“The biggest threat to a writers livelihood is not piracy but obscurity!”
This quote, attributed to Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media -an advocate of open source and free digital rights, has been echoed by a number of great authors, creators, and publishers, and summarises the main concept behind free, that is, it’s publicity you just cannot buy.
Seth Godin provides another favourite quote of mine: “Distribute something digitally for free, if it’s good, it will spread, and if it does spread that publicity will give you untold opportunities for reaping financial returns.” Seth Godin states that he has built his career on this principle, and so has a whole industry of open source software professionals – many who have put just as many hours, if not more, into their work as an author would have on a book.
Supporters of the ‘free is good’ concept include best selling authors Seth Godin, Paul Coelho, M.J. Rose, and many more. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, and creator/author or The Long Tail, is so passionate about the economics of ‘free’, he wrote the best selling book ‘Free‘ about it.
The fact remains that making something available free has been proven to increase sales. Here’s a short excerpt from Wikipedia about Paul Coelho which best proves this. (Note: This story has been told in a variety of ways with minor differences in the translation, I have chosen to post the Wikipedia version since it’s most likely to contain mainly fact).
“Paulo Coelho is a strong advocate of spreading his books through file sharing networks. A fan posted a Russian translation of one of his novels online. Sales of his book jumped from 3,000 to one million in three years, with no additional promotion or publicity from his publishers.Coelho took to pirating his own books on Pirate Bay. Coelho provides free translations of many of his books. He was caught by the head of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, who noticed that one of the unauthorized versions Coelho linked to had notes from his own manuscript.The two reached a compromise: each month a new novel can be read for free on the publisher’s website.”
Regardless of the version, the fact remains in all accounts, that with no additional promotion, Paul’s print sales picked up immediately after the book was made available for free.
“I don’t understand why publishers don’t understand that this new medium is not killing books,” Coelho says. “I’m doing it mostly because the joy of a writer is to be read. But at the end of the day, you will sell more books.”
Peter Workman, the owner of top independent publisher Workman Publishing, has stated that “For every one book you give away, you sell three.”
M. J. Rose notes “Haven’t we had this debate before? Over and Over? Haven’t enough writers proved it not only helps introduce new readers to the writers but that it does the opposite of cannibalizing sales? We found we were selling more, not less, copies of the books we were giving away.”
Cory Doctorow gives away digital versions of his books online, and invites people to modify the format to provide more value to the free version, yet his sales on the free books have consistently outperformed his publisher’s expectations. And many downloaders demanded to leave a donation.
These examples demonstrate that ‘free’ works financially – but not only that, no one was lured by sales jargon, and ended up feeling dissatisfied with the purchase of a product that didn’t meet their expectations, returns are less -and it feels good too!
But, there are still people out there that believe free is bad. Why?
Asides from the fear of sales being affected, personally I feel people are still sold on the 1950s concept of ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’, that is everything you give/receive must be paid for/worked hard for, if it’s not there must be some trick or trap.
Well, I love to be the bearer of good news, if you have not realised it….it’s not the 1950s any more!!!
With the consumer driven mass market of the internet, where small companies and individuals can skim a few cents of each transaction, making millions on seemingly nothing, more people choose to ‘pay it forward’, giving away more free content to receive a platform. It’s a win win for everyone, and capitalism at it’s best. (You don’t believe me, anyone reading this using google, firefox, or facebook right now?)
My main reason for giving my books away free is the same as Paul’s – that is, I like getting my books out there and read for the fun of reading, but I also subscribe to Seth’s theory, that is I want to let the public decide, I don’t want to push a bad product, and if it’s good it will spread and reap rewards.
I’m convinced it’s the right financial model for me – it’s been proven to work, and and it abides by the universal natural laws- give to receive.
GOOD things in life are FREE!
This post was written by Danielle Bruckert, author of Gecko on the Wall, and the Mac and Dipper series, and Creator of Free Kids Books.