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Old 05-12-2010, 07:52 AM   #31
K-Thom
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Jeffrey, maybe you should try a different approach (this is at least what I intend to do later this year).

I never saw eBooks as an incentive or marketing tool to sell paperback or hardcover editions. If you want to treat eBooks as an equal alternative, they need to have a price tag.
They will have to eventually as soon as you stop offering your titles in printed form. Donations don't help much, and as you said authors have to eat, too. So, to put it simple: Sell them. Don't give them away.

Of course, there does have to be a different approach to single novels and series.

For single novels I would offer them at first (and later on, from time to time) at a bargain price.
For series, I'd offer the first issue for free and the following for the regular price. This still would allow readers to give your titles a try, lets you offer some eBooks for free but not your whole inventory.

But, to your main question: In your case obviously the free dowloads seemingly hurt paperback sales. If your sales number before offering free eBooks were higher you need to change your approach.

In Germany SciFi besides Star Trek & Star Wars are at rock bottom for a few years. Don't know if it is that different in the US? So any publisher over here offering SciFi other than those two brands for the mass market is surely taking a deep risk.

I don't know about the initial costs of the printed editions, print runs, costs overall. Maye PoD would be a solution. Only print as much as needed or anticipated. You still find digital printers with very reasonable prices. Offer hardcover prints as a limited edition, signed, numbered, with a dedication to each reader buying directly from you.

In general free downloads still help you to attract new readers. A lot of them will download them and never even read them, a lot won't even say thanks, some will write a feedback, some will buy the printed editions.

I just wouldn't offer everything for free. Even Baen doesn't do that. For a good reason. They still want to sell their titles, after all.

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Old 05-12-2010, 08:04 AM   #32
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Old 05-12-2010, 09:46 AM   #33
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In my case, a few months ago (I know, I'm slow) I downloaded Perdido Street Station for free from Amazon. After reading, I very much intend to pick up the rest of his books.

So in my case, giving me a free book is likely to turn into a sale for each of his other books although I probably won't buy them in paperback form.
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Old 05-12-2010, 10:12 AM   #34
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One problem with paper books that I see is that you have an ongoing series. You just released the 4th book in the series. The 4th book comes to my attention and I decide I want to read the series. Now I go and try to find say the first three books in the series, will I be able to? Will any of them be out of print? If so, I would not be buying the 4th one because why bother when I cannot real the first three?

I just did a quick look at borders.com and found that I can order Sunborn but not the others. So without the others, Sunborn is not something I am going to be reading. So one way to get sales of Sunborn up is to get Tor to print more of the first three.
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Old 05-12-2010, 10:20 AM   #35
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Old 05-12-2010, 11:33 AM   #36
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I think the days when a free ebook would drive paperback sales are gone now. That was when people were reading them on a CRT monitor, where they would read the first few pages, take some headache pills and go for the paperback. Now we have dedicated devices to read them on.

I have bought paperbacks of books I have downloaded, but those are the exception. Free ebooks now are more likely to drive future sales of ebooks or back catalogue ebooks than anything else. But if your back catalogue isn't available, people will just turn to pirate sites instead or at best buy second hand paperbacks and make their own (and possibly also share them).

I don't seem to be typical of this site, because I still prefer paperbacks to ebooks. I buy them when they are cheap, as an alternative to finding a used paperback on Ebay, but would be more likely to download them for free (authorised or otherwise) unless it was a writer I was already familiar with. In which case I would be more likely to buy the paperback (or very rarely a hardback).
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Old 05-12-2010, 12:00 PM   #37
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Am I the only one who sees an analogy here: Paperback is to Hardcover as Cassette tape is to Record Album ?

I don't recall this much sturm und drang on behalf of cassettes when cds came on the market. Cassettes have many of the same problems physically that pbs do - they're cheaply made and they fall apart over time - they are an impermanent secondary format. It makes a lot of sense to let the format go. Just like cassettes were replaced by cds (but ultimately and even more to the point, mp3) paperbacks will be replaced by ebooks.

The publishing industry seems to be too hidebound to appreciate this. They are desperately clinging to a format that is becoming obsolete.
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Old 05-12-2010, 04:52 PM   #38
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Am I the only one who sees an analogy here: Paperback is to Hardcover as Cassette tape is to Record Album ?

[snip]

The publishing industry seems to be too hidebound to appreciate this. They are desperately clinging to a format that is becoming obsolete.
I like your analogy, but it only works if you have the same level of market penetration for the paperback alternative as you have for cassette/LP alternative. You had that with CDs, and later with MP3s as well.

In fact, I listen to MP3s on my different computers all the time, as well as about 4 portable devices, but for the most part, I hate reading on the computers. I've lost track of the number of times I've read on this site how other people have said the same thing about reading on the computer. Consumption of music is different than consumption of books.

Also, there aren't as many reading devices as audio devices. There's more than there used to be, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to audio, and the lack of a common format further segregates it.

Despite your valid observations about the paperback, it is still a convenient container. There really is no intermediate transitional form for physical books to electronic alternative which functions like the CD was for music, except perhaps PDF. But PDF repeatedly gets the thumbs-down here as well (and I think for good reasons), which I think only reinforces the point.
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Old 05-12-2010, 04:54 PM   #39
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Many responses to respond to here. Victoria, the beer was excellent, Harpoon IPA, and thanks! (Yours is also the kind of success story of this type of interaction that I love to hear.)

There's no doubt that the absence of the first three books in new editions hurt sales of the new book, which was #4 of a series. But as I said, I couldn't move Tor to reissue, which was what prompted me to put up the first three as free ebooks in the first place. I had never intended to make Sunborn a free ebook indefinitely, and was going to pull it (except for PDF) as soon as Tor made their ebook version available. But I wanted people to be able to get it as an ebook, and I preferred giving it to having it unavailable. Then Tor took more than a year to get their ebook out, so although I have now removed all except PDF and HTML versions from the free page, that barn door is pretty saggy at this point.

Dadioflex and K-Thom mentioned print on demand as a possibility. In fact, some of my other backlist books are now available as POD, from ereads. These are titles that have been reverted from the original publishers. They're nice trade-paperback editions. But they're also a little pricey--$15-20, depending on size--and that's the problem with POD. It's still too expensive to appeal to the mass market, and so far, they don't sell very well at all. As far as I know, none of the big publishers are doing much with POD, probably for that very reason.

As far as promotion for the book, I did extensive online promotion, but relatively little in-person promotion. (I was in the middle of a family crisis when the paperback came out, and that hampered everything related to promotion. I didn't even notice the pub date had come until it was already gone.) But "signing tour"? No, that's one of those things that people think all authors do, on their publishers' dimes. It doesn't work that way. It doesn't pay, for any except the already bestselling author. Most of us do signings when and where we can, but we know that payback is limited. (Although I did do one really great signing for Sunborn--in my local beer and wine store, during a wine tasting! Best signing ever.)

My editor thinks distribution was the biggest factor against me. I think the lack of the earlier books in print was the biggest.

I have no regrets about offering the downloads. That gained me a lot of new readers among the ebook audience. But the hoped-for carryover to the treebook audience is what failed to materialize. (I think Mr. Ploppy has it right.)

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Old 05-12-2010, 05:09 PM   #40
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My editor thinks distribution was the biggest factor against me. I think the lack of the earlier books in print was the biggest.
Both are probably a factor, but I think you're more correct than your editor. I'd think re-issuing the first three with new covers or doing them as an omnibus would have helped a lot, especially since there's such a large time gap between when book 3 and book 4 were released.

Do you know how ebook sales for book 4 have been? Wondering if they're hurt by the first three not being available at the same places (ex. B&N and Amazon) as the 4th even if you had to charge the $.99 minimum to get them listed there.

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Old 05-12-2010, 05:40 PM   #41
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Do you see an increase in the paper version of the first book in the series? The problem with Sunborn is that it's book 4 of your series and if I was to recommend it to a friend I would start them off with book 1. So if freebie ebooks were to help your paper sales I would probably gauge the sales of the earlier books since that is where new readers will probably be starting from.

If my friends were into ebooks then I would've shown them the first three novels offered as freebies and they probably would've picked up Sunborn as a freebie as well or purchased it as an ebook and not the paper version.

In my opinion, the trend is to move away from paper version of books and to ebooks so for those who are already into ebooks, I don't see a reson for them to pick up a paper version too. For those that are not into ebooks, then I see them picking up the earlier titles in paper form after someone who read your ebook freebies and recommended the series.

Since there was such a large time gap from the publishing of book 3 to book 4, the publishers could've republished the first 3 books as an omnibus edition or rebundled the first three for a cheap price the months prior to the launch of book 4. That would've probably help increase the paper sales of book 4 immediately.

Free ebooks probably will increase the sale of your current and future ebook sales. I don't really see it impacting the paper versions unless you be really mean and gave feebies of books 1-3 and book 4 was to be released in paper form only.

All this is of course just my opinions. =)

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Old 05-12-2010, 06:36 PM   #42
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See above for discussion of the lack of earlier editions in print.
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Old 05-12-2010, 08:31 PM   #43
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I'm a completest wherein I want the whole series in one format. Since I rarely buy pbooks that means the series needs to be available as ebooks.

In your case I downloaded the freebies, read them and loved them, and went and purchased all your backlist I could find as ebooks. If you hadn't had any other pbooks as ebooks I would not have purchased pbooks. Probably would've made a mental note to occasionally look for your ebooks.

I will definitely be looking forward to future ebooks.
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Old 05-12-2010, 10:37 PM   #44
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Dadioflex and K-Thom mentioned print on demand as a possibility. In fact, some of my other backlist books are now available as POD, from ereads. These are titles that have been reverted from the original publishers. They're nice trade-paperback editions. But they're also a little pricey--$15-20, depending on size--and that's the problem with POD. It's still too expensive to appeal to the mass market, and so far, they don't sell very well at all. As far as I know, none of the big publishers are doing much with POD, probably for that very reason.
My one experience with lulu was that the price of the book was fair, but that shipping was 50% or more in addition. That needs to be worked out.
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Old 05-12-2010, 10:39 PM   #45
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I have a personal interest in this question. It is the currently accepted wisdom in the progressive ebook community that putting books up for free download spurs regular book sales, rather than hurting them. It appears to work for Cory Doctorow and several other high-profile authors. But I wonder, and here's why:

Regular readers of this forum know that when my novel Sunborn was coming out, I put the first three books in the series (Sunborn is Book 4 of The Chaos Chronicles) up for free download in a multitude of ebook formats. Then I put Sunborn itself up for free download. (It was up for free for a year. I recently took down all but the PDF and html versions, following the release of the official Tor ebook.) As a result of the free downloads, I picked up many new readers, which I know from the download figures, and from the anecdotal evidence of lots of emails from readers, Paypal donations, etc. This is clearly all to the good.

But what about sales of the book itself? Well, the hardcover sales were so-so, which may be better than they would have been otherwise, due to my being out of print for a number of years. But I've just gotten some numbers on the paperback sales, and they're awful. Terrible. The worst numbers I've seen on a book in my entire career. Given that the book itself got good reviews in many of the right places, and email response from readers has been positive, I'm trying to figure out what's going on.

There can be many factors that affect a book's sales. Mass market paperback sales are down across the board, for all but the bestsellers. Distribution is problematic. Amazon yanked the book for a week during the critical initial sales period. Maybe the book just didn't have mass market appeal. But I wonder, too, if maybe the publishers' concerns about ebooks cannibalizing paper sales don't contain more than a kernel of truth.

So I put it to you folks: If you download a free ebook, and assuming you actually read it and like it, what are the chances that you'll pick up a paper copy of it, either for your own library, or to give as a gift to someone else? Do you talk it up and recommend it to friends? Are there less obvious ways in which you support the authors of books you like?

I'm not asking in a judgmental way at all. I like free books as much as the next person. But authors need to eat, too, and I'm trying to understand the current, and ever-changing, state of things.
If I download a free ebook and like it, I am likely to buy the NEXT in the series in either ebook or paperback, but I'm not at all likely to buy the paperback of the book I just read. It's minutely possible I'd buy the book for someone else as a gift (but really I only buy two people books as gifts and not often because they tend to read different types of books than I do for the most part).

I think free ebooks can generate interest in an author or a series, but for me, it doesn't mean I'm going to buy the paperback. I think that way of thinking might have worked for a time, but ebooks are so much easier and more pleasant to read than old PDF or HTML books. Just the new readers for PCs are better than those old formats so I don't mind reading on my laptop.

FWIW.

Maria
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