Yet Another Author Discovers Giving Away Ebooks Increases Sales

from the more-and-more-and-more dept

We’ve been posting a ton of examples lately of authors giving away ebooks for free and seeing that it noticeably increases sales of their actual books. By this point, I’d think that such stories are old hat and don’t need to be repeated. But if you look through the comments on some of our posts, you’ll find people who insist that this doesn’t work or that we haven’t shown any examples. One commenter recently said that there’s no proof that this works unless “50% of publishers adopt such a model.” So, for the time being, here’s yet another example, as pointed out by my colleague, Chris. SciFi author John Scalzi just participated in publisher Tor’s recent effort to offer up free ebooks, and discovered an almost immediate boost in sales. He admits that there could be other factors involved, but tries to account for all of them, and concludes that it’s almost definitely the free ebooks that are driving the noticeable increase. So, here we are. Yet another example of it working. How long until someone points out in the comments that this, too, is a special case? Just how many special cases do we need to show before people recognize that this model does work? Update: Just for clarification’s sake, I should note that Scalzi has apparently been giving away free stuff for years, and seems a bit upset that I implied otherwise. Sorry about that. Doesn’t change the point of the post, of course. If anything, it would seem to enhance the point.

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Comments on “Yet Another Author Discovers Giving Away Ebooks Increases Sales”

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Corey says:

Quote me correctly

I’m not getting involved in this discussion again. I just wanted to point out that the quote you use from my comment is out of context. The point of the “50% of publishers adopt such a model.” quote that was you need a good percentage of of a group doing something, and competing with others who are doing it, to judge the business model as a whole. If every publisher tomorrow gave away every ebook for free, and each book had to compete with every other free ebook, would they spread as fast? And please don’t answer that, I don’t care about your OPINION on that, the point is it hasn’t been proven one way or another until a large % of the market does it.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Quote me correctly

If every publisher tomorrow gave away every ebook for free, and each book had to compete with every other free ebook, would they spread as fast?

There are enough other industries where we’ve seen something similar and seen that it works. Take music. While not authorized, just about all music is available online for free — meaning that it’s all competing. Yet the overall market for music has *greatly* expanded. More people than ever before are making music. More people than ever before are listening to more music than ever before. More money today is being spent on music-related purchases than ever before. Live performance revenue is greater than at any time in history. Even the sale of musical instruments is higher than in the past. Yet, by your argument, that couldn’t be, since all this free music is competing with each other.

Corey says:

Re: Re: Quote me correctly

Yes, but but if ebooks become the standard in 10-20 years, what does that leave authors to sell – and I know, I’ve seen your list, but I don’t think you realize how little money there is for authors outside of selling books. How many people have paid to see their favorite author speak? Not many. In my case, I would guess my readership would have to increase by some where over a hundred times to be able to make a living off sources other then selling books. Now, would that happen for most authors who are currently published? Probably not. So call it what it is, in the end you’d have a smaller % of books to chose from because less authors will be able to support themselves from outside revenues.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Quote me correctly

I’ve seen your list, but I don’t think you realize how little money there is for authors outside of selling books.

Ugh. Corey, I’ve repeated this many times directly to you: yes, authors do not make much money outside of selling books NOW, TODAY with TODAY’S system. But if the system itself changes, then new models open up where they can make much more money outside of selling books.

20 years ago, you would have said the same thing about musicians and concerts. They made more money selling the music directly and concerts were loss leaders as a promotion. That equation has flipped.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Quote me correctly

And if a new model was attempted, and it ended up that no one was making money from it, that model would cease. It is likely that the system would revert to one of the more successful historical models.

The new model tried may fail, but the effect of trying something new certainly will lead to better than the status quo.

Charles says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Quote me correctly

I’m on Corey’s side on this one, for one reason. The reason, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong), that eBooks help is that they give the person a chance of reading the book, to hook them in. The REASON people then buy the books, if not out of compassion, would be because eBooks are not convenient. If everyone in the industry went to eBooks, they would make a better (Easier to use, cheaper, non eye damaging) eBook reader. In that case, I believe that they would not sell any more books.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Quote me correctly

The EXACT same reasoning was used to argue against the cassette, the video cassette, CDs, DVDs, and now MP3 players.
Yet more money is coming in from the purchase of music and related products now than at any previous time in history.

To believe that an advancement in technology will destroy publishing of a scarce resource (the authorship of new materials) is completely ignoring historical trends in almost every field. Yes, it most certainly will change the business model around that material and likely in an unpredictable way, but it won’t remove the incentive to produce…otherwise there’s no incentive to produce.

No incentive to produce leads to a much greater scarcity, thus opening up an even greater opportunity for whoever decides to take advantage of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Quote me correctly

You worry too much about the wrong thing.

Stop focusing on the what-if scenerio and start focus on what is really happening in the world

Experiment. Research. Find examples. Study economics.

Your “what if” is nothing more than an assertion. An untested assumption.

If you’re not willing to plunge yourself testing Mike Masnick’s theory, that’s too bad and understandable. But you haven’t prove Mike wrong yet.

He have horde of evidences to back his point up. You have none by which to prove him wrong.

I already tried what Mike proposes. Despite prediction of my business model not going to work. It never did fail. I still make money and the things that would happen never did.

You didn’t experiment. You don’t know if it work. You’re just saying that it will likely fail. Understandably you scared to experiment. But you can’t beat Mike in the court of science with what you have now.(Which is no counterexample, no research, etc)

You’re a historian right? Act like one. You said that there are many examples that would contradict Mike’s theory right? Point them out for us!

Daniel says:

Re: Re: Re: Quote me correctly

I think a voluntary pay system would work. I would certainly pay some for the books that the authors are writing and have written. For instance, I read Basilisk Station by David Weber by borrowing the book from my library. It’s the very first book of his that I had read and he had more than ten other books out in the series at that time. I have since purchased most of the other books new from a bookstore. If I couldn’t have read that first book for free, most likely I would still have never read one of his books. This has happened to me MANY times over the course of my life and ALL of the authors that I have liked I have purchased books of theirs from a bookstore brand new.
Jim Butcher is another author that I have done this with. When I was still in high school, a friend loaned me a book from Frank Herbert called Dune. I went out and purchased a copy of my own. I have no problem with purchasing books or giving authors money in order to help them write more books that I will enjoy. Getting free copies into my hands lets me try out new authors and find new prospects.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Quote me correctly

” If every publisher tomorrow gave away every ebook for free, and each book had to compete with every other free ebook, would they spread as fast?”

I can download free ebooks of thousands of books from the Gutenberg project, yet you can walk into any bookstore in the country and buy physical copies of many of these. There are also many authors working today who give away their books and still make money in many other ways. To give the obvious example, Cory Doctorow. All of his books are available with CC licences, yet he makes money from lectures, even from comic-book adaptations of his work.

“I don’t care about your OPINION on that, the point is it hasn’t been proven one way or another until a large % of the market does it.”

So in other words, you’re saying the exact thing that Mike predicted in his article:

“How long until someone points out in the comments that this, too, is a special case? Just how many special cases do we need to show before people recognize that this model does work?”

You’re just another one of those “that darned newfangled automobile won’t last because not enough people will buy it” types, aren’t you? Go back to sleep, we’ll wake you up when the world has finished changing to the new business models.

Anonymous Coward says:

Anybody who think it won’t work will automatically discount every examples, thus making the point of trying to convince them moot.

It will be much easier to just simply crush them in the free market instead of trying to advise them on how to survive.

They think it won’t work. Well let see what happen 10 years latter. My bet is that those who understand and use the economics in Mike’s various posts will have the last laugh.

Ethan says:

I believe it.

The best book I ever bought, I read free online first. is the greatest book I’ve seriously ever seen, and had it been on a shelf in a store and NOT online? No way would I have picked it up. But after giving John Dies a free chance, I tell everyone about it, which I imagine helps them out quite a bit.

Seriously though. Read it. John Dies at the End, amazing book.

Overcast says:

If every publisher tomorrow gave away every ebook for free, and each book had to compete with every other free ebook, would they spread as fast?



The Bible. It’s free – heck, you can find free copies no problem. Motels, Churches, etc.

Hmmm, wonder what the best selling book of all time was. Gee, I dunno. Not only has the bible sold more copies than any other book – but’s it’s outdone them all by at the very lest – 6 times as many sales.

Ever watch a movie on Cable or TV and then bought it?

Ever heard a song (even if they play it a lot on the radio) and went and bought the album?


That’s silly. And just an opinion.

Monk says:

There are many ways of giving some content for free, and charging the same content, with another version, formatting, media, etc.

Musicians can give your songs for free, and charge for the live performance… but RadioHead has proven it can also sell CDs.

Writers can give your ebooks for free and, if they can’t get paid for a “live performance” (or speech), they can charge for printed copies. Believe: many people will pay to have a printed copy of your book, after “tasting” the ebook.

Shane (user link) says:

It's worked on me, at least

Reading e-books, particulary those released by publishers as a test, is awkward and cumbersome. In my limited experience of sampling the products they are either a file (eg doc, pdf, txt) or are embedded somehow in a webpage (like the recent trial release of “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman’s publisher).

I don’t want to read a book while tied to a computer. Makes it hard to read on the bus, or in the park or wherever. Of the three books I have downloaded, one I read part way through before deciding it was worth buying at some stage in the future and stopped reading it as a pdf, one I started reading and decided that I had to have it and went out and bought the dead tree version and one I started reading, hated inside the first 30 pages and stopped reading while being glad I hadn’t wasted my money on that.

That’s one sale from three reads. In each case, there was no way I would have picked the book up off a shelf in a bookstore, read the blurb and bought it. In each case, the free version was a potential sale that categorically did not exist before the free version.

I feel the model has potential and I find it encouraging to see more authors supporting it.

KD says:

Shane, What Corey is arguing includes that the electronic books will improve to the point that those drawbacks you mention no longer are barriers to using the electronic book. So your arguments that those drawbacks are reasons people will still buy the physical books won’t convince him of anything.

You are right that those drawbacks are good reasons right now that free ebooks are actually a benefit in promoting sale of physical books, and that result has been demonstrated repeatedly. There are a few types of books for which it might not work — books that you don’t typically read large passages from, such as reference books, but I don’t think that invalidates the model.

It seems from everything that Corey has written here that he doesn’t believe that authors could make a living if the text of their work were freely available electronically. He must not believe that society, as a whole, will find a way to pay for production of work that they value. I guess he’ll just have to sit back and wait to see it happen, eventually.

Buzz says:

Books will last forever.

I am a computer science major at a university, and I strongly support the progression of technology. Regardless of how many features you add to eBooks, they will always suffer the tyranny of electricity. Dead batteries, circuitry problems, etc. Paper book are just reliable! I do tons of programming, so I love my books to death. Books never crash, freeze, etc. I highly doubt books will ever be eradicated. This is part of the reason I love Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Picard lives in a world of ultimate technology, but he still finds time to read his books.

Also, what format is the eBook manual? Another eBook? Books are eternal.

James says:

I’d just like to make a couple small points. I’m a librarian and I give out “free” books all the time. I haven’t read the research but I’m willing to bet that library users buy more books than the average citizen.

Books, DVDs, and CDs are a form of art. we decorate our homes with them, we share them, we take pride in our personal art collections. People spend money on art despite it being free to view online, at the museum or the gallery.

As ebooks become more widely available and are free the price of specialty books will likely rise. People will still buy books, however, and the numbers sold in many genres will also likely rise. I’m sorry but bits and bytes are no comparison to a leather bound illustrated work of art. Free ebooks are probably the best thing to happen to the printed word since movable type.

Michael Long (user link) says:

Corey is right.

At some point in the not too distant future the ebook will BE the book. So the author gives away the ebook to sell… the ebook? Which of course is supposed to be DRM free so anyone can rip it off at any time they want.

Alternative models? Thousands of fans will PAY to lineup in Dayton, Ohio, to meet the author of some novel? Hell, most authors can’t get a dozen people to lineup in Dayton for a FREE book signing, much less pay to do so. When was the last time (this will bring someone out from under the rug) that you PAID to see an author? Fine. Now, when was the fifth time?

Books aren’t music. Movies aren’t music. Software isn’t music. 99.99% of all of the authors out there don’t perfom, don’t hold concerts, don’t go on the road, and don’t sell t-shirts.

Corey is right. “Alternative” models that may or may not work in one field may or may not work in another. And NONE of them has been proven to scale when any significant percentage of the market is doing the same exact thing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Corey is right.

The thing about this is exactly what you said: “Books aren’t music”.

Downloaded music is not experienced in any different way to physically bought music. The only difference is the medium it’s stored on (which can be easily changed if desired e.g. by ripping).

Reading a book, however, is a very different experience. I know that I will certainly never settle into reading eBooks on a regular basis – I just can’t get into books on a PC in the same way that I can with a wad of paper.

If the eBook becomes the standard, people will still pay for them even if they’re free. Don’t believe me? Look on Amazon – you can buy eBook versions of public domain titles even though eBooks are freely available on Gutenberg. Authors can also make money in other ways – from audiobooks, for example. Besides, in this case the authors themselves didn’t have to even do anything – this was a publisher-led promotion.

Maybe newer generations will be different, and we’ll come to that hurdle later on. For now, the sole point of this article is that the eBook is not replacing the paper version, it’s acting as advertising for the paper version. therefore giving something away CAN mean more profit and that’s the whole point raised.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another thing to consider on the topic of eBooks vs real books is the ability to mark and reference back to the actual one. It is common to write , mark, comment on, and highlight in books that you are reading for the purpose of understanding them better. There is no such thing offered in eBooks, and as people have pointed out the whole medium is still much more awkward then traditional books. It will be quite some time before there are good eBook readers, and as someone has also said they are still tied by the need for electricity and also will be breakable. There’s also the issue of simple eye strain, it’s just simply preferable to read a book on paper than on a screen, especially when one considers the length of some texts.

mobiGeek says:

But this is a special case

I gotta believe that this “giving away free ebooks” can only work if the author giving away the work is actually any good a writing.

I can imagine a number of books i’ve half read (or forced myself to finish), if given away for free, would have lead me to start entire boycotts against that author 🙂

“Free” only works if people see value in what you give them. They need to feel that the time THEY GIVE YOU (in consuming your free thing) was a worthwhile trade, so much so they’d pay to do it again (on other items, books, ancillaries, etc…)

Iron Chef says:

Another 1st Amendment Exercise against US Music

The idea of “Free” works in the long term only if it is tied to a second transaction of higher value.

I believe that “Free” should be tied to scarce economics, much like how the music industry has set aside a portion of reproduction rights to create promo-only CDs, with hopes to increase retail sales. The thing is, promo-only versions usually went through a 2nd re-engineering who fixed the issues at the label. (See Link)

So I bought another CD from a US-based artist yesterday. and yes, as you may guess, the music industry gets another rant from the industry’s biggest fan…

I am tired of having to buy $32.00 CDs from Amazon. When you add in shipping and import fees, it’s easily $57 bucks.

Some may say it’s because the dollar is exchanged well below the Euro, but the problem, as I perceive it, is industry wide (At least stateside.)

Your Mickey Mouse Club that minted the industry’s last decade’s paychecks are getting old, falling out, shaving their heads, trying to become an astronaut, taking jobs on the TV Guide Channel. Timberlake is the only levelheaded one in the whole group. Good God. Maybe he can convince Timbaland to take a few audio engineering classes, even at a community college.

Some go so far as to ask that we “Leave Britney Alone”. Question is- do such outbursts come from the realization that all the teen pop idols manufactured in the past two decades lack a lifecycle-focused safety net?

So in the end, I say good job RIAA, and fantastic work in falling in line, labels. When it comes to economics, an industry can be graded on several factors such as gross, net sales. They seem to be pretty good at these numbers.

However, one of the more important KPIs you should measure your business should be productivity.

Productivity in economics refers to measures of output from production processes, per unit of input. This seems to be overlooked within this industry. When we look at RIAA efforts in removing productivity capability over the past decade, it’s not surprising that the entire music industry is having the challenges they are.

RIAA, this is for your own good: you should have stayed focused on what you were originally created for: standardization of depth and pitch of vinyl recordings between labels. You have no usefulness to adding productivity and promotion of artists or sales. Possibly consider letting half of your lawyers go and replace them with stellar folks who have Masters or Doctorates in Business.

American Music: get out of my house. I’m supporting Britain’s efforts.

mobiGeek says:

Re: ebook marketing

I cannot comment on ebooks, but I will tell you that I have been boycotting Best Buy/Futureshop specifically because of these type of rebate plans.

Why, when I’m in the store, do i have to fill out some piece of paper, stick a postage stamp on it, and mail it away, eventually getting back a cheque that I have to take to a bank? Just discount the dang thing right then and there.

Their hope is that a certain percentage of people will simply lose the paper or never drop it in the mail or not bother to deposit the cheque (often for just a couple of bucks).

My understanding is that Best Buy has changed their practice on this whole rebate thing, but I’ve not bothered walking in one of their stores in two or more years to find out.

So what is the point of offering a rebate? You aren’t “selling” anything if you are getting the money back, unless you are hoping to cash in on those that don’t rebate…in which case it is sort of a sleazy approach (IMO).

Iron Chef says:

Re: ebook marketing

Some may disagree with this, but maybe consider publishing the book on Google Book Search. This way, you can share the book online, and I think you can do so without sharing all the content.

I’ve bought a few books from authors after reading a few chapters on Google Book Search and Amazon as well.

As for the entire book, that’s completely up to you. Rebates are a fallacy- some statistics show that 70% are never cashed in or are incomplete when submitted.

With a literary work, the last thing you want to do is have someone buy a book, love the content, and then get a letter saying that something was missing. This could negatively reflect on the campaign endeavor which could also skew customer’s perception of your product.

Here’s one that’s a little more creative- In leu of a rebate, can you include a coupon of equal value for a value-added product that your customer’s demographic would likely purchase anyway? A simplistic example would be to sell the book at Starbucks, and upon purchase, customers get a free Starbucks coffee, perhaps?

If that rebate value could be traded for something which allows instant gratification (and lower level of effort to the consumer than a rebate) it may have a better value to you as the publisher and additionally be valuable to the Point-of-Purchase partners whom you decide to do business with.

I really have no idea, Bruce.

Randy Johnson says:

Free Ebooks

In your article, you cite John Scalzi as yet another author who realizes the benefits from free ebooks. Are you not aware that Scalzi’s been doing this for nine years now, I think? His first novel, Agent To The Stars, has been available for free download for the previously mentioned nine years. He was one of the first to recognize this new format to getting their work out there.

barrenwaste (profile) says:

Free E-Books = Good Stuff

There are multiple venues for sales outside of publishing available to authors. Conventions (public speaking), audio books, movies, and personalized editions being the most obvious. Will every author be able to make money off from these, no. But, then not ever music artist makes it big either. Baen has been offering free books for awhile, I read the free books when I don’t have a physical copy to cozy up with, but I also purchase a large selection of thier books. I’m happy to hear that Tor is finally getting in on it. Like most people I want to know a bit about what I’m buying before I spend. It may only be eight bucks, but eight bucks can mean a lot of things.

Aidan Crawford (user link) says:

Add another author

I’ve recently been involved in marketing the new book by Jim Clemmer and part of the promotion was giving the book away one chapter at time over a sixteen week period before it hit the stores.

Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications is still available for download and sales of the book are doing just fine. We’re even selling a few e-books!

Isaac K (profile) says:

Alternative models

I think people are missing one major factor in the whole “book selling” model: movies.

how many authors/publishers have had proprietary works turned into major motion pictures since the advent of film?
Even barring the recent trend of comic book adaptations and Shakespearean classics, the number is incredibly high.
Atonement, the Girl with the Pearl Earring, Golden Compass, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, HARRY POTTER etc. etc. etc.
And these movies make their authors MILLIONS of dollars. And then there is the ancillary products: toys, games, lunchboxes, etc., ALL of which CANNOT be pirated even.

If you will insist that this only favors a minority of authors, all you are saying is that “Only those authors whose story is entertaining enough to the public will receive such endorsements.” Ergo – The MARKET will chose which authors it wants to reward with wealth for their production. Which is how the whole system is supposed to work anyhow, isn’t it?

How’s that for a business model?

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