Okay I've been doing this self-marketing thing for 9 months now and I'm a little puzzled by the conclusions I'm drawing.
Marketing online is a great way to make contact with readers, but not necessarily a terribly good way to sell to them. (I think it's greater strength lies in a post-purchase service, by which they can come back directly to you and dialogue about the book and their feelings about it which is invaluable).
Why do I say it's a questionable way of selling product? I think because so much literature is available online. A canny reader can surf and trawl and find very good literature for free. The E-Bay hunting trove mentality is very much in evidence. By passing on your book, which they've probably sampled (for free as you've provided it as part of your marketing), it may not be any reflection on your writing, but on your pricing.
Which begs the question, should all literature be free? That the freemium model is the only way to go to maximise the chances of your book being read. After all, you've taken down one of the two major barriers to it being read (the other being visibility, pointing people in its direction).
Two contrary points of view arise from this. Firstly any writer just wants to have their books read don't they? So making them free must enhance the chances of a greater number of readers, as there is no economic impediment to them at least starting your book. But against this is that writers want to be paid for their artistic output. It takes anything from 6 months to years to write a full-length novel, a great investment of the individual and one for which he would hope to be partly reimbursed or rewarded for. The only way a freemium model could allow a smidgeon of recompense, is to have a sort of special edition, print version, maybe with some extras not otherwise available. This can be priced way above the current cost of a print book, as it is more of an artefact or piece of art in how it's to be regarded. Personally, I think this is unrealistic unless you are in the upper echelons of the literati, when your signature is akin to that of an artist's on a canvas. That is what inflates the value of the product. And just a brief note on the freemium model; something that is on offer online for free, tends to put the purchaser in a mindset that it's of no value, and therefore far less likely to buy a physical, priced version of the product. If you've got free tickets to a reading or panel discussion of a book, it's no loss if come the day you don't feel like going; wheres if you've paid for the tickets, you likely to be less disinclined.
But such issues lead to a far wider question to my mind. What value do we place on our creative artists in this early part of the twenty-first century? We being society as a whole. With the market and technology seemingly determining most of the options for distribution and promotion as laid out above, seems like the artist possesses very little value today. We are maybe being reduced to offering a service for providing reading material, rather than producing an artistic work which has some value over and above the cost of printing and distribution as in days of old. Artists are tending towards functionaries and costermongers in the open ended online market, with no special regard by society for being able to reflect it back on itself. In the current economic climate, with so many vital public services being cutback, it is really impossible to argue for any elevation of the arts through subsidy or other protections to be sought from government treasuries.
Am I wrong in seeing this as a decline in the status of artists? With the concomitant loss of creditable status within society, whereby we used to be able to reflect it back to itself? Does anyone still care what writers think? Have writers gleaned this and changed the nature of what they write? Going down populist, non-threatening paths as perceived to be market-friendly and therefore sustainable, of escapist literature such as "Twilight". Are writers unwittingly practising self-censorship as they try and reposition themselves within the market? Have authors lost confidence int their own abilities to wreak some sort of meaningful art, because it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to gain validation via a level of remuneration that acknowledges their worth to society?
If we give it away for free, we may get more readers. But they may not gain or give back any value from the experience. There has to be some sort of premium to any work of art.