"Why's your book free?"

MCMTuesday, February 10, 2009

A question I'm getting a lot recently is "Why are you giving The Pig and the Box away for free?" There's a subset of the eBook crowd that, I think, finds the notion offensive because it's cheapening their format of choice. I can appreciate that, and I will do my best to explain the lack-of-theory I employ:

Firstly, the Pig and the Box is so generally available on the internet that NOT giving it away for free would be silly. I want people to see the new edition because it has some tweaks in it, and I think it's a better product. If I suddenly put it behind a pay wall, the pre-existing PDFs would drown out the second edition, and I wouldn't be doing much good for myself.

That said, the eBook edition of the book has sold decent numbers since it went live two weeks ago, despite the fact that the free PDF is right below it on the page. But that speaks more to the generosity of my audience than anything.

Looking ahead, I'm going to try different techniques with future books. The next release, Poke of the Titans, will have a free PDF as usual, but you won't get to see the advertisements unless you buy the eBook or the print copy (in this case, the ads are not real ads. they're possibly funnier than the book itself). It's a small bonus if you shell out the money. I still want the book to be widely traded, but I also want the purchasers to get something special for their investment, no matter how token.

Then in a few months, when The Vector is released, I'll be trying something entirely different... serialized release. You can download all but the last four chapters through your favourite RSS feed, three times a week, for free. But if you pay for the eBook, PDF or print copy, you can skip the staggered release and get the whole book at once. This only works (if it works at all) because the book is long enough to sustain it... but I think it's an interesting technique to try.

So when all is said and done, I have no idea what the "right" answer is. I know Cory Doctorow's famous quote is "the artist's enemy is obscurity, not piracy", but to me it's even less about obscurity and more about why I write in the first place... I want people to read my stuff. Charging for things too strenuously is going to limit my audience, and money-wise or not, that feels wrong.

The other big question is my ratio of print-to-eBook sales, and how I'd like to adjust that in the future. If I don't cover it in the next few weeks, someone remind me.

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