Bob Baker's Book Promotion Blog

Should You Give Away Free eBooks?

Cory Doctorow is a successful science fiction author and co-editor of the popular Boing Boing blog. In his online bio, he writes about his habit of giving away ebook versions of his books and how he benefits from it.

I write science fiction novels -- three published to date ... These novels sell well, win awards, and are published by Tor Books (novels) and Avalon Books (collection). They're also given away for free on the Internet as Creative Commons-licensed downloads. They can be freely shared, and in some cases, remixed or translated and sold in developing countries.

I believe that we live in an era where anything that can be expressed as bits will be. I believe that bits exist to be copied. Therefore, I believe that any business model that depends on your bits not being copied is just dumb, and that lawmakers who try to prop these up are like governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on living on the sides of active volcanoes.

Me, I'm looking to find ways to use copying to make more money and it's working: enlisting my readers as evangelists for my work and giving them free ebooks to distribute sells more books. As Tim O'Reilly says, my problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity. Best of all, giving away ebooks gives me lots of key insights into how to make money without restricting the copying of bits. It's a win-win situation.

The quote I especially like is: "My problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity." In fact, that whole third paragraph holds a lot of wisdom. In so many ways, you have to give to get.

I don't completely adopt Cory's approach for my own full-time author business model, but I agree in principle with his mindset. I'll write more about this topic in my next blog post.

In the meantime, what do you think?


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  • I think there is a window of opportunity for people to be visible by giving away the books. It certainly worked for Cory.

    This is basic supply and demand at work. There is a huge demand for free books and those that supply it get compensated in other ways: name recognition, encouragement purchases, conference talks, etc.

    The danger for those who wait too long, is that soon, there would be enough free books and the bar will be raised higher and the payoff will be lower. This has happened with podcasts and youTube videos recently and many time before in other media.

    By Anonymous Alexandre Rafalovitch, At Tuesday, February 06, 2007  

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