Free ebooks: motivations, metrics and economics

John Hilton III and David Wiley from Brigham Young University conducted interviews with authors who give away the electronic editions of their printed books and produced a short, fascinating look at the motivations and satisfactions of free online distribution. The paper, "Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet" is a free PDF (natch).
The authors' responses are (in my opinion) extremely interesting. Major motivations for making work freely available include "to increase visibility," "to increase sales," and "it's a moral obligation." All of the authors were glad that they had made they work available for free, and most reported that they thought it had increased the reach of their work. Nobody perceived that sales had decreased as a result.
Hilton also just published his dissertation, ―Freely Ye Have Received, Freely Give (Matthew 10:8): How Giving Away Religious Digital Books Influences the Print Sales of Those Books, which tracked sales of backlist religious titles before and after their ebook release.
During the ten weeks of the study the books were downloaded 102,556 times. Collectively, the books sold 68 more copies in the ten weeks they were online for free versus the ten previous weeks. This was an increase in sales of 26%. Over the same period of time in 2008, sales of these same books decreased by 38%. Furthermore, a study of comparison titles that were not put online for free found that sales of comparison books decreased both in 2008 and 2009...
(Thanks, John!)


  1. It’s too bad they didn’t interview Scott Sigler! Though I guess he doesn’t release the written version for free necessarily, just the audio version.

  2. Baen Books has the first book or two in a SF/fantasy series as free ebooks, something that’s made me go out and buy more than a few sequels. We still haven’t found a good model yet to turn the concept into reliable money, but I think it should be something along the line of Netflix. I’d gladly pay $20/mo for comics/graphic novels or for unlimited indie ebooks. Put them in a streaming program and I won’t have to haul two hundred pounds of books every time I move.

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