Should Publishers Put Their Books Online for Free?
Yesterday, Yale University Press allowed me to post my book online for free. Over at the NYT’s Freakonomics blog, Melissa Lafsky writes about the growing trend of publishers posting free electronic copies of their books online. HarperCollins, for example, has started posting its books free online. In addition to my book, Yale University Press has allowed for the posting of Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks for free online.
One commenter to Lafsky’s post writes:
Imagine if books went the route of music and charged something like 1 or 2 dollars per download. Hardly a cumbersome fee when you consider most books will be over 10$ in a brick and mortar. Now, if a free ebook can sell 1 million copies in 1 day after some publicity on Oprah, imagine how many copies a trivially priced edition could sell over the span of several months. Certainly a few million, I’d expect.
Money is saved on raw materials, processing, printing, distribution. The only costs would be for the content and the server to house the content and some for publicity. So, say the split goes something like 70/30 for author/distributor. That’s still a great deal of income with extremely low overhead.
Another commenter writes:
Why can’t book publishers use the same business model that magazines use? Namely, inserting advertisements among the pages to offset the costs of production.
I for one, would gladly put up with some ads in favor of a lower price. Imagine paying $5 for a new release, rather than $30.
From the Associated Press:
More than 1 million copies of Suze Orman’s “Women & Money” have been downloaded since the announcement last week on Winfrey’s television show that the e-book edition would be available for free on her Web site, http://www.oprah.com. . . .
According to Saturday’s statement, more than 1.1 million copies of Orman’s financial advice book were downloaded in English, and another 19,000 in Spanish. The demand compares to such free online sensations as “The 9-11 Commission Report,” which the federal government made available for downloads, and Stephen King’s e-novella, “Riding the Bullet.”
The publishing community has endlessly debated the effects of making text available online, with some saying that free downloading is a valuable promotional tool and others worrying that sales for paper editions would be harmed. The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers each have sued Google for its plans to scan and index books for the Internet.
The offer for “Women & Money,” originally released a year ago by Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc., has not kept people from buying the traditional version. As of Saturday, the book ranked No. 6 on Amazon.com. The paper edition of “The 9-11 Commission Report,” published in 2004 by W.W. Norton and Co., was a best seller for months.
“I can tell you that with respect to the `9-11 Report,’ the free download did not seem to hurt sales at all,” Norton publisher Drake McFeely told The Associated Press on Saturday. “There were people who wanted it quickly, in a less convenient form, and that was clearly a different market from the people who wanted the traditional book.” . . .
Is this trend a wise thing for publishers to do? Will it help sales? Hurt sales? I’m curious what readers think.