Hamilton is in Room 17.  Her memory of the day that she found out that her beloved Nelson had died at Trafalgar is in Christopher Hibbert ‘Nelson – A Personal History’ – “They brought me word, Mr Whitby from the Admiralty. ‘Show him in directly,’ I said. He came in, and with a pale countenance and faint voice, said, ‘We have gained a great Victory.’ – ‘Never mind your Victory,’ I said. ‘My letters – give me my letters’ – Captain Whitby was unable to speak – tears in his eyes and a deathly paleness over his face made me comprehend him. I believe I gave a scream and fell back, and for ten hours I could neither speak nor shed a tear.”

Did you want a list?

I’m a list-maker extraordinaire.  I have schedules, spreadsheets, notebooks with coloured flags sticking out of them, pens which are only used for writing particular tasks into particular notebooks.  (And when that pen goes missing…  oh, the horror.  I have to either buy a new pen of the exact same colour, or stop doing that kind of task.)

So did you want a list?  “100 cool things to do in London” – is that what you wanted?  I am surely equipped to give that to you.  But… No. For once in my life I’m not going to write a list.

If you want a detailed tourist guide to London, check this and this

If you’re just looking for ‘free things to do in London’ then check this

If you want to know that it’s possible to live in this crazy city on a small income and still be content, and if you want to know what that feels like and looks like, you’re in the right place.

An afternoon at the Imperial War Museum

It is, astonishingly, free to visit the IWM but donations are appreciated.  As we walked around the corner from North Lambeth tube my five year old son started jumping up and down with excitement – ‘Mummy, those are the biggest guns I have EVER seen in my whole life!’.  He was over-awed by the submarines, Spitfire, Sherman Tank, and Polaris missile on display, but gradually his questions became more philosophical, leading up to the real stumper “Why do we have war, Mum?”

IWM scrapbook
My son (and his talented father) made a scrapbook

The museum is certainly more thought-provoking than I expected.  I noticed a group of people collected around a small black object,  shaking their heads with bewilderment as they read the information next to it, and hesitating to move on.  It was the “Little Boy” bomb, the same model as was detonated over Hiroshima.  There is a Holocaust Exhibition at the top of the museum but it is not suitable for children.

A Tibetan Peace Garden, originally opened by the Dalai Lama,  forms part of the beautifully kept gardens around this museum, and there is a park off to the side where you could take a picnic.

After visiting the museum we walked to the river and crossed at Westminster Bridge – my favourite view of London.

Something for the rugrats

Where did all the Aussie families go?  I’ve noticed an Antipodean exodus from London over the past couple of years.  Guess the weather finally got to them…

The British Museum has been filling the cultural deficit with Australian Season which runs until October 2011.  Over half term they’re even keeping the nippers happy with Australian Adventure activities in the Great Court, from 11am to 4pm.  It’s free, just drop in.

The museum runs a mind-boggling mixture of free and paid events and will get its own blog post one of these days.  Or perhaps 67 posts – one for each of the rooms open free to the public stuffed full of unique antiquities and wonders.

After the museum the kids will probably need a good run about outside.  And you might need a break from saying ‘don’t touch that darling you’ll set off the alarms’.  Fear not, Corams Fields is just a short walk away.

 

Free Unlimited Gym Membership!

No catch.

This centrally located gym has a running track, weight training equipment, cross trainers, balance bars, and much more.   You can also hire a tennis court or multisport pitch for an hourly fee.  There is no subscription due, you don’t have any paperwork to fill in, and you needn’t feel guilty if you haven’t used your membership for a week or so.  It has the added benefit of fresh air.

Because it’s more than a gym, it’s a park.

Kilburn Grange Park, just off the Kilburn High Road is my favourite park for getting fit.  It also has two well-equipped children’s playgrounds.

After your workout, sit quietly in the rose garden.  If you stay perfectly still, a fieldmouse will climb up one of the lavender stalks to say hello – there are lots of them in amongst the herbs and flowers.