Will Giving Away Books Increase Sales?

24 07 2010

At ALA I had the privilege of listening to Cory Doctorow’s inspiring speech at breakfast one morning. Doctorow is an advocate of free sharing of all digital media. His take on the topic is both unusual and refreshing. It has obviously worked for him. His books are released simultaneously in print and e-versions. The e-books are published under a Creative Commons Licence, which allows readers to share the books if they do not sell their copies or create derivative works.

Pretty cool idea—giving books away free. So what happens? It would seem that authors would make no money doing that, but Doctorow’s book Little Brother hit the New York Times Best Seller list. Amazing.

And Doctorow isn’t the only success story where free Internet access to a book stimulated print sales. Another success story is Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was first posted on Funbrain.com and was viewed by 20 million unique online readers. Even though the website averaged 70,000 readers a day, when Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out as a book, it stayed on The New York Times Best Seller list for more than 74 weeks straight and sold more than 32 million copies in more than 30 countries.

Giving people the opportunity to read the book free obviously doesn’t seem to have hurt sales. And what are most writers aiming for? Readership, right? So here’s a way to get it. Oh, and one more thing most writers want is to make a living. Looks like this may be a way to do both. Should we try it?