Free eBooks + increasing popularity of eReaders = critical mass?
Electronic books have been around for years. No one read them. Even my brother-in-law who built his own stereo (and Lego Millenium Falcon) never got around to getting one. Then last fall Amazon came out with the Kindle. And Amazon went out of stock with the Kindle. And everyone started buying the Sony eReaders they’d spurned for years. (Not to mention, most of us in publishing have heard of Jeff Gomez‘s Print is Dead, also published last fall — available as a Kindle Edition, natch.)
At the same time, Harper was offering free downloads of certain books. Random House offered PDFs of Charles Bock’s novel Beautiful Children. Wired guru Chris Anderson penned a piece about “freeconomics” for the March issue of the magazine. Saturday, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Scott Sigler’s new novel, Infected, published by Crown on Tuesday and downloaded (for free) 45,000 times in the 100 hours after its release. (Sigler was also interviewed by Liane Hansen on last weekend’s WeSun. The print edition is #493 on Amazon as of Saturday afternoon. By Sunday evening, the SF Chronicle article had made it to Digg.) Richard from Soft Skull just mentioned they are offering their own freebie novel, The Pisstown Chaos.
This raises two issues for book publicists (well, among many, but I’m just going to raise two here). The first is, how effective is giving away eBooks? Do people take their free stuff and run? Or does offering them one free thing make them subsequently buy not-free things? Me, I downloaded my free copy of Beautiful Children and deleted it unread when IT came to do something to my computer and insisted I clean up my desktop, but I’m thinking about buying it. I wonder how many other people also downloaded it, read a few pages — or none at all as the case might be — and then proceeded to buy the book? I’m not sure of the answer — and I suspect Harper, Random and Soft Skull are still trying to figure this out.
And secondly, if eBooks are finally gaining popularity, what does this mean for bookstores? And author events?