A group of fellow writers has been discussing the ups and downs of offering prizes to readers. The practice has been used for quite a while - I remember years and years ago, RWA authors talking about professional "prize-hunters" who troll the Net looking for ways to win stuff. The trollers didn't care about the books or the authors, just the bling at the end of the rainbow.
There will always be that faithful group of readers who eagerly await a new book by their favorite authors. For them, a free book is a great reward for entering a contest. Real readers don't crave a $200 necklace or an iPad (well, they might crave them, but they don't expect one) as the prize for entering the author's contest. The books are the real goody bag.
So what has happened? The consensus seems to be that the droves of self-published ebooks has created a monster. Standing out from the crowd is crazy hard, and authors figure bling is just a cost of doing business. The better the bling, the more traffic is driven to the author's site and therefore, the ebooks. I'm not sure the logic follows. While I hope they're right, for their sakes, I doubt it. Better and more expensive prizes make for more money shelled out by writers who probably can't afford it. The authors who can take the financial hit, don't do any of this stuff and nonsense.
Writing a great book isn't enough these days, I hear via the omniscient grapevine. Unfortunately, that's been a truth of publishing forever. Marketing does matter, and it matters even more in these times. So how do you strike a balance? Reward the faithful readers who truly care, drive more people to discover your book, and entice those who normally wouldn't look twice?
If you figure it out, let me know. But I won't send you an iPad for your response.