Freebie books and the cost of time

Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch discuss freebie books here; it's thought-provoking conversation both about free books and about exclusivity. (Lindsay Buroker also touches on both topics here.)

Freebie books are of particular interest to me in light of the past month. As I've mentioned, I've been pimping Trang around for free on Smashwords during the month of June. Every place I plugged Trust, I also plugged the giveaway of Trang.

The thing that I found interesting was that, what with all the pimping, I sold as many copies of Trang on Amazon as I gave away on Smashwords.

It wasn't a huge number of sales, but it was a definite uptick. I think that people heard about Trang because of my plugging, but instead of picking up a free copy on Smashwords, they decided it was easier to pay for the books on Amazon. So that's what they did.

And that brings home an important point: $2.99 just isn't that much money. It's little enough money that people thought, "Well, I can get it on Smashwords for free, but first I have to register there and then I have to sideload the file. I'd rather pay $2.99 and have it with one click--it's more convenient."

I've said this before, but June really proved it to me: The main cost of a book to the reader is not money, but time.

How much does that time cost? According to Wikipedia, the average reading time for prose is about 275 words per minute. Do the math, and it would take the average reader six and a half hours to read Trang.

The average wage earner in this country makes about $23 an hour. Multiply that by 6.5 and round it, and you get $150.

The value of the time it takes the average person to read Trang is $150.

So the question facing people wanting to read Trang is not, do I pay $2.99 or do I get it for free? The question is, do I spend $150 on this, or do I spend $152.99? If a reader grabs the free book, it's not a cost savings of 100%--it's a cost savings of 2%!