Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Letting readers downlod a novel for free - what are they thinking!

Hoping to push sales, publishers are starting to allow free downloading of some of their books at the same time that they are published in print - even hardcover. What the heck is going on?

It wasn't that long ago that I was sitting at a luncheon during a writers conference and the keynote speaker was discussing the reluctance on the part of traditional publishers to embrace ebooks. The evidence? Ebook versions of mainstream novels usually cost the same as the hardcover so why would anybody spend $25 on an electronic download when they could get the real deal for the same amount of money? It was clear that publishers were pretending to embrace ebooks while undermining their acceptance. When ebooks didn't sell in numbers that rendered them commercially viable, the mainstream publishers seemed to be saying, "See we told you it wouldn't work!"

Then came the smaller, independent publishers who embraced ebooks with a passion at a time when many in the industry treated ebooks like a dirty word. Elora's Cave stands out as one of the pioneers as does Echelon Press and so many others. Writers everywhere owe these pioneers a tremendous amount of gratitude for hanging in there. Now the mainstream publishers are embracing ebooks with a passion as well - which signals that it's now a money maker.

But why now?

There are lots of reasons but a pivotal one is generational. The newer generations - X, Y, Millennials, Igen, or even Z are so much more comfortable with technology that they almost demand it as the media of choice. They're busy, they're mobile, they're wired and can out multi-task previous generations.

Publishers know that if they are to grow they need to recruit new readers and if they want new readers from these newer generations they have to play on their turf.

A recent interview of a young writer in Japan who has the number one "cell novel" which is not only being read on the cell but she wrote it on her cell. Yes, wrote it on her small little cell phone in bits in pieces - on her lunch breaks, on the train, anywhere she had an inspiration she flipped open her cell phone an started texting. The book was available for free on the internet but then something extraordinary happened. A publisher decided to make a print copy available and even though it was free on the web, it sold millions in a very short period of time.

There are so many ironies here but one is that the technology that main stream publishers have been so afraid of for so long may actually be the very thing that saves them and gives them a future.

Take a look at the following article at USAToday and you'll understand what I mean.

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