Pretending to dip your toe in the water • 3 March 2008 • The SnowBlog

Pretending to dip your toe in the water

If you let people read an electronic copy of your book for free, will that increase or decrease demand for the printed copies you want to sell? The first thought is that, well, giving anything away for free means someone isn't paying for it who might otherwise have done so. But then radio gives songs away for free and that's seen as one of the best ways of boosting sales of paid-for versions of the same thing. But that's music not books. Cory Doctorow gives electronic copies of his books away and he reckons it generates word-of-mouth and so gives an important boost to his printed sales. Neil Gaiman's publisher, Harper Collins, is just trying it out with American Gods. Except that Cory's books are available formatted for your phone, your iPod, your PDA and your whizzy e-book reader. American Gods is available for your computer screen and nothing else. So it's not really any sort of test. We already know most people don't want to sit at their computers to read a book. Why are Harper Collins doing it like that? Presumably it's to stop illegal copying. But why give a book away 'for free' then? Plus, as Cory pointed out, the book is already available illegally if you want it. He downloaded the whole text of the book illegally (as a test) while waiting for Harper Collins's hamstrung reader to load page one of the legal version. When only eight people read American Gods on their computers, will that prove something?


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