Just found an interesting post on that whole e-books issue (via The Book Is Dead). Steven Poole, British author and journalist, recently conducted a little experiment. He released an e-copy of his book, Trigger Happy, which was published in 2000. Punters could download it free, and there was a button for an optional PayPal contribution. His site registered 30,000 downloads, he gained a lot of publicity, but only 1 in 1,750 people paid him any money.

The verdict seems to be that putting up a free product with optional payment isn’t going to make you any money (unless you’re Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails, and you have squillions of fans and enough money to live on regardless of how the latest digitally-released album does). JK Rowling might be able to get away with it, and so could any other writer who has a day job with which to support themself. But a professional writer who needs the royalty money to pay the rent can’t afford to post their book online.  

And why should they? The expectation that writers should give their work away for free has been floating around a bit lately, with various copyright wrangles, and different authors releasing free e-books and making all the other writers look cheap when they say "But I wanted a royalty check this month…" I find the concept pretty annoying. Writing a book is hard work, it takes ages, and yes, there’s a lot of rubbish out there, but shouldn’t good work get paid? Writers get diddly under the current publishing model as it is, and like someone in Steven Poole’s comments says, I think we need to be very careful about setting up a new model that incoporates an expectation of free stuff, cause writers are the ones who are going to suffer from it.

Having said that, I do like the try-before-you-buy concept, with downloadable excerpts and stuff like that (as mentioned in this previous post). Just not the whole book.

Steven Poole also has a good later post on that all-important quality control issue, comparing the different production processes of books, articles and blog posts, and outlining the general problem with instant web publishing.


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3 Responses to “Experiments with E-Books”

  1. Kate Eltham,

    I guess the experiment is not complete, though, until Poole examines his book sales for the period the free download was offered. How does he know that the free download didn’t prompt people to buy the print version of the book? As in the case of Suze Orman’s book Women and Money which was offered as a free download on Oprah’s site, registered more than 1 million downloads and shot straight to the top of the bestseller list.

  2. Meika,

    “but shouldn’t good work get paid?”

    Good to see the labour theory of value hasn’t entirely disappeared from the population. It’s pretty close to the idea that the world owes you a living. I mean, maybe it does owe after it’s responsible for you, but why live/think that way?

    People get paid whatever other people feel they can pay for service or product X, mainly so that you go away afterward supplying said product.

    Currently technology is changing market dyamics and IMHO Intellectual Property (IP) based capitalism is as doomed as the dodo. Copyright was only a vicarious way of protecting printing machines and plates.

    The market giveth, the market taketh away.

    It won’t just be IP. The question is, what’s left after this change that most of us will feel is worth paying for? My guess is bulk commodities and energy. I used to say commodities and good design/branding, but now I am not so sure about the latter.

    What it all means is that in the future labour will be worth zilch, as will be everything actually, that’s what post-scarcity means, and we will all, and I mean everyone, will live on dividends or the dole, and eventually these two incomes will be the same thing, though our electronic masters may not let us think that for psychological reasons and keep us running in the hamster wheel with gold pieces for each cycle of the wheel turned, and platnium bonuses for each weapon of mass destruction found in foreign deserts.

    Maybe even for a new novel about the search for said mysteries.

  3. Margaret Tanner,

    Hi there,
    I just wanted to add my few cents worth about e-publishing. I certainly think it is the way of the future, obviously the larger publishers are starting to feel that way too now. I write historical romance, but not the sweet fluffy stuff. My stories are set against a well researched Australian background. I couldn’t find a publisher in Australia to even read my work, although I have won several writing competitions, I had to go to America and was taken up by the small press publishers who also do e-publishing. Well, at least in the romance field, but I am sure other genres as well, the big publishers turned up their noses and sneered at the pathetic writers whose book were e-published. I mean, you couldn’t get published by a “reputable print publisher” so you had to turn to e-publishers, you poor deluded fool, was their catch cry. Strange how most of the large publishers have started publishing E-books of late. Just go to Fictionwise and check out who has books listed there now. You will be surprised.
    Margaret Tanner
    Historical Romance Author

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