Oprah and Suze Orman paired up to make a year-old book of Orman's available for free download for 33 hours last week, an offer that over 1.1 million people decided to accept. The result: hard copies of the book are selling as well as ever and the book is doing very well on Amazon's best seller list despite its age. Orman's financial help books are not the kind of thing that works best on a monitor screen, so that makes perfect sense. I suspect that many of the people who downloaded the book are going to want their own hard copy of the thing. And, maybe best of all, hundreds of thousands of readers have been exposed to Orman's work for the first time. This is all good for her.
Random House did something similar for three days with Charles Bock's debut novel, Beautiful Children, a 432 page book, in a move that will expose Bock to more readers than he could ever have dreamed possible for his first novel.
And, as mentioned in the article, Harper Collins has already tried the same thing.
Avideh Bashirrad, a Random House marketing executive, says the free download, which follows a similar experiment by HarperCollins, is a way of "introducing new readers to the book who may decide to buy a copy after sampling it. After all, in a bookstore you can browse as much of a book as you want to before deciding to buy it, and we want to give people a chance to do the same online."
Bock, 38, says, "The more people reading my book, the happier I am."
Does he fear he'll lose money if they read it free? "If someone wants to try to read all 432 pages online, I'd say "Good job,' but I figure they'd want a copy of the book at some point."
As for printing it out, "it'd probably take a ream of paper and a whole printer cartridge."
There is even one author, Charles Sheehan-Miles, who has set up a site to give away his own work. Why? Well, he sees it this way: "...the biggest challenge most authors face isn't online piracy. It's not people out there diabolically copying their works and distributing them for free. In fact most authors (including yours truly) suffer from a different problem entirely -- no one has ever heard of them."
I have to agree. It's hard to make the argument that on-line piracy is a bigger problem for a new author than plain old "obscurity" is. The whole download took less than three seconds and I do plan to read at least some of the book. It was very unlikely that I would have even known of the existence of this author or his book in any other way, so this has to be a plus for him in the long run.
This just might be one new marketing trend that will be good for both readers and writers. It's good to see so many so willing to take a chance on the possibilities.