Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why Publishers Should Give Away E-Books

More musing on e-books, I'm afraid.

Kindle-owner Evan Schnittman on the OUP blog asks himself Do I Believe in E-Books? and the answer in this very well argued piece is a cautious yes, particularly when it comes to the question of portability:
... those who are passengers for hours on end in planes, trains and automobiles are the true growth audience for ebooks. Ebooks are about convenience and are what I read when it’s impractical to read in print.
But he also admits to missing the permanence and physicality of books.

He argues in a follow-up post that e-books are only likely to have a very limited market share:
The reality is that even if the current audience of ebook users were to grow by magnitudes over the next few years, the total market would only reach 3 to 4% of print. Therefore we must admit to ourselves as an industry that ebooks will always be a small niche player as a standalone platform ...
and he therefore suggests that publishers:
... make them free with new book purchases.
And the idea isn't as stupid as it sounds:
Offering ebooks with print could create significant value-added marketing and merchandizing programs. Publishers, retailers, even wholesalers could dramatically benefit from such a plan as consumers could be asked to join affinity and membership programs, enroll in online ebook clubs, and register with publishers in order to download their books. Want your free ebook? Join our readers club and you can download it. Just a bit of info required – by the way, mind if we email you when a new title arrives?
Richard Lea in the Guardian reports on a couple of interesting publishing experiments.

HarperCollins is releasing complete texts from a small selection of authors for periods of a month to test how free access affects sales. One of the first to be selected for the experiment is Neil Gaiman who is asking his fans to vote on his blog for which book is selected. (I want Fragile Things!)

Gaiman reckons that it's about gaining an audience, and he says we usually get to know about a new author through a friend's recommendation, or by browsing in a library or a friend's bookshelves, but not usually by actually purchasing a book.*

Random House meanwhile has announced a pilot project to offer individual chapters of books for a small fee, which when you are talking about non-fiction titles and needing material for research, I reckon is a very good idea indeed.

But let's give the last word to Nicholas Clee on the Guardian blog:
It is 17 years since the creation of the world wide web, and still no publisher has any idea how to deal with it. Is it a threat? An opportunity? Will it be the medium for the spread of free, mostly pirated texts, or will it broaden the market for authors' works? How do you promote books on the internet? By giving them away? By giving them away in snippets? By charging small sums for snippets? We haven't got a clue.
* (Interesting point, don't you think? I have discovered a couple of favourite authors by taking a risk - William Gibson and Etgar Keret - but usually have a good idea of what I want to buy before I go to the bookshop.)


Chet said...

There is a very active book group on the IRC channel where readers can go to find books to download. The books are made available by other readers who scan the books to make into digital versions. Granted this is not 100% legal - some books are public domain (having passed the mandatory number of copyright years) but most are not - but it does seem to point to a sizeable market for ebooks. Having said that, I'm not sure if the users of this IRC book channel are willing to pay for ebooks, or if they read ebooks because they can find them online for free. As for me, I admit to being a user but only when I can't find a printed copy easily available. I would also willingly donate some money to some relevant organisation (Association of Poor eAuthors?) for every ebook I download for "free" from IRC.

Donny said...

IRC channel for ebooks? Nice. :) It's been a while since I actually did anything with IRC, so I suppose this is a good excuse.

My stash of ebooks have been collected via promotions from publishers much like what Sharon talked about in her blog... all free, legal and great books (as opposed to books from small time/little known authors seeking airtime). There's a current promotion from Tor Books at present - I posted that on my blog.

In fact, giving free ebooks is the modus operandi of certain authors who have made no secret of the fact that giving their books away for free has been proven to generate sales for their deadtree cousins, with people like Cory Doctorow and the folks at Baen Free Library actively advocating it (google for them).

In my observation, I have to say that this tends to skew more towards the genre-based fiction crowd than the mainstream contemporary fiction folks... due to the target audience's technical inclination, perhaps?

k said...

saw this today: