Cory Doctorow wrote that giving away his books has made him alot of money. He acknowledged that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that giving away books has increased his print sell through numbers but that his books have sold better than other authors at similar points in their careers and have outperformed his publisher’s expectations. It’s important to note that Doctorow’s publisher is Tor, the largest science fiction publisher in the world, a division of Holzbritnz.
Most people who download the book don’t end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience.
Wiley is interested in this and tried it with Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s Naked Conversations. The book continues to sell well and the publisher believes that no more copies would have sold if the entire book was not available on the blog.
Ross Anderson, another Wiley writer, wrote Security Engineering. This book was proclaimed by Information Security Magazine as the
“the most important security text published in the last several years”. It is online and freely downloadable.
Seth Godin, a bestseller business author, gave away The Bookstrapper’s Bible.
Baen, however, is the mother of all giveaway for free books. Baen Free Library is a place any Baen author can offer an ebook version of their book free for however long the author wishes. It is totally controlled by the author. Authors who participate: Lois McMaster Bujold, author of The Sharing Knife which will be read and reviewed by me this week (a promise I have made myself); Holly Lisle, whose DIPLOMACY OF WOLVES spent two months on the Waldenbooks Bestseller List (oh, the irony); Rosemary Edghill, author of romance book Met by Moonlight (I think I really liked this book, must pull out for re-read); Mercedes Lackey whose Five Kingdom’s book launched the Luna line. Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station which is given away for free is Baen’s most popular backlist title in print.
Monica Jackson engaged in a modified form of this recently when, in the comments section, she offered up a PDF copy of her steamy, paranormal romance, Mr. Right Now, to anyone who has a blog. Obviously the goal of this is to gain readers. Authors often giveaway books for promotional purposes. Alison Kent seems to be giving away one of her books everyday in some sort of contest or another. I bought her latest book, Beyond a Shadow, another to be read and reviewed this week. Meljean Brook has ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of her January release, Demon Angel, (a book Tara Marie got to read early and loved), that she is giving away to readers who promise to write a review of it.
Word of mouth has consistently been the best promotional tool a book can have, but if you don’t have an audience, from where does the word of mouth generate? I can’t help but wonder if one of those midlist authors who are struggling for an audience shouldn’t try the Cory Doctorow, Baen Publishing way and give away her book online. Could it gain a readership as Cory Doctorow suggest or generate that golden word of mouth as Baen Publishing believes. I think Meljean Brook should giveaway her book but I doubt she can as I am sure her ebook distribution rights are owned by Penguin. It’s a book that has cross over appeal given the depth and breadth of the worldbuilding and I think that there are hardcore sci fi/fantasy readers or maybe even anime readers who would find this a compelling story but I doubt that those type of readers would ever pick up a man titty covered book.
Yes, mass reproduction of an ebook can happen in a nanosecond as can mass distribution. But, honestly, how many sales are really being lost versus how many readers could be gained. Piracy exists, but most people would rather buy a legitimate copy than a pirated one. For every free book (like an ARC) that I get and fall in love with, I buy. I might end up giving that copy away or taking it to the UBS eventually,but I want that author to succeed and if I don’t buy the book, then she won’t. My guess is online readers know that, particularly the ones who are going to download your book and fall in love with you.