by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
books, free, mid-market, obscurity, publishing

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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  1. icon
    BLyons (profile), 17 Mar 2010 @ 6:40am

    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.


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