Why give books away for free?

The Lethal Oath (The Viking Series #1)
For some days copies of The Lethal Oath were
 available at Amazon for free.
Two weeks have gone since the period of free copies of The Lethal Oath ended. Afterwards I've been asked why I gave e-books away for free. The short answer to that question is: promotion. However, in a Google+ post one of my friends answered that he had downloaded at least fifty free e-books without reading any of them.

Claiming that the chances of reading a book is  greater when you have paid for it, he wrote: "I think it is because I have so many print books and e-books that I have actually paid for and rewarded the author for their efforts. I think if you pay for something you want to get your money's worth out of it, whereas if you don't pay for it, it doesn't matter if you never read it."

I tend to agree with him. I believe we are more likely to start reading a book we have paid for. But we don't read in order to satisfy the author, but to reassure ourselves that the book we bought was worth the price; that it will give us a good read.

On the other hand: How many free books haven't we read over the years? Books we have got from others, presents, books lent from friends, or at the library, or classics downloaded from the Internet?

OK, we may have a more positive attitude towards a book we have bought (hoping we haven't wasted our money), but usually when we have started reading, it doesn't matter if the book is free or paid for. What matters is whether the book is good or bad.

Traditional publishers give many books away for free; sometimes hundreds of books are given to journalists, critics, retailers and other important actors in the literary circuit. The reason? To get reviews, publicity, and more readers.

For self-publishers the situation is different. The greatest challenge for most new indie authors is to get anyone to read their book(s) at all. Which is very understandable. The online bookmarked is vast and it is difficult to be noticed among the millions of books and hundred thousands of authors. If some potential readers and buyers happen to see your book, they don't know who you are, they have never heard of your book, and if they also notice that the book has few reviews and ratings, they are likely to ignore it and keep on browsing.

I have no illusions about free e-books: most of them will never be read. But if, say, one out of twenty among the hundreds of readers that download my book give it a try. Well, then I have more readers. If they don't like my book, then I have a problem. But if they do like it, they might tell their friends about it, review it, give it a rating etc., etc. The visibility of my book will increase – a little.

And all those who din't read the downloaded book? Well, they have seen the cover, noticed my name, and read the title of the book. If they happen to stumble over the name or the title again, maybe they start reading after all?