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Fear of Free


I’m continually amazed at the number of people that fear free digital content, believing that free digital content now will ultimately lead people to believe that all content is without value, that all consumers of books will somehow refuse to pay for digital content. The conflation of free and digital is one that is tossed around frequently, often based on the decreasing revenues of print newspapers and their inability to leverage or monetize their digital content.   However, I don’t believe that the format defines whether content has value.   The format might change the amount of the value expressed in monetary terms but I don’t necessarily believe that the digital form of content equals free.   

Nigel Farndale, in the above article, suggests that the iPod has killed the music industry, never mind the billions of dollars of revenue that digital sales have contributed.   According to a 2005 PEW study, teens are as likely to purchase music as they are to participate in peer to peer sharing which means that even if there is free content out there, people are still making purchases.

At least one report suggested that over 39% of teens participate in file sharing, but more Americans have purchased music in 2008 than ever before. However, the music industry is despairing because total revenue has declined. US consumers apparently would rather purchase individual songs than entire albums.

According to the Nielsen Co.’s year-end figures, music purchases -‘ CD, vinyl, cassette and digital purchases of entire albums (grouped together as total albums), plus digital track downloads, singles and music videos -‘ attained a new high of 1.5 billion, up 10.5% over 2007.

More than 70% of those transactions were digital track downloads, a record total of 1.07 billion that swamped 2007’s previous high of 844.2 million by 27%. Last week’s track downloads set a record of 47.7 million, and 71 songs exceeded 1 million downloads this year, compared with 41 last year (and just two in 2005). Track downloads outsold albums by a ratio of 2.5 to 1.

The model of the music industry used to be that concerts would drive album sales. Now, because of iTunes and the ability to buy individual songs, some in the music industryhave changed to remonetize its product by capturing value of the music through  higher concert dividends.    But the move to digital is not creating no market, but rather new markets.   The album sales market might be diminishing, but digital music is still creating revenue.

The music industry isn’t losing revenue because there is free content out there, but because the business model underpinning the music industry is changing from albums to singles; not because people don’t value digital content.

Television shows have always been free but the studios are recapturing value through selling DVD compilations, online streaming, digital downloads via iTunes and other venues. In recent numbers, the 4th Season of Battlestar Galactica, a television show that showed for free on Cable, had $5,472,209 in one week of sales. Lost, a series on ABC, has a total of $36,171,263 in DVD sales. I have purchased television shows via iTunes based on ease of use and convenience.   There’s nothing more blissful than a dinner out with the family and having your daughter entertained by a couple of cartoons while the husband and I are sharing a desert and coffee.   In the case of television shows, digital packaging is creating new streams of revenue.

Even if free = digital, existing signs point to free leading to an increase of sales, rather than a complete loss.   The most recent example was the decision by Monty Python to upload high quality videos to YouTube which led to an increase of 23000% in DVD sales.   

What content providers must realize is that a  changing business model wherein revenues are no longer captured  in the same way does not mean that content is not without value or that people will not pay, in some way, to use that content.   I think many people recognize that in order to have worthwhile content, we must pay in some way for it.   Consumers have reduced the value of the album, but have not determined that music itself is without value.   Consumers might believe that digital books have reduced cost given the costs of production, distribution and warehousing; but it is not our belief that books are without value altogether or that all books must be provided for free.   I think what consumers are looking for is a fair trade.   Content creators provide the best content they possibly can and for a fair price allow the consumers to utilize it in the way that it fits into their lives.

  The idea that all content in the future will be free or that digital content is equatable with free is very puzzling to me.   I need someone to explain it to me.     Do you readers, authors, editors, other folks believe that all content should or will be free in the future? If not, why?   If yes, how will content creators be compensated?   How can we capture the value and monetize it in a different way than direct payment via the consumer?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Estara
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 04:26:33

    I don’t have much to add in the way of personal observation since I buy lots of entertainment because of previous contact with samples, but did you see this link on boingboing?
    “Hard data on ebook piracy versus sales — slides from O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing panel” which leads to this slide collection of their presentation

  2. NextRead » Links: Sunday 22nd February Edition
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 04:55:59

    […] A great article by Dear Author on the Fear of Free. […]

  3. Kimber An
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 07:14:29

    I’ve learned a few things about this as an unpaid, unprofessional blogging book reviewer:

    1) The Number One Motivation for readers to get free or cheap stories of any kind anywhere is Variety. They’re looking for a great story which will move them. If it’s free or cheap, that’s a bonus. When you get free cookies, it doesn’t matter what kind of cookies they are ’cause almost everyone loves all kinds of cookies. But, individual reader preferences are very specific. A reader will spend $16 on a hardback novel he loves and pass up a free story, even if he’s on a strict budget.

    2) Free and Dirt Cheap Stories motivate readers to *buy* the author’s entire backlist, new if she must, and any books with similar power to move her.

    3) During difficult economic times, Readers need great stories more than ever to cope. Stories are an essential part of being human. This is why Bugs Bunny became such a hit during World War II.

    4) Even if a Reader can’t buy right now due to finances, as long as she keeps on reading your books or books in your sub-genre she will eventually begin buying New again.

    5) For the love of all that is sacred, do NOT think of readers as ‘consumers.’ A herd of cows are consumers. Readers are smart, sensitive, financially strapped, and exhausted human beings with very specific individual needs when it comes to the stories they read. RESPECT them. Meet those needs and you will never be without Readers.

    The price of a book has nothing to do with its value. It’s all in the heart of the reader. I wrote more about this last Sunday at Romancing the Blog in my article, The Reader’s Emotional Investment.

  4. Anti-e-book rant is a hoot—complete with the ‘Curl up’ canard | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 09:31:13

    […] Weinman, who doesn’t own an iPod or e-book-reader owner, but seems open minded. Also see DearAuthor’s Jane on the "fear of free" angle.) Technorati Tags: Nigel Farndale Digg us! Slashdot us! Share the […]

  5. Vivienne Westlake
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 09:49:42

    but it is not our belief that books are without value altogether or that all books must be provided for free. I think what consumers are looking for is a fair trade. Content creators provide the best content they possibly can and for a fair price allow the consumers to utilize it in the way that it fits into their lives.

    I will agree with the idea that what people are looking for is a fair trade. My problem with the music industry is that they make bad albums and then wonder why people only want to download individual songs. I remember ten years ago when I would buy albums and 90% of the album contained great songs. Now, I buy an album and maybe there are three or four good songs and the rest of it is passable. In those cases, I’d rather buy three 99 cent downloads and forget about the album.

    Now, there are a few albums that I am glad that I bought, such as the Sara Bareilles album which is pretty much all good. But, I’m tired of getting super excited over an album release only to realize that it was a waste of money.

    BUT, as far as books go, I think that Kimber An is right. Free reads can motivate a reader to buy an entire backlist. For example, my local RWA chapter has a book drawing every month where people can buy books that other members donated for like 50c. Sometimes, after conferences, we get tons of books and they give away baskets for dirt cheap ($1 for ten books). I consider this to be just about free. Now, I admit I don’t always read all of the books I get in the book drawing.

    However, one of the times I won a basket, I discovered Dark Needs at Night’s Edge, Kresley Cole’s 4th book in the Immortals After Dark series. I thought the title was a little hokey at the time, but I do like paranormal books, so I figured I’d give it a go. I was totally hooked by this book. A ghost and a vampire sounds like an improbable relationship, but it was incredibly well done. I then went out and bought Kresley’s entire backlist. And I LOVE all of these books! If I had not gotten that practically free book, I probably would never have discovered these books which are now my favorite paranormal series (in addition to Twilight–go ahead and shoot me).

    Long story short, I think that sometimes free reads will entice a reader to become hooked on a series or an author. I don’t think everything should be free, but I think that teasers here and there can be good for sales. And, while I don’t support illegal downloading of books, I do think that some of those free reads will result in sales as people get to know certain authors and books, they’ll want more, and honestly, there is nothing like buying and owning your own copy of something you love.

  6. rebyj
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 10:22:59

    What content providers must realize is that a changing business model wherein revenues are no longer captured in the same way does not mean that content is not without value or that people will not pay, in some way, to use that content.

    The content providers that have caught on to this are ahead of the game. Especially in the context of music and video as the numbers you cited show. Are there ebook stores that sell ebooks like does audio books? Pay so much a month and get so many credits? I like how that works with audio.I buy more audio than I ever would have thought because of the ease of shopping there. I’ve never looked for an ebook program like that yet because I’ve yet to get an e-reader.

    Free ebook promotions are great, such as eharlequins 16 free books during the Harlequin Celebrates campaign. I read Harlequins a lot in the 80s but not much since other than the occasional HQN release. I was surprised at the quality of the Nocturne series and have bought more. The promotion worked for me. So I agree with the above commenters that free reads intice readers to purchase more .

    Realistically how many people are spending $300+ for an Iphone, Kindle or Sony reader just because they want free stuff ? Free is good but the ease of logging onto itunes, Amazon or where ever to shop for what you want and get it right then is obviously something shoppers do. Shopping for illegal downloads take more time and holds the risk of viruses and I think the majority of people don’t bother more than one or two attempts.

  7. me
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 10:32:51

    “There's nothing more blissful than a dinner out with the family and having your daughter entertained by a couple of cartoons while the husband and I are sharing a desert and coffee. ”

    Seriously? You do that? I kinda worry for all these kids who feel they must be constantly entertained. What’s wrong with teaching them to play quietly with a toy or two at the table?

  8. Kerry Blaisdell
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 11:02:48

    While I’m an avid reader who is totally strapped for cash right now (hel-lo library!), “Free” has its downside, a.k.a., you get what you pay for. Like rebyj above, I also tried to participate in Harlequin’s Free 16 promotion, for two reasons:

    1) I really-really want to make the switch to ebooks, at least some of the time, and I thought this would be a great way to dip my toes in the e-ocean.

    2) The books were free, and they were pretty much all authors I’ve never read before, and I’m always looking for new authors with whom to fall in love. IOW, if I read their free book, I absolutely would have been looking for backlist and/or future releases, and eventually spending more money on their books.

    However, I don’t have an ereader, and when I tried downloading ALL THREE of the eformats of ALL 16 books, I couldn’t get any of them to work on my Palm Treo (and two of them were supposed to!). In fact the experience was so depressing (I got 3/4 through one book — right to the black moment/climax — and the file became irreparably corrupted… apparently… ?) that I haven’t even finished the first book I started reading, because I can only read it on my PC. The whole point of ebooks, IMO, is being able to read them wherever and whenever.

    Could I contact Harlequin about any of this? Possibly. I haven’t tried, but since the books were offered free, I’m pretty much assuming ease of use is catch as catch can, and there’s no official tech support for them. Besides, what can they do? Tell me I need a dedicated ereader? Suggest I retry one of the formats that’s supposed to work, but obviously doesn’t?

    Maybe I’m wrong. But if I pay for content, you can 100% bet I expect that content to be supported and do what it’s supposed to do. So I’m unlikely to go hunting round the ‘net for free stuff, off websites I may trust less than eHarlequin. The risk makes no sense to me — I’d much rather pay for something off a trusted site than get freebies from just anywhere.

    I think this is coming out more like a rant than I meant it to. :?) My main point was that the free 16 books sounded like a great idea, but for me, they backfired. Will I eventually buy another ebook somewhere? Probably. If this promotion worked, would I have spent more money at eHarlequin at some future time? Absolutely.

    “Free” — when it works — is a great way to introduce readers to new authors and new formats, and ultimately, to get us to spend more money. However, I’m never going to expect digital books to be free, because you do get what you pay for. And a good book, by a good author, has intrinsic value no matter the format, or what the costs are to produce and market it.

  9. Courtney Milan
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 11:10:08

    I started to write out a response but then it got really long and it rambled . . . so I ended up posting it on my blog.

  10. contentconsumer
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 11:14:37

    Nice article.

    Not really a comment on the article, more of a comment on my music purchases. I used to buy singles back before digital but the music industry decided to move away from that revenue stream. I also used to buy albums because there were generally at least 4 songs (sometimes more) that got released as singles. (Think: Hotel California by the Eagles, Thriller by Michael Jackson, Synchronicity by The Police, Violater by Depeche Mode, etc., etc., etc. )

    Those album purchases were worthwhile for me. I felt I received value for my money. But then toward the end of the 90s I started to feel like a chump. The music industry moved away from singles and many of the albums I bought had only that one good song.

    The only remaining choice given to me by the content provider no longer had the same value it once had and since I’d gotten burned too many times…well, I simply stopped buying new artists and stuck to only ‘trusted’ artists and as those artists released fewer albums or went away, I never found new artists to replace them. So for me, digital and/or ‘free pirated’ music didn’t really matter because my purchasing habits had already changed.

    Publishing: I used to love digital books and the small erotic romance publishers who published them. I loved finding new authors before they moved onto the print marketplace. What fun! Lately, however, I’ve started to feel burned–just like I did by the music industry. Maybe I overloaded on them, my tastes changed, prices increased and/or the quality lessened or perhaps I simply made bad choices. Whatever happened, the result is that all e-books started to meld together into one big blob in my mind.

    Unfortunately the major print publisher didn’t help matters. They didn’t get into the game fast enough and between their all-over the board pricing model, drm (I still won’t buy anything with drm on it), and limited selection availability compared to their print catalog, I’ve simply moved back to paper.

    Others might stick around longer (and I’m hopeful that digital will continue to grow), but with my discretionary spending budget dwindling, e-book readers, e-books and instanteous gratification are a luxury I can no longer afford. Not when there’s a paper product that costs about the same (or sometimes less) on average per book, doesn’t have drm on it, and I can trade it, sell it, or throw it against the wall if I feel like it.

    Free content: I expect to pay money for content whether it’s dollars or ad viewing time, however, in return I expect to get value for my money/time. The content should be something that’s not easily forgotten the moment I put it down or turn it off. Not every time. I know that’s not possible. But the positive experiences should outweigh the negative ones so I want to keep buying.

    If I get something for free that I loved. Like watching BSG for free or reading an e-book for free or… Even now I will find a way to buy that item. Specifically for books: if I come upon a pirated e-book and start reading it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone’s lost a sale from me (in my mind it’s not that different than picking up a book at a garage sale or used book store). In all likelihood, I never would’ve purchased the book in the first place or for that matter had any exposure to it. However, if the story is memorable, I will seek out the author’s backlist and purchase it. Just like I’d do if I bought a book from a used bookstore. I’ve done the same thing with music I’ve found on YouTube & movies/tv shows I’ve watched on Hulu.

    But it’s not my job to figure out how to monetize anyone else’s content. That’s the content provider. Obviously, it’s a trial and error thing. But others like Radiohead, Monty Python, etc. have had some success so it’s possible that less well-known names can also tap into it. I think it does come down to value and helping people find out who you are/what you do. No one can buy your content if they don’t know about you in the first place.

    For what it’s worth (nothing because it’s free), I guess I did have some article commentary after all.

  11. Mike Shatzkin
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 11:40:50

    The price of content is determined by a marketplace, not by the needs or desires of creators and certainly not by what’s right and what’s wrong.

    The amount of content being made available is surging. The amount of content being made available for FREE is surging even more. And it will continue to.

    Anybody selling content is facing a headwind that wasn’t there when there was no internet, when every book and journal (and soon magazine and newspaper) in the history of the world wasn’t hanging around to compete with what will be created tomorrow, and when any amateur can place her content with the same online retailer as the most heavily capitalized professional and face almost no branding issues when the consumer tries to make a choice.

    The pecuniary rewards for simply “creating content” are going down. Unless the laws of supply and demand are repealed. If you make money selling content, you should recognize that the model is under serious threat and be trying to figure out how to use the content and sales revenues you have as a springboard to creating other value and new business models.

    Best thing to do first: study PublishersLunch. Cader used content as bait to attract a community, and he created value in the community that people are willing to pay for. That’s a model that works.

  12. Angie
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 12:02:11

    I think the comparisons with music albums are right on. Back when I was buying albums as a teenager, most of what I got were either “Best Of” albums or multi-artist collections because that way I actually liked most of the music I purchased. It was just ridiculous to pay the price of an album for one or two songs I really liked, and I eventually got away from buying albums at all. Note that this was way before digital music existed.

    It’s like the music producers got used to the idea of being able to flog ten or a dozen songs out of their artists when said artists only had one or two really good inspirations, and make album-level money on a collection padded out with the mediocre and the occasional crap. They had to have known all along how many people were buying albums because they wanted only one or two songs, so there’s no reason why they should pretend to be surprised now when music consumers are flocking to a new distribution model which lets them choose exactly which songs to pay for. They’ve been forcing people to pay money for garbage to get the one or two gold nuggets they want, and built their whole sales model on that principle. Now the cash cow is dead and they’re flailing around, trying to figure out what to do. Of course, it’s easy for them to point to the pirates as the source of all their ills; much better than admitting they were making most of their money by extortion up to this point and the victims have finally broken free. Nah, better off ranting about pirates.

    It looks like the publishing industry is listening to the music execs rather than examining the actual situation in the music biz. RIAA (and MPAA) have been ranting and screaming and whining about “PiratesPiratesPirates!!!) for so long that some people actually believe that’s the root problem. So publishing, newly gone digital, is trying to be pro-active in heading off piracy. Not that that’s ever worked, mind you, but they think they have to try.

    And if pirates are the boogeyman, then obviously any content available for free is like enabling the pirates, right? If pirates sharing content for free is bad, then owners giving content away for free also must be bad. It’s logical! :P

    What it actually is, though, is just a knee-jerk reaction. People (and industries composed of people) strongly resist change. Most people won’t change anything significant unless and until they’re forced at metaphorical gunpoint. The large, ponderous, momentum-laden industries are resisting change with every gram of their bulk, desperate to find some sort of band-aid they can slap on their old business model to make it work again, and refusing to admit that at this point, no band-aid type solution is ever going to work. They have too much invested in the old ways, and aren’t willing to cut them loose yet. Luckily there are some individual people and companies here and there who are in there pushing. We can only hope that they’ll eventually build up enough of a sideways vector to get the whole thing shifting.


  13. contentconsumer
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 13:43:49

    If you make money selling content, you should recognize that the model is under serious threat and be trying to figure out how to use the content and sales revenues you have as a springboard to creating other value and new business models.

    Very true but I also happen to agree with Kimber An. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean that it has value to me. As more and more free content gets made available, I will be looking for someone or something to help me cut through the noise while still protecting me from viruses, spam, etc. I just don’t have the time to waste trolling the web because my time these days is just as valuable as my money.

    study PublishersLunch. Cader used content as bait to attract a community, and he created value in the community that people are willing to pay for. That's a model that works.

    True but that model won’t work for everyone because it requires a lot of work and buy-in from the community: authors, publishers, editors, agents, publicists, etc. It’s also somewhat pricey. At $120 /year I’d need to get a lot of content or exposure that I couldn’t get anywhere else to feel that was a worthwhile price/value unless someone else is paying for the price of the community or I can write it off.

    Professionally I can see a model like Publishers Lunch working but can the same be said about a community arising between an individual author/musician and the content consumer? Considering some authors take a year (or longer) to write a novel, I don’t see how any individual author could still write that novel(s) and then have the time and energy to generate additional content while building/managing/maintaining a community. Not without a lot of outside help or already being a household name.

    Maybe an individual publisher or music label. I can see that. In fact, I thought I read that certain cell phone companies were rolling out something like that in collaboration with the music industry in Europe.

  14. Angie
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 13:56:07

    I just thought of another interesting model. :)

    Web comics are free, for the most part. You subscribe to the RSS feed, or bookmark the page, and you get a free comic anywhere from once a week to seven days a week. There are web comics producers who’ve been posting a new, free comic every single day for years. Sluggy Freelance is a good daily, although Pete’s been posting filler art on weekends for a while. Schlock Mercenary is an excellent daily and I don’t think Howard’s missed a single day since he started back in June of 2000.

    The most popular web comic creators make a living giving away their content. Some of them have PayPal donation buttons, others sell T-shirts and mugs and other swag with their art on it, and many sell dead-tree (printed book) collections of their strips. And yes, plenty of people do pay money for printed copies of comics they’ve already read, and can go back to on the web at any time for free.

    I think comics have an advantage in that they’re short, so they only take a minute out of your day, and the graphics make an instant impression, whereas large blocks of print (as in stories) have to be read to make an impression and that takes a while. But there still might be some useful bits here.

    Has anyone ever tried giving away stories, with a donation button? I know some writers sell T-shirts and such through Cafe Press, although I don’t know how much money that brings in. (I don’t have any figures for the web comics swag either, for that matter.) And if a writer gives away e-books and then sells hardcopy books of the same stories, that’s just like posting free comics and selling collections, so there are already writers doing that.

    Most web comic creators don’t make a full-time living off their work. But then, most published writers don’t either, so what are the chances that some variety of alternate monetization (something besides ads, which are just annoying) could bring in about as much money as your average writer makes anyway? It’d be worth looking into, I think.


  15. DS
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 13:59:29

    @Courtney Milan : Martha Wells put one of her novels– The Element of Fire online a while back. It is a very good book that was out of print and commanding quite high prices on used book sites for simply a reading copy, i.e., any condition cover as long as text is readable. I think she also has a self published edition available on Amazon for $16.47. I wish more authors with an oop backlist that has reverted would consider these two options in combination. I love to recommend this book but I’m not letting anyone have my 1st edition.

    Claudia Edwards, I’m looking at you.

  16. contentconsumer
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 15:39:32

    Angie, Remember when they said that eventually the cost of cds would come down because cds were cheaper to manufacture than cassettes, eight tracks or vinyl. Boy, they held onto that cash cow until the last possible moment, didn’t they.

    I know that the digital vs. paper pricing disussion in publishing isn’t exactly the same thing especially since we don’t have standard formats or devices but after 5 years and over 500 books I’ve pretty much come to feel the same way about e-book pricing/value as I did about cd pricing/value.

    Luckily, there are many more new digital readers coming around to replace me. Because I would like to see digital books go mainstream. Although I’m not sure I buy the argument of e-books are greener since technology use and disposal have their own environmental costs.

  17. Angie
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 15:44:41

    CC — sure, that’s the problem. [nod] Once they figure out consumers will pay a certain price, they have no individual incentive to ever lower it. That’s one of the reasons I simply won’t (ever) pay ridiculous prices for an e-book. The highest I’ve ever paid was $6.95, and that only once or twice. I see some of these books going for $25+ and I just have to laugh. And want to smack around whichever idiot was responsible for the pricing.

    But I won’t pay it, no matter how much I want that book, because if people do pay those prices, they’ll never go down.


  18. Eva_baby
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 16:19:14

    I came across back in the mid nineties and simply couldn’t believe that you could download for free a entire published book. Many books, actually, by many authors. I remember reading that people though Baen was bonkers for doing that, but his reasoning was the same as cited in this article (this was back in 1994ish pre- e-readers, pre-ipod, pre-Napster). If you introduce someone to something for free and give them the opportunity to try something out, they may get hooked and buy the next book. It certainly worked for me. I discovered David Weber’s Honor Harrington series that way. It got the first book as a rtf download and read it through. I bought all the rest and then went back and bought the first one just to have the whole set. And not only that, but because of that free content, I have a soft spot and major brand loyalty to Baen books.

  19. Mary Winter
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 16:21:31

    Bill Moyers last week had the guy who founded Netscape and Ning on and he was talking about this exact thing (in a roundabout way…) monetization of the internet, revenue streams. I was just nodding and going “yeah!” while he was talking.

    @DS – This is why I am a firm proponent of author’s rocking their rights, so to speak. Don’t license more than you’re willing to give away, and figure out… is it worth it to keep that low selling backlist at some epublisher where it sells only 1 or 2 titles a month? Or do you yank that puppy back and put it out on your own? Which do you want, 35% of something or 75-85% of something? There are so many options out there for distributing content, and a quasi-technical person with not much time to burn, could easily put out several electronic versions, including Kindle, and even a CreateSpace or other POD version of their book, and still capture those one to two sales a month, but this time the revenue stream is much bigger. Or they could even serialize it… the options are close to endless, but none of them will happen unless authors take an active role.

    Free isn’t going to ruin the business model. People who make bad business decisions are going to ruin the business model. :)

  20. MaryK
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 19:49:02

    @DS: I don’t know about sf/f, but you can find OOP romances reissued as non-DRM’d ebooks at Fictionwise – particularly the old regency titles by authors like Joan Wolf, Joan Smith, Marion Chesney. I’ve accumulated almost all of Jennifer Blake’s OOP backlist that way. Come to think of it, I’ve also bought some Elaine Corvidae titles which are OOP small press titles.

    OOP and small press books (i.e. no DRM) are all I buy in digital format. But I’ve paid as much as $10.00 for an ebook copy of an old favorite that I already have on my shelf.

    So yeah, to me digital is just another format for the content I already love. I certainly don’t equate it with “free” (even when I already own it).

  21. JulieLeto
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 20:48:04

    I would love it if my publisher would put out of print books (to which I do not have the rights) up for free. It could grow my readership.

    That said, my experience with free downloads with no protection is a little iffy. Several (as in more than just a few) authors who had short stories put up at (no special download…no DRM, I think that’s the term…I’m in no way educated on this) had their stories plagiarized. It’s so easy for people to copy and paste, make a few edits and then sell their books to, in the cases I’m aware of, small e-publishers. These copyright violations are only caught because of eagle-eyed readers and Google searches (using a unique key phrase, something some of the Harlequin writers do every so often to ensure our words aren’t being stolen.)

    So I see it all as a double-edged sword. I want readers to have access to my stories, particularly after they are no longer available in bookstores, but I don’t want my copyright abused. Wish I had an answer. I don’t.

    Right now, I’m just gobbling up all free downloads for my Kindle when I can. And it has introduced me to new authors. So it does work. I’m already convinced of that!

  22. Cathy Macleod
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 01:27:52

    There are some good free titles being offered at present (and other goodies) to promote Ebook Week March 8-14. The details are at

  23. Angie
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 02:07:18

    Julie @ 21 —

    I would love it if my publisher would put out of print books (to which I do not have the rights) up for free.

    I have to ask, why don’t you have the rights to your out of print books? :/ I thought it was standard contract verbage that when a publisher takes a book OOP, the rights revert to the author. Is it standard Harlequin policy that they keep your rights forever…? [blinkblink] Or is there some other reversion trigger?

    About the copy/paste plagiarism, I’d never heard of theft that blatant happening before on the commercial side. O_O That’s definitely disturbing, to say nothing of fairly stupid in this Google age. I hope you all stomp hard on the idiots who try to pull that on you. :(


  24. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 08:14:38

    My affections for Elmo waned around the time Elmo’s World began–he wasn’t a character I could take in very large doses. But boy is that picture the cutest thing ever.

  25. JulieLeto
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 09:32:37

    Angie, first, it’s very hard to get your rights back from Harlequin because of a couple of things: first, they retain (and exploit) foreign rights. I had a story that was coming close to reversion, but they just reprinted and resold in Germany, I think it was. A nice healthy chunk o’ change, so I’m not complaining, but I will likely never get the rights to that story for another seven years (the length Harlequin has to reprint books.) Harlequin books are great in that they can keep making money for an author for years, though often we’re talking $10 here, $25 there. I have no complaint with HQ. They are great about selling books and are offering free downloads of certain books, just not all and that’s okay because if I have to choose between making some money and making none, well, I think it’s obvious which one I’d pick!

    That said, my other publisher has one book that has been remaindered, but they still don’t consider it out of print. They are doing nothing with any of the rights and although they have verbally agreed to release the rights to me, they have not. My agent has been going after them for a year. Technically, we’re still inside the contractural date, but since they weren’t exploiting the rights, I was trying to get them back early. So far, no luck. But we keep trying.

    As for the copy/paste plagiarism, I just got an email from an author who saw my comment, Googled a line from her work and found a plagiarized version online! See? It happens all the time. In her case, it was on a foreign site, so there’s nothing she can likely do. Mine was on a soap opera fan fiction site, which did take it down, though it popped up somewhere else and I had to go after them again.

    In a good friend’s case, her story was plagiarized and resold to an epublisher. I believe a reader alerted her after reading an excerpt. The epublisher took the story down. My friend filed Code of Ethics violation against the other author and won, so she (the plagiarist) was kicked out of RWA (or resigned…I really don’t know the details.) But if that reader had not noticed it, that author would have financially benefited from free content on the web. I don’t blame the epublisher…they had no way of knowing and they responded fairly quickly.

    The problem is…free content without any protection will make plagiarism easier and it will make it very difficult for authors to keep track of it. It’s not like this can happen with music…you can tell one artist from another. Someone can’t steal your song and resell it somewhere else. Well, I guess they could, but it would be easier to get caught, I think.

    Anyway, as I said before, I have no solutions…just concerns.

  26. Angie
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 13:44:29

    Julie — so it sounds like Harlequin is really cool, except when they’re not. :/ Luck on getting your rights back to that one book.

    On the other, the actual problem is that the “protection” has never protected anyone. If your e-book goes out DRMed to within an inch of its life, that’s just an interesting challenge and maybe an hour’s work to a pirate who wants to put it up on their torrent site or something similar. Same with music, movies, computer games — anything. And if they can crack it to torrent, they can crack it just as easily to plagiarize. DRM inconveniences, rips off and annoys the honest customers, while not even slowing down the actual pirates. (Or plagiarizers.)

    I’d heard of copy/paste plagiarism, with a global search/replace to change names, happening involving fanfic, on a number of occasions. I guess the fact that I hadn’t heard of it happening before commercial-to-commercial was no reason to be surprised that it had. And actually, now that I think of it, it has happened fanfic-to-commercial — a Linden Bay romance was accused of being plagiarized from a fanfic. The book was withdrawn from sale, but the fanfic writer didn’t have the $$$$ it would’ve taken to pursue a case against the plagiarizer, especially since she’d have gotten little or nothing in damages, since her story had been made available for free and therefore there were no lost revenues, so she dropped the matter, satisfied with the book being taken down. (I even blogged about this back when, so I should’ve thought of it earlier.)

    The thing is, there’s really no way to prevent this. Pirates who want to torrent your print books will tear them apart and put them through a scanner one page at a time. I’ve heard of pirates who’ll even take the time after that to go through the file, doing a line-by-line comparison with the book itself to make corrections for any scanning glitches. And these are people who aren’t making any money at it. Someone who thinks they can get away with changing the names in your book and selling it to some other publisher have that much more incentive to get around DRM — any DRM — and they’ll find a way.

    The only solution I can think of right now is to pick out some key phrases from all your (our) books and set up Google alerts for them. It won’t be perfect, but then nothing is. It’s just a matter of doing our best without slaughtering the baby before tossing it out with the bathwater. :/


  27. bowerbird
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 14:11:07

    of course people will pay for good content —
    even if it’s _given_ to them in the first place.

    they shell out money for their churches, and
    for their little league infrastructure, and they
    hold bakesales for their libraries and the p.t.a.

    they support things that are meaningful to ’em.

    so they _will_ support authors. most definitely.

    sometimes i swear people must have forgotten
    (or never experienced?) the _strong_ bond that
    forms between readers and our favorite authors.
    if your fans would let you starve, you’re no good.
    (sorry to be blunt. but think about it, will you?)

    it’s just silly to think that an appreciative reader
    of a book won’t toss a couple bucks to the writer
    who made that book available to them as a gift…
    i gave a tip that big to my _waitress_ last night.

    and speaking of libraries, they’ve offered books
    to patrons at no cost for borrowing them for
    decades now, and they haven’t hurt authors…

    so this whole post is rather simplistic, i think.

    but if you want to charge money for a book
    in this day and age, you have to realize that
    competition is now fierce, as mike shatzkin
    notes perceptibly in comment number 11…

    the whole of literary history, not to mention
    the work of a whole lot of newcomers, will
    soon be available at the click of a mouse…

    if you think you can get us to buy your book
    — sight unseen — in spite of that competition,
    more power to you, friend, more power to you…


  28. Amy
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 15:26:58

  29. LizJ
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 18:43:19

    There have been two significant stories this week regarding content providers struggling with the transition to new business models.

    Personally I can’t stomach the very well executed alien Alec Baldwin Hulu commercial any more, after their content providers (hint – NBC and Fox) pressured them to sever ties with Boxee (a wonderful media center application). The Boxee developers have made the point that commercials and branding can remain intact within the Boxee environment (an application – still in Alpha – where users sent requests for 100,000 streams to Hulu the week before it was pulled). It doesn’t matter. The content providers still don’t get it. This is, of course, the same NBC that removed themselves from iTunes for a year with similar concerns about their control over content. Further rumors suggest that the big cable companies are pushing for all content airing on cable channels to be available on the internet only to their own subscribers.

    In other news, the AP is considering charging for all its news stories.

  30. Rita Toews
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 23:01:27

    If you want free – hang on to your hats. Stanza has partnered with Read an E-Book Week. They will provide a catalogue of free e-books to all iPhone users during the Read an E-Book Event (March 8-14th).

    Any author or publisher participating in Read an E-Book Week as a partner is eligible to be included in the catalogue.

  31. MaryK
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 01:01:55

    But . . . all any plagiarist has to do is pick up a book for 10 cents at a garage sale and copy the good bits into their own work. Sure, it’s easier using copy-paste, but in digital it’s also easier for the real author to discover and stop it. DRM’ing an ebook ’til it’s virtually useless to the reader isn’t going to solve anything. All a pirate/plagiarist has to do is pirate/plagiarize from print copy to print copy and the real author might never even know about it.

    Pirating and plagiarism didn’t start because digital formats made it easy. Thieves have been stealing original content since original content came into being. Modern authors actually have an advantage in that stealing is much easier to detect in digital format.

  32. AQ
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 07:33:21

    Great conversation.

    Speaking of e-books & the Kindle. Check out last night’s interview on the Daily Show with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. About 14:21 minutes in – 2nd commercial break. I love the ‘read with one hand’ comment. Classic. And is it just me or did Bezos have a geeky laugh that was quite infectious?

    Hulu Daily Show Link

  33. Schdir
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 08:13:30

    EC has started to give away free short stories –

  34. AQ
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 08:38:54

    I’m curious about these free stories available via Publisher sites.

    Does free for the reader in this case mean unpaid for the author? (I’m interested in actual payment here rather than soft/indirect benefits for data purposes rather than argument’s sake. Not real numbers. Just an indication of the exchange between content creator and content provider.)

    For an insightful article on that aspect of the argument, read John Scalzi’s post.

    Whatever post


    Any authors who have created free stories that have been made available via a publisher site want to comment on their experience.

    Sorry the link kept getting stripped so I manually added it. Jane, not sure I like these newest widgets but it might just be me so I’ll see if I need to upgrade my browser.

  35. DS
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:23:40

    Looking at the John Scalzi blog post where he details his various streams on monetization for his work, I was reminded of a recent thought. I reread a favorite book, and while I was basking in the glow that a good read leaves, I started wondering why authors with online sites don’t set up a tip jar/donation button. I know I would happily have donated in appreciation had the option been available to me.

  36. Angie
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 10:41:14

    AQ — my publisher (Torquere Press) has periodic promotional months where they put up a free [something] each day. Writers sign up to participate on a purely voluntary basis, and each person picks a day. The [something] is usually a very short piece of fiction, most commonly a sequelish bit about characters from one of the writer’s published stories, but people have also posted recipes or pictures or personal anecdotes (especially for the holiday promotions in December) or whatever. I’ve participated twice, and I posted short sequel stories, with recipes on the end for food items which appeared in the story. We’re not paid for this; it’s understood that it’s a promotional thing and we can participate or not as we choose. We retain all rights to the [whatever] and once the promotion is over, we’re free to post it to our own sites if we want, which I’ve done.

    Commenting on Scalzi’s POV, I have some vague plans for an anthology of my SF/Fantasy/Paranormal m/m fiction some day, and if this ever comes about I’ll certainly include these promotional stories in it. I’d love to make money on them eventually. I wrote them for publicity, though, and I consider that to be valuable too. As Cory Doctorow says, a writer’s number one problem isn’t piracy — it’s obscurity. At this point in my career I’m pretty darned obscure, and if giving away a few free shorts can help fix that, I’m all for it.

    I think there’d be a problem if a publisher were trying to force or pressure writers into participating in a fiction give-away for which they’re not being compensated. If there were a contract clause about participating in the next free stuff promotion, or if there were veiled hints that one’s future publication might depend upon one’s being a team player, or anything similar — I’d have a major problem with that and wouldn’t touch such a publisher with a stick. So long as everyone knows what they’re getting into, though, and there are no stated or implied penalties for declining to participate (both of which are true for my publisher) then I don’t see it as a problem.


  37. veinglory
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 11:10:54

    I think the impact of digital music is a little more complex. For a while there you could get a UK top 10 listing with 20,000 sales. So music pros did take a hit.

  38. AQ
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 11:32:07

    the _strong_ bond that forms between readers and our favorite authors. if your fans would let you starve, you're no good.

    Bowerbird, I can’t agree with this. There are too many variables in such a scenario which have nothing to do with whether or not an author or their work is ‘good.’ I’d be willing to argue the point but I fear that it would drift too far from Jane’s post.

    Angie, appreciate the comments. My mind is still mulling the issue and the long-term implications of content creators giving content providers content for free even in the scenario you outlined. I have no problem whatsoever with content creators or content providers giving consumers free content. It’s the creator to provider exchange that I’m unsure of. I really need more data so I hope more authors will step forward with info because I’m worried that voluntary becomes a tacit requirement and then a de facto expected exchange. Again I’m still mulling.

    Jane, my bad. I was using a browser that I’d forgotten doesn’t play nice with your widgets. My bad. And user error on the linking.

  39. Angie
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 11:51:44

    AQ — another thought, at least in my situation, is that my publisher has books/stories by 182 writers currently selling on their site. (I just went to the author-links list and counted; I might be off by a few.) Torquere’s promotions tend to be one [whatever] per day for a month. So they literally couldn’t require everyone to participate, or even a significant percentage, without making major changes in how they format their freebie promotions.

    I think if I were published with Tor or Avon or some other huge publisher, I’d be less likely to give them promotional material for free; it’d feel like giving a Toys-for-Tots sort of donation to Bill Gates’s kids. [wry smile] With the small presses, though, it’s understood going in that the writer needs to participate more fully in promotion for their fiction than they would with a NY press. Sure, I could’ve posted those stories on my own web site right off, but my publisher’s site gets more hits than I do, by a few orders of magnitude, so there’s a direct benefit to me in having them there rather than only posting them myself. Of course, doing both is best. :)

    I do plan to post some free stories on my own eventually, as many writers with web sites do. (And Scalzi’s tip jar idea is definitely worth thinking about.) But if I can post them somewhere else too, so even more people can read them and become familiar with my work, then that’s a bonus.

    Which isn’t to say every writer is going to feel the same, nor should they. And I agree with you that if it became a tacit requirement, or any kind of requirement, that’d be unacceptable. I can’t imagine every publisher being that dumb, though, and any publisher who did would, I think (I hope!) quickly find their writers abandoning them for more reasonable companies.


  40. AQ
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 13:26:20

    Angie, my connotation of the tacit requirement component for my mulling purposes is that the author believes it’s required as opposed to a publisher actually requiring it. The publisher requirement comes when it becomes part of the contract.

    For a non-individual author example think of the payment issue surrounding the Battlestar Galactica webisodes that were posted on Part of the content provider’s position was that the webisodes were only promo and free content for the consumer so the content provider didn’t need to provide a revenue stream to the writers.

    Still mulling, but now my mind is heading down another tangent.


  41. Notional Slurry » links for 2009-02-24
    Feb 25, 2009 @ 00:15:39

    […] Fear of Free | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary "I'm continually amazed at the number of people that fear free digital content, believing that free digital content now will ultimately lead people to believe that all content is without value, that all consumers of books will somehow refuse to pay for digital content. The conflation of free and digital is one that is tossed around frequently, often based on the decreasing revenues of print newspapers and their inability to leverage or monetize their digital content. However, I don't believe that the format defines whether content has value. The format might change the amount of the value expressed in monetary terms but I don't necessarily believe that the digital form of content equals free. " (tags: disintermediation publishing business-model copyright distribution) […]

  42. hyokon
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 10:21:57

    I agree with you. Contents do not have to be free. Free, popular it may seems now, will remain a special, rather than normal, price.

    Actually, the price of zero is an illusion. When you price it zero, you are not really asking zero return. You are merely shifting the necessary price to elsewhere.

    And if you can price it above zero and above the costs, that’s the most efficient way as you don’t need to create another product or service. It also means that there can be more content creators, as there are more creators who have only one skill rather than two or more (to create an extra product or service.

    I have posts about this free issue.

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