Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
If the publishing industry is shrinking, what is it doing to stay relevant–and alive? In talking to editors and publishers at the two major book trade shows, I noted that one of the strategies is to give books for free.
For example, a few weeks ago, Hachette, one of the world’s largest publishers, announced that it would offer 38 titles on its website for free. Now, these titles aren’t downloadable; you have to sit in front of a computer (or your iphone) to read the book on your screen. But take a look at Gossip Girl #1 here. While this book is part of a series and might get the reader hooked on reading the other books, some of the Hachette titles being offered (with the authors’ approval) are standalone.
When Hachette announced its plans, it asked for feedback on Twitter. Wendy Lawton looked at a Hachette novel online she had planned to buy when it was released. It was lovely. Wendy tweeted: “How does the publisher or author make a living when books are given for free?” Whoever at Hachette was assigned to respond to tweets, answered, “People will always buy books.” Oh, yeah? Why should they, if they don’t have to?
We’re being taught that we should expect free. We get “free” via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, gmail, music downloads, Wikipedia, etc. So why shouldn’t books be free?
Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price, caused quite a buzz when it released in July. Andrerson believes free is the new way to do business digitally. (I can’t resist mentioning that the book isn’t free but sells for $26.)
Here’s a review of the book:
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In the digital marketplace, the most effective price is no price at all, argues Anderson (The Long Tail). He illustrates how savvy businesses are raking it in with indirect routes from product to revenue with such models as cross-subsidies (giving away a DVR to sell cable service) and freemiums (offering Flickr for free while selling the superior FlickrPro to serious users). New media models have allowed successes like Obama’s campaign billboards on Xbox Live, Webkinz dolls and Radiohead’s name-your-own-price experiment with its latest album. A generational and global shift is at play—those below 30 won’t pay for information, knowing it will be available somewhere for free, and in China, piracy accounts for about 95% of music consumption—to the delight of artists and labels, who profit off free publicity through concerts and merchandising. Anderson provides a thorough overview of the history of pricing and commerce, the mental transaction costs that differentiate zero and any other price into two entirely different markets, the psychology of digital piracy and the open-source war between Microsoft and Linux. As in Anderson’s previous book, the thought-provoking material is matched by a delivery that is nothing short of scintillating. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
What does that mean for books? Well, one thing it means is that libraries are jumpin’ joints. The American Library Association held its convention in July and experienced a record-breaking attendance of nearly 29,000.
In light of the diminished book trade shows I wrote about yesterday, at first blush this seems contradictory. On one hand, trade shows are mere shadows of their former selves, but libraries are experiencing a boon. Why? Two societal surges: the economic downturn and the expectation that what we want should be given to us.
Have you heard about cell-phone novels? They’re popular in Japan and generally are written by amateurs and posted on free community websites, by the hundreds of thousands (yes, hundreds of thousands), with no expectation of payment. For the first time in the history of novels, stories are being detached from dollars.
In addition to cell-phone novels, fan fiction is being produced online. You can read fan-written stories about Star Trek, Jane Austen, or Twilight. Fanfiction.net hosts 386,490 short stories, novels and novellas–in its Harry Potter section alone, according to a recent Time article.
What does this “free”fall away from money mean for those of us who are part of the book industry? Read my thoughts tomorrow.
Question: Have you ever offered anything for free? What was the response? What was the payoff for you?