It's beginning to look like e-publishing may be changing attitudes to pricing within the industry, as an analysis of Amazon practices shows up an interesting trend: If you want to sell e-books, then giving some away for free is the way to boost sales.
The Associated Press has an article using novelist James Patterson's experience to prove the theory. To promote sales of his young adult books in the Maximum Ride series on the Kindle, Amazon's been giving away thousands of copies of the first book in the series, The Angel Experiment, which is four years old. The aim is to boost sales of the remaining books, and it's definitely working. Scott Channon, publisher of Del Rey/Spectra even notes that by offering the first book in Naomi Novik's Temeraire fantasy series for free, sales of the remaining novels rocketed up a "stunning" 1,000%.
In part, it's thanks to Amazon's own policy of including free books in the best-seller lists that greet users of the online bookstore—this gets the author's name and publications out there in the public glare, and aids those sales-boosting habits. Recently the top three Amazon Kindle books have all been free—Patterson's, Joseph Finder's Paranoia, and Keyes' The Briar King.
But is this actually all that surprising? No, not really. The idea of giving items away for free to tempt the consumer to buy more is as old as the hills, and I suspect its rarely you leave a supermarket these days without slipping at least one BOGOF offer item into your shopping basket. The effect is backed up by a surprising number of other digital vending experiences. For example, iPhone app developers have noted that giving away free or "lite" versions of the software is a big booster to sales figures of the full app. A similar effect is seen in recent data that says people who pirate music (i.e. get their hands on it for free, albeit illegally) are also greater consumers of paid-download MP3s.
So, as our trend-revealing chart shows, it's not a surprise that giving Kindle e-books for free stimulates sales. The consumer isn't daft—the Amazon Kindle is expensive in the first place, so scoring some free e-books is a bonus. And then, assuming a certain percentage of readers like the new author they've discovered by accident, sales of that author's other books, which Amazon charges for, are indeed likely to zoom upwards.
There's also a sweet irony here: The free online source of this story itself, the AP, is executing some very luddite thinking by planning a crackdown on people re-using its content online (as in this piece) without paying. That's completely at odds with the fact that by giving it away for free online, some of you chaps will certainly have clicked on the AP link and upped their visitor figures and indirectly earned them some click-through advertising revenue.