Giving It Away

Cory Doctorow has been saying for a couple of years that giving away his books online has helped him sell more. I agree but I always thought that he was using that as fact in debates where really, it’s just an opinion. Not that there’s any way to get actual numbers so he’s not cheating, it’s just his use of that opinion I found a bit dishonest. In this article at Forbes mag he gives a bit more of a statistical answer that helps me accept his (and mine) gut feeling a bit more:

There’s no empirical way to prove that giving away books sells more books—but I’ve done this with three novels and a short story collection (and I’ll be doing it with two more novels and another collection in the next year), and my books have consistently outperformed my publisher’s expectations. Comparing their sales to the numbers provided by colleagues suggests that they perform somewhat better than other books from similar writers at similar stages in their careers. But short of going back in time and re-releasing the same books under the same circumstances without the free e-book program, there’s no way to be sure.

He also ends with the actual no question proof that sharing his work helps; it helps his brand and just that is worth the few sales he might have lost:

It’s good business for me, too. This “market research” of giving away e-books sells printed books. What’s more, having my books more widely read opens many other opportunities for me to earn a living from activities around my writing, such as the Fulbright Chair I got at USC this year, this high-paying article in Forbes, speaking engagements and other opportunities to teach, write and license my work for translation and adaptation. My fans’ tireless evangelism for my work doesn’t just sell books—it sells me… The Internet not only sells more books for me, it also gives me more opportunities to earn my keep through writing-related activities.

Same thing with blogs, and more generally with webtwenny type things like APIs, have confidence in your “stuff” and share it, have confidence that the goodwill / visibility / reputation it brings will be worth more than what you might “lose”.


vieux bandit December 7, 2006

Makes a lot of sense to me. One of my books sold 2000+ copies (huge for a small market), but I made way more money (ok it wasn’t hard to make more, especially since royalties are paid at least 6 months after the book is sold) with interviews, appearances, talks, writing contracts, whatever. Of course the distributor didn’t touch those earnings, while he/it made about 50-75% of the book sales (not all profit of course, but you bet it was higher than my own)… As for blogs… lol. If I was in this for the money I’d starve to death. But you never know…!

Patrick December 7, 2006

No, granted, the number of people making an even modest revenue directly from their blog is very very low but I’ve certainly had a lot of indirect revenue from mine and a good number of others are doing the same. Visibility and “networking” through my blog and Yulblog have brought me probably something like 90% of the contracts I’ve had since going freelance.

vieux bandit December 8, 2006

Wow. I do suspect you of trying to attract more people to those Yulblog meetings, but I can’t deny it’s starting to work!

Patrick December 8, 2006

Hehe. I am trying to attract more people to Yulblog but because it’s fun, not by saying I get work there ;).

Because actually I don’t, per se. Except for a couple of exceptions with short conversations about work, I don’t talk about contracts and such at Yulblog. My blog and Yulblog help me get work simply by meeting people, there are no hidden agendas and the meeting really is just about grabbing a beer and having good conversations. Then the next day or month or year, when you need to find someone for a job, you know cool people and they know you.

Not to be too touchy feely about it but I’m much happier to realize how many of my close friends I met there and “here” than with how much work I got from it. (the friends came first anyway and they’re the ones referring people to me or giving me a call to collaborate on projects)

Hugh December 8, 2006

i totally believe cory about selling more by giving away. think of it like this: every time someone downloads a pdf of one of his books, that’s huge huge marketing exposure. essentially for free. if the downloader like it next book that comes out, chances arte they’ll buy. you build a relationship – readers are not the same as vaccum clearner buyer. readers care about the authors they read, and will support them if they can.

i guess he’s pretty well-known now, but as an unknown writer … you just aren’t going to get a big marketing push from anyone unless you get top-tier backing from a very big publisher. very unlikely. so think of most writers…unknown, no marketing, small publishing house. a good first novel in the USA sells 3,500 copies. In canada, 10,000 is a frikken best seller.

so if you give your book (pdf, free to you) away you are investing in future readers who will very likely (if they like your stuff) buy your next book.

vieux bandit December 11, 2006

I understood you;-P
That’s always how it works anyway – trust/friendship first and then you pop in someone’s head when they hear “say do you know anyone who…”, and it’s just perfect that way:-)
In any case I’d be so uncomfortable at a business card exchange type of event!!

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