This month I've downloaded two free books on my computer--Suze Orman's Women and Money book (yes, it was through!) 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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I think free works if you are an author with a big platform or one who has a potential of getting one. Motivational speakers, how-to experts, writers with strong quirky niches in sci-fi, comics, romance, and even mystery might benefit from it.

I'm concerned about the whole advertisement thing is going to play out. I'm sure something will emerge, but will authors get their cut?
Advertising has been tried in books in all kinds of ways and it hasn't worked yet. Of course, it'll be tried again and again.

The whole book business is dinosaurs, that's what I like about it.
The dinosaur metaphor is perhaps more apt then we would like. The publishing industry hasn't changed a whole lot in a long time, much like dinosaurs persisted for a long time with little relative change. Then something came along and wiped the dinosaurs out.

Now, I don't think the publishing industry will be wiped out, but I do believe change is on the horizon, a significant one. One problem with publishing is that, like other industries, there has been a lot of consolidation, to the point where only a handful of companies run the majority of the industry. In music this is the case also, with I think only 5 major companies. The computer industry is something close to that too, with Microsoft dominating and Apple playing cleanup.

Yet Linux is making waves in the OS market, and there is a definite change taking place in the music industry. Music is so accessible to produce and distribute that there are many more indie bands and indie labels than their once was. In books, small publishers are becoming more and more relevant. Hard Case Crime and Bleak House are two examples of publishers that are gaining a following. I believe all this is a reaction against the consolidation of the industry. Because it has led to the bottom line being the main focus, to the exclusion of everything else. And the consumer is getting sick of it.

So small presses, plus POD technology improving, plus the changing landscape of the internet (Web 2.0. If you haven't heard of that than you're already behind) will equal a significant change in the publishing industry. What exactly that change will be, who knows, but I think there will be a real problem for those who resist the change and try to cling to the old methods.

This is just a prediction, of course, but I think it would behoove more authors to really take the internet seriously, and to learn more about how other industries are being affected by it. We have a chance to take charge and ride the wave of change rather than being swallowed up by it.
I find a lot of this interesting because it brings some real practical things into what is mostly a theortical discussion.

And, really, it doesn't affect WRITERS all that much. As has been pointed out everywhere (and often here on Crimespace) very few books that get written get published and very, very few books that get published return any significant money to the writer. So what difference does it make to the writer if the books are given away or not?

Well, there's that "buying the lottery ticket" approach to writing, that very small outside chance that big money can be made. From a purely artistic point of view, I don't think the lottery ticket approach has ever helped make the creations better. It's pretty much destroyed the movie business. The TV business (which is directly financed by advertising) seems to be the only one making an adjustment to a new model while still making some very interesting product (but here I'm really just showing my age by pointing out there hasn't been a movie as entertaining as the TV show ROME in a long time and while peope keep telling me THE WIRE is like a novel for TV, I'd like to see a few more novels with ensemble casts that take so many risks).

So, I guess the question for writers is, are you doing it because you love it, or are you buying a lottery ticket?
You're right, of course, there are lots of choices. That's what JohnD is saying. The current publishing model my not work in the future, but it's not the only choice.

What we all need to consider is what we want and how to get it from the many, many choices available. Is there any way the download-for-free choice can someday at least allow us to make as much as our day jobs? It may be as likely a choice to get us there as traditional publishing. We may get people to pay a buck a download, we may have to go through the ISP like the music industry is working on, we may have to get it through advertising.

And didn't you say you made more writing poetry ;)

JohnD wrote, "One problem with publishing is that, like other industries, there has been a lot of consolidation, to the point where only a handful of companies run the majority of the industry. In music this is the case also, with I think only 5 major companies."

So, I wonder, what is the magic number for a free market economy to work? Old style market theory would say you only needed 2 companies for competitive pricing becuse one would just lower the price and sell more so the other would have to lower the price to compete until the price was as low as possible.

But if that doesn't work with 5, why would work any better with 6 or 16 or 36?
As a rule you can get just about any book free in the library, so it doesn't make that much difference. And yes, I expect the ready and free availability of fiction in libraries has made people equate novels with worthless items, good only for a quick read and then to be resold or donated. That is why most of our books get their sales within the first two months of release and hardly any later. By that time, libraries have catalogued the book and placed it on the shelf, and used copies have become available at great reductions in price. And the bookstores return the unsold copies. Remember that authors get a royalty payment only on new books.
POD technology will help with that in the future. At least there won't be as much waste an uncertainty as far as inventory is concerned.
On the other hand, I honestly don't want to own all the books I read. There aren't many I'll read over and over. They are often "only" worth a single read (though I value that reading very much). So of course people give them away, borrow them, swap them. Any business model that is predicated on "you have to pay per view" will either require a very inexpensive book - or will be digging its own grave.

The fact is, there is too great a supply of these objects (and of writers feeding their work into the publishing pipeline) for most writers to support themselves with writing fiction alone. And much as it's important for readers to support the industry, they aren't a Writers' Benevolence Society.

Personally, I'm very happy that I have job I like. Which happens to be in a library. Whoops.
Not to be the wet blanket here, and it's been an interesting an educational discussion to read, but the author probably has the least amount of input of all the interested parties. Except for Stephen King (no relation, damn it), John Grisham, and a handful of other 800 pound gorillas, publishers don't really care what we think; readers only care what we write. The best we can do is to keep our noses to the grindstone and stay flexible.

The electronic format with advertising sounds like where publishers would like for this to go: virtually no publication costs, an extra revenue stream, and virtually impossible for the the author to figure out how much they made from the advertising to get our taste. That sounds about what an MBA would look for.
I don't think there is any way to stop the inevitable changes in the way we write, read and market our work. All we can do is to try to harness any potential benefits to the best of our ability. As artists, the single most important thing next to the creative process is exposure, so any exposure must be a good thing. Having said that, will quality find it's way to the top of the sea of available literature?
One hopes...
I'm about halfway through BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN and it's fantastic. Really, any kind of promotion that'll get people to read this book would be great.


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