We’ve had a good few years of activists like Cory Doctorow advocating the free digital book as a loss leader against the physical product, and in the last twelve months or so we’ve seen a distinct rise in the number of authors and publishers getting on board with the idea. The question is – is Doctorow right? Does giving it away make people more willing to pay?
Simon “Bloggasm” Owens has evidently been wondering the same thing, so he thought he’d chase up some of the authors who’ve recently had free versions of their novels released via Tor‘s mailing list. Tobias Buckell and John Scalzi both reported noticeable upticks in sales following their freebies, though fantasy author Daniel Abraham saw no change at all – neither up nor down.
Scalzi points out that it’s risky to make the results into science:
“… I don’t think that ‘scientifically’ is the standard required here; I think ‘heuristically’ is probably better. If you consistently see a rise in sales of an author’s work after the release of a free e-book, then heuristically you have a good idea it’s beneficial.“
But the telling thing is this:
“Every Tor author [Owens] spoke to for this article said they hoped the publisher would continue offering the ebooks even after the new site debut. When [he] asked them whether they would be willing to offer another book of theirs to the giveaway list there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation with their answers.”
So, we can’t be sure that giving away ebooks is a good thing, but we can say that few who’ve tried it think it’s a bad thing.