The Success of Free
This is a response to a comment at TorrentFreak about TorrentBoy, so please excuse the unscheduledness of it.
TorrentBoy: Zombie World was released in March of 2009, and since then, it's been downloaded over 250,000 times. For the sake of simplicity we'll count each one of those downloads as a unique person.
592 people have donated money after reading Zombie World. The most common donation is $9, with a grand total of $9,636.32 (after PayPal fees). Around $2,000 of that was in the first 30 days. 0.2368% of my readers donate, but they tend to donate more than I would have made in royalties from a regularly-published book ($1.79 per copy).
Put in perspective: a typical advance for a book of this kind is $5,000. Odds are, I wouldn't see royalties at all. So right now I'm $4600 ahead of where I would have been under the traditional "pay first" model. Also, under this system, I have a lot more readers than your typical book aimed at this market. Canadian best-sellers ship 5,000 copies. I've already done that, fifty times over.
Can I live off $9,600 a year? No. I'd have to write a new TorrentBoy book (with the same rate of success) every three months or so, and even that would be cutting it close. Under this system, you need to produce constantly, or you don't survive. I happen to enjoy producing, so it's not a big deal for me... but as a replicable model, it's not quite fully-formed yet.
The thing that stuns me about the whole situation is how much of this money has come from (what I assume to be) BitTorrent fans. These are people you'd assume are hardcore pirates, pillagers of "intellectual property" and enemies of artists everywhere. Instead, they have sent me donations without coaxing, and made my little TorrentBoy experiment a big success. It may not happen again, but I think it puts a twist in the theory that pirates are immoral leeching psychopaths :)
Free works. I'm going to be trying "freemium" later this month with The Vector (where you can bypass the serialized scheduled by donating $5), but thus far I have no reason to bother trying to lock down anything I do. Treat your audience with respect, and they'll do the same to you. Treat them like criminals, and they'll take great pride in watching you squirm.