The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

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?


April 6, 2008 - Posted by | Online Marketing, Trends | , , , , ,


  1. The concept here is not to think of the person downloading the free book as a “lost” customer, but as free advertising. First, most of the people who download a free book aren’t going to go buy it in the first place — because they may not even know the author exists. So if you get 100 downloads, and sell three books because of it, that’s three sales gained and not 97 sales lost. You wouldn’t have had that three at all.

    Second, you have to factor in the spheres of influence. Each of the 100 people read this free book. They may or may not like it, but they know the content. Say half of them discuss this free book they read at one point or another, talking to friends, family or co-workers. That’s a reasonable estimate. Now you’re talking about 50 exposures you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Not just exposures, mind you, but word-of-mouth exposures from a trusted source. You can’t buy that kind of advertising.

    Now free won’t work for Stephen King. Everyone know who he is. Free for him means people will start reading the book, then decided if the do NOT want to buy it. His fans start out assuming they will buy whatever he puts out. For an unknown like me, people can take a chance on a whole novel without spending any money. That gets me market share, mind share, exposure, etc. As those “freeloaders” talk to other people, the brand recognition spreads.

    Comment by Scott Sigler | April 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Scott. (And glad to know you’re happy with your results!)

    Comment by Yen | April 17, 2008 | Reply

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