This month I've downloaded two free books on my computer--Suze Orman's Women and Money book (yes, it was through Oprah.com!) and Charles Bock's debut novel, BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN, via his website through an agreement with Random House.

Both were offered for a limited time and arrived as laid out pages that you view through Adobe Acrobat. I have perused Orman's whole book, but have just nibbled at Bock's. Prior to downloading the books, I wouldn't have purchased either one, although I might have borrowed Orman's from the library.

Was this a good promotional strategy? A lot of Internet experts, including those who spoke at the Tools of Change publishing conference, think freebies are the wave of the future. I guess in Orman's case, she's a money guru who is on TV all the time, so exposure is probably more important than selling books. But what about for fiction writers? What do you think? Would there be a short story, past novel that you would give away for free?

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Could you give an example of such a disastrous result?

I don't think anyone has been "conditioned". The free stuff being offered nowadays is a response to what people have been doing on their own, that is, getting something for nothing. The networks know they can't stop internet piracy, so they offer their shows online for free as a way to try to adapt to it. The reality now is that regular people can produce their own content that is of equal quality with content that used to be the sole domain or large companies. Open source software is a good example of this. Regular people now have the know-how and the technology in their own homes to create animated movies that rival the movies of Pixar, thanks to the open source 3d rendering software Blender. Now we have more options than just what the large companies offer us, so the market has become more competitive. And the market is now competing with products which are created by regular people who are doing it because they like it and not necessarily for financial gain (although this does occur too) so the products are released free. How does a company compete with "free" and still make money? Well, that one is still being worked out. But my point is that people are not being conditioned. Wanting something for nothing is not a new concept. It's just that now more people are taking content creation and production into their own hands.
Agreed about the price of books. They're too damn expensive. A DVD costs less and has more replay value.

But yes, people still would bother to pirate a CD rather than pay $5 for it. Pirating a CD is so easy anyone can do it and takes only minutes. Since it's so easy, and it's free, people will still pirate it. Take Radiohead as an example. It gave its latest CD away and let the consumer decide how much to pay for it. Most people opted to pay $0. A consistently excellent product at a fair price is great unless it's up against a consistently excellent product at no price. Consistency is still a problem for many free products, but that is changing. Look at Firefox. It doesn't dominate IE yet, but it is getting there.

I don't agree that the recording industry is dying. It's just changing, and it would have had a better time of it if the RIAA would stop wasting its money on lawsuits it can't win and tarnishing its image to the point where everyone is just salivating for its demise.
If the recording industry is dying because it no longer has a monopoly over its product, that's not so bad. MUSIC isn't dying (I just saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt in concert and they're doing fine) it's just available in different ways.

So, it might no longer be an industry of excess, we may have seen the last of the giant Led Zeppelin private-plane tours, the smashed hotel rooms and CEOs that live like third world dictators.

The music will still be okay.
Well, I think we're lucky in North America that there really isn't a "they" just yet. I think it's called collusion, or something, and people frown on it.

The thing is, very soon (maybe even now, I haven't checked), you could produce a book yourself and sell it for $6.99. You could even offer a $6.99 paperback and a $9.99 trade paperback and a $12.99 hardcover and a $19.99 leather-bound, all at the same time - whatever the buyer wants. (or, for a hundred bucks I'll come to your house and read it to you, whatever).

It does seem like the publishing industry modelling themselves on old-style music companies is a bad idea, and it'll probably pass. The only way to stop it would be for "them" to really become them, as you say, and restrict the amount of new titles, so we writers would have to go underground and pass manuscripts around online and, hey, wait a minute, I think I've seen this movie...

Mostly I just wish things wouldn't change. Oh well.
I can't figure out where these replies get put, but did you just say that about collusion out loud?
My late husband had been a professional musician all of his life--a member of the union at the age of 13 when he played his first gig at the Oregon State Fair. At that time, the Musician's Union (Sorry, I do not remember the number.) was strong, and one had to show proficiency in one's field, i. e., read music, be fluent in the playing of his chosen instrument(s), etc.
Over the years the Portland Musican's Union was watered down. I could join now, and I do not play any instrument or sing well. Money was the engine that powered the membership train, so my husband dropped his membership after MANY years. He had been classically trained and was a college graduate. In all of his years in the Portland, Oregon, area he used to say that he got only two gigs as the result of his membership. All other jobs he found on his own. He did tell me that when he took an passed the competency test in Los Angeles, it was a "real test.." One had to be able to read music, transpose on the spot, and be fluent, i. e., play or sing as part of the test. He felt, and I still feel the same, that removing music and art from so many schools in the public school system was a big mistake. As a retiired high school teacher, I feel that we do no service to the students by lowering the standards of achievement, no matter what the subject matter is, be it math, music, or science..
Personally, I need to have the book in my hand to really read. However, we live in a busy world with many distractions, and anything that reminds people how enjoyable reading can be has to be a good thing, and from a purely commercial aspect, that can only help writers.
hmm. some of my titles are going out of print. i wonder if i should make one a free download. and if so, how do i go from the book format to something that can be downloaded? are there places that scan books?
Hey Anne...My publisher has several titles of his own that he is using as free e-books as a draw if that helps your decision process. I am no techno-wizard, but would suggest you try to convert a digital format to PDF and then encrypt instead of scanning. That would save you the money of converting the hard copy to digital format. If that's not an option, ther are places that can do that for you. I have a friend that owns a print/digital conversion service. You can email me and I'd be happy to give you their info.
thanks, john. i'd definitely have to convert it from paperback since that's the cleanest copy.
Your publisher should still have the digital file it sent to the printer to turn your manuscript into a book. Maybe you could request that document and convert in into a .pdf file, or better yet, ask the publisher to do it for you. The process is as simple as clicking a few buttons, plus the publisher might like the idea since giving your older books away for free would be a great way to promote your new books.

I'm guessing your publisher used Indesign or Quark or LaTex to make the digital file. I don't know much about LaTex, but I do know Indesign and Quark have conversion to .pdf built into the software.
I think freebies are a useful tool, but to an extent Jon has a point as well about cultivating an expectation that things should be available for free. Not that I think there's too much danger of that - despite the piracy scares, movies, music and computer games still make a lot of money. Much of the media we access for free online is actually paid for by advertisements. Perhaps that's one way things will go if a truly robust e-reader comes out - get this novel for free if you'll accept banner ads across the top of each page, else pay a suitable fee. Or maybe those free downloads are used to drive traffic to an internet site which has advertising - the authors get a cut of that money instead. If the product is good, someone will be willing to pay for it.

Perhaps a bigger drawback to releasing books for free is that a reader might equate free to worthless, because we're heavily conditioned to believe that price is an arbiter of quality (which isn't a bad rule of thumb, despite there being countless exceptions, and it's why firms can sometimes increase sales by increasing prices). That's why I believe free e-books released on their own might struggle more than a free e-book released alongside a traditionally priced paper copy. The e-book in the latter case becomes both a bargain and a promotional tool for the pay-for edition.

I guess what free does, potentially, is remove price as a barrier to someone reading a book. But on the flip side, because you haven't had to commit anything to get that book, you won't feel as committed to liking it either - less potential for cognitive dissonance.

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