Does Free Equal Worthless?
That is the theory proposed by Howard V. Hendrix, current vice president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. Hendrix believes that offering up full length novels for free will dilute the value of a book for the short term gain of promotion.
My concern is that, in the long term, as more and more people become schooled to reading off the screen rather than from the printed page, free online whole-book posting may set a precedent of “why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free?” which in the end will benefit conglomerates rather than authors as a class.
Hendrix is a self proclaimed Luddite and the Internet generation only creates fear and distrust in Hendrix.
I think the ongoing and increasing sublimation of the private space of consciousness into public netspace is profoundly pernicious.
Hendrix is not the only author to feel that way. Samantha Hunter wondered on Writeminded whether the connection to the readers via the Internet is dragging her down and that by giving away books its dilutes the value. She contemplates that there is a certain cache to be inaccessible.
Sometimes I've wondered if we should take on more of that, be less “out there.–? Stop the contests, the freebies, etc, in particular. Why are we so eager to give our hard work away? I've also stopped sending my books to any websites for review except one or two, at most, and may stop sending them altogether –" if they want to review me, they can buy the book.
Ironically, Howard’s rant came right after the news that Scott Sigler received a purported $500K book deal from Crown. Sigler is a pioneer in the books for free via Podcast and was featured recently in the New York Times. Sigler’s “giving away the milk for free” led to him selling his very expensive cow to a NY Publisher. There are other examples: Due to poor sales, Peter Watts convinced Tor to allow him to give his book away. On March 29, Watts’ free book, Blindsighted, was shortlisted for the best novel Hugo Award. Cory Doctorow has been giving his works away for some time and says that he consistently outperforms his publishers’ expectations.
The internet is increasingly becoming the medium of choice for advertising dollars. According to the Library Journal’s recent article on mystery books, more and more publishers feel that online blogs and review sites are a smart place for publicity money. The internet can not only be inexpensive publicity but productive because of the organic feel of the buzz created by a reader blog. Publishers no longer feel that an online review “ghettoizes” a book, particularly with the declining space given by print newspapers and magazines to books. Online review sites and reader blogs are filling the void left by the abandonment of print publications. One example of this is reader blogs republication on USAToday’s book page allowing a book to receive greater exposure or at Reuters.
The internet is a great marketing tool and shouldn’t be looked upon with suspicion and distrust. As Elizabeth Hand stated in the Galley Cat article
“Ebooks and podcasting and the like are just the tip of the iceberg. So, um, get used to it.”
As for free online giveaways, right now it works. I can’t tell you how many times I visited Kelley Armstrong’s website between the time I read Bitten and the release of Stolen. Each time I visited and read her free offerings, the more entrenched in her world I became. Her free fiction offerings were like gifts to me, the reader. These gifts created such a feeling of goodwill toward the author that I wanted to buy her books and to give them away as gifts and to convert everyone I could to read her. I associate Kelley Armstrong with not only her books but with the idea that she loves her readership. I am sure that every author loves her readership but Armstrong could act like the biggest ass in the world toward her readers and I would still think to myself, “but she gave away those backstories about Jeremy and Clay and Elena. She loves her readership.” I know that other readers love the free epilogues that some authors, like Mary Balogh, offer up on their site.
Authors who giveaway their books or offer up free fiction, whether it is print or in ebook format, are not only exposing themselves to new readers, but they are fostering that goodwill. In the future, when ebooks sell at the same pace or greater than print books, the concept of giving away an entire novel will need to be rethought. Right now, in this environment, with the crowded bookshelves and declining readership, giving away the milk encourages readers to buy the entire cow.
What say you commenters? Does giving it away devalue the product?