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Old 05-12-2010, 11:30 PM   #46
Vintage Season
Pulps and dime novels...
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Originally Posted by starrigger View Post
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.
Jeff, as an author relatively new to the scene I tend to think of "free" as being a good way to get word of mouth enthusiasm for my stories, and garner some good reviews... but the main reason I give things away for free is so that there will be a few other things readily available to cement the relationship, when a new reader encounters one of my stories in a print magazine (and yes, I've got a few submissions out there).

That said, to directly address your questions:

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?

I tend to be a completist, so if I read something and I like it I definitely pick up a paper copy. I am also cheap, so the vast majority of my library was obtained from used book stores. (Unfortunately, this means the author usually isn't seeing any direct royalties from my purchase.)

Do you talk it up and recommend it to friends?

Very frequently! And in this way my being cheap has actually benefited a number of authors (including you), because when I find a good deal on a spare copy of something I previously enjoyed, whether I first read it as an ebook or a hardcover or in the back of a pulp rag, I am quite likely to pick up the spare with an eye toward passing it along to a friend. How does this benefit said authors? My friends are not as parsimonious in their book-buying habits. Several of these recipients have latched onto authors they enjoy, from my recommendations/gifts, and bought every subsequent book the author released, at the full retail price. (Cory D. is the only author I can immediately think of whose work received this accolade from someone to whom I initially sent only an ebook. But in your case, three different friends have received physical copies of Star Rigger's Way, and one of them ordered two of your other books as soon as he finished that one.)

The upshot of this is that I get the book for cheap, and the author makes a few sales they would not otherwise (probably) have seen.

Are there less obvious ways in which you support the authors of books you like?

You mean aside from strategically rearranging the shelves in new book stores so that some really good stuff is placed next to Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer?

- M.
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Old 05-13-2010, 12:18 AM   #47
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Hey Jeff,

I'm late to chime in on this. My working theory is that free samples sell. Why else do grocery stores set up Sunday afternoons with ladies in aprons?

But - and I know there are several on the board that may disagree wtih me. There's a fine line between free for sample and free for use. There are some authors/readers who suffer from a bit of entitlement syndrome. If they are given something for free, they expect more for free. Some actually seek out freebies (darknet or otherwise.)

I like Smashword's distribution model of free samples. Try and buy. I think that's the way it should be if you want to go for that sort of model. You may have made a mistake with offering the first three books up for free, and then the fourth up for free. Have you talked to Brandon to see how the sales of War Breaker went?

I'm in a minority where I've purchased numerous copies of the same work. I have hardcover, paperback, and digital copies of a lot of my books. All bought first hand from the author or their distributor.

If your tip jar is turning you a profit, that's good. But, I don't know how many people would be apt to picking up a hardcover copy of a book unless they are collectors. Especially if they already read it for free.

With Target/Walmart and the supermarkets cutting down on the MMPB supplies, MMPB is in the crapper all across the board. Which, as you mentioned, is probably a big reason why your softcover books are down.

I've never really been into the paperback market, though. I know there's a lot of people that buy them for throwaway beach reads, which horrifies me. My girlfriend's mother actually gave me the latest Lee Child PB because she finished it and was going to throw it out. I was horrified and took it for safe keeping

I prefer hardcovers and digital books to paperback. But, that's me.

I think the proper digital distribution for the series is to offer book 1 and maybe one or two backlist titles for free as samplers. But never offer your newest work for free if your writing is your living.

I think it may end bad.

As for Cory Doctorow's success story, I think his street cred in the blogosphere helps his sales tremendously (same with Scalzi)
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Old 05-13-2010, 01:43 AM   #48
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Originally Posted by Vintage Season View Post
But in your case, three different friends have received physical copies of Star Rigger's Way, and one of them ordered two of your other books as soon as he finished that one.)
That calls for one of these. And one of these.


Quote:
Are there less obvious ways in which you support the authors of books you like?

You mean aside from strategically rearranging the shelves in new book stores so that some really good stuff is placed next to Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer?
That works!
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Old 05-13-2010, 01:50 AM   #49
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I will say I think it's a lot different than music.

With music a band can give away a song or two to entice people to buy the album they are on. And then maybe by future albums by that band.

Give a way a whole book, and hardly anyone who gets it will by that book as most books only get read once--unlike music which has probably the highest replay rate of any media. So it's all hinged on selling future books to people who get a free book.

Now I suppose that's where sample e-books of just a few chapters come in to play. But still hard to relate to music as a song is a complete song (though part of an album), and can stand on it's own. Where as a chapter or two isn't worth anything on it's own, so they're not really giving away content with sample chapters.
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Old 05-13-2010, 01:51 AM   #50
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I appreciate all the responses from everyone. You don't all think alike, and it's good to hear the different views.

I'm taking off tomorrow for Cape Canaveral and the Nebula Awards and (I hope!) the launch of space shuttle Atlantis. So I probably won't get on much for the next few days. But wish us luck on the shuttle launch. I've wanted to see a liftoff ever since I watched Alan Shepherd go up on that little Redstone--as a kid, watching in black and white. This is my first chance to see one in person.
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Old 05-13-2010, 03:52 AM   #51
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I have gone to ebooks almost exclusively. If the book is not available in electronic form, I get on the list at the library. Exception is books about the Chicago Cubs. I buy any and all of those I come across. But free ebooks do prompt me to buy more ebooks by the same author.
Ditto.
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Old 05-13-2010, 07:21 AM   #52
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Originally Posted by dmaul1114 View Post
Now I suppose that's where sample e-books of just a few chapters come in to play. But still hard to relate to music as a song is a complete song (though part of an album), and can stand on it's own. Where as a chapter or two isn't worth anything on it's own, so they're not really giving away content with sample chapters.
I bought a book recently on the basis of reading a short story that was being given away on the basis of being a "web exclusive" featuring characters from the book. I liked that, so I bought the book. The "short story" turned out to be a chapter from the book with a few extra paragraphs at the beginning, and a paragraph relating to incidents that took place earlier in the book removed.
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Old 05-13-2010, 08:34 AM   #53
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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.
There's a good discussion about lulu over on kindleboards bazaar going on right now if anyone is interested. Basically sounds like a number of authors are having quite a few problems with lulu--payment, getting answers to questions, new policies that are a disadvantage to publishing there and so on.
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Old 05-13-2010, 04:28 PM   #54
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There's a good discussion about lulu over on kindleboards bazaar going on right now if anyone is interested. Basically sounds like a number of authors are having quite a few problems with lulu--payment, getting answers to questions, new policies that are a disadvantage to publishing there and so on.
BMB, can you give us a link, please?
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Old 05-13-2010, 04:38 PM   #55
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I bought a book recently on the basis of reading a short story that was being given away on the basis of being a "web exclusive" featuring characters from the book. I liked that, so I bought the book. The "short story" turned out to be a chapter from the book with a few extra paragraphs at the beginning, and a paragraph relating to incidents that took place earlier in the book removed.

Sure, that's largely analogous to giving away one song off an album. There's lots that can be done in terms of those kind of samples.

Giving away a whole book doesn't work though since most books only get read once by most people.

To be fair, most people that get a whole album on MP3 aren't going to by the CD of that album either.

Though bands do have the option of putting albums streaming on their website, myspace page etc., to spur sales, where as a publishers wouldn't want to put a whole book readable online.

If I read the book online, I'm not buying it. If I like an album I stream, I will buy it as I want the CD to listen to in the car, to rip to MP3s to listen to elsewhere, better sound quality etc.

So again, the point that books really have zero "replay" value for most of the people most of the time seems an added challenge in terms of give aways and promotions compared to music which has infinite replay value.
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Old 05-13-2010, 04:41 PM   #56
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I don't buy physical books anymore, haven't for a long time. And never been a hardback buyer. Only hardbacks I had is if someone bought one for me. And I would actually tell people not to buy me hardbacks (that take up even more room).

I am 39 yrs old and have in my lifetime have filled apartments and houses with books. I always had a dedicated room for my books (my reading room lol). But when I would move I would end up getting rid of 95% of my books (who wants to move all that weight). I would save a few and it was always with gnashing of teeth when I went through this process.

I actually stopped my reading for a while. This is coming from someone that would read a book every two days (since puberty). Got tired of buying a bunch of books just to eventually get rid of them. And books were in my opinion just getting too expensive. I tried to go the library route but it became a pain in the butt. I would buy the occasional book to read but thats it. My reading room became my computer room.

So for about 8 years or so I wasn't that guy that always had a book at hand. And I missed it. More so my personality missed it. Kind of hard to explain but as a person I suffered for not devouring the written word. I don't even know if I made that connection until I got back into reading. But a few years ago I finally started reading TEOTWAWKI fanfiction off of forums. And within a short time I was back to reading a full sized story every day or two. I eventually got into epubs and that became my format of choice. I would read on my netbook or sometimes even on my HD TV (in bed lol) and then I would read on my phone when I was on the go. I would read the ebook and then delete it.

Over the last 6 months Ive started collecting again (thanks to Calibre) and have over 300+ ebooks. With so much free reading out there I have only purchased about 10 ebooks and all these were on sale or was some type of deal. I won't buy anything with DRM. And I won't buy overpriced ebooks, I consider $6.99 to be the high-end on what I would purchase for the electronic version. So that should tell you what I think of the agency pricing that has come about recently.

I waited until last month to finally get a dedicated ereader (Pocketbook 360) which is absolutely perfect for me.

I guess I could of just kept this short and said physical books aren't even an option for me. LOL. But I was trying to give a reason for how I came to the point where physical books have zero interest for me.
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Old 05-13-2010, 04:44 PM   #57
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The KEY difference in that analogy dmaul, and what I think ploppy was really irked about, is the deception.


I like to know what I'm buying, and don't appreciate bait-and-switch tactics like ploppy describes. It might have been a "Web Exclusive", but they should mention it's also a sample chapter from the book. Not doing so is a pretty clear lie by omission in my book, since I'm sure they knew very well how it would be interpreted and designed it with that as the goal.

I would say this is also related to what was already mentioned earlier, the increase in stuff for the us to consume now-a-days. Not only is there soooo much product for us to choose from, an increasingly greater percentage of it is crap and frequently misrepresented. I've lost a lot of my 'good faith' in publishers/distributors in general due to this, and plenty of artists/creators too.

Its the whole mentality of quantity of quality. Just push out a lot of product... sure there will be more flops, but also more overall revenue.

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Old 05-13-2010, 06:37 PM   #58
simplyparticular
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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?
You are really asking if free eBooks will drive paper sales, or will free eBooks cannabalize paper sales? I think you're really asking an eithor/or question. And I think the answer is neither.

If *I* love an eBook I (free or paid), I buy more of the series in e-format, and recommend it to friends IRL and online. None of my friends or family read eBooks, so they are buying paper books, if they take my advice. I don't buy fiction books as gifts for adults - it's too difficult to gauge taste. I'm eBooks for everything except Kids and parenting/health (hubby doesn't do eBooks).

+++

Based on the replies you got here, an eBook, free or not, has little or no effect on paper sales OF THAT TITLE. The majority of people who are using a digital device to read are almost exclusively reading eBooks, not pBooks. Those who aren't exclusively digital seem to be more likely to borrow pBooks from a library, not buy. Frankly, it sounds like most eBook readers don't even enter bookstores anymore. So marketing to them is going to be very different...

However, the one exception that could have impacted pBook sales is cross-promotion of the EARLIER titles.

Did either the HC or the MMPB promote that Books 1-3 were available for free online? Did that overlap with the time that you could download Sunborn for free?

If someone saw Sunborn in paper, saw a Book 1-3 online promo and skipped Sunborn in favor of going to the website for free Book 1-3, (actually remembered to go to your site for Book 1-3) and then happened on Sunborn for free, then that definitely would have impacted HC or MMPB sales, depending on the timing.

But since I'm not sure on the timeline:
  • Sunborn Hardback
  • Sunborn MMPB a year later?
  • when did the free eBook get offered and then stop?
  • when did the paid eBook finally launch?
  • when did you begin to offer 1-3 eBooks for free?

So, some food for thought to get at what happened with the pBook sales:
  1. Did Books 1-3 launch in HC, or just Sunborn? that would skew your numbers compared to your other books
  2. How big was the gap between Book 3 and 4? Did you have fans bugging you for Book 4, were you doing updates on your writing/publishing progress your web site or to an email list? The mystery and romance series writers have this down to an science, but they also release series books very rapidly.
  3. Did the blurbs on Sunborn make it seem like it could stand-alone to potential new buyers, or was it obviously necessary to read the early ones?
  4. Did those early free downloads of Sunborn surpass your MMPB sales?
  5. Does your publisher have e-sales data to analyze?
  6. How are your Sunborn paid eBook sales to date? Crazy high, medium or stagnant compared to others in your genre?
  7. I'm sure the free version got posted to the darknet - I have no idea, but is there a way to track its activity in the week or month that the MMPB came out?
  8. Did you track used sales on 1-3 through Amazon when Book 4 dropped (did their rankings jump or did they get new reviews?
  9. Did you do less or more promotion of Sunborn than Books 1-3 or your other titles?
  10. Did Tor promote the launch of the eBook, since it launched separate from the pBooks?

It really is a shame that Tor wouldn't reprint the back titles in the series. FWIW, I think you did what you could with what you were dealt, although I probably would have been greedy and only offered Book 1 for free and then some kind of combo deal on 2, 3 and 4, but that's my job as a marketer.

Is the series done, or are you working on a finale or Book 5? If yes, it would behoove you to go in to your agent and editor with a rough draft of a marketing strategy for promoting the Books 1-4 in e-form to help juice the fifth book's sales in whatever format you can manage to sell someone.

HTH,
Bree
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Old 05-13-2010, 06:59 PM   #59
BearMountainBooks
Maria Schneider
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Originally Posted by GA Russell View Post
BMB, can you give us a link, please?
Sorry, I didn't want to go off-topic and wasn't sure anyone wanted to know:

http://www.kindleboards.com/index.ph...c,24519.0.html

Maria
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Old 05-13-2010, 08:01 PM   #60
GA Russell
Stamps vs. Ticats!
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Thanks Maria!
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