On March 4, 2009, Random House announced it was giving away free digital versions of five books....I thought it would be interesting to look at sales data from these books for the 8 weeks before and after the “free” versions became available.
One of the five books has had zero sales in 2009. So no sales before or after the free version. But the other four books all saw significant sales increases after the free versions were released. In total, combined sales of the five books were up 30%. Together they sold 3,958 copies the 8 weeks prior to being released free and 5,129 copies the eight weeks after being released....
John Hilton admits up front that there would be no way to definitively prove one way or another whether releasing a book for free online will help boost print sales of the same title — he called such absolute statements “irresponsible” — but he is nonetheless trying to track down as many hard numbers as humanly possible to try to argue whether there’s a positive effect....
For his research, he has located, so far, approximately 40 book titles for which publishers have released free online versions at least eight weeks after releasing the printed version. He does not consider books that were released both simultaneously for free online and as print products because then he wouldn’t be able to observe the before and after effects on sales. He then records the Bookscan numbers — which account for about 70% of all US book sales, including those sold at most retailers — for the eight weeks prior to the free release and the eight weeks after....
[PS: Omitting a summary of the Random House findings, already noted above.]
Early last year, in an effort to get people to sign up for its e newsletter, Tor Books, the largest science fiction and fantasy publisher, began releasing free ebooks of its titles for those who signed up for its mailing list. Though the platform wasn’t as open as some other free book promotions — in which the publisher releases a book under a Creative Commons license — those who were on the email list received a link to where they could download that week’s free title. Many of the books that were featured in the promotion had been in print for some time (years in some cases) beforehand.
When Hilton pulled up the prior and post eight week numbers, he was astonished at what he found. “When you looked at eight weeks before and after, 20 of the 24 books that Tor gave away saw decreasing sales,” he said. “To me that’s a real puzzle. Random House was four for four with increasing sales, and Tor was 20 for 24 decreasing?” ...
These are all unknowns, and these unknowns leave enough wiggle room so that proponents of both sides of the argument have plenty of leeway to argue why releasing a book for free — whether it’s through a Creative Commons license or Google Books — has a net benefit or detriment to sales. To try to close the gap on this wiggle room, Hilton will continue trying to find more books to add to his study — he said that finding 50, 100, or even 200 would greatly inform his findings — so that future authors and publishers will have at least some conclusive data before deciding they too would like to make the online book release plunge.
Peter Suber at 5/07/2009 01:29:00 PM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.