Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Effect of Free E-Books on Sales

Yesterday Publisher's Lunch linked to this interesting paper: The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales, by John Hilton III and David Wiley. I'm interested in the topic after two of my novels, Dark Pursuit and Exposure, were offered free on the Kindle for about the first three weeks of 2010. (The free offer put them at the top of the Kindle bestseller list for nine days, and kept them on the list for a total of a month.) Since then I've seen numerous other Christian novels offered for free. Obviously this is done for marketing purposes and to raise awareness of the author among readers. So--does the free offer ultimately lead to higher sales? This is the first scientific look at the subject that I've seen.

Overall, in looking at four different groups of books (including fiction and nonfiction), the authors found that in three groups sales rose in the 8 weeks after the freebie giveaways between 5% and 9%. Of course there are still numerous unanswered questions and variables. Interestingly, the fourth group saw a decrease in sales. The parameters of this group’s giveaways were different. Was the decrease caused by that variable or by other factors?

Do take the time to read the paper to see the whole story. It's not overly long.

It strikes me in reading this paper, due to all the variables (correlation does not necessarily mean causation) how hard it is to measure how effective a certain marketing campaign is when it comes to leading people to buy product from a bookstore. It's far easier if you're, say, a health supplement company and selling product from your web site. But it's much less direct to conclude that a certain campaign sent people to online or brick-and-mortar stores to buy your novel.

At any rate, I continue to do all the marketing I can, believing that in total it does have a positive effect on sales.


Timothy Fish said...

It's all about awareness. People won't buy a book if they aren't aware that it exists. Free books raise awareness because--well, because people are greedy and they are out looking for something for nothing. But people have to have time to become aware that a book is being given away free and they have to have time to tell their friends about it. It's possible that Tor's campaign didn't raise awareness of the books involve, since they were aiming at creating a mailing list. The people willing to sign up may have already been aware of the books and giving them away free just took away from the people who would have bought the books anyway.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link, Brandilyn. I was wondering how the free e-book concept played out in the market. Good information.

Ronie Kendig said...

Fascinating article! Thanks for sharing it. I've been wondering about that too.

Jill Williamson said...

That's really interesting, Brandilyn. Thanks for posting it. I was thinking of trying that for my first book as a promotion for book two. I wish there was a way to know what was helpful and what wasn't. It all takes so much time and effort, it's exhausting!