If you get it for free…

Conventional wisdom (and mothers concerned about their daughters’ virtue) holds that if you give something away for free, you’ll never find someone to actually pay you for it. That is so clearly not the case in the e-publishing world that it seems almost suicidally pigheaded to hew to that line of reasoning.

This morning, Jane and I sat with longtime client, author Joe Konrath, at Coffee Shop on Union Square for a very early breakfast. As usual, the waitresses were rude and inattentive and the coffee only okay. But, I digress. Some of you might know Joe as one of the founding fathers of the electronic self-publishing movement. He is also a very smart man who made it a point to educate himself about traditional publishing prior to heading out into the then uncharted e-book waters. He is an evangelist who knows whereof he speaks, whatever your opinion on what he has to say.

Anyhow, we were talking about file sharing and free content and the subject of Go the F**k to Sleep came up. The book is, of course, a publishing phenomenon. Currently #4 on Amazon on the basis of pre-orders alone, film rights are already sold and an article about it in New York magazine this week attempts to analyze what particular nerve it’s struck for harried parents. The book is putting Akashic Books, a small Brooklyn independent publisher on the map.

The interesting thing about this story is that this 34-page book has already been read by, well, everyone. The .pdf was leaked weeks ago and went viral so fast it was back in your in-box before you’d sent it out to all your friends. It’s funny that the e-version is just now being announced. Did I mention that everyone has already read this on their computers?

To me, this only supports the theory that offering free content and file sharing is a good idea in order to get people to buy books. Yes? No? Maybe in certain cases but not others? What do you all say?

6 Responses to If you get it for free…

  1. Joelle says:

    If I check out a book at the library and I love it, I buy it. I also tell other people who maybe buy it.

    If I read an ARC I love, I sometimes buy the book when it comes out. I definitely talk it up to others who buy it.

    I saw that (DGLM client) Nova Ren Suma’s publisher is offering the first one hundred pages of her new book Imaginary Girls online. It would drive me crazy to read a hundred pages and not get the book for another month, so I’ll wait and buy the book, but I’m guessing it sells a lot of books because she’s an excellent writer and people who don’t know that already can discover it for free.

    So, yes. I think it can work out great.

    What I think doesn’t work out is when you give things away for free, but there’s nothing to buy afterward. Like when I teach writing, I need to be paid. Maybe if I had a book on writing to sell, it would be worth teaching for free, but as it is, I don’t, so I need to be paid for my time and the course I teach.

  2. Jude Hardin says:

    I’ll know I’m a success when people start stealing my stuff. :)

  3. Miriam, you wrote: “The interesting thing about this story is that this 34-page book has already been read by, well, everyone.”

    I have no insider insight, but I wonder whether the lesson to draw here is that “everyone” is a very flexible concept.

    What I mean is, perhaps there’s “everyone” who is socially connected to people who pass around 34 page PDFs and read them … and then there’s “everyone” else who hear great buzz about a book that’s been passed around by the (numerically smaller) initial-everyone circle & runs-doesn’t-walk to Amazon et al. to put in their pre-order.

  4. This book seems to be something fresh and new, it’s a short list of books that seem like they’re for kids, but really they’re for parents. Just over that line are books that really are for kids, but they’re made in a way that adults (yes, non-parent adults) can like them too. Anyway, I’m looking forward to checking this book out.
    Oh and they are thinking to have this as a TV show! Movie rights anyone?

  5. April says:

    I think you’ve asked a good question, one that deserves a decent discussion. From what I see is that Joe had a plan. He captured the idea. He researched it and sought a solution. He is now living the results because he found success from executing that plan. He had an idea and followed through.

    I have to say that I’m with Joelle on this one. I’m exhausted. With my flower shop I was expected to give corsages and single long stem rose out for free. It didn’t work. I just had people asking me for more free stuff. I’m a volunteer. I get so much more satisfaction and see better results out of working for free than I do at my job. Its all and well but there comes a time when one has to ask…How much more free stuff do I have to do to before I can earn a living?

    If Joelle were to set up some sessions to teach in our association, I would hope that we could find a way to pay her for it, through a fund raiser or a grant or something. Although, I would bet some board members would fight against it with; We don’t have the money. I don’t have time to find away. It would just be so much easier if she did it for free. All probably underscored with some unspoken justification of… It’s not fair, I do this for free so should everyone else.

    I’m already giving a second attempt at a blog. If someone took something off my blog and it went viral. That would a gift. If I did something that impacted and struck a note with so many people… That would be cool! But, if someone came up to me and said this is how you do it. There is precedents here on this is the way its done now. I would probably start crying and blubbering things about what else am I supposed to do and no one cares. I would most likely follow through on it but not without embarrassing everyone at the first suggestion of it. It takes so long to find representation that I’m thinking you find people who are about to snap and be done with the whole deal. So I would ask, how are you going to give the people the confidence that this is the real deal and not just another carrot?

  6. April says:

    After giving it a few days of thought. I now understand that this plan of action would be taken after an agreement has been made, contracts are signed and books are being printed. Now I’m under the impression that its giving when you’ve got something to give rather than to sacrifice in order to get, I’m much more excited about the idea.

    But then in self-publishing that might not be the case and were back to working under source of panic, unless again its your second or third time out. It still exemplifies a need for agents no matter what the future of publishing is.

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