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April 07, 2008


Cory Doctorow

I still don't get it.

They're like a scientist who put an enormous effort into starting a culture in a Petri dish, then threw away the dish just as the experiment got interesting. After all, it's not as though people are going to stop downloading INFECTED now that it's not on the Crown site -- only that Crown will no longer be able to gather any information, update the file with current sell-messages, and continue to have a relationship with those downloaders.

What's more, I think that the optimistic prediction that people aren't put off by having to pre-order a book they've enjoyed as a download is pretty unfounded. My evidence that this happens is based on long-term statistics from Boing Boing book reviews that link to Amazon: I've seen a 10X increase in orders for books when I blog them *after* they go on-sale as opposed to before they go on sale.

Scott Sigler

I'm sure Crown will continue to experiment with free PDF downloads for other authors (the two-timing bastards!). However, I hope we can take the experiment to the next level for the INFECTED sequel, titled CONTAGIOUS. Crown is branching out to try new things, and I'm thrilled to be part of that, but it's hard to argue with Doctorow's results.

Michael Falkner

I have to disagree with you, Mr. Anderson. I feel very strongly that if I like something, I will find a way to get it, no matter the time delay. Having a free e-copy is a great bonus, but I grew up as a dedicated hard-copy reader, and feel better with a hard copy in my hands. Furthermore, I purchase the hard copy to support the authors/creators, especially in this case with podcast authors hitting the mainstream book market.

Steve Bickle

Its a mistake pulling the free download. I missed it, I was really busy out of the country with work and only found about the pdf after it had vanished. If I had the PDF I would definitely have passed it on to a few people (I'm waiting for delivery the UK of my copy). Now I'd have to hunt it down on the Internet so am less likely to bother. The easiest thing for me would be to point my friends to the download with a URL in an email, but alas this is also not possible now.

On the figure of 45,000 downloads, the pdf was linked in a number of podcast feeds so a proportion of those downloads would have been automatic.

david usher

hey chris
at least they are trying. its very difficult for a company that holds intellectual property rights to want to give those rights away with free copies online. it runs against their corporate nature. in music we are struggling with the same things. what do you sell when the product becomes free? we are going to find out pretty quickly if radiohead and NIN are just stunts. both those bands have hardcore plugged in audiences. they will buy the enhanced packages for 300+ dollars. with books people still want to read the hard copy. but for how long? once the tablet reader is perfected what are the publishers going to sell? a dinner with Scott Sigler with every book. at least in music there is still the live show. its a grand experiment and really the only way to go. publishers need to take a hard look at the music business and figure out what they are going to be selling in 5 years.

David Wellington

This is an ongoing debate and Mr. Doctorow's statements and numbers aren't the end of it.

Crown's imprint Three Rivers Press publishes my vampire books, 13 Bullets and 99 Coffins. The former started out as a free online serial, and it remains available in that format. Crown never asked me to take it down, nor did I have any desire to do so. The book did very well and is currently backlisting in a way genre novels rarely ever do. 99 Coffins, on the other hand, was never made available online--for reasons that had nothing to do with artificial scarcity or marketing at all. Despite not being made available for free, the book did extremely well and outsold 13 Bullets by a large margin. So what do I take from that? That books available for free online sell fewer copies than those only available in hard copy? And yet that would directly contradict Mr. Doctorow's belief.

As for Mr. Sigler, I've watched him work tirelessly at promoting his books over the years and I think the PDF file played a very small part in his success, if any at all, when compared to the massive push this book received both from the publisher and from the sweat of his own brow.

I don't think there's enough data to make any kind of assumptions yet about how free online books affect hard copy sales. There are too many variables in the equation--a point Mr. Doctorow has addressed on his blog in the past. I do know that putting material online for free is a great way to get my name out there--I intend to keep serializing, both with books I intend to publish in hard copy and those which will remain online exclusives.

Sam G

Chris -
Your last sentence here, "Now we can expect more and better experiments and less hand-wringing about FREE. Which is quite an advance, any way you look at it," suggests that you're not looking at the data dispassionately and making an observation based on it. You've already decided that if "FREE" is good enough for the software business (and your book), it's good for all businesses, and that book publishers who resist it are wrong. That assertion is not actually supported by any sales data. There are very strong arguments that free doesn't help, and may actually hurt. I'd encourage you to investigate the numbers.

Chris Anderson


My confidence that FREE, done right, can sell books comes from 15 years of experience in doing the same thing with magazines and their websites. The whole pay-vs-free debate raged in the media industry for most of the 90s, and the perfect experiment in testing it can't be done, but consensus has been reached. I really don't see why books should be significantly different, and we're not just trying to figure out how best to do it.




Consensus has not been reached in the book business, and I'd suggest that it's because publishers have looked at the numbers.

david usher

"In music we have been dealing with the idea of Free for years, liked it or not. When the digital copy is identical to the original with no reproduction costs, the result is Free. And when Free hits you have to find other things to monetize. Radiohead does pay what you want, a deluxe box set, then a CD. Nine Inch Nails does 9 songs for free or $5 for 36 tracks or…ending with Ultra deluxe package for $300.

But, does Free really work for books I’m not saying they can run and hide from whats coming, because they can’t. They need to be out their exploring and trying new things. But I think Chris and Cory and Crown are debating the wrong question. Its not how Crown uses free pdfs to market this one book thats interesting. The real question is.

What the hell is Crown going to be selling in 5 years when printed books go the way of the bank teller?

I know a lot of you are going to say that you can’t replace the feeling of a book in your hands, the pages. I love the feeling of a book as well but the killer digital Reader is coming. There are lots of companies racing to develop the perfect reading tablet and when your brand spanking new portable reader that holds 10,000 books, works in the sun and is as cool as the iphone arrives…its going to mean the end of books as we know them (and Im not talking about the Kindle).

At least in music we always have the live show, an experience you can’t reproduce digitally. What will Crown Publishing be selling when everyone is walking around showing off their new ireader and wirelessly trading digital copies of the latest, greatest ebook . What will they use as added value? A private dinner with Scott Sigler with every hardcopy purchase? Scott best prepare himself for a lot of nights out."

Phillip Marzella

I think that the concept of 'FREE' is still open to experimentation - creating artificial scarcity could work.


Having worked for major publishers for most of my life, I certainly get what is going on here:

1. The folks in the marketing department -- usually 20-somethings with little if any sales-related experience -- grab onto a big buzzword and orient a marketing plan around it. Usually this happens around a book that has a small marketing budget, but a specific and controversial topic. "We're going grassroots/viral/word of mouth..." This is done to stretch limited marketing cash.

2. Some VP in the sales department -- usually 50-something gets a threatening email or phone call from "a key account" that threatens to return the product unopened if they don't pull the promotion. In my experience, these sale guys believe marketing is what we do to help the stores sell product, namely co-op slotting fees, retail merchandising and other payoffs to the retailers that guarantee stores will stock the product.

3.Faced with pressure from above, the 30-something marketing VP gets called on the carpet and has to rescind the promotion. Claiming he was caught unaware of the promotion, he throws together a press release announcing that this was a well-thought out marketing strategy that was planned to maximize the sales of the book in retail stores. "Free is a key marketing strategy...until it isn't."

I've worked in the music business here in Nashville, an entire industry that is collapsing under the free model. Hundreds of people are being laid off, never to work in the industry again -- all because customers, given the choice, will always choose free over not free. CDs still sell, but at a much smaller scale, and the business model that this industry was based on can't operate on that scale.

Anyone who believes books won't go through the same Armageddon is kidding themselves. Free IS the killer app, and the customer gets what they want. But you'd better be prepared for the fallout, because it is not pretty.

As music shifts to a free model, literally tens of millions of dollars are being moved out of that industry. In the long run, the customer will win, but in the meantime, there is a bloodbath unlike anything we've ever seen in the entertainment industry. It is awful to watch.

I am a huge fan of Mr. Anderson's book The Long Tail. I probably quote it daily. My only request is that I wish he would provide some leadership in the music industry, rather than trumpeting revolution at every turn. Real people -- artists, employees and support staff -- are seeing their world as they know it end. Yes, there is great pride, waste and arrogance, but it is sad to see so many earnest and hard working people get run over by this freight train. The movie industry learned from the music industry's mistakes. The book world, IMO, is pretending like it won't happen to them. Regardless, what do we DO about this phenomenon in business?

That would be a great book.

Malcolm Kass

As someone who typically rants on boingboing.net as my stress reliver (now offically kicked off, oh no!), I see Mr. Doctorow's point, but he needs to understand that this move is bigger than just this book. Look at the press, and positive press, that is happening. You cannot buy this, this is promotional gold. Esp. is this book is a start of a series. First mover advantage, regardless of what Teller and Golder may believe.

To be frank, having books free and online is a, for lack of a better word, ploy that I think will run its course and eventually, there will be no benefit. "Artifical scaracity" can only last so long in the minds of the consumer, and once the mass populace realizes that most new books are avialable online for free, there will be no more buzz and no more desire to purchase any book. Indeed, price reference may be so low that the whole industry maybe in a dire situtation. People will pirate the hardcopy of the book, eroding margins, and eventually we will be back where we were.

richie adams

A small admittedly digressive point: it's not fair to compare the downloads of Infected to the downloads for Beautiful Children. One is a science fiction book from a series by an author who is established and has a readership. The other novel was a first novel, which was well hyped yes, but still is a first novel in a genre (literary) that doesn't have a lot of readers. I think RH is probably very very happy with the exposure that they got, and their book got, during their three day download.

Joe Wikert

As a publisher myself, I applaud the efforts on this one, even though they're far from perfect. I'm just glad to see other publishers trying out new models. It wasn't that long ago that all publishers felt online content, let alone *free* online content, was a bad thing, so at least these guys are making progress.

In hindsight, perhaps a better approach would have been to make the free content available indefinitely...but reserve the right to take it down if at some point the publisher determines it's cannibalizing sales of the print book. There's no easy way to determine when or whether this is happening, but it would have given the publisher more flexibility in leaving the free version available for a longer period of time. Then again, I've been quite happy with my group's free content initiatives up to now, so I don't have a problem if other publishers choose to not participate; it just leaves more viral marketing opportunities for my team!

Joe Wikert
Publishing 2020 Blog (www.joewikert.com)
Kindleville Blog (www.kindleville.com)


Consensus has not been reached in the book business, and I'd suggest that it's because publishers have looked at the numbers.



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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!