Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Time for Romance to Test the Free Ebook Giveaway

Free ebooks are all the rage these days. Oprah gave away over a million copies of Suze Orman’s, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny and became the #2 bestseller in the nonfiction/general category.

Other publishers are toying with the free ebook giveaway. Tor is giving a free book away a week for a period of about 6 weeks to promote the authors and its new website/social network platform. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War was the second book. According to Scalzi, he saw an increase in his backlist sales since the free ebook giveaway.

The Ghost Brigades sales are up 33% from the week prior;

Old Man’s War sales are up 20% from the week prior;

The Android’s Dream sales are up 9% from the week prior.

A couple of weeks ago there was a fierce debate on the Smart Bitches about the efficacy of piracy as a form of positive publicity. One of the arguments against this notion that the giving away of a book for free could increase book sales was that romance was simply a different business model than other genre modes out there.

Not being inside the book business, I am just going to have to take their word for it. What I do know is that romances generally have larger print runs, comparatively speaking, to other fiction books regardless of genre, and consequently must sell more in order to make it profitable for a publisher to keep publishing an author. But given the success of the Suze Orman free book giveaway, you can’t say that the size of the print run is per se prohibitive for a free ebook giveaway.

When HarperCollins decided to start posting free ebooks, Jane Friedman did not believe that the free online version would not cannabalize print sales. Paul Coelho, one of the HarperCollins authors whose work is being given away, states that he believes individuals will only read 20 to 30 pages online. In keeping with that philosophy, HarperCollins is making 20% of a select number of hardcovers available for free online reading.

As an aside, I really dislike the way that HarperCollins is doing this. To read the free book, you have to be tethered to the internet and it appears to be scanned page instead of free flowing text. The scanned page loads in your browser and a comfortable reading size makes only half the page visible. It’s one way to discourage individuals from reading the entire book for free, I guess.

Recently, I learned about a new ebook program dedicated to kids called Kidthing is a digital media platform that is designed to bring interactive books, movies, and games to children. Kidthing, in conjunction with Dr. Seuss Enterprises and NEA’s Read Across America, is giving away an animated version of Horton Hears a Who, one of my daughter’s favorite stories. I downloaded the program and the free ebook. It was a great experience. Kidthing took the book and animated the illustrations so that it is one part book, one part audio book, one part movie. That free version led me to buy the other books in the bookstore (there were only 6). I didn’t buy the Horton book, true, that one was free; but I wouldn’t have bought a thing had my child and I not experienced the full version and liked it so much.

It’s just an example of how the free thing seeds the pay thing.

We all know that the thing that separates a great book from a bestselling book is promotion. I think it is time for the romance publishing industry to take a chance. Give away a book for free of a romance author, a midlister who is on the verge of making it big. See what it does for the author. Guarantee the author a certain amount of royalties based upon her past sell through so that it doesn’t financially harm the author. I.e., if the royalties for the book that is subject to the free ebook don’t exceed the previous royalties, the amount of the previous royalties would still be paid to the author. It’s an investment, of course, in the author and in the program, but the key is that I don’t believe that the royalties would be less. I think that the sell through would be more or that the uptick in the backlist would make up for the potential missed sales of the free book.

Until ebooks become mainstream, I think giving away the book will only assist in creating a broader base for that novel.

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. Teddypig
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 06:16:13

    Nine Inch Nails just made $750k by selling out a deluxe version of Ghosts their new album they gave away free on the internet by uploading it to various download sites. They just put out another deluxe edition too.

    Seems they are happy with the concept.

    Oh and they left their record label to boot so whatever money they make is theirs.

  2. Deirdre
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 06:53:39 have been running a free library for years and it hasn’t significantly eaten into their sales, otherwise they would have taken it down years ago. They tend towards first books of series and short stories. They occasionally market certain hardbacks with a select CD of some of the titles as well.

  3. CM
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 07:08:54

    You know, the first publisher to do this (that I’m aware of) was Baen, who created an online free library. Where the books are available in clear text or HTML format without any wonky DRM attached, and have been since 2000. Eric Flint wrote about it many many years ago in a series of letters/articles that he titled prime palavers ( and had the anecdotal proof of seeing his sales figures rise with every free release back then to back up what he said.

    The basic idea was simple. First, if a publisher gives away a product from a stable forum, it will cut down on piracy. If the forum is stable, people won’t have to worry about figuring out where the latest pirate bay release is coming from. And if it’s a publisher giving it away, the product doesn’t need to rely on the text-scanning abilities of some dude in China.

    Second, the vast majority of sales happen in the very beginning of a book’s life. Watching BookScan numbers shows that this is true of mass market romance. So give the book away after the majority of the sales have been made, and let people know you’re going to do it. He explains it like this:

    Because almost everyone understands, on at least a subconscious level, that “time is money.” For the great majority of people, “saving” $4 or $5 is simply not worth the time and trouble they would have to go through to find a pirated edition — even leaving aside the fact that most pirated editions are very poor-quality texts. I am utterly confident that, given the manifestly fair and reasonable way that my publisher sells electronic editions, that 99% of my potential customers will not hesitate to buy whichever of my books they might find of interest. And, what’s far more important, the size of that “99%” grows because of the way my publisher sells books.

    My income is determined by the absolute number of sales of my books. I get a certain percentage of the retail price of a book in the form of royalties. (Which ranges from 8% for a paperback to my share of the 20% which the authors get for a given month’s Webscriptions.) So figure out the math. Let’s say that, as a result of the free and easy way Baen combines sales with free copies, my “99%” drops to “98%” — but the absolute number of sales increases.

    What do I care? And why — talk about ironies — does an industry which routinely accepts the fact that at least 50% of the books it produces will never get sold work itself into a lather over the possibility that it’s losing (at most!) 0.1% due to online “piracy”?

    So the model has been in place for years–eight of them. Sell your book. Get the royalties. Approximately 6 months to 1 year later, when your book is dropping off the shelf and about to be remaindered, release it for free. You have very little to lose, but you’ll grow your audience.

    Baen also put sample chapters online, not just wimpy sample scenes. The most effective of these (for me) was ten chapters of A Civil Campaign ( They were uploaded bit by bit, paragraph by paragraph. Some days, nothing. Other days, an entire scene. It was like crack. I’d never read anything by her before, but I bought that book in hardcover and devoured it. This was in the day when I had next to no money. I literally didn’t buy milk or meat for a month so I could afford the book in hardcover. To this day, I buy her on the release date.

    So yeah, I believe in free. Free books make junkies of us all.

  4. Laura Vivanco
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 07:42:03

    Harlequin did a Christmas/New Year giveaway.

  5. Nora Roberts
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 07:58:20

    I don’t see piracy and legitimate give-aways as remotely the same. I just don’t think most people who elect to take will then buy. Free sample, given by the artist or the publisher? That’s promotion, and it’s authorized, and it can cast those seeds.

    I did a couple of free short stories years ago and posted them on my web site.

    The big diff to me is on one I said, here you go, and on the other someone else said I’m taking this whether you like it or not.

  6. Gennita Low
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 08:01:24

    Nine Inch Nails has always been very innovative when it comes to marketing. Their fans are rabid too, which helps in making their previous album, Zero, into a marketing viral phenomena.

    Like any business move, giving it away for free is a marketing tool till readers take it for granted. Then it could become extra work, which means extra cost, which equals no real profit for the business.

    That said, I’m not against giving away free books at all if the author is willing. I’ve been trying to give away one (never-been-published) through eharlequin for a year now (something I could do from my website but I thought eharlequin would give me better exposure) but have received no answer. I think it’s probably faster and easier to just give it away myself.

  7. Christine Merrill
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 08:21:03

    I don’t know about other publishers, but if you work for Harlequin, you get paid royalties when they give the book away for free. You get a lower percentage than you would for a sale, but you still get paid.

    So giveaways really are just another promotion tool, and they are already in use. And yes, it probably helps sales to get your name out there. But someone has to be paying you, while it’s being done, or you won’t be able to afford to write the next book.

    Publishers promise, right in the contract, not to buy your work, and give it away without paying you. As long as we are paid for what goes out, does it really matter if the reader has to buy?

    This is what makes it different from priracy. The author does not get paid for pirated books.

    I want to know if Oprah bought all the Orman books she was pushing. Because she could certainly afford to do it. And we all ready know that she can make a bestseller. She’s been doing it for years. So in that particular case, I’m pretty sure Orman will get paid by someone, whoever readers got the books. And numbers increased not only because the book was free, but free and mentioned by Oprah.

    I wish Oprah liked romance.

  8. Nora Roberts
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 08:58:57

    ~Like any business move, giving it away for free is a marketing tool till readers take it for granted. Then it could become extra work, which means extra cost, which equals no real profit for the business.~

    This is something I’ve pondered. Once anything becomes expected, the norm, then it feels as if there’s a demand for something more to replace it.

    Author web sites are the norm, and there are complaints if they’re not well-done or regularly updated. Author blogs became a thing, and author participation in reader blogs–if welcome. Author contests, book give-aways. Free sample chapters to free books.

    I’m not against it, any of it, but it starts to seem like a lot. And makes me wonder what might be next.

  9. Meriam
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 09:02:40

    Nine Inch Nails just made $750k by selling out a deluxe version of Ghosts their new album they gave away free on the internet by uploading it to various download sites. They just put out another deluxe edition too.

    Radiohead did something similar before christmas, and I think they did well off it.

    Music industry finds the solution to its pirate troubles – give everything away

    Radiohead blazed the trail when they offered their album In Rainbows on the internet last year for whatever price punters were willing to pay – an average of £2.90 as it turned out…. Radiohead’s experiment was hailed a success when, after the album got a conventional release on paid-for CD, it went to No 1.

  10. Keishon
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 09:19:31

    Like any business move, giving it away for free is a marketing tool till readers take it for granted. Then it could become extra work, which means extra cost, which equals no real profit for the business.

    I got snagged on the “till readers take it for granted” part of your post. Again, I know readers can be demanding but we’re talking about promotion of YOUR book. At the end of the day, authors and publishers have the choice to do what they want – give it away or don’t. Have a website, or don’t. We’re talking promotion and as a reader (and speaking for myself), free giveaway is one of many excellent promotional tools especially for new authors. I’m not saying give away a Nora Roberts book, she’s pretty well known already and has an audience but what about those authors who do not? Publishing is a competetitive market (or so I’ve read). For instance, why is your historical better than any of the ten million other historicals out there? or the ten million paranormals out there? Why would I care to read you over someone else I already enjoy? Unless there’s some good buzz about a book, I’m usually not in the market to try new authors as I am pretty content with who I read already. How would you promote your book to me knowing that? With a broken economy now, books are not a necessity for me to live. Maybe for some other readers [g] And I have a huge stockpile of books to last me a few years without buying any new books. Just saying. Carry on.

  11. Gennita Low
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 09:37:35


    I based my opinion from my own self-employment experience in roofing. Two entirely different businesses, of course, with the similarity that I, the sole owner of my work, have to be the one to give out the special deals. In roofing anyway, the innovative incentives became the norm (all other roofers started to offer similar deals) and customers became very demanding, which was fine, as long as the business person was still making profit. It became even more work, and less cost effective, when one had figured out a certain percentage needed for profit and then drive out to a job, to be confronted by a homeowner who had heard that X company didn’t charge for such-and-such.

    Again, his comparison is not entirely adequate in relation to the publishing model, but I’m suspecting that, in the eyes of the Big Publisher, it must make a certain percentage of profit back for it to justify any “freebies.” Which then moves the responsibility to the authors to offer these freebies out themselves; they are the innovators, willing to test the market with something new. Which then puts the pressure on other midlist authors to try the same too, except that they can’t do so without their publishers’ approval. Some authors, like me, can offer something new, but some busy writers might not have the time to write a giveaway novel. Either way, the onus falls on the self-employed writer to produce and market.

    Sites like Dear Author is wonderful for promotions like these and maybe the time is ripe to try it out. However, if you get a glut, then it becomes confusing. Sure, I’ll download ALL the free stuff, but that doesn’t mean I’ll read all of them immediately, if at all. And that means no immediate effect of a sales jump for certain authors. Big Publisher will just be looking at the numbers and going, “huh, see, this isn’t working.”

  12. Gennita Low
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 09:47:54


    I agree with what you’re saying. As a published author, in today’s market, every new promotional method should be tried, so I do agree that publishers should try giving away some free books.

    I was just explaining, that in general, the “giving away” part falls on the shoulders of the author, not on the publisher. What TOR is doing is fantastic and Scalzi is a big name author, so that got many readers excited enough to register for the freebie program. So yeah, I’m all for it.

    Whether the publisher is seeing that it will make enough profit in the long run is an entirely different matter, especially if all the publishing houses offer free new authors at the same time. “Enough profit” is, of course, based on the publisher’s economic scale, not mine.

  13. Nora Roberts
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 10:14:31

    Keishon, I think we’re in agreement, basically. But, yes, readers are demanding. Not all, but a vocal chunk. I get demands constantly about writing a short story, or epilogue about (fill in characters), and please, please, post it on your web site. I’m not the only one.

    It’s flattering, sincerely. But I don’t have time–and I don’t have the inclination. I’m not the only one there, either.

    My pondering comes from when and if publishers offering free books become the norm, then because it’s the norm, it’s expected–and becomes usual. I think that’s what Gennita meant by take for granted.

    It is, certainly, all about choice. But promotional trends move just like any other, and the ones that stick become standards.

    Once that happens, what comes next? No way anyone can answer. Consult Magic 8 Ball.

    In any case, I’m not opposed, just wondering.

  14. Katrina Strauss
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 10:16:37

    I gave away books the first year after I was published. Part of my initial readership came out of such giveaways. If you are a new author, what do you have to lose, when these are readers who otherwise might not have bought your book (or any published thereafter) in the first place? And then with established authors — again, what do you have to lose? If you have a lowselling backlist title, give it away and generate some new interest in your work! Of course you don’t want to make like the Red Cross and start dropping free books by the boxloads from a low flying airplane, but you can get a lot of mileage out of a well-placed freebie.

  15. Nora Roberts
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 10:55:49

    ~If you have a lowselling backlist title, give it away and generate some new interest in your work!~

    The rights to the backlist are going to belong to the publisher for a number of years–after the book is out of print. I have the rights back to exactly one book out of my entire backlist. I realize this isn’t the norm, but there are plenty of established writers who don’t hold the rights to their backlist.

    It could be a very good idea, if the rights have reverted, if the book holds up to the writer’s current style and talent after those 5-7 years after OOP–and if she can afford to give it away.

    The book I have the rights to–I not only wouldn’t give it away, I wouldn’t sell it. Hell, I wouldn’t pay someone to read it. It’s so not representative of my work.

  16. Katrina Strauss
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 11:15:19


    *laugh* Understood. I have some older work that I may well destroy to ensure it isn’t discovered posthumously. As for who holds rights to older published titles, I admit I am talking from the e-publishing perspective. A common promo strategy with e-pub authors is to give away from the backlist (which here in e-pub land, “backlist” can be as “old” as two years…) while pimpin’ the newest releases.

  17. MoJo
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 11:50:44

    Kidthing took the book and animated the illustrations so that it is one part book, one part audio book, one part movie.

    Out of all the wonderful things about the post, I found this the most interesting. Neal Stephenson (dang, I love that man) wrote The Diamond Age (A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer with just such a concept, only farther away in time and nanotechnology.

    Re: Freebies boosting sales. I love the idea and I agree with Katrina’s

    If you are a new author, what do you have to lose, when these are readers who otherwise might not have bought your book (or any published thereafter) in the first place?

  18. Gennita Low
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 12:16:02

    Let’s say, out of curiosity on my part, Big Publisher is giving away 100 books for the next 12 months.

    Out of these 100 books, let’s say 50 percent are established authors and 50 percent are not-so and new authors.

    A subscribing reader gets 100 free ebooks to read and after perusing the titles weekly, let’s say, at the end of the year, she read 80 percent, or 80 books.

    Out of that, let’s say she’s familiar with 50 percent of the authors and not-so/don’t know the other 50 percent. So she read 40 books that she knew she’d like/read and 40 books that she was willing to try because of the free factor.

    Let’s say, out of those 40 new authors, only 50 percent are keepers/would read again for this reader. So she liked 20 of the authors enough that she might buy their next book. Let’s say she remembers to buy 50 percent of those 20 authors’ next book. That makes 10 potential sales on the next go around.

    In Big Publisher’s eye, it has to give away 100 books to every customer to invest in a potential 10 sales. At $8 a book, in Big Publisher’s Accountant’s book, $800 is on the red column. $80 is on the black column. Multiply that with # of subscribers. Even at 100 subscribers, that’s $8000 give-aways to, hopefully, $800 coming in the black column next quarter (or whatever time schedule one would use to measure this).

    I haven’t drawn any conclusions about the above at all. It’s probably flawed because I’m just doing the math with one cup of caffeine and with lunch on my mind. From those new authors gaining a new customer, excellent investment, but maybe not from Big Publisher’s side of things.

  19. Maya Reynolds
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 13:53:15

    Chris Anderson–he of “The Long Tail” is working on a book tentatively titled “Free” for release in early 2009. He believes that, in the future, books will either run ad-free for money or with ad content for free.

    Interesting idea.

  20. DS
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 14:37:59

    I think that to be a successful promotion, the author who gives away a free book must have a backlist. If the author’s book appeals strongly then most readers want another fix right away. So this isn’t really a promotion tool for new authors.

  21. Stephanie
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 15:23:50


    Here are the flaws I can see in your decaf math:

    The amount of profit that the company makes on a book and the amount it costs to produce a book aren’t usually the same number: i.e., if a book sells for $10, it costs $6 to produce it (including royalties, designers, editors, etc.) and anything above that is profit. In your example, assuming the cost of the book to the publisher is $8, they’ll probably sell it for at least $16. The loss isn’t quite as great. So I’m guessing they include a certain number of giveaways into the profit margin. If they need to do more giveaways, they’ll just up the price of the book.

    Second, if they’re giving away e-books (assuming a print publisher), there’s almost no overhead (I’m guessing? Someone had to typeset it on a computer, anyway), and any people buying (print) books are just profit.

    Speaking from personal experience, I’ll take a free e-book of something I would never consider buying in a store. So if they convince me to read and buy 10% of the books they give away (or other books by the same authors), that’s probably a win for them at very little cost.

    My numbers could be very far off, since I have more experience with the music industry than the publishing industry. If they are, someone else should feel free to put me in my place.

  22. Jody W.
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 15:34:36

    When authors decide to give away free books themselves, they also have to consider how much the give-aways cost THEM. Not all authors get unlimited, or even very many, promo copies (of either ebooks or print books) as part of their contracts.

    As far as the romance industry being a different publishing model, I can’t comment, although I do know that small press publishing is a different publishing model than traditional publishing, and piracy and free ebooks will affect that industry differently.

  23. Ebook-A-Day Giveaway « Trivial Pursuits
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 17:42:28

    […] Inspired by Jane’s post over at Dear Author, starting today, March 9, 2008, I’m doing an ‘ebook a day’ giveaway. Yeah, I know her post was more directed at the publishers, but hey…no reason I can’t try it. Besides, last week was Read an Ebook week and I didn’t know. Better late to the party than not going at all, right? […]

  24. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 18:15:56

    My two cents on this is that giving away freebies can definitely promote interest. On how big a scale? I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve had a number of readers email me after winning an ebook from me in a contest and tell me that I’d gotten them hooked on ebooks in general. Back when I still spent a lot of time on yahoo lists, I did frequent ebook giveaways and I know I picked up a number of readers who hadn’t previously read ebooks.

    Picking up just a few new readers this week, a few next week, doesn’t sound like a big deal until you think about how much avid readers love to talk books. They talk about authors they love. It’s word of mouth and nothing sells like word of mouth. Granted, some aren’t going to be convinced and some just aren’t interested, but others will be interested enough to at least check out the author/publisher’s site.

    I know giveaways can help on a smaller scale~I’ve seen it in on my end. On a larger scale, I think it could help. A reader hits a website and sees ‘free ebook’ enough times, they may get interested enough to check it out. Not all are going to be interested enough to buy, but there will be those who do go back after the free read and buy.

    Of course, one thing that I think would help promote interest in ebooks would be if the ebook version wasn’t as costly as the print version. I totally love and adore the JD Robb books, but I won’t pay $20 a pop for the ebook. The print one, yes. The ebook? No.

    And just because I’m interested in seeing what happens, interest/stats wise, I’m doing a mini-ebook-a-day give away. Any time I do contests, I see hits spike and if it’s centered around a certain title, there’s definitely more interest in that title. So I’m curious to see what will happen if instead of promoting one title, I promote my ebooks in general.

  25. Teddypig
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 18:19:23

    You go girl! I hope it works ginormously well.

  26. Jane
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 22:13:34

    I don’t believe that a downloaded book equals a foregone sale. I downloaded Beautiful Children. I haven’t read it yet. I might not read it but I wouldn’t have bought it. Now, if I like it, I might buy a copy to give to someone. Ditto with the books Tor is giving away. These are not books I would have bought in the first place.

    So I don’t know that the economic profit/loss that Gennita talks about accurately reflects the situation. For example, let’s assume that Harlequin runs a promotion and for three days makes Gennita’s next book freely downloadable and 50,000 people download it in that period. Not all 50,000 of those people would have ever bought Gennita’s book. Maybe only a small fraction of those downloaders would have but assume that out of the 50,000 people who download it, 10,000 actually read it and 5,000 really like it and buy copies of her backlist.

    That’s how I perceive the free book giveaway to work. It doesn’t necessarily seed sales for the new book, although it can, but it seeds sales for the backlist and for future books by broadening the existing reading base.

  27. Gennita Low
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 22:56:20

    Undoubtedly my oversimplified decaff model has flaws. The overhead, as Stephanie pointed out, for e-books is not the same as the cost of overhead for a physical book, although, I suspect, it’s still going on the red column as the loss of X amount of whatever the publisher charges for e-books. I think, in their heads, it’s the same as a physical book.

    On Jane’s post, someone brought up a relevant point about a new author who doesn’t have a backlist. Or, in my case, my backlist is with another publisher, so the reader, checking only on my publisher’s site, will not know I have written anything before.

    50,000 downloads of my next book for free? ;-) Hee.

  28. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 23:18:04

    Or, in my case, my backlist is with another publisher, so the reader, checking only on my publisher's site, will not know I have written anything before.

    But Gennita, if you pick up some interested readers who fall fantastically in love with your writing…they aren’t just going to check out your publisher’s website.

    They are going to look for your website and there find the backlist books.


  29. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 23:47:04

    You go girl! I hope it works ginormously well.

    Well, so far, it appears to be, hit wise. ;)

  30. Gennita Low
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 07:29:06

    Shiloh said:

    But Gennita, if you pick up some interested readers who fall fantastically in love with your writing…they aren't just going to check out your publisher's website.

    Ah, but is that incentive for my publisher to give away 50,000 of my books? So they will use their hard-earned cash on another publisher?

    I see the benefits you’re talking about. I just like to think about the business side, i.e. what would it cost me, Ms Big Pub, if I were to invest my money and energy in this.

    And oh, P/S: I like it when anyone buy my books, current or backlist. Remember to feed your favorite roofer! :)

  31. DS
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 07:39:58

    Also, one has to consider the tax consequences which might be substantial. I assume that the copies given away would be a business deduction. I’m not familiar with how this would work in publishing– we generally purchase then give away so our base is the purchase price. I don’t know if a publisher could claim the full ebook price or just their cost. One should never ignore the tax consequences.

  32. Cyndee
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 15:05:44

    I love the idea of free ebooks – I seems the law of reciprocity works for the giver in the long run.

  33. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 15:07:38

    Ah, but is that incentive for my publisher to give away 50,000 of my books? So they will use their hard-earned cash on another publisher?

    I dunno…maybe it depends on how you look at it.

    When I have a book out from one of my epublishers, I see the sales go up on my backlist books from the other epublisher. ;) Yeah, it could work.

  34. Robin
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 17:29:16

    Count me in as another voice in support of free ebooks.

    I’ve been reading the comments about how demanding readers are with a mixture of amusement and frustration. Am I a demanding reader? I suppose I am. I expect books that are professionally proofread and content edited. I expect truth in advertising and value for my money. I’d *like* to believe that authors to respect the genre and value what they’re doing as writers, although I can’t really posit this as an objective expectation. Ditto with my hope that publishers actually consider readers in the process of acquiring and publishing books.

    I don’t expect authors to cater to reader wants (and, in fact, get frustrated when a book comes across to me as pandering, whether or not that was the author’s intent), and I don’t expect more books written than the author deems appropriate for a series and for his/her writing process. I don’t expect authors to converse with me about authorial decisions (in fact, sometimes that can leave a bad taste, depending on the situation), nor do I expect to know any details of an author’s personal life (ditto on the previous parenthetical comment).

    I don’t dispute the idea that readers are demanding, but I don’t think that the nature of our demands comprises one category. Just like not all authors write with the same intentions or attitudes toward their work or the genre. Could free ebooks make readers more demanding for similar promotions? I guess so. But ultimately promotion is about an author’s desire to sell, right? So in some way the author is hoping that her desire to sell will coincide with a reader’s desire to enjoy a book, yes? And ultimately an author or publisher has control over the decision to offer a particular promotion, regardless of what reader desires are.

    Ultimately, I think that the wisdom of releasing free ebooks will be debated for quite a while, because it’s still a new publishing/promotional model, at least within Romance. For some authors it will work really well, and for some it won’t, and who knows the reason why. Not all early adopters of the promotional strategy will be success stories, and not all authors will want to undertake what they perceive to be an unreasonable risk (and for some authors, it might be an unreasonable risk, although that can probably only be assessed in hindsight).

    I wish we had some data on how the Harlequin giveaways worked. I’m especially interested in knowing if they can track free downloads like they did with that audiobook example , where Random House determined that the DRM-free version of an audiobook was not among those versions pirated.

    Anyway, however this type of promotion does or doesn’t develop, it will continue to have advocates and critics, I’m sure. As a reader, though, I can see the potential for new authors, midlist authors and even bestselling authors. Someone mentioned the In Death books earlier in the thread, and that reminded me of the limited giveaway Penguin did of Naked in Death, the first in the series, to coincide with the publication of the latest hardcover in the series. I can see where releasing a new book (at 26 bucks for the hardcover, which is I think what they go for) along with, say, a free download of the first (or even the first two or three) books in the series might bring on new series readers or get longtime readers to invest in more ecopies of the earlier books, as well as an ecopy of the most recent release.

    As for new authors (or new to me authors), I am definitely that reader who will download a free copy offered by an author or publisher, and if I like that author’s work, I will go back and purchase some or all of that author’s backlist, as well as future releases. Now, I may not read that book immediately, which will skew results for any authors tracking downloads right around the giveaway. And that’s another reason, IMO, that the ebook giveaway can’t necessarily be measured in one experiment by one author or even a few experiments — it’s IMO a long-term investment and may not pay off in a nice linear way. Although I’ve yet to hear about the industry that hasn’t seen benefit from it.

  35. Miki
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 18:22:12

    A few years ago, I first visited Fictionwise. They had a special going where they were offering free copies of…I think it was 10 ebooks from various genres.

    I don’t remember if I downloaded them all, or just all the ones that were in genres I read. But I do remember, one of the books captured my attention in a big way. And I bought the 4 books that followed it (it was 1 of 5 in a series, of course).

    So I’m a firm believer that a freebie – no matter how it was obtained – can lead to future sales. Regular future sales.

    But to be fair, the flipside can be just as likely. I’ve won more than a few ebooks over the last few years (in various loop contests) that I could only thank god I hadn’t paid for! So there were some authors I might have paid for – once – that a freebie convinced me to never try again.

  36. Gennita Low
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 18:37:30

    I don’t think anyone is disputing the potential in giving away e-books as a marketing tool, Robin. It’s definitely something that the industry is looking into, from all the freebies being offered lately. I like to look at the pros and cons, and perhaps came off sounding like I’m against the idea. I’m not. Like I said in my first post, I’ve been trying to get eharlequin to give away an unpublished manuscript of mine for free since last year. By free, I mean, as a gift from me to the readers visiting eharlequin. But I should have just given it to BAM. LOL. Easier.

    ETA: (Not that I’m saying Bam is easy)

  37. Nora Roberts
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 05:35:41

    Robin, you’re absolutely right that reader demands don’t come in one category. I hope I didn’t make it sound that way. I think the majority fall into what you described as what you demand and expect. But, boy, there are varieties. Ranging all the way to the guy who wanted–and expected to be able–to come into my husband’s bookstore and buy me–that’s ME–for his wife for a day as a Christmas present.

    It may be because I hear a lot of . . . unusual reader demands that my Cynic Girl hat goes on.

  38. Gennita Low
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 08:18:52


    I’m just boggled by that “Buy Nora For A Day” as a Christmas present story. I’m cackling at how that conversation with your husband went, man-to-man.

    Strange Guy: “I want to buy your wife!”
    Nora’s Husband: “Which book? Her newest is…”
    Strange Guy: “No, I mean, I want to buy your wife, not her books. How much, just for a day?”

  39. Sunita
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 09:30:44

    I’m curious about how the Christmas Harlequin giveaway turned out as well. I downloaded all of them and read most. I felt guilty getting the books for free, so I wound up buying a few as well; I know that’s dumb, but I figured since they were doing me a favor, I’d do them a favor. I liked a number of the ones that I wouldn’t have ever bought on my own. And since that giveaway, I’ve been buying and reading a lot more Harlequins. For me, the books not only reminded me that categories can be very good (and also not so good, but I knew that already), but I reconnected with the pleasure of reading short books with a really tight focus on the hero and heroine.

    There are genres that I never read, and I probably wouldn’t download even free ebooks in those. But with other genres I’m on the fence, and a free book could easily lead to sales. I don’t know how representative my experience and behavior are, but it suggests that free ebook offers might lead to wider sales across a genre, not just for a particular author.

  40. Robin
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 13:45:04

    I like to look at the pros and cons

    It’s interesting to me — as a reader — to see author responses on the topic. I do sense a lot of ambivalence (in general, not from one particular author, necessarily), which isn’t so surprising, especially given the sense I also get that authors constantly feel they’re walking a tightrope between self-promotion and self-protection. I mean, it’s not so risky to us readers to be advocating for promotion via free downloads, and I have to confess that I think some of the stuff we readers have to endure because publishers are trying to counteract the effects of piracy (higher prices, DRM) would be eased if a promotion like this worked (i.e. it boosted sales without increasing piracy).

    One thing that occurs to me, though, is that for authors considering giving away free material (as opposed to their publishers doing it), I don’t think it can be done from any sense of ‘do or die,’ because as reader comments here have shown, there isn’t necessarily a linear progression from give-away to increased sales, even if more sales are ultimately gained. So if an author does feel ambivalent or even reluctant to try the give-away, it might not be the right promotional strategy for them, because there probably will be those who download the work without ever buying a ‘for sale’ work of the author’s. Frankly, I think this is something that publishers should be trying, because IMO they have far less to lose than individual authors.

    But, boy, there are varieties. Ranging all the way to the guy who wanted-and expected to be able-to come into my husband's bookstore and buy me-that's ME-for his wife for a day as a Christmas present.

    Yeah, I can see where this kind of thing would get on your nerves (and perhaps your creepies, depending on the situation, lol). I guess I see this as less ‘demanding reader’ behavior and more of . . . well, something else. I think this is the flip side of fan loyalty — fans will do everything they can to buy your books and talk them up and try to make it to every signing, etc., so they perhaps perceive the articulation of their desires as one more aspect of their loyalty, whereas to you it can feel like an intrusion or an imposition or a demand.

    I'm curious about how the Christmas Harlequin giveaway turned out as well. I downloaded all of them and read most. I felt guilty getting the books for free, so I wound up buying a few as well; I know that's dumb, but I figured since they were doing me a favor, I'd do them a favor.

    OMG, Sunita, you’re Harlequin’s dream customer!! Seriously, though, I wonder how many authors see the give-away as a “favor.” Publishers, I assume (which may depend on the publisher, as we’ve seen), are not so sentimental; that you now read more categories means the promotion worked for you, which was its goal. But your point is really important, I think, because it’s one thing, IMO, for readers to feel this sense of obligation, but I think if authors have that same sensibility on the other end there will be problems, because inevitably not all readers have that orientation, and I don’t think authors can rely the (il)logic that every download is a lost or *deferred* sale (just like IMO not every download on a pirate site represents a lost sale). Some readers may end up buying multiple books because of a give-away, while others will end up buying no books, and who knows how to track that, short of surveying them at the point of purchase (and making sure they only buy from one outlet). In the end, I think the success or failure of this strategy will be measured on an industry/genre level, even as individual authors see certain measure of success, as well.

  41. Sunita
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 14:52:49

    OMG, Sunita, you're Harlequin's dream customer!!

    I think you mean dream idiot!

    it's one thing, IMO, for readers to feel this sense of obligation, but I think if authors have that same sensibility on the other end there will be problems, because inevitably not all readers have that orientation, and I don't think authors can rely the (il)logic that every download is a lost or *deferred* sale (just like IMO not every download on a pirate site represents a lost sale).

    I completely agree. I should not be the default. But neither should the default be assumed to be the person who downloads pirated ebooks by the torrentload and never buys anything (not that I think you are saying that, because clearly you’re not, I’m just trying to establish extreme positions). Most ebook readers are somewhere in between, but we don’t know where the median is, so we can’t have confidence in choosing a policy.

    I think the availability of free, or at least freely available, material on the internet has meant that we have a generation with many members who think that *no* copyright issues are applicable to the internet. I have been educated and enlightened by the copyright debates here and at SBTB, among other places, and I agree that there are important distinctions between stuff on teh intertubes and printed material, but I still don’t know how to draw those distinctions. For my own peace of mind I basically follow old-fashioned copyright rules, but I don’t think people who make other choices are wrong or immoral.

    Perhaps keeping the free ebooks in the domain of individual authors rather than publishers is the way to go. Harlequin is different, because the brand is so intense. But if you get a free ebook from an author, that may help foster the kind of reciprocity that I felt with Harlequin. I think a lot of readers would like to reciprocate when they get something valuable from authors. I can’t be the only person who’s ever bought a book because of an author’s on-line contributions. And a lot of readers seem to make at least some of their purchasing decisions on the basis of reciprocity to authors they like (giving away copies, buying a copy after they’ve read someone else’s, buying new rather than used, etc.).

    EDITED TO ADD: Of course, lots of authors do have ways of establishing relationships and reciprocity with readers. And sometimes it leads to requests for Nora-For-A-Day, so clearly it’s not always a good thing. But I’m just afraid that if giveaways are left to publishers, it will be less likely to be seen as beneficial to authors and encouraging of reciprocity.

  42. Jane
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 15:10:32

    Here’s why I think it has to be a publisher led initiative.

    1. Publishers own the e-rights (in most cases) to distribution in the US or Worldwide. An author is probably prohibited by her contract from distributing a book in e form.

    2. Publishers have more media clout than a single author. They get more page views, more mentions in trades journals and probably in MSM than an individual author. A press release from a publisher v. an individual author is going to get more attention.

    3. Publishers would have better tools to analyze and track the downloads of the book by region and other statistics that might reveal demographic information.

  43. Sunita
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 16:18:10

    All really good points, Jane, and your logic is compelling. What I’m interested in, though,is whether there is a way for giveaways to feature the author more than or as prominently as the publisher. I could be way off base here, but when I talk to my students about illegal/unauthorized downloads, one of the justifications that comes up is that the corporations are ripping them off anyway, so what’s the big deal? Granted, this case is more often made for music than for anything else. But given that publishers are now usually parts of larger business entities, I wonder if the same argument would be made.

    I think it’s telling that when we talk about authors who give away their work, we refer to the authors themselves, not their publishers. Doctorow, Scalzi, etc. O’Reilly is the only publisher I can think of by name, and he’s a person as well as a business, so to speak. So if we could get the publisher-based benefits that your post lists, but tie the books themselves to authors rather than just to Avon/Leisure/Signet, I think we’d be better off.

  44. Kalen Hughes
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 17:04:08

    Ok, readers. What I’m dying to know is what you think of the Amazon Shorts program. I’ve been fence-sitting on this one. Do I put one up (they’re 49-cents/max 40 pages)? Do I just do a free PDF download on my website? I’m torn. I lean towards the free PDF, but I like the idea of having the novella reach a larger potential audience (which I think it might on Amazon).


  45. GrowlyCub
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 17:36:52


    I’ve bought one a while back by an author whom I like and it was 99 cents and I wish I hadn’t bought it… :) But that was a personal preference issue.

    That aside, I think at 49 cents a short would be a very intriguing way to get to know a new to me author. Personally, I’d like to see these closer to the 40 pages than fewer, but that’s because if I’m engaged with the characters I want to stay with them as long as possible.

    Also, this could be used as a way to revisit beloved characters from prior books or to intro characters who will get their own book later on (as in hook them in cheap in hopes they’ll buy other books connected to the shorts :).

    I’d probably do both. Get the wider exposure through Amazon and put another short on your website.

    However, if there’s only the one… hmmm, free always sounds good. :)

  46. Kalen Hughes
    Mar 12, 2008 @ 10:20:35

    Thanks, GrowlyCub. I’m still working on just what to do with it . . . it’s 30 p. and growing, LOL! I need to get it wrapped up fast.

  47. Kalen Hughes
    Mar 12, 2008 @ 15:32:56

    Looks like the Amazon Shorts program is closed (dead?) to new submissions, so I’ll be putting my short up for free on my site when I get it done.

  48. Sonia
    Mar 19, 2008 @ 16:58:28

    Nora Roberts – I am just astounded by the guy who wanted to buy you for a Christmas present. Just astounded.

    I missed the Harlequin giveaway but I haven’t missed the Tor one!! Not that did much good because I already have most of them. Except for the latest one, will have to see if that is good.

  49. jamison
    Mar 22, 2008 @ 16:33:52

    As far as the Piracy vs. Free give-away debate:

    How much is copyright infringement really affecting any but the biggest authors? (Piracy is what happens when someone in China prints 100,000 copies and sells them as the real thing.) Is it all anecdotal, or are there real numbers? As someone who follows the ‘pirated’ scene, from my experience the numbers are pretty small. Most pirated versions are *downloaded* at most 100 times, with a few exceptions. Presumably, only a fraction of those actually get read (perhaps a large fraction like 60%).

    But does a downloaded copy really translate into a loss? That’s the same logic the RIAA uses. I buy 50-100$ of books/ebooks a month. I can’t afford to spend more. In no scenario would I spend more money on books. I would turn to other media instead if I wasn’t able to get some of my books for free. And the ones that are infringed tend to be the bigger authors anyway, so my money ends up going to those less known/new authors in many cases.

    Or I would go to the library…are libraries evil too? They let people read books for free. Ok, that was a low blow. But that’s how it is for me, anyway. Popular authors are going to be available at the library, and harder to find stuff I buy. And in many places, where people are downloading the pirated versions, these books aren’t even available, or cost an exorbitant proportion of weekly income.

    I mean look at the latest J.D. Robb (sorry Nora, I love you!). $26 list price. Is it literally 3-4 times better than a book going for $7. I get that popularity brings power, but it is being milked directly from its loyal followings wallets. For $26 I expect 26 hours of enjoyment…that’s what I get for the $7 book, 7 hours-ish of enjoyment. $26 is more than half my cell phone bill. And there is something about wanting to be the one to decide whether to give it away, that infringement is ‘taking’ that rubs me wrong, a desire for control over a work once it is exposed to the world. It is sort of the concept that leads into general copyright term (in years) debate…how long before someone else can take your story and make it their own? Should Bram Stoker’s family still be able to sue for infringement?

    I would be happy to give $1 or 2 directly to the author’s I like on occasion for their ‘blogs’ so to speak, above and beyond what I already spend on books. An alternative way of recognizing that I appreciated their work, even if I didn’t pay for it. And we tend to be pretty heavy Amazon reviewers & contributors as well.

    Again, in a perfect world we would all be ‘rich’ and could just create and consume without being concerned about the money. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think the ‘piracy’ situation is as bad as is stated.

  50. Lindsay
    Jul 01, 2008 @ 15:53:38

    I love the idea of free ebooks! i have read many, and they are a great way to learn!

  51. Ryan Green
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 20:24:33

    Are there any other sites that gives free sample products and some other free stuffs?.*:

  52. Locket Necklace :
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 07:07:21

    i am just amazed of how much free stuffs you can get on the internet:~`

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