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My Personal Race to the Bottom

I have owned three Kindles, and got a Kindle Fire on day one. I didn’t realize they really gave out a free app every day on the Kindle marketplace for about the first month of Fire ownership. To a minimal level, my fears were confirmed. With this much to do on the Kindle that isn’t reading, will I continue to read at all? Nevertheless I still read. I even tried an enjoyed the lending system.

Now, I knew there were a lot of free Kindle books out there, but I didn’t readily discover a good way of finding them. There was a website, then an app with some tie in to a website, but these were cumbersome. The app took up a ton of space on the device, better spent holding free games. So, I kind of punted on the whole free book thing, only going after freebies when instructed by specific bloggers out to raise their rankings.

Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more selective of free apps. At first I grabbed everything and at least tried it. But I got more and more picky. Non-game apps were the first to go. Do people really hand their Android devices off to toddlers to finger paint on? I don’t. Is the Kindle going to succeed in motivating me to a life of exercise where my doctor failed? I don’t think so. Do I really need an interactive guide to the great battles of the Civil War?

Eventually the games started to drop off too. An art deficient word game? Well, it had better have a good gimmick. A side-scrolling bouncy moped game? Well, I’ll complete the ‘purchase’ but forgo the download for now. Another HOG? Sorry, can’t spare the space. Slot machine? One-button ninja? Match 3 again? No, no, no.

Another thing I couldn’t help but notice is that some pay-models were little more than a stupid tax. I mean really, if you can’t play this game well enough to work with the loose in-game currency system, you either have attention span of a gnat, or more money than brains. Maybe a combination of the two. Every once in a while, I would grab a free game off the top free list and the game would actually make a compelling case for me paying for more content. Then I freely did pay. But about 90 percent of the time the game either got boring before I saw any need to pay, or was enjoyable to the point where I earned enough points through normal play to enjoy it. I don’t get why people pay money just to buy their way out of actually playing the game, but apparently that’s what a lot of people do. Alternative, these pay models could be hopelessly broken and people aren’t making money off these games at all, despite the best laid plans.

This leads back to the books. Finally I found a reliable source of free books! Pixels of Link, or something like that. Up to five dispatches a day! Readable in any RSS Reader! About fifteen free books offered each and every day – a huge, yet manageable amount! Is this the El Dorado at last?

Day one, I’m a kid in a candy shop. I probably take a dozen of books. Am I selective? Absolutely not. A cookbook of non-alcoholic party drinks? Sure, I should probably cut back on the sauce. A bodice ripping yarn? Never read one of those, sure I’ll try it. A dystopian alternate history thriller? Well, If it’s too tech-wordy or historical I can always just stop reading it. 50 shades of your favorite childhood movie? Well, look what they did with the cover there, it’s worth it just for that visual. A series western? Well, that’s just like classic sci-fi only with horses instead of rockets, so it’s worth a throw. On and on I went, for about two weeks.

At first I didn’t even notice the slacking off. RSS reading is much more fun at the office, so weekends slipped first. Sure, I saw a couple of books snapped from free to the realm of $.99 or even $1.99, but I forgot about them very quickly. Plenty more fish in the sea. Now, on a Kindle Fire, the really are no practical limits as to how many books you can stash in the thing. Quite simply, in a world of gigabytes a book is sized at a number rapidly approaching zero bytes. Psychologically, it’s harder to fathom an endless pit of data storage, especially if you’ve got a few real world shelves of unread books staring at you from some corner of your home. At some point, even in the slickly organized world of the Kindle, digital clutter starts to feel real. I guess shoveling aside yesterday’s batch of free books to get back to that one game you really like to play with your morning cup of coffee starts to wear on you. But free books allow authors to move up in the Amazon rankings, and higher Amazon rankings means more exposure of the book, and more exposure of the book means more people read it, right? Sure a Kindle author might never get rich, but at least the story gets out there, right?

Last week I had several no free book days. Obviously misunderstood yobbo in grey hoodie on the cover? Pass. A story about a young girl with a supernatural…? Next. A gripping thriller taking place back in a time when…? Not today. Elves? Dwarves? Witches? No, no, no. Favorite sandwich recipes? No thanks, I typically just empty the fridge into a sandwich until it fills a plate. A coming of age drama? I already am of age, and frankly I never had much of a childhood to obsess about. A thriller from the point of view of a podiatrist? I realize your work is fascinating to you but … sorry. Vampires? Zombies? Werewolves? Not again, They peaked in the 80’s, and face it – that’s really about your dog. Volume 4 of the 12 book epic of the war between the fey and…? You don’t really expect people to casually sign up for that kind of commitment, do you? Wait! Redneck vampires? Genius zombies? Vegan werewolves? Sorry, my zany card is all full of punches already, I’ll take my free cup of normal now.

This is only my PERSONAL, race to the bottom. Your experience may be the exact opposite of mine. All told, I’ve read one and a half of my free books, spread across four actual books. I still haven’t made a batch of non-alcoholic party drinks. The rest, I haven’t even tested to see if they open. It’s not that they don’t sound great. I truly enjoyed reading the descriptions of these books, looking at the covers and making the ‘purchase.’ I went into it with the intent to discover great new authors, but somehow it just didn’t happen. Perhaps it’s true what they say about you only valuing things you have to pay for. Maybe we do have to bite the hand of charity, lest we feel diminished by the superiority of someone who can afford to give freely. In this digital land of plenty, I have gorged myself sick without even tasting the cuisine. It’s kind of like the old fable of stone soup. The free book is the stone and it makes a fine soup, but any meat, vegetables, and herbs you can add to the pot are just going to make it so much better.