Chris Anderson posts over at the Inside Google Books blog about his decision, along with publisher Hyperion, to give away free copies of his new book, Free. He suggests that selling hardcover and paperback copies will be helped by his promotional use of free copies, and that may very well be. He reports the book will hit the New York Times Bestseller list at #11 this week, which suggests that some physical copies are selling, too.
Okay,that sounds good, but it is necessary to back the argument up with hard facts, which I found the book did not provide, but the book’s sales could. I challenge Chris and Hyperion to release a full accounting of the book’s budget and resulting sales, as well as Anderson’s indirect earnings from the book, so that all of us who have read Free with interest and some skepticism can see for ourselves the financial results of this grand experiment. If the free Free release is not simply a marketing stunt, this disclosure should demonstrate that there is a profitable model and one that, when compared to Anderson’s earlier books, resulted in more sales revenue than when he was not giving away free digital copies.
One important point to echo from Chris’ post: He argues that everyone loves physical books and that they won’t go away, pointing to his own children’s love of the page. “My very digital kids feel the same way: they may never read a printed newspaper, but they love physical books as much as I did when I was their age.” My daughter has repeatedly told me she dislikes the Kindle compared to reading a book, because of her enjoyment of the tactile and visual pleasures of the page. I agree with Chris and his kids and my daughter that paper books are here to stay. The question is whether digital books will augment the author’s ability to focus on writing new works rather than simply marketing and milking old ones.