Yet Again, Giving Away Free eBook Increased Sales Of Author's Books

from the and-again-and-again-and-again dept

Someone pointed this out on Friday, but I thought we’ve seen so many stories of it that it didn’t necessarily merit mentioning. However, all weekend long more people submitted it, so perhaps it is worth pointing out. Neil Gaiman, who was part of Harper Collins experiment with giving away free ebooks, discovered (like so many others) that giving away the free ebooks helped increase sales. And, of course, it wasn’t just for the one book that was offered for free, but across all of Gaiman’s works. The other bit of information is that, as we expected, HarperCollins found that many people were not at all happy with all of the restrictions it put on the ebooks (including that you had to read it on their website rather than download it):

Response to our Browse Inside Online Reader was mixed — with 44% saying they enjoyed the experience at 56% saying they did not. The chief complaints were that you had to have an internet connection to read the book, you had to scroll to see the whole page and that the load time was sometimes slow. 69% of respondents said that they would like to be able to download. Some people complained that since they couldn?t bookmark where they left off, they got lost between reading sessions.

Of course, plenty of people pointed this out when Harper Collins first announced the plan. But, better late than never. Gaiman notes: “the 56% of people who didn’t enjoy the online reading experience may be a lot happier with how we do it next time out.”

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Comments on “Yet Again, Giving Away Free eBook Increased Sales Of Author's Books”

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Jon Evans (user link) says:

Half-corroborating, half-dissenting vote

I too recently had a novel released online via HarperCollins’s Browse Inside site (Invisible Armies, to be exact) and it definitely resulted in a brief uptick in sales.

I too had a whole bunch of people complain that Browse Inside was reader-hostile. My thoughts here are more complex.

The idea, from a publisher’s point of view, is to hook readers with the online edition so that they’ll buy the onpaper edition. Right now this works great. In the future, though, as people become accustomed to reading on their Kindles and Sony Readers, going from ebook to physical copy won’t be as much of an upgrade, so providing downloads is understandably a scary and worrying thought for people, like me and my publishers, who actually want to make money off my novels. And right now online publication has enough novelty value that new paying readers outweigh those who might have bought a copy but instead read for free – but if online publishing becomes the norm, that will no longer be true.

Musicians and, to some extent, nonfiction writers can use their music and books as loss leaders for performance income, but this is not really an option for novelists; fiction is not a performance art.

That said, I’d be totally happy to provide one of my published novels as a free online download; but all of them? Right now it would probably be a good business move. In five years’ time? I’m not so sure

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Half-corroborating, half-dissenting vote

While the business plan you outline above is certainly threatened if people who used to buy the book now just reads it for free and buys nothing, I think you’re overlooking two important parts.

The first is the advertising value. Even when people get used to reading on screens (I’ve been doing it for years) they’ll still purchase books for the tangible good. Don’t see ebooks as competing with books, see it as paperbacks and ebooks competing with hardback books.

The second is the reward factor. I’ve purchased every book Terry Pratchett has written since, a collection I took up in 2002: I borrowed a lot of his books from a friend, and when that friend moved, I illegally downloaded a lot of his books from the net so I could keep reading (this is what started med down the ebook path). And as soon as I had a real job so I could make some money, I dedicated some of that money to purchasing his books, even though I’d already read them, because I liked the idea of giving money to Terry Pratchett, and because (first factor) I liked having a tangible good, rather than the ebooks. I still have a vast collection of illegally downloaded Terry Pratchett books, but by now, only three of those are still un-purchased, and that’s more because I can’t find them in the edition I want than because I don’t want to buy them. I wouldn’t have bought any of those books if I hadn’t been able to read them for free first.

That guy with the opinion... says:

Re: Re: Half-corroborating, half-dissenting vote

I totally agree with this comment. Money’s tight at the moment so I’ve been downloading TV shows via BitTorrent, (including some shows that don’t air over here). I now have a growing list of DVDs that I plan to buy of shows that I’ve already seen. That’s an example illegally downloaded content that’s going to make the creators some money that in many cases they never would have seen in the first place.

Rick Cook says:

Re: Half-corroborating, half-dissenting vote

Actually Jon, I think you’re underestimating the power of the model.

Like you, I’m a published novelist. Like you I’ve had some of my books published for free online — in my case through the Baen Free Library with my enthusiastic approval.

My first observation is that even those two books (our of the five in the series) continued to sell well even after they were available for free. In fact looking at my royalty statements over the several years it appears that having those books available from Baen Free Library actually extended the life of the series.

I’m getting ready to extend the experiment further. I’m getting ready to put the unfinished sixth book in the series “The Wizardry Capitalized” up for free on my web site. (Why unfinished? A little matter of heart surgery and extended health problems which left me unable to finish the books.) I’m doing this because some people ahve asked to see it even in its incomplete state. I will be very interested to see what effect this has on the sales of my other books.

The second, larger, point is that even if everything you write is published for free on the web there are still a lot of ways to make money out of writing. The case isn’t as clean as it is for musicians — who make pathetically little off their album sales anyway, but it still happens.

Writers are re-entering a period when the key to being financially successful is community building. The novel becomes only one tool for building that community and not necessarily the best way to make money out of it.

Michael Long (user link) says:


“The other bit of information is that, as we expected, HarperCollins found that many people were not at all happy with all of the restrictions it put on the ebooks…”

Then again, those interested in the book may have bought it simply to eliminate those restrictions. Remove all of the restrictions, and you may remove most of the reasons for actually buying the physical copy.

anonymouse says:

Free yourself, Neil!

Wouldn’t it be better if Neil Gaiman goes a step further and frees himself of Harper Collins and copyright and puts his work in the public domain?

That way, more publishers would get to freely publish his works in tangible form (the printed book), and more people can access his works across the globe. I mean, why should Harper Collins alone make all the money?

Surely Neil has several other scarce goods to sell…like his ability to write another book.

Rick Cook says:

Re: Free yourself, Neil!

No it would not be better to put the book in the public domain. The author may want to release it under generous terms, but if he or she puts it in the public domain, the author loses all control over the work.

Most of us are proud enough that we don’t want to see our stuff mucked with without our permission.

I’m more than willing to make at least some of my stuff freely available, but I’m not about to put any of it in public domain.

hegemon13 says:

ebook revolution...or not

I am working on my first novel now, and I am both excited and concerned to see what will happen to the fiction market in the coming years. One prediction that comes to light every time a new ebook reader comes out is that ebooks will take over, and that ebooks will be the new MP3s. I have to say, I disagree with that. Please let me know if you think I am way off-base.

First, most of the so-called evidence for this claim involves simply pointing a finger at the music and movie industry. However, I think what will keep book sales from being decimated by piracy is the same thing that has kept ebooks from taking off. That is, ebooks fundamentally change the experience of reading in a negative way. Even improvements in a screen will not solve the fact that the experience of reading a novel cannot be fully realized in an electronic device. The experience for downloaded music and movies was largely the same, with an often negligible decrease in quality.

Second, readers are collectors. Most heavy readers I know have shelves full of books that they have either already read or never expect to read. I am guilty of that myself. But, I like the feeling of standing before a huge, full bookshelf and selecting something new to read. An electronic collection is decidedly less satisfying.

Last, the convenience factor of MP3s is not present. Yes, a Kindle allows you to carry a library of books with you. However, unlike music, novels are generally read one-at-a-time. People don’t create “mix-books.” Novels take many hours, rather than minutes, of a person’s time. The browsing experience is less satisfying on an electronic reader. A Kindle, being a fragile electronic device, is actually more difficult to carry around than a durable paperback, and there are very few times that a person needs to carry more than one book. School is an exception, and I can see ebooks having a much larger role in the textbook industry.

I hope I am not being too old-school. I am a gadget freak, and I embrace technology quickly. However, ebooks and ebook readers have always seemed to me to be a solution looking for a problem.

chris (profile) says:

Re: ebook revolution...or not

most of the so-called evidence for this claim involves simply pointing a finger at the music and movie industry.

the ebook as a salable commodity is much like the legal music download as a salable commodity: technically feasible but too encumbered to be viable in the market. i have read a few books on a screen, namely just about everything cory doctorow has written. the convenience is nice, reading them in the browser on my phone, but i am not sure i would want to do all of my reading that way.

the ebook reader is not and will probably never be comparable to the ipod. the ipod and other mp3 players took off because people already had vast collections of music in the mp3 format, and getting your remaining cd collection into mp3 was not incredibly labor intensive.

getting your book collection into an ebook format is labor intensive (unless you have a machine to flip pages for you and scan for you), and not many of us have large collections of existing ebooks that we are waiting for a portable device to use.

so, unlike CD’s and movies where the purely digital form is a superior good, it is my opinion that the ebook is an inferior good when compared to the analog book.

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