See’s Candies does it. Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone do it. California wineries do it, if you linger and place an order. They all offer free samples.
Samples are offered to long-standing customers as a good-will effort, and as a teaser to attract new fans. And that’s why I write fiction for free.
Granted, I wasn’t making a living with my writing before the economy tanked and the race of entertainment toward the free end of the spectrum accelerated, so I don’t feel the struggle of long-established writers trying to adapt to a new model. My goal is to generate income from my writing. Not only is it my goal, it’s the way the world in a currency-based economy works. Individuals and businesses provide skill, products, and/or labor in return for cash.
Although I’ve been writing and selling short stories for ten years, I’m still a newbie in terms of building an audience of loyal readers through novel-length fiction. So why not give readers a free sample? They can decide whether they like my voice, and if they do, they’ll come back to buy. I never would have tried Artesa Chardonnay without a sample. I was already loyal to another brand, now I enjoy both. In that spirit, I’ve offered free podcasts of a two of my longer stories, and I post free flash fiction on my website every month. I’ve already seen this attract a few paying readers, new fans. It’s also fun, and it’s a freebie for people who already like my brand of suburban noir fiction.
It could be argued that I’m undercutting the short story magazines that first published my work. If people can get enough fiction for free, why would they purchase anything? Because it’s all about taste. Offering a taste of something new, but also finding out what you like. And when I find writers who suit my taste, I want more. They can’t write fast enough for me. I’ll pay full price for their books, heck I’ll even pay the outrageous sum of $12.99 for an eBook, and I have. Theoretically I could read nothing but free fiction from here on out, I love free stuff, but I also love what I love and want to pay a fair price for it.
Some writers have podcast entire novels for free. Fans come back and buy their books, because they love those writers, can’t get enough of those voices, those stories.
Do I drive from ice cream store to ice cream store looking for free samples? I could. But I like mint chocolate chip, or licorice -- which has limited availability, and that’s what I buy. Tonight, I’ll be drinking Artesa Chardonnay with dinner, and I’ll enjoy my other favorites next month.