When The Love of Three Oranges was still self-published, I’d done a big bulk order that had gotten misprinted. The printer replaced the whole thing which was great but then I had this huge batch of misprinted copies lying around that it seemed a shame to just throw out. I couldn’t sell them because they had defective covers but the interior was fine.
I decided to give them away. This was back when eBooks weren’t all that popular so there was no way to read the play other than to have a paper copy. I put out an offer on a couple of drama teacher groups: if anyone was interested in the show, I’d send them out one of the misprinted copies free. I had to pay the shipping to send it to them (which, back then, was less than $2) but it seemed worth it. I had a lot of interest and I finally gave away the whole batch teacher by teacher.
But teachers kept coming across the old post and asking for copies and so I kept sending them out for a while even when I was out of misprinted copies. At some point I started asking the teachers to kick in $2 to cover the shipping which they were more than happy to do since the book retailed for $12.99 (which was the lowest I could make it back then… POD used to be much more expensive than it is now). It was a marketing expense, sure, but to a very targeted audience of individuals. I don’t know how much this stunt cost me in total but it was definitely less than $200. And when you consider that many of those books I sent out for free directly resulted in productions on which I earned both a production royalty and was able to sell them acting editions for a profit of over $100, it more than paid for itself both in money and community goodwill.
Not only were there direct results, I got emails even years later from teachers who had one of those misprinted copies and had only just now gotten around to doing the show. Teachers who’d done the show in one district got new jobs and did it again someone else. Word of mouth did it’s thing and those misprinted copies got passed all over the place and sales and production requests kept increasing until the volume of interest got to be more than I could handle and I ended up selling the show to a traditional publisher.
Postage is much more expensive now so I don’t think I would have been able to run this stunt exactly the same way today. Too, with the rise of eBooks, there is a greater glut of free content competing for our eyeballs so I don’t know if so many teachers would have jumped at the chance for a free book the way they did then. But I can’t deny that giving copies of my play away was a big contributor to it’s success and I’ve been trying to duplicate that ever since.
I’m giving my newest play, New Year’s Thieve, away for free today on Amazon. I’m hoping to get it in the hands of as many theatre people and teachers as I can while I still control all the rights in the hopes of creating a similar word of mouth situation going into the holiday season as I did with Three Oranges. But, honestly, it’s not getting that many takers as my past free book promotions have done and I know it’s not because of the content. It makes me wonder if we’re so used to getting something for nothing that we’ve started to tune out all the screams of free competing for our attention.
PS: Speaking of screaming for your attention, today and tomorrow are the very last days to get Sell Their Stuff at 50% off or more so don’t dilly dally if you were interested.