Free Gift with Purchase is a Thing


Did the title catch your attention?

In recent months, I’ve seen a LOT of indies getting into a rage about what is commonly termed the “preorder incentive” in boxed set circles. This is a “Free Gift with Purchase” situation – if the reader purchases the boxed set for 99c, they then get access to download 10+ EXTRA ebooks completely free. The caveat with FGwP is that the gift cannot run out. It has to be given to everyone who requests it.

I wanted to point out how long-standing the FGwP is, because I’m tired of uninformed hate.

Until about twenty years ago, free gift with purchase was one of the most popular advertising techniques used by major brands. This is an absolute true story: When I bought my first car, I got a blender free for purchasing. That was sometime mid-2008. So even ten years ago, a Chevrolet-owned car lot in the boondocks of Kentucky was giving a free gift with the purchase of a new car.

According to, “Banks gave away toasters for new accounts opened, Marlboro promised loyal smokers prizes ranging from ashtrays to dartboards to cowboy hats, and dish soap was packaged with bonus steak knives.” Why Makeup Companies Still Give Gifts With Purchase, 9/22/17

What about cereal boxes? I remember being a child and absolutely begging my mom for Lucky Charms because I just had to have the dinky little toy inside (and let’s be real – Lucky Charms are freaking delicious. I have a box downstairs right now and I don’t have kids.). Cereal companies have been putting a free toy in their boxes for an entire century – and that’s not a typo. WK Kellogg was the entrepreneur who started this trend in 1909. And guess what? You can’t get the toy unless you purchase the cereal. It’s a free gift with purchase. Nowadays, the free gift with purchase in cereal boxes tends to be digital in some form because that’s the direction the world has gone, but the trend is still there.

Popular media even brings it up, like little Easter eggs in the middle of movies or television shows – such as this popular quote below from Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

Giles:  Like zombies, werewolves, incubi, succubi, everything you've ever dreaded was under
your bed, but told yourself couldn't be by the light of day. They're all real!

Buffy:  What? You, like, sent away for the Time-Life series?

Giles:  Ah, w-w-w-yes.

Buffy:  Did you get the free phone?

Giles:  Um, the calendar.

In recent years, there has been a dip in this trend of free gift with purchase. Mostly because of the changing industry: We’re digital now. Targeted online advertising is the preferred method nowadays, so physical incentives just fell out of favor due to the ease and accuracy of targeted advertising. There was also the issue of fraud on behalf of the consumers: Purchasers were finding ways to falsify receipts and counterfeit coupons, thus stealing from unsuspecting companies.

But even today, free gift with purchase is alive and well in both the makeup industry and the publishing industry.

Check out this excerpt from the article linked above: Personal-grooming items are marketed mostly to women. Because they are used by individual women and not their family or larger community, cosmetics are an expendable luxury — one of those things experts suggest cutting back on when budgets gets tight. When cosmetics or skincare are advertised as “free,” it is an especially powerful deal because their status as indulgences increases their perceived value — making them much more enticing than everyday items like the free toasters once promised for opening yet another bank account. Free beauty premiums are a winning strategy with roots going back more than 150 years to America’s first nationally marketed product.

The same concept applies to books. Books, unfortunately, are a luxury readers provide themselves. They aren’t necessary to life (though yes, some of us hardcore readers would totally disagree with that statement!) When we’re broke, buying books is one of those things we cut back on because bills, food, and necessities are more important.

So the free gift with purchase concept works on a psychological level: Should I buy this 99c book? I mean, yeah, it’s just a dollar, but the kids need new sneakers for school and the electric bill is due next week…

But wait – I can buy this 99c book of 20+ novels and they’ll give me 14 more ebooks free! Holy crap, that’s 34+ books for only 99c! That’s 3 cents a book!

The preorder incentive raises the intrinsic value of the book in question. And indies in boxed sets aren’t the only ones who do this. I follow this adorably hilarious author named Mackenzie Lee. In 2017, I read her book, A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and it was all I thought about for weeks. It was SO GOOD.

Around the time of book 2’s release last year, I started seeing a sponsored post from her publisher: If you purchase book 2, you get this special bonus story absolutely free!

Traditional. 👏 Publishers. 👏 Use. 👏 This. 👏 Method. 👏 Too.

I wish I had taken a screenshot of it so I could really drive the point home. But alas, I didn’t know people were going to lose their shit over free gift with purchase incentives this year.

I have one more quote from the article I want to share, as an addition to my comment above about the psychology behind free gift with purchase: Premiums are attractive because they change the value equation without changing the price of the product,” said Laurence Minsky, associate professor of marketing at Columbia College Chicago, “There’s always this back and forth between the hard sell and the soft sell, and premiums come in during the hard sell eras. When the competition heats up, these things become more of a tool.”

I would recommend checking out that article from some more nuggets of gold regarding the free gift with purchase method. And additionally, I found this Business Wire survey about free gift with purchase that noted some really interesting things (direct quotes from the article below):

  • Americans three times more likely to buy more often at a shopping site when receiving a free gift, two-thirds more likely to share experience with others 
  • Consumers Come Back for More: Almost 90 percent of free gift receivers indicate that they are at least somewhat likely to buy more frequently from an online retailer after receiving a free gift.
  • Shoppers React Favorably to Something Extra: Sixty-five percent of free gift receivers say they are at least somewhat likely to share their experience with others online, about half offline.
  • Online Retailers Urged to Include Free Gift: Online retailers see value in including a free gift with customer orders, though less than half do.
  • Women More Likely to Share: Of the four out of five Americans that are at least somewhat likely to share their experience with others offline about a shopping site after receiving a free gift with purchase, women are found to be significantly more likely to share their positive experience than men.

In conclusion, y’all authors out there saying we’re gaming the industry with our free gift with purchase? Go take a flying leap. Free gift with purchase has been around for an entire century, and will likely continue to be a marketing tactic – both LEGAL and MORAL – used by companies and publishers alike.

So just stop trying to create drama where there is none.


Websites dedicated solely to gathering GWPs:


Major companies that use gift with purchase:

All major cosmetics companies: Estee Lauder, Lancome, Clinique, Elizabeth Arden,

Non-cosmetics companies: Precious Moments,

Most major department stores: Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Ulta, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, Neiman Marcus, Barney’s New York

There’s even a free gift with purchase search on Amazon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s