Seth Godin recommends two novels on his blog today, and I decided to check them out. I was surprised and delighted to find out that Geek Mafia‘s author, Rick Dakan, offers it as a free download! This means I can just go ahead and read it on my Sony Reader.
So far I’ve encountered just a handful of books that authors offer for free. Mostly the author is deep into the Creative Commons philosophy (e.g. Yochai Benkler or Cory Doctorow). The whole “give my work away for free” movement has been gaining strength among young musicians lately, but authors seem more set in their ways.
The big question that I’d really like to figure out though is why do authors give their books away for free? Musicians I can understand – they make most of their money from live shows anyway, and giving away the mp3s is probably the best way for a young musician today to create an audience that wants to come and see her perform. Not so for authors – selling the book is the only way I know of for an author to generate revenue, so giving it away cannot be a promotion for something else. Am I wrong?
Now in some cases it must be clear to the author that he probably has a very small potential readership and hence no publisher is willing to publish him. Getting some people to read the work you sweat for, even if you don’t make money from it, makes sense in this case. In a way it’s just like blogging. However, I don’t think that Geek Mafia falls into that category, so what gives?
Or maybe it’s just that authors assume (and rightly so, IMHO) that most people aren’t going to read the whole book off their computer monitor, and printing the whole thing costs more than just buying the book, so giving it away for free is likely to generate more sampling among potential customers, some of whom are going to buy the paper thing. That seems to me to be the most likely reason. However, as I said above, I’m going to read this on my Sony Reader – ebooks are just fine for me. In fact, I hardly ever read paper books anymore. So what happens when lots of people have some kind of e-ink reader? Is this going to have the same effect on book sales that mp3 players had on CD sales?