Giving away an e-book seems to lead to at least a spike in sales of the print version, Researchers at Brigham Young University have found, especially for fiction.
In research that monitored the sales of 41 print books in the eight weeks before and after a free version was released, study authors John Hilton III and David Wiley said they found “a moderate correlation between free digital books being made permanently available and short-term print sales increases.”
All 41 books in the study (via Boing Boing) were made available as complete PDF downloads (as well as other formats in some cases), including two by former Wired.com managing editor Leander Kahney that he distributed for free via bit torrent. Hilton and Wiley’s data showed that giving the books away resulted in higher print sales in the eight weeks following the giveaway than during the same time period preceding it for fiction (a 26 percent increase), non-fiction (5 percent) and Random House releases (9 percent).
The only category in which giving the books away for free digitally eroded the market for print books was for titles sold by Tor Books, a division of Macmillan focused on science fiction and fantasy titles. The study’s authors don’t know why that was the case, but they speculate on one possibility: Tor only made its e-books freely available for one week, whereas the others were available for eight weeks or longer, and it required users to register before downloading them. It’s possible that in order for e-book giveaways to boost print sales, readers must have easy, unencumbered access to the free version.
Of course, if most of the reading public switches to e-book readers like the Kindle or the iPad, this model would fall apart because, obviously, giving away an e-book wouldn’t cause people to choose to pay for the same. But that tipping point is likely still years away; as things stand now, this study indicates that publishers would do well to embrace the concept of “free” as a marketing tool while the getting is good