When I first started publishing my stories on Smashwords, my intent was to give away my stories for free because I simply wanted to share my writing. I have been astonished at how many people have downloaded my stories. As of January 2011, more than 15,000 downloads from Smashwords alone and another 7000+ from its other markets.
When Smashwords shared the stories with vendors, a couple of them actually charged for the stories. In December, I received a check for a little more $80 in royalties.
At one point last year, I received an email from a woman who had read a couple of my novels. She said she thought they were good enough that I should charge for them. Soon after that I read a blog article somewhere debating the pros and cons of giving away your work for the purpose of building an audience. There are certainly good arguments on both sides.
The bottom line appears to be that it's important to give away samples and free content of some sort that readers may appreciate. On the other hand, there is the perception that if you are giving away your art for nothing (whatever it is), it has no value. I thought about that for a long time, and realized it is true even for me. When I see something being given away for free, I assume that there's either some kind of catch (which is usually true of giveaways on the Internet) or it's worthless.
Therefore, I've decided to change my tack a little. I'm going to charge a nominal amount for my e-books. If a reader doesn't like the story, he/she is only out a buck or so, but there is still a small investment on the reader's part and a small payoff for me. Charging a dollar or so for my e-books is not going to allow me to quit my day job. In fact, it may well provide nothing more than the money for a nice dinner a couple of times a year. That's something.
No, actually, that's huge for me.