Just a small point on the subject. It’s hardly something I’m terribly well-versed in, but I seem to come across this a lot.
People love serial fiction. I know lots of readers–to some extent, I’m one of them–who see a numeral appended to a title and they buy or borrow it on the spot. There’s something enticing about the promise of more if this one turns out to be palatable. An immediate connection to something larger. Be as poetic as you like, people like to read series. Which is wonderful, because people also like to write them.
I’ve seen tonnes of series, particularly on Amazon, which is where bargain hunters go to die, where the marketing is in the price. Boxed sets, with or without extras are an old standby, but now with so many books only available digitally, we have a new marketing tactic: sell the first book at a lower price than the other books in the series.
This is most commonly in the form of “First Book is Free”, which I cannot laud highly enough. It’s a strong vote of confidence in the book’s and the series’s quality. It requests no risk or investment from a reader and potential customer beyond his or her time. I’d like to see more of this. I’d love for it to be standard operating procedure for big-name publishers someday. Heaven knows they could afford it, and it might help them be less douche-y about their precious revenue if they experience any amount of commercial success with this approach.
(of course, this only works with digital books. even so.)
But there’s a darker side to this. I blame the pernicious people who do their own marketing and think themselves “clever.” It’s based on the model of First Book is Free. But in these cases, it is either First Book is Free, Each Subsequent Book Costs More Than the Last, or Fifth Book is Free. These approaches strike me as dishonest. For example, with the former, say there are thirteen books in the series. The first book is $0.00, the second is $1.99, and so on. The thirteenth book ends up being $23.99, which is a really stupid price for an ebook.
Making only a later book in the series free is actually less dishonest and more… self-destructive. As far as I’ve seen, most people who read series tend to insist upon starting at the beginning. Some people (again, I’m one) will not touch a series until they can read the first book. There are exceptions, but for the most part, chronology is considered important.
((In my case, I once read ahead and learned that a character had lost a limb. When I read the actual event later, it had no emotional impact for me, and I felt thoroughly spoiled. >.<))
So making the fifth book free, whether it’s in the middle or the last in the series, does not really help anyone. People will want to read the first one and lament that it is not the free one, and it does not inspire that same confidence that this is a series that everyone should start/get into. I understand when this kind of thing is a promotion, often just because it’s a new book and the distributor isn’t thinking about the series, but I don’t understand the idea of this as a fully intentional attempt at getting people interested in the series.
I’ve seen this stuff a lot, but I started really thinking about it when I realised that my local library’s Overdrive section contains books 2-5 of a certain series, but not 1. This struck me as immensely stupid, and then evil and greedy as I remembered the way that publishers seem to think. Sigh.