This guest post, by Foz Meadows, originally appeared on Alan Baxter’s The Word on 10/11/11.
Today I’ve got a guest post from author Foz Meadows. A discussion elsewhere led to this very lucid and, to my mind, accurate post on the nature of piracy in the digital age and the pros and cons of authors offering free content. It applies equally to all forms of digital media. I agree wholeheartedly with Foz on this and hope it makes some interesting reading for you guys.
Piracy and Free Content
by Foz Meadows
Neil Gaiman tried the free giveaway experiment a little while back – the readers of his blog voted which novel of his they most wanted to recommend to friends (it ended up being American Gods), and then he made it freely downloadable for a month, after and during which time his publishers monitored his sales to see what happened. Similar to Cory Doctorow’s experience, sales of ALL his books (and not just American Gods) went way, way up, which I think Gaiman compared to something of a library/lending effect, i.e.: most people discover new authors because someone, be it a friend or a library, loans them a copy of the book, thereby encouraging them to buy that author’s works in the future but without the initial risk of paying money for a product they might not like.
What I took away from the whole endeavour (apart from the fact that, when it comes to any experimental sort of book sale process, it is very helpful to already be a megastar) is that it seems to work best for writers who already have a published back-catalog. Putting up one book for free, for a limited time, draws attention to all your works together; and if people like the free product, then they’re more inclined to pay for your other stuff, because you are now one of Their Authors. Which could work as a promotion for a second book if done right, I think – but the call is yours.
Regarding people who download, I do think there’s something to the argument that the majority (or at least, a significant proportion) of DLs don’t actually constitute a lost sale, per se, so much as a parallel form of consumption. Allowing for the 10% of assholes who will always rather steal than pay even when they can afford it, I know there have been myriad reported instances where people who already own physical copies of books have sought out illegal digital versions because of region control issues in the legal versions, such as someone from Australia not being able to buy an ebook version of a novel they already own because it’s only published in America.