Book Barbarian: Sketchy Mailing List or Hidden Indie Gem?

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The year was 2019. Little did I know how the world was about to change over the next few months. I was going to start a podcast! A few months after that it was 2020 and COVID destroyed all of our lives. At this stage of Words About Books’ development we were still trying to figure out exactly what our format was. We played with a variety of different episode topics (not all of them made it to release), and one of our most unique topics was Corona Virus Special: Reading Survival Guide.

In this episode we listed a variety of ways that you could get free or very cheap reading material. As part of the research for this episode I reached out to some friends who were big readers to see if they had any suggestions. One such suggestion was the Book Barbarian mailing list. I was cleaning out my e-mail inbox recently and I realized that I was still subscribed.

What is Book Barbarian?

When you go to the Book Barbarian website you will be greeted with this image.

The implication is of course that these are just some of the books that you may see discounts on through the Book Barbarian mailing list. What a fantastic selection! I mean look at these authors: William Gibson, Terry Pratchett, J.R.R. Tolkein, George R. R. Martin, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert. Free or heavily discounted versions of some of the post popular genre fiction of all time? Why yes you can sign me up!

If you’re still skeptical, though, you can scroll down to see how it works. Book Barbarian lists 4 features. Some of these are features are, in my experience, exaggerated.

Explore new worlds and new civilizations for less than a cup of coffee. If a book is not free or deeply discounted then the barbarian horde will smash it into oblivion.

This is 100% true. All of the books that are sent in the mailing list are free or deeply discounted. You could have everything in the list for $5 total most weeks.

Let us do the hard work for you. Our expedition team is on a never ending quest for hidden gems and New York Times bestsellers, sorting through thousands of books to bring you the true treasures.

This is a smidge misleading. There does seem to be some sort of selection process, but the vast majority of books on Book Barbarian are self-published or indie-published and were submitted by the author who paid a fee to be listed. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but remember that image above? I have never seen any of those books in a Book Barbarian mailing list. I can’t promise they’ve never been listed, but all of this marketing keeps hinting that every now and then you’ll get a book that most people would otherwise value quite highly for a very low price. In my experience, that has never been the case. Few of these books retail for more than $5 when not on sale. Most are less.

Book Barbarian only features books from bestselling or award winning authors and select titles with outstanding reviews and high ratings. The rest are fed to the Kraken.

Again, slightly misleading. Many of these authors have won awards, though these awards are not typically Hugo’s or Nebula’s. “Bestselling” is a term that has grown increasingly meaningless even in mainstream publication, but in the section of their website for authors and publishers Book Barbarian says that the average number of discounted books sold is 70. So the type of author that book Barbarian is likely to feature is the type of author who would be happy to move 70 books. To be clear, I’m not knocking that. If Edenverse suddenly sold 70 copies I would be singing from the rooftops. But I do not consider Edenverse to be a “Bestseller”, or indeed “A Seller”. Lastly on this point, indie/self-published books with low reviews and ratings are pretty uncommon, again, in my experience. Most people reviewing these books know the author or are otherwise sympathetic to the author. Like with indie podcasters, the primary audience for indie books is other indie book authors. Breaking out enough to get brutally honest or antagonistic reviews is hard. The fewer people who read your book the more likely your book is to stay at 5-stars.

Barbarian scribes prefer stone tablets, but we know you want more. That’s why we’ve partnered with all major ebook retailers to bring you the best books on all devices. Enjoy reading on your computer, phone, tablet, or Ereader.

True. Though most of these sales are on kindle, and I’m guessing the deals were made with the author who is managing their kindle book price and not Amazon.

In my opinion, Book Barbarian is primarily a paid promotional vehicle aimed at independent authors. There is a very clear submission and review process as well as pricing information available on the website. Something tells me that Isaac Asimov’s publisher is not likely to fill out that form any time soon.

On one hand, I want to say that Book Barbarian does help authors get eyes on their book. That can be a herculean task for any author, let alone an independent author. On the other hand, Book Barbarian requires authors to essentially gift their product to its subscribers while also charging them for the privilege. Most authors will not see a monetary return on this investment, I would guess. Many of the 2200 free book downloads will probably not translate into reads, let alone sales. Heavily discounted books that sell 70-copies are unlikely to recoup the advertising cost on most ebook platforms after the platform’s commission and taxes.

I don’t think that Book Barbarian is an outright scam, but I do think it uses dishonest advertising to inflate its subscriber base which it then leverages to extract money from independent authors looking to promote their book. It’s a scheme that I have seen play out time and time again in the podcasting space. While I’m sure it’s a good deal for some, I don’t really think it’s for me as either a consumer or producer of #content.


One of my goals for 2023 is to delve deeper into indie books and book discovery mechanisms. As listeners will know, I’m an elderly man who has lost touch with the youth. Seems to me like these “popular on tiktok” tables just started popping up everywhere overnight. I do think that I will be unsubscribing from Book Barbarian. I’m looking for something that’s a little more proud of its indie roots.


I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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