There is an interesting trend in the mass market for e-books, which is new on this scale: The free book.
Certainly free book distribution has taken place as a marketing tactic for decasdes, if not centuries. However, since the release of the Kindle, this new distribution mode seems to have really taken off.
An article in the New York Times this past weekend described the growing trend. As the Times reports, more than half of the “best-selling” e-books on the Kindle, Amazon.com’s e-reader, are available at no charge.
On Saturday afternoon, I double-checked this and of the books in Amazon Kindle’s top ebook “Bestsellers” list -
Top 5 – 4 free and one at $0.25 about the Kindle
Top 10 – 8 of top 10 – another at $8.55 (but on $0.95 off hardcover list)
Top 15 – 11 of top 15 – two more at $4.39 one at $7.50
Top 20 – 14 of top 20 – one at $5.50 and the first at $9.99
Top 25 – 17 of top 25 – two more at $9.99 including Dan Brown’s book
Ten more were not free in 25-50, so 18 of 50 or only 36% of top 50 book are paid.
11 more were for-fee books in the next 50-75
11 more in 75-100 –
In total 60 of top 100 “selling titles” for Kindle are free or public domain books. Now Amazon changes this every hour, so a review of your own would probably not come up with the same results. However, it seems that at least half and as many as two-thirds of the list are not “sellers” at all, but only downloads.
However in that article, the author noted theoretically “lost” 28K sales. An old friend of mine knows one of the authors in that story and she told me that the referenced author actually made about $10,000 in royalties on her backlist during the free period, which is incredible.
Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and author of the Long Tail, described how free works at the dawn the internet age in his book “Free”. I should note that I was one who took advantage of Anderson’s business model and read “Free” at no cost on my Kindle. What publishers are doing is a perfect example of Anderson’s thesis: That people can use the medium of digital distribution and it’s *nearly* free distribution to get consumers to be interested in other non-free products. You can download the first book of a series for free, but if you want volumes 2-12 of the “Twilight” series, you will have to pay. NOTE – that Twilight or Harry Potter didn’t employ this model. However, 10 years from now is there a kids book series that kids are eagerly awaiting the movies of, that began as a series with the first book free? I don’t think this process will change how people discover and share books, but it certainly will accelerate the process.