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What if I give my book away for free?

This is a topic that comes up frequently and this article caught my attention, so I wanted to share it here. What are your thoughts?

Publishers have been experimenting with promotional free downloads of books and worrying about the risks of electronic piracy, but there has been precious little data and analysis to work from. For the past eight months Brian O’Leary at Magellan Media has partnered with Random House and O’Reilly Media to rigorously study the “impact of free distribution on paid content,” which meant examining both giveaways and unauthorized peer-to-peer distribution. The ultimate objective is to develop “a model that describes instances in which free distribution works or may not work,” taking into account the variety of complex influences. The work is still ongoing, and they invite participation from additional publishers.

The trio presented initial data and impressions at Tools of Change and are preparing a “Rough Cut” research paper. We’ve seen a draft and recommend it highly for those interested in the subject; you can express your interest in seeing the report when it is completed at this link:

http://toc.oreilly.com/reports/p2p/

For now you can pick up the presentation PowerPoint here:

http://www.toccon.com/toc2009/public/schedule/detail/7582

In the conference session, Chelsea Vaughn at Random House said that for the eight giveaway titles of theirs they studied, “the free downloads were correlated with a slight increase overall sales. We don’t know whether the free downloads are what helped keep the sales going or other factors. But they don’t seem to hurt sales, which is reassuring, and they may help. And they may help slow a decline that was otherwise happening.”

As the report describes it, one Random House sci-fi/horror novel “was promoted heavily around the time of the download [which began right before publication] and sales grew by a third at the time of the free download before dropping to lower, but not small numbers in the weeks that followed.” For another sci-fi title with a film tie-in, the promotional download offer “coincided with a 4 percent increase in sales of the mass-market paperback edition that had been released a year earlier. In the four weeks that followed, sales of the print edition were more than 40 percent higher. Sales of the ebook were twice what they had been before the promotion was announced.”

In a different promotion, offering a free download of a high-profile literary first novel shortly after publication, it coincided with a rise in CD audiobook sales and ebook sales. But hardcover print sales, “which had been declining, did not improve during the promotion.”

For all books in the Random House study, average sales rose 19 percent during the promotional period, and were up 6.5 percent during the defined promotional and post-promotional periods. There was great divergence however, with actual sales ranging from a 74 percent decline to a 155 percent gain.

For O’Reilly, they monitored three peer-to-peer sites and found only eight frontlist titles from books the house published in 2008. (They also noticed that overall, books comprise a very small share of the files sites such as Pirate Bay and Scribd.) On average, those unauthorized postings were made 20 weeks after publication (the fastest was posted in four weeks). As soon as an unauthorized download was detected, they monitored sales of that title–and on average, sales rose 6.5 percent here, too. O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum said in the conference session the minimal piracy and negligible effect on sales was surprising. “There’s just not a lot going on there. That was a real shocker to me.”

What do you think? Many of our authors aggressively “give” content from their books away. We’ve seen where it positively affects sales, but more importantly, increases the authors database if they are smart about capturing the readers names and email addresses! That is where the real value is for the authors!

These days, there seem to be two kinds of authors: givers and takers. Giver authors are quick to give content to readers and prospects. The right information is worth more than a gift and often even worth far more than money.

In fact giving is now a characteristic possessed by successful entrepreneurial authors. I’ve always known they were blessed with infinite patience and fertile imaginations. I’ve written in awe of their acute sensitivity and their admirable ego strength. I’ve raved about their aggressiveness in marketing and their penchant for constant learning.

Now, I’m impressed, but not surprised, at their generosity. They are, every single one of them, generous souls who seem to gain joy by giving things away, by taking their customers and prospects beyond satisfaction and into true bliss. They learn what those people want and need and then they try to give them what they want and need absolutely free.

The result? Delighted prospects who become customers and delighted customers who become repeat and referral customers. Those are huge payoffs during the days of a bear market.

David Hancock of Morgan James Publishing – http://morgan-james-publishing.com

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