Okay, it’s a trend:
- Feb. 9: Tor books launches their “Watch the Skies” program, where they send out free ebooks once a week to readers who register on their site. These are best-selling and critically acclaimed books like John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo-winning Spin. By the end of the month, Scalzi reports increased sales of a number of his titles after his book is offered free.
- Feb. 13: Suze Orman announces free download on Oprah of one of her recent financial advice books for a limited time. Over a million copies are downloaded in the 33 hours it’s available; sales are strong both during and after the offer. (Indeed, as I write this, Amazon reports it at #1 in the personal finance category.)
- Feb. 27: Random House announces that Charles Bock’s novel Beautiful Children will be available for free download through the 29th. The book has reportedly just entered the New York Times bestseller list.
- Feb. 28: Neil Gaiman announces that his novel American Gods, a critically acclaimed bestseller from 2001, will be freely readable online at HarperCollins’ “Browse Inside” site for a month. HarperCollins had announced earlier in the month that they would make selected titles available online in full at their site for free (though their actual site emphasizes sampling rather than reading the books all the way through). Harper would track usage of the site to evaluate its effect on sales.
The news here isn’t so much that are people are putting their books online for free. Some folks have been doing that for years, and I’ve been listing recent permanent, no-strings-attached free online books on The Online Books Page since the 1990s. (See, for instance, Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation, a current book posted last week, or Baen Books’ long-running free library.) What’s new is the number of large trade publishers who have almost simultaneously decided to try offering complete, free, in-print books online for the first time, with the expectation that this could well improve sales. The “limited time” offers let them be careful about it to start with, metaphorically dipping their toes in the water before diving in. They can also potentially compare the effects of short-term free ebook offers to either no free ebook offers or permanent free ebook offers. If the experiments work out well, this may be the first of a lot more current literature that becomes available online for free.
(Or it could just be this year’s publishing fad, forgotten or laughed about by next year. We’ll see, but some of the early reports above sound promising.)
I’ve read and enjoyed a number of the books that I mention above. I’m not listing them on The Online Books Page at present; that site is really designed for permanent titles rather than books that are here today and gone tomorrow. (Though many libraries have “current bestsellers” sections that work that way, using rental programs like McNaughton.) I do find number of these book offers worth noting somewhere. I don’t necessarily want to devote a full post to each one I hear about, though.
So I’ve introduced a new feature to this site that can hold quick links to temporarily-free ebook offers I find of interest, as well as links to other news and stories that are interesting and relevant enough to mention here, but not in a full post. You can find these links in the right column, under the heading “Everybody’s Library Tags”. (I’m using PennTags, our local social tagging system, to collect and manage these links.) The Tags feature has its own RSS feed separate from that of the blog, in case you’d like to put it in your aggregator. If you’d like to limit the feed to just the free books tags, and not the other links I post there, use this feed URL instead.
I haven’t tried this feature before (though I’ve seen it used to good effect on other blogs), and I’m not positive at this point whether I’ll keep it up. (If I find it too hard to keep reasonably current stuff in there, I’ll just discontinue it.) But, as the publishers above are doing with their free book offers, I’ll try it out, and see what happens.