Publisher Experiments With 'Free' And Sees Book Sales Increase 20x

from the not-bad dept

We’ve pointed to numerous studies, at this point, that have all found that, when done right, free ebooks can greatly increase the sales of physical books (and, in some cases, even of ebooks). Here’s another empirical example of that in action. Chris Anderson points us to a blog post by someone at a mid-list niche publisher, talking about how successful its experiments with “free” ebooks have been. In this case, the publisher would offer up the first book in a series as a free ebook, and found that it drove massive increases in sales:

One of our free titles was the #1 download on Amazon for the entire month of February. The subsequent sales of books 2 and 3 in the series increased by a rate of 20 to 1. For this series, digital sales are approaching 20% of the total product sales distribution and growing. With the visibility of the digital sales on Amazon, we have seen a substantial increase in print sales to the brick and mortar book chains. In this one instance, digital is driving print sales.

Basically, what this publisher realized is that with most books, obscurity is a greater threat than “piracy,” and free helps deal with that:

Much of the talk by the big 6 publishers has been stress over cannibalization of print sales, or the idea of replacement sales, by ebooks. For midlist publishers such as ourselves, I believe we fight against substitution. We capture the “browser” market. If our title is not available or visible, a customer will simply substitute for another one in the genre. Free gave us the visibility that we could not purchase.

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Comments on “Publisher Experiments With 'Free' And Sees Book Sales Increase 20x”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Free makes even more sense for books, the ones who aren’t willing to buy your books are those who browse through their library for new books to find and would buy your book anyway.

Paying money for an ebook makes no sense to me because I can go to the library and get a free book and read it, Ebooks just make that process even simpler, so I read more and see more books in general.

If I like a book, then I have to have my personal copy of of the dead tree edition, simple as that. I have multiple ultra special leather bound books that are all in the public domain (Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, and so forth) despite all the advantages that a good ebook provides (text search, electronic bookmarks, etc…) because I like the books a lot. I have bought multiple copies of series I love to give to friends and to look nice on my shelf. (My idea of decorating is lining the walls with nice bookcases to fit all the books)

So I spend a lot of money on books, but would I pay money for an electronic copy when I could just go to the library and check it out for free? No way.

Making your ebook available for free means people like me are more likely to find it, read it, and then buy the dead tree edition and go to author events.

CMK (profile) says:


Did you need to add that? It’s not incredibly useful, or even interesting.

I find that if I become interested in a story, then I like to read the remainder of the story… and I prefer to read in dead-tree version, because it’s truly portable – and it can sit on the shelf for reading in a few years when I need a refresh (or my child/grandchild wants to see the world that I saw). And maybe when an e-book reader comes out that is non-proprietary, very high resolution, and lasts weeks on a charge not days, I might buy one… or I might not.

tore (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, regarding the batterylife of readers, my Sony lasts roughly a month per charge and I read a couple of thousand pages each week.

Portability? Oh yes. It’s smaller than most paperbacks and weighs 270 grams.

Resolution? Same resolution as paper and ink. The screen uses e-Ink and creates the letters using a static charge, about the same way a laserprinter does.

Downside? It’s crap for images. Great for text though.

Sysadmn says:

Not a surprise

On impulse, I bought the trade paperback “Mean Streets” because it contained a novella by Jim Butcher. I’ve read everything else in his Harry Dresden series.

I found I enjoyed the 3 other novellas in the book. Each of them featured a character from a series of novels. I now own 11 novels by those other authors.

I had never heard of the authors or their protagonists before, and probably never would have. If a $12 impulse purchase opened the door for them, imagine how many more people “free” can reach.

BLyons (profile) says:

personal experience

After nearly 8 years of watching my own efforts, I thought you were doing well with the fact that free first books or free reads help sales. I teach the same thing myself and offer more than a dozen free reads daily and periodic free first book in a series.

I heartily disagree with the 20 times thing. IMO, that’s hyperbole or at least non-repeatable with any certainty; it’s one person’s experience with a very specific audience and cannot be counted upon to work that way for everyone. My experiments with giving a free first book of a series for a week or so show 4-6 times increase in sales of the books for several months and a diminishing increase after that fact. Offering a free read (short story through novella-length) in perpetuity shows a lesser increase over time and nothing as easily qualifiable, since it’s not a limited time period that can have a single shockwave aftereffect to test.

Another complaint… 20 to 1 over what period of time? And at what rate does that decrease? Without that information, these are useless data bits tossed into the ether for me.

But when you really lost me was when you compared this to piracy. That’s where it fails for me. I’ve tracked initial downloads of free reads and books given for free and been able to quantify a return on them. By comparison, I can pull down more than a thousand illegal copies of books in a month (from a site that was clean the month before, so I have a time frame on the downloads) and see no spike in sales whatsoever.

Further, this line of thinking doesn’t take into account that I can see whole series being pirated, which means they aren’t pirating number 1 and buying 2-5. They are pirating them all. How does that increase sales? It doesn’t. The pirates taking #1 and buying 2-5 are the exception…not the rule, in my experience.


nasch (profile) says:

Re: personal experience

IMO, that’s hyperbole or at least non-repeatable with any certainty; it’s one person’s experience with a very specific audience and cannot be counted upon to work that way for everyone.

Name any business scenario that isn’t true of, let alone anything involving art (using the term broadly to include literature).

Further, this line of thinking doesn’t take into account that I can see whole series being pirated, which means they aren’t pirating number 1 and buying 2-5. They are pirating them all. How does that increase sales? It doesn’t. The pirates taking #1 and buying 2-5 are the exception…not the rule, in my experience.

That may all be true, but the point is not that all or even most downloaders buy the books. The point is that some people are GOING TO get your books for free. Your choice is not whether to have free books available or not – they will be available. Your choice is whether to try to take advantage of that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: personal experience

“I heartily disagree with the 20 times thing. IMO, that’s hyperbole or at least non-repeatable with any certainty; it’s one person’s experience with a very specific audience and cannot be counted upon to work that way for everyone.”

Err…where did anyone say that it was repeatable and would work that way for everyone?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: personal experience

“I can pull down more than a thousand illegal copies of books in a month (from a site that was clean the month before, so I have a time frame on the downloads) and see no spike in sales whatsoever. “

well….were you ever going to buy you own book?

It’s when people who are not familiar with your work download (and like) it – that a future sale/monetization could take place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: personal experience

“By comparison, I can pull down more than a thousand illegal copies of books in a month (from a site that was clean the month before, so I have a time frame on the downloads) and see no spike in sales whatsoever. “

You know, I think a logical person would take that experience, notice that they are wasting their time and effort, stop bothering, and use the extra time to, you know…run their business more effectively.

But then, logic seems to escape you.

M. S. Rogers (profile) says:

Reality Check

Readers seem to fall into two catagories…those who read for the sake of reading and those that cherish the stories inside. Ebooks are nonessential to the latter. They may out of convience read ebooks more often, but I’d bet they’d buy more hard copies of books, even those read three times over in electronic format simply because hardcopy brings a whole other sense of immersion than an ebook.
People who read to read don’t necessarily care about the format. Whether it’s a glossy magazine, leather bound 1st edition or electronic – it’s all about reading for the sake of reading.
Hard copy will always remain because there is no substitute for the feel and connection with a story when it’s physically in the palm of the hand, turning the pages with finger tips, the weight, etc.

BLyons (profile) says:

using handheld readers

MS, I fully agree that readers fall into two categories, but the reasons to use handheld readers and/or e-books may be more complex than you realize, whether they read to read or love the words inside the books. Some reasons to consider e-books you didn’t adress…

1) Vision impaired… Either increasing font size or text to speech programs aid readers, and both are available for any unsecured or DRM broken e-book. In addition, some doctors suggest e-reading to vision impaired because they claim the readers are easier on some people’s eyes than bright white book pages are…as long as you’re not using a backlit screen in a completely darkened room, which they curse. But others find reading from a screen harder. That one is very individual.

2) Expat or business traveler… e-Books allow even avid readers to purchase and carry hundreds of books while nowhere near an English-language bookstore and eliminates the need to either dispose of the books (oh the horror of that) or ship them home.

3) Space saving… Likewise, some people don’t have the space to keep all the books they’d like to reread around, but they can store e-books.

4) Search features… Depending on the format of the book, you can search entire hard drives of books you own to find a single phrase or subject.

5) Prior paper book losses… I know from experience how painful it is to lose all of your beloved paper books in fire or flood. With e-books, you can backup books off site and/or in several places to protect your investment in your books. I’m still replacing books I lost in a house fire 11 years ago, for instance.

I’m sure I’m missing some, but all are valid reasons and have nothing to do with whether someone reads to read or immerses in the book. Whether or not you can immerse in an e-book is completely personal. I can. You seem to be saying you can’t.


BLyons (profile) says:

you're kidding, right?

You cannot compare books to music. It doesn’t work well. Some differences?

It’s very difficult for authors to make money from public appearances, while musicians can. In addition to how hard it is to GET a signing and get it without being hampered by the store (unless you’re a NY Times bestseller or something, in which case they bend over backward to accomodate you), public readings by authors are not commonplace. The last author to do well with this was probably Sam Clements or someone not much past his time. They do shows now where actors read erotic work or horror work or something similar, but not the authors very often. If we do public readings, they are free readings to spur the sales of actual books. Few people have the love of books to sit and listen to someone else read to them, though poets sometimes manage it and I’ve read short stories to crowds…up to about 4000 words in length. Not to mention that there are hundreds of thousands of authors competing for public appearance, of some sort.

Another nit with your mindset… No, fiction books are NOT just information. They are a creative endeavor. They aren’t just facts thrown at the reader, and even if we were talking about non-fiction books, I would counter that the research, organizing, money put into producing the book (which is true of e-books just as it is for paper books), distribution (ditto), and marketing (ditto) is done for a reason. That reason is the return on investment. If you just want to write and give it away for free, you can do that. I do that with some stories. The ones I publish for pay are there with an expectation of return, even if I do choose to give an older title away for free to spur the sale of the newer ones.


Dan Neely says:

Baen books has been doing this for years via their free library and getting good results. They also found that giving the first book away free also drives sales of the free book. Eric Flint posted sales figures for one of his books about a year after it first became available as a free download, and has indicated that the sales boosts have continued since then both on Baen’s forum and in person at SF cons.

BLyons (profile) says:


I’d counter that you are being obtuse here. I’ve already said I have free content, and not just the ones people decide to heist from me; I’ve also already said that most pirates are not purchasing the books…ever, while I have measurable numbers of people buying based on free reads I offer.

But, I counter that free content given willingly doesn’t compare to piracy in returns for me. There is no “taking advantage” of people who buy nothing…i.e. the pirates. There’s no appealing to them, no stopping them, no reasonining with them, and no return from them, save in frustration. That’s the facts of life, as we know it. The only ones that do me any good at all are the ones that buy something, and those are the ones downloading the copies I OFFER for free. So, from my chair…you are just trying to obscure the fact that piracy is not helping me with double talk.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: nasch

I’m extremely skeptical about your numbers regarding unauthorized downloads and sales. You don’t list sites you have found them at and I did some searching in the more popular sites and couldn’t find your name. That says to me that you didn’t get to the big downloading sites and don’t get the numbers of downloads that affect sales. You also don’t list the period you looked at for increasing sales. let’s say your book is up on a torrent site for a month, unless it is an instant hit, It takes a little bit of time for the number of downloads to get high enough that the random browser of ebooks would find it so you are losing out on all that free advertising and instantly assuming that there needs to be a direct 1:1 download to sales increase.

Second, are you this upset about a library loaning out your books for people to read? How about people who loan books to friends? Those who who download books and then don’t buy generally fall into those who wanted to see if they liked it before paying the high price, those who just build collections without reading everything (more common than you think), and those who are just looking for new stuff to read. Now two of those three types would just go to a library and check out a book if they couldn’t get it online for free.

Word of mouth is the best (or worst) advertisement for any book, and the best way for you to get the word out is to advertise the free stuff, in this case eBooks.

Also you can monetize your stories in other ways, I for one would buy super special editions that that over fifty or sixty dollars for series that I love, I’ve done it in the past (and then bought a cheap copy to let friends read). I’m seriously hoping that the Wheel of Time series comes out with a really awesome collection, and a leather bound edition of the last (3) Book(s), A Memory of Light. You can also sell book marks, tshirts, and other series themed paraphernalia that the fans of your series will eat up.

You don’t have to make money selling books to make money as an author.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: nasch

I’ve also already said that most pirates are not purchasing the books…ever, while I have measurable numbers of people buying based on free reads I offer.

Indeed. So why bother worrying about them. Most people who watch TV commercials never buy the products they see either. It doesn’t make those commercial any less worth producing, does it?

But, I counter that free content given willingly doesn’t compare to piracy in returns for me. There is no “taking advantage” of people who buy nothing…i.e. the pirates.

You call them pirates and you’ve already lost. Why not focus on trying to *convert* them by giving them something they want to buy, which CANNOT be copied?

There’s no appealing to them, no stopping them, no reasonining with them, and no return from them, save in frustration. That’s the facts of life, as we know it.

That’s simply not true and we’ve presented tremendous evidence to the contrary. If you give people a reason to buy something, they will. But it has to be a *scarce* reason, not just “because that’s our business model and because the content’s good.” The market doesn’t function that way.

BLyons (profile) says:

you guys like that term but do you understand it?

The whole buggy whip thing has nothing to do with free reads and piracy. You just like saying it so it sounds like you’re saying something, right?

The actual analogy would be the buggy producer that clings to the old model and dies as a business, trying desperately to sell horse and buggy parts, unwilling to branch out, when he should be saying, “I’m in the transportation business.” It might be argued that the NY conglomerate presses just coming into the established e-market are sabotaging themselves that way, and I would not argue a word of that comparison.

Using it [the buggy whip analogy] to mean a dead market is misleading, since saddles and whips and tack are still made today but marketed to a subset of the buyers they once were. It is now something of a niche market, not the staple market it once was.

Since I do give away free samples to sell the whole, I fail to see how I am not discussing it. I fully support the concept, but my experience says pirates pirate and readers buy. The subset of readers that overlap with pirates is very small. Just simple math and observation.

But ulike musicians, few authors can make money on public appearances. Your blockbusters (Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Stephen King) can, and some NY Times bestsellers can. Most cannot. But that’s well established.


BLyons (profile) says:

fianlly, someone asking real questions

Let’s start with your second question first… I fully support libraries and donate print books to them…as well as supporting legitimate e-book libraries, but libraries are not comparable to piracy. Neither are used book stores. Why? Because any print pass alongs have wear and tear inherent in the system, and short someone pirating the book, there is a single copy changing hands. Legitimate e-book library programs work in much the same way; you are only permitted a limited number of shares or reads or lends, before a new copy must be purchased.

Now, don’t talk to me about 100 year old hard bound books. I have a few approaching that. But, your average book made today isn’t made like those century-old books.

I personally don’t consider a person lending a single copy to friends a pirate, per se. Unfettered hand-to-hand sharing has the CAPACITY to exceed 10,000 copies in 13 passes. Will it? Probably not. Is it against copyright? Yes. Is a person sharing a copy of my book with a single friend hurting me? Nope, and not only is it impossible to police, what person in his/her right mind would want to?

I do have to laugh at your “high price” statement. Sorry. I am not with NY conglomerate press. My e-books are always priced lower by far than mass market of a similar length and genre. That’s a pirate’s arguement, I’ve found. “All books are SO expensive.” Baloney. Most indie presses will price a novel-length fiction e-book between $5 and $7. And I’m not asking anyone to buy without a free test run that I freely offer. I offer not only free reads and the occasional first book of a series for free, but also first chapter of books to see if it appeals…and a rating scale to help people avoid what they won’t like.

I agree that word of mouth is good for you, but readers can give that other ways. You can pass along my free reads, to your hearts’ content. I give blanket permission to pass my approved free reads, as far and wide as you wish, as long as you aren’t changing anything or trying to profit from it. IOW, don’t try to resell them (one of the types of pirates I really do loathe), but pass them for free.

In addition, they can write reviews about the books they liked…or didn’t. I get some great reviews from readers not affiliated with review sites. That’s always a treat for an author. We love it. You can rate the books on Amazon or someplace and post reviews there. Talk about books you like on reader lists. When someone asks: “What should I read next?”, say something. Tell them what your favorites were.

Oh, and yes… A single share with one friend or even a couple friends doesn’t bother me, but this is where a lot of pirates miss the boat. A share or two isn’t killing me. Loading my book on a site where thousands can download at one time is. Reselling my work without permission is not only hurting me but the other readers. Reselling my free reads is downright cheating other readers, since the pirate is duping them into paying for something they could be getting for free from me.

Uh…yeah. You don’t know much about the mid-list and lower author, do you? All the things you’re talking about work only for a subset of authors. Problems I see here, coming from the author seat?

A) You are rarely allowed to sell things with your cover art on them. That right is kept by the publisher. You can make things for free give-aways but not to sell. That’s what all my contracts read.

B) Unless you are getting a huge advance, and few are these days, you don’t have the money to have art made just for you to use on sale items and to pay not only for the art but also for the license you need to do this legally. Unless you are lucky enough to be an artist, as well as an author, chances are, you don’t have art to use…see A.

C) Very few authors make this sort of sale system work. Even Sherrilyn Kenyon, who has the very successful Mighty Barnacle sale site, doesn’t sell book marks. She gives them free in packages of other items you get from her. And that sort of merchandising, even if you can make it work, takes years to build up. MB wasn’t big until a few years ago, and Sherrilyn has been publishing since at least 1993 or 1994 and has been in NY for at least 5 years or so now and a NY Times bestseller since very early in her NY career.

In short, your arguments and thoughts on the matter might work for her, but they are highly unlikely to work for someone not at her level. I’ve tried selling t-shirts and other items. I think I sold three in as many years. Why? Because I’m not her, and I don’t have her support network or her audience.


Anonymous Coward says:

brenna books music and all information of any sort are all buggy whip businesses. stick with the techdirt plan. all information is infinite free and has no market price. those people who pay for it are like buggy whip buyers today a few remaining idiots who dont know how to download. soon they will learn too and the book business will have a major growth spurt when everyone stops paying for it. it is the techdirt way!!!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: ah...I see...

Anonymous has made it painfully clear that this group is nothing but a bunch of pirates trying to make themselves feel better about what they do. Got it. IOW, you don’t give a crap about who you hurt. Have fun.

The AC who answered you is not representative of the community here at all. He’s a long term troll on this site who likes to cause havoc. He’s just playing with you by pretending to make up ridiculous arguments.

Readers here are very much interested in understanding economic business models in different industries. However, we don’t necessarily take pat and simple answers when people tell us that basic economics can be ignored.

BLyons (profile) says:


But, I will finish answering you, since I didn’t get a chance to finish earlier.

Where I haven’t found my books would be more accurate? Where have I? I have no clue what you consider the major sites, and yes…I take down books when I find them. Sometimes that’s quickly. Sometimes that’s when they’ve been on a site for several months, because that’s when I find them.

Recently (within the last few months), I have taken down books from or asked my publishers to take down books from Demonoid, Underground Forum, Astatalk (the links to the other sites where they are shelved), fileshandler, 4shared, eBay (do NOT get me started on those creeps), Scribd, eCrater, Twitter, Blogger, LiveJournal, Yahoogroups (many of which link to a site, like the FreeBookClub site), Facebook, Mininova, zshare,… To be honest, I don’t have time to go back through and name them all. Since I get the notices of pirated work from several places, it would take me hours just to do a couple of months worth of notices I have saved.

The rest of your comment is ridiculous. Of course, I do not expect a perfect 1:1 payback on pirated works. But you cannot point to anything on my royalty statements and NOT track jumps back to one of a few things I do anyway, which would include new releases, promo events, and so forth. There is nothing unaccounted for that is conceivably piracy, and if I’m getting less than a 1% return on it (and I would be getting less than that, by the numbers I see), it’s not worth my promo time and dollars.

You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t see being pirated more than a thousand times in a month as free promotion. I see it as sales that will never be, thanks to some selfish pirates that feel entitled to anything they are capable of grabbing off the net, because they are that unethical and someone else providing it to them are, as well. If you want to promote someone, I have already told you how to do it in a way that doesn’t cause them harm.

Enough said. I’ve wasted enough time with people who clearly just want to pirate and have the authors say, “That’s okay honey.” The truth is, I’d rather have a pirate not know who I am than try to “help” me their way.


Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: nasch

Recently (within the last few months), I have taken down books from or asked my publishers to take down books from Demonoid, Underground Forum, Astatalk (the links to the other sites where they are shelved), fileshandler, 4shared, eBay (do NOT get me started on those creeps), Scribd, eCrater, Twitter, Blogger, LiveJournal, Yahoogroups (many of which link to a site, like the FreeBookClub site), Facebook, Mininova, zshare,… To be honest, I don’t have time to go back through and name them all. Since I get the notices of pirated work from several places, it would take me hours just to do a couple of months worth of notices I have saved.

Interesting. Earlier in this thread, you insisted that the “pirates” would never buy. So why bother taking down the content from these sites? What a waste of energy to stop people who aren’t (according to you) going to be customers anyway.

That makes no sense to me.

You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t see being pirated more than a thousand times in a month as free promotion. I see it as sales that will never be, thanks to some selfish pirates that feel entitled to anything they are capable of grabbing off the net, because they are that unethical and someone else providing it to them are, as well. If you want to promote someone, I have already told you how to do it in a way that doesn’t cause them harm.

Again, you already insisted those people were not potential customers. Now you’re saying they are?

You’re contradicting yourself.

BLyons (profile) says:

a couple final things I forgot to answer for you...

You can only do “special editions” of your book for higher amounts if one of two things are true: you are self-publishing or your publisher does them. Contracted to a publisher, I cannot simply choose to make special editions of my books.

What I am seeing on this group is a gross misconception about what contracts say and what return we look for in any promotion we do.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: a couple final things I forgot to answer for you...

What I am seeing from one author appears to be a monologue in many parts.

I actually support you (well authors in general) and wish you success. Do you get any profit from the $2 bargain bin books? Cause if I havent previously read you thats the only place I will buy you from. Sorry but why waste money on a work I dont like.

On the other hand if I get you from a library and like you – you have a fan. But my library doesn’t have any of your books, or wait they are on loan, oh wait only maybe 6 months before someone donates one… oh wait there is a torrent – WOW good book. Hmmm… go to bookstore and buy all the ones in the series they have… oh wait not in stock… put on order… oh wait first 3 in the series out of print..

the point – 2 sides to every story… and maybe answer the point Mike raised. Either pirates never buy so who cares anyway…. or they sometimes buy – I know which I beieve.

I pirate and I puy…. think not of it as “stealing” – but as “rent-2-buy” from the Interweb Library. And EVERY SINGLE SALE from a “pirate” is one MORE than you would have had otherwise. /rant (sorry)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wow... Love it!

Hopefully both the authors – through more sales but at reduced margin (heh – see I was paying attention to the economics discussed here) AND the readers through greater access, variety and reduced price.

Any other outcome.. *sigh* seems to be where we are headed in this wonderfull world.

Go Authors! Go Readers!… Publishers optional. 🙂

BLyons (profile) says:

answering a few questions before I DO get back to work

Thanks for letting me know that the trolls are not the usual on here. Being new, I was starting to think the trolls were the backbone.

nasch… First of all, there is no content that cannot be copied. If a man can make it, a man can break it. You should know that. All the idiots at NY conglomerates that really believe DRM works or that only putting books in print will stop piracy are deluding themselves and are sadly misinformed. Print-only books are pirated all the time. I had the lovely time of explaining to Stephen Zacharius at Kensington a good two or three years ago how his print-only books were being pirated as e-books, and all DRM does is punish honest readers while not slowing pirates, in the least.

But, I’m not asking people to buy things blind. This is where the argument starts circling. I offer free reads, free first in a series, excerpts, associated works, rating scales, and reviews/awards. I’m doing everything I can to make sure people buy things they will enjoy, and if that’s not me, they can feel free to buy elsewhere. I even make suggestions for those that ask for them. I highly suggest other authors do the same and teach that at conventions and online, but I cannot control their business decisions, even when I disagree with them.

Anyone worth their salt buying a product should be willing to invest the time in reading up on that product first. When I want to buy anything from a book to a computer, I’m out there researching first. That’s responsible buying in action. The problem, from my seat, is people that want to shortcut the process and get everything for free, at which point, a lot of them decide it’s easy to get away with not paying for anything they want that’s available on the web. And it all goes downhill from there.

There is no converting *some* pirates, which I why I cringe every time someone says something like that. A large number know what the laws say, but all they care about are themselves and their reasons for doing what they do.

Some feel they are playing Robin Hood or “sticking it to the man” and punishing the greedy corporate fat-cats, but the fact is that there are only 6 NY conglomerate presses (4 of which are foreign owned), a handful of black-box presses they own, and then you have 70,000+ small or medium sized presses in the US alone…as well as self-publishing authors.

Worse, a lot of these people use a blockbuster author like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, or Dan Brown as an example and talk about authors with two or three yachts and huge advances and millions of copies in sales. I hate to break it to them…and to myself, but those authors are one in 10,000 or less of the authors out there.

What is the average like? Your average NY Times bestseller may be taking home (after returns…remember that wasteful NY system?…and agent’s cut and so forth) only $25,000-35,000 on a book that took a year or more to write. Several NY Times bestsellers have shared their numbers in the past year, so I’m talking about these people, in specific, who wanted to show other aspiring authors what it really means in sales.

Not to mention NY Times beseller list is NOT based on sales. It’s based on ORDERS. The first three weeks or month a book is there, it’s just because the bookstores ordered it. If it comes back or stays after that point, it means there was enough sales to cause reorders. It is absolutely possible for a NY conglomerate press to pour a ton of money into a book they HOPE will sell well, have huge preorders from bookstores, and have the book fail utterly. Happens more often than you might believe. I could tell you my personal plans for stopping it, but that would take an entirely new post.

Most authors do not make 5 or 6 figures in advance of a book. The average advance for a NY conglomerate publisher has fallen below $5,000. Some are below $2,000 for a new author or one that only has indie experience behind them.

In indie, you usually don’t find advances, at all. Of my 7 publishers, I have one that offers advances for novel-length work…only novel length…of $100. No, I am not joking. If I write a novel for them, that’s my advance against sales. The up side is that we get either monthly or quarterly royalty payments, and the only returns we deal with are on print copies of the book…not e-book.

Midlist authors usually don’t make enough money to live on. Very few earn enough to quit the day job, even if they are in a two-working-parent family. I’ve seen more high-end indies able to quit the day job than I’ve seen my NY midlist compatriots able to in the last five years. Your average midlist or lower author is working a day job. If he/she is not working one, it’s more often due to personal disability, dealing with a disabled relative or child, or raising several small children, which means she’ll return to work when they are all school age. I stopped working when I had a back injury then went back part-time a year later.

According to the latest surveys on indie/e press, the average book sells less than 1000 copies in the first year, and we all know about diminishing returns after that. I’ve done better. I’ve done worse. I’ve sold 800 in a good first month, but not every book does that.

Back to pirates… Some feel they are entitled to anything not nailed down. I had one gent (I use the term loosely) tell me he believed everything in life should come with a money-back guarantee and he should have no personal responsibility in vetting purchases ahead of time or taking that chance of buying anything in life. It wasn’t even enough for this guy to read one book and buy others. Nope. He is the typical pirates pirate stereotype, which I’d hoped didn’t really exist for several years.

Some have been duped into believing they have purchased rights they haven’t…rights to resell books.

Some don’t like the laws, and rather than complaining to lawmakers and joining authors in our attempts to deal with them to get decent laws, they break them as a form of civil disobedience, which only makes the lawmakers feel more restrictive laws are needed, and that works against both authors AND readers, in the long run. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that they bring on themselves, but readers blame authors, as if we wanted this to happen. Another price to piracy.

And so on…and so on…

On the other hand… Some are uneducated in what the laws say (not that I think ALL the laws make sense, and I personally tell people when I think the laws are wrong, so don’t think I’m tied to that). Those can be educated. I do educate them. AWaY is a fantastic new program that lets readers ask questions of authors in a safe and intelligent discussion.

FWIW, I’m all for laws that make sense and have used Obama’s call for creator comments to make that clear to them. Believe it or not, a lot of authors out there feel as I do and are not the enemy of common sense and business sense…or of readers.

Of course, you don’t understand why I do the things I do, because you’ve already illustrated that you don’t understand contract law, at least. Why are pirates dangerous, and why do I bother to take them down? There are a couple of main reasons.

One is that they provide misinformation to the subset that really don’t know what cost there is to me, people that ARE potential buyers of my work. Given the right information about the whole deal, those people often choose to buy and not pirate work. Those are the pirates I have any hope of educating and eventually stopping. Those that don’t care…they will just continue doing what they do. I know that.

The second is the little nit in copyright law. I have to show that I am actively trying to protet my copyright. I don’t have the excuse that I don’t know where to find the books and how to.

FWIW, it costs me more in frustration than it does in time. Someone here thinks I’m losing a ton of time. That’s not so for me. I’ve got take-downs streamlined so that I just plug in associated links and such and fire off an e-mail with the notice in it that I have presaved for just such an occasion. Less than five minutes tops, and all the notifications come on lists and alerts, so I’m not out scouring sites these days, like I was two years ago. In some cases, it takes even less time, because some publishers do the actual take-down notices for the authors, and all I have to do is send the rep links.

Third reason… Simply put, if the books are that easy to find pirated all over creation, potential publishers see that as a down side and think I’m not proactive at protecting my copyright. See reason #2 above. That means to advance my career, I’ve got to keep the pirated copies out there to a minimum. You see, this is the part pirates don’t understand. Sensical or not, I have to play the game to continue publishing outside of self-publishing, and from experience, I make 100 times as much with a publisher than I do self-publishing a book.

However, I take a different route than some authors do. I’ve started loading my free reads on the same pirate sites I take the pirated ones down from, with the information that this is a free read… And so forth. It’s different. Will it work? Shrug. Who knows.

Fourth reason… I definitely HAVE to address anytime I find someone illegally selling my books. Perhaps you don’t realize how many pirates do this. I do. I found almost 400 pirated copies of my books on eBay in a single month. All being resold by people who either lied to say they had resale rights, lied to say they were public domain, or whatever. THAT is not something I can pretend I didn’t see. That’s why we are actively working on a petition to make the VeRO program at eBay more author/publisher friendly.

Fifth reason… When they are selling free reads, I will NOT allow a pirate to cheat my readers. If I offer a free read, it’s free. It’s not just that it’s against my creative commons license or anything like that. It’s pure outrage that they dare cheat my readers…ever. It’s a moral imperative to protect my readers. Some readers don’t realize how much authors love readers. We don’t take mistreatment of readers lightly…well, there are a few authors that do, but they are in the minority.

Sixth reason… And the last one for now… When it’s a charity work, I will go out of my way to protect it. It’s out there to do good, not to line someone’s pockets.

As I said before, I’m in indie. I think NY conglomerate press are idiots in using DRM, in thinking print only protects them, in their pricing structures, in their mass market offset programs with all the attendant wastes… I could go on for hours. From my seat, indie has the middle ground with the ability to succeed.

Another thought process for those of you that want to try a book from a particular author before buying… Just an off the wall thought that could work well for everyone involved. Become a reviewer for a review site or start a review site of your own. Follow the code of ethics for reviewers, which includes not pirating the books you are sent for review. Only choose the books that sound (from blurb and past experience) as if they will appeal to you. And find your new authors that way. If you make a name for yourself, even indie reviewers can get copies sent to them. Scifiguy on Blogger is like that. Huntress Reviews is another respected small indie reviewer.

BTW, AC…I generally have between ten and twenty new releases a year. I’m fairly sure my time management is a little better than the average bear’s variety. Don’t you worry about me.


Tek'a R (profile) says:

While your crusade is as fruitful as Don Quixote tilting at windmills, you are certainly not afraid to argue your point. For that, you have my appreciation.

A few points, some more relevant then others.
~your website. It needs work. pages hosted on what seem to be home user web accounts, seemingly pointless scripting and an experience that seems clinky overall (sorry). This means it is harder to try and read up on your product and do business with you.

~”fighting pirates”
You need to become more familiar with.. oh.. lets call them “internet numbers”. 1000 downloads is almost the same as zero. When someone infringes on your material, you cant consider it a lost on the same scale of a book stolen out of a store.

A copied E-book does not make $3, $7 or any other number disappear from your bank account.

~”I can see whole series being pirated”
Lets take a long series as an example. Dresden files. I own every single dresden files book currently available. In hardback and soft, and even a few copies of some of them, as they have suffered from damages.

I also have full txt and full reader versions of every single one of these books. If i obtained these files from an illicit evil piracy source, does it cause my.. hmm.. i dont like to think how much i might have spent, but does it magically return to my pocket?

My point being, your views of the market (and the infringing places are just as much part of the market as your sales) are skewed and you are missing the larger picture.

BLyons (profile) says:

sigh...yet another person that only reads things halfway

Tek’a… I’m not going to repeat myself again that I do not see a one to one loss on anything. You CHOOSE not to read in detail, so it’s not worth it to waste my time again saying it.

I know more about what the actual losses are to me than you do, but I’ll agree to disagree, because it’s not your contracts on the line here. It’s mine, something you obviously don’t care about. That’s typical “If it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care.” non-logic, which I find more than tedious.

You guys said you wanted to understand where I’m coming from, but your response shows you want to ignore the very real problems and try to pick nits that have (in some cases) already been answered several times and in other cases, have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

My site has nothing to do with this, IMO; it’s just something for you to complain about… WHERE my site is hosted is of no concern, as long as it works. The domain name makes it easy to find/remember and allows me to change where the pages are stored without problems of my readers learning a new site, the biggest hurdles many authors that choose odd names for their sites or place them on someone else’s servers find they face.

I take reader input on improving the experiece for them, which means (in the last year) the nav system has been completely revamped with subpages, a site map was added, and at least six new pages readers requested were added. Are improvements in the works? Of course. I keep adding cross-linking that makes finding what you need easier. If you hate it now, you should have seen it two years ago.

With nine years of site builds, on three separate programs, as I trade up in them, yes…there is a lot of code that could be stripped, but the site is also more than 90 pages, thousands of images, covers 21 series worlds and 10-20 releases per year, and gets updated for changes at least once a week, so a complete strip-down and rebuild is not coming soon. When/if I have the time and money, I will do a full rebuild again, from the bottom up, something I haven’t done in the last six years. Without paying someone $10,000+ per year (for the number of pages and updates I need) I don’t have (more for the redesign year…I’ve just taken quotes on this for a group I sit the BoD on, so I know what it would cost me) or several thousand dollars to design it for me and let me maintain it myself (which means my programs will probably add in code again, as I maintain and add to it), it’s not changing to what you envision soon. Not that I’m sure how you envision making more than 90 pages a smooth ride, in the first place.

But, this just proves you don’t understand MY business. The bottom line is this… Most readers find me on Yahoogroups, on blogs, in chats, through publishers, and through resale sites and either buy direct from promos there or come to the site looking for very specific information. I have made the most requested/new release/news-related information easy for them to find. Someone doing a “I’ll go from page to page and just browse” is going to find the site nearly impossible to grasp, simply because you have no set answers you want or idea of how to find them. With 21 series worlds and 90 pages, someone who comes in to browse is going to have problems with the amount of information, no matter how I organize it. The best bet for a browser is to either go to the book page and look at content types or to go to the site map and look at genre notes. But as I said, that’s not the norm for someone coming to my site.

FWIW, I think your understanding of my market is not only skewed; it’s completely uninformed as to the BUSINESS of being a writer. It’s all well and good for you to believe what you do, but I know what I have to do legally, contractually, and realistically.

I agree that anyone trying to stop piracy is tilting at windmills, but I’m not trying to stop it entirely. I’m doing what I am required to do (which includes defending my copyright when I find pirates) and trying to find a common ground that DOES work and doesn’t cause me more trouble than it’s worth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Different anonymous here, enjoying this fascinating discussion. I wanted to explain why I pirate – not that everyone here cares, but I have a big group of pirate friends doing it for the same reason, so I thought I’d put it out there.

I use downloads as a library, of sorts, for ebooks. I try new authors and if I don’t like their work I delete the file. If I do like their work I buy a paperback copy if it is available, or an ebook if that is the only option. I am a naughty pirate in that I never upload. I have been pirating for a couple of months now and have at least quadrupled my spending on books in that time. It is actually getting a bit hard on the budget. I read many genres but the only one I pirate is alternative romance (mainly gay) – not something I can get, in any form, at my local rural library or loaned from any others in its network. I’ve looked.

Before pirating I used to trust reviews and samples and roll the dice on new authors, but got burned so many times on amateurish writing, inconsistent quality or horrendous editing that I was down to only making purchases at the advice of trusted friends. I bought *maybe* one new author a month. I sat down and figured out before writing this that since pirating I have purchased books from 18 new authors at 5 small presses.

I know others download and never pay, but I think we “buy”rates are a much larger majority. What would stop me? Prosecutions, as what happened with music file sharing. Short of that, this is the easiest way to avoid getting ripped off by a poor quality product that cannot be returned. Radio lets us listen to a whole song, libraries let us read a whole hardback – consumers know what they are getting before they purchase. I just want the same chance with ebooks. Do I understand what I do is against copyright? Yes. But I also drank underage, routinely go 2-3 mph over the speed limit, and when I worked at a bookstore I donated the stripped paperbacks to senior citizen and homeless centers instead of trashing them like I was supposed to. I don’t feel guilty for any of that, nor for using downloading to preview the entirety of a product before buying. Because 99% of the time I was never going to buy those authors anyway. If pirating gets crushed I won’t ever go back to taking monetary chances with unfamiliar authors – I’ve learned my lesson. Thanks to pirating I’ve discovered authors that are so bad I won’t even download them for free anymore, and there is still so much other great stuff to read out there that I know for sure I’ll enjoy.

I would love a “pay-by-chapter” option for ebooks, where as long as I was still enjoying the book, I’d keep buying. If I ever got to where I no longer liked the story, I’d stop and move on to the next new book. The author would get paid for the amount I’d read, and I wouldn’t feel like I’d wasted money in the end. It seems so simple to me, but it must not be because no authors in my genres are doing it.

I’m not going to argue with anyone here, and not going to come back to defend myself. To authors, nothing I say will ever change your minds about pirates, and I wasn’t trying to. I know I am still hated, maybe more so now that you know I don’t have the slightest qualm about what I’m doing. I’m not taking money out of your pocket, I’m not voiding a sale that you otherwise would have gotten, I’m not distributing or selling your work. I am researching where to allocate my limited book buying budget to my greatest satisfaction as a reader, instead of scattershot spending that used to frequently leave me very disappointed. When I find a quality author, he or she gets my money with enthusiasm.

BLyons (profile) says:

thanks for writing in, new Anonymous

Anonymous… Believe it or not, you are nearly an author’s best friend, as far as pirates go. You are the atypical pirate we don’t much mind. You BUY books, if you like an author. You don’t share books, which is wonderful, in my book. You don’t illegally sell our books. I still dislike how you go about finding your reading material, but hey…you are better than the norm, because what you’re doing is not inherently different than using library, save the fact that you could be prosecuted ala Napster.

FWIW, if authors offer a free read, feel free to pass those along on the pirate forums. Any author with half a brain gives permission to pass those along anyway, and if you want to be sure, ask for permission to pass along free reads. You might be pleasantly surprised at what authors will allow you. Unless they are tracking downloads and ask you to pass the direct link to it for that reason (and some pirate forums DO work on download links), you’ll likely get permission.

Sorry…I disagree that the larger amount buy books as you do, but that’s based entirely on my experiences with them. I’d love to believe that the majority are like you, but that won’t fly with my experience. I see many more that are illegally selling books, that justify rampant piracy and admit they never buy a thing…or so rarely do as to be heartbreaking…and so forth. They crow about it and challenge you to stop them. Kudos on not being that type.

FWIW, many authors (including me) agree with you about the serialized book idea. If I really thought there was a market for it, I’d do it. I may try that one, just to see if I can make it work.

I know others that did it…including one fantasy author and one erom author. Neither reported that it worked better than putting the book out in a single unit. In fact, several authors who have written unrelated stories in a world or serialized worlds said they sold better when placed in a single unit, because readers complained at getting the story piecemeal and readers that like novels but dislike short stories or novelettes prefer the novel-length anthology or book, but that was also 4 years or so ago. The market may have evolved since then.

Now, this dislike isn’t universal. I know that, which is why I would be willing to try a serialized novel or two and see if I can make it work. Proof in the making? The TXT serials overseas, sent to cell phones, reportedly work very well. But is that the serialization? Or the direct delivery to the cell phone? I can’t say.

admirza says:

It is only good that it was renamed to him, he made a lot of things to the community.

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