Friday, March 30, 2007

More on Ebooks

Looking for some suggestions.

I've been talking with my print publisher, Hyperion, about giving away free ebooks in the Jack Daniels series.

I've been an active believer of Internet promotion since I first became a writer. My blog gets over 20,000 unique hits every month, my website gets almost as many, I have 13,000 MySpace friends, 10,000 people who have signed up for my mailing list, and if you Google "JA Konrath" you get 143,000 hits.

I try to maintain a large Internet presence, because more and more people are using the net. According to, there are more than 1.1 billion Internet users.

The more I do on the Internet, the likelier chance I have of people finding me. The more people that find me, the more who will read me. And, of course, the publishing industry has known for years that a certain percentage of readers will become buyers. Publishers give away millions of ARCs and galleys, hoping they will be read and talked about.

Which brings me to ebook downloads.

An ebook costs nothing to manufacture or distribute. It can be copied by pressing a button, and sent around the world by pressing another button.

And yet, for all the excitement about ebooks a decade ago, they aren't really big sellers. In fact, looking at past royalty statements, I haven't sold many ebooks.

The reason is threefold:

1. Ebooks are too expensive. Readers don't want to pay $16.95, or even $6.95, for a text download, when they can buy the print book for the same price. And the print book is easier to read.

2. Too many formats and restrictions. Consumers need special equipment and programs, and books that can be read on one device can't be read on another device. Some ebooks can't be printed, or put on two computers at once. It's confusing, and not user-friendly.

3. The majority of book buyers don't care much about the Internet. That's slowly changing. But I've spoken at over a hundred events, and I have had thousands of fans show up to see me, and I always ask them how many have visited my website. Surprisingly few have. Mystery readers buy print books, not ebooks. They don't care if an author has a website.

By giving ebooks away for free, I don't want to turn my print readers into ebook readers. That isn't going to happen, because my average reader (a woman in her mid-fifties) isn't going to give up the joy of reading a book on the beach to hunch over her computer to read. She doesn't have a Blackberry or a PDA or a Palm Pilot, nor does she want one.

I want to reach the audience that is already online---the Internet people---and turn them into print book fans. And I want to do this by giving away free ebooks.

If you Google "ebooks" you get 50 million hits. People are reading online. But, based on my ebook sales, my fans aren't among them.

Giving away free ebooks will help reach this potential audience. And as my audience increases, so will my print sales. Here's why:

First, because people who wouldn't read me normally will give me a try if it is free. Some of those people will become fans. Fans who talk about me, buy my books as gifts, and even buy copies for themselves.

Second, because not many people like to read entire books online, there is a percentage that will read some of it, then go out and buy the book to read it in the bathtub, on the beach, before bed, etc. People are likelier to download a full ebook than simply an excerpt, because there is a perception of greater value. An exceprt is a teaser to get someone to buy a book. A free ebook is a gift, and the attitude towards free ebooks is warmer and more welcoming.

Third, because this will help me reach an audience I haven't been able to reach. I've been to the mystery conventions. I've won some mystery awards. The mystery fans already know who I am. But how do I reach the larger audience? The regular fans?

I know I can reach thousands of people on the Internet. I can do this without spending a lot of money. And it won't cost Hyperion much, because my backlist ebooks haven't been selling very well.

This is cheaper than print advertising. Cheaper than touring. And I'll do most of the work.

Here's my plan:

I'd like to make WHISKEY SOUR, BLOODY MARY, and RUSTY NAIL available for free on my website, blog, and MySpace page.

I'll use two formats, pdf and HTML, as these are universal and able to be used on the most devices. Downloads will be handled on my site.

I'll encourage folks to download these files, and share these files with their friends and family. Business author Seth Godin did this with his first ebook, UNLEASHING THE IDEAVIRUS, and went on to become a bestseller in print. Sci-fi author Cory Doctorow has had hundreds of thousands of free ebook downloads, and still sells like crazy in print. The publisher Baen/Tor has had an ebook program for years. Dave Weber's novel ON BASILISK STATION has been available for free for several months. Over that time it's become Baen's most popular backlist title in paper.

Naturally, the fear is if we give away ebooks, people won't buy the print copies. I believe the opposite is true. When Napster (the original file sharing site where teenagers traded their music online) closed down, CD sales did not go up as expected. Sales went down. Getting music for free didn't prevent sales, instead it encouraged people to try new music, which they then went out and bought.

I'm read for free in libraries all the time. And many of those people who discover me at the library later buy my books.

I believe that ebooks are another way to get noticed, and get read. Publishers spend a lot of money on marketing and promotion. Here's a way to spread name-recognition and brand-awareness for free.

I'd really like to give it a shot. If I'm wrong, and my sales go way down, we've learned something. If I'm right, we've figured out a new, inexpensive way to promote authors.

Hyperion decided on a compromise. They're allowing me to give away 1000 downloads of one of my backlist titles, and see how that goes.

In order to do this effectively, I need to know several things.

1. Which book should I give away? The first book in the series makes the most sense. But giving away the newest book might spur more interest in that book.

2. How should I go about giving these 1000 away? I have a blog, website, newsletter, and MySpace page to do so. Should this be a contest? Or should they go to the first 1000 people who respond?

3. How can I leverage this to get as much bang for my buck as possible? Enlist other bloggers? Draft a press release? Take out a few ads?

Let me hear your ideas and suggestions. You might be doing something like this for yourself, someday soon...


Stuart Neville said...

I'm a partner in a multimedia design business, primarily in website design. If a client came to me with the idea of giving away 1000 eBooks, I'd suggest this...

Firstly, make sure the downloader gives something back for their free book. Make them register to get access to the download, providing their name and email address, and maybe fill out a questionnaire so you can do some market research while you're at it. I think if someone wants the download, they'll do that much for it - anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows that nothing is truly free.

You can then limit the number of registered users with rights to the download to 1000. Of course, each person could download it multiple times, but once they've got the file they can do what they like with it anyway, including passing it on to friends. Alternatively, the actual number of downloads could be limited, but I think I would suggest the former.

After that, you can follow up with mailshots (provided they've given their permission) with links to Amazon to purchase that book in print, or other titles.

This way you get more than the chance the downloader might buy the book in the future - you can actively encourage them to do so.

Stacie Penney said...

Cory Doctrow used as a distributer for Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

Scott Marlowe said...

I have a little bit diff perspective cause I'm just getting started with trying to get pub'ed. I went ahead and made my first (unpub'ed) novel available on my web site as "shareware"--everyone can download it for free, no further obligations. However, if you want to make a "donation"...

I like your idea... I'd got with either the first book in the series or the one currently out. If I had to choose between those, I'd go with the first in the series. I downloaded "On Basilisk Station" b/c I'd never read Weber and b/c it was the first in the series.

If you're limited to 1000 downloads, just give out a link (or whatever) to the first 1000 people to respond. How else could you do it where it doesn't become a major time sink?

Are you thinking of wrapping DRM around the pdf/doc/whatever, or just throwing it out into the wild unprotected? I like the latter. DRM is stupid and a pain and, like you say in so many words, clunky.

Anonymous said...


Conduit's got some good ideas, especially exchanging an e-mail for the download. It's a common tactic. Most people gladly give up their e-mail address for something "free"... especially from someone they trust.

As for your specific questions:

1. Which one?
I'd suggest giving away BLOODY MARY for no other reason than WHISKEY and RUSTY are more closely related. It's not necessary to read the series in order, but it makes sense to at least read the first and third in order. Of the three, BLOODY is the one that's most "stand alone."

Or, scrap that and give away RUSTY because it's the latest. People like getting something fresh.

2. How?
See Conduit's response. It makes the most sense because you can actually measure how successful the promotion is. You're a big believer in measuring results. If you do it willy-nilly, you can't go back to the publisher and tout how successful it was because you won't really know.

3. Marketing?
Yes to all.


P.S. I recently reviewed RUSTY on my blog. I've also enlisted two new fans here in my office.

MontiLee Stormer said...

It's a shame that Hyperion is terrified of losing it's print sales. not understanding that the market works differently with different demographics.

People do like to try before they buy, but at least they're letting you do entire novels and as opposed to only chapters.

Douglas Clegg gave away a few of his short stories and novellas as free downloads to get started and continues to do so, rather successfully.

Anonymous said...

How about giving away the entire text of Bloody Mary and then including exerpts of the other books in the series? That way if they like what they just read, they'll want more and that they'll have to pay for.

As for who should they go to? I say the first 1000 to respond. They will be the ones who want it most and will do the most good with it.

Heather Harper said...

In regard to giving away only one title, I would choose book #1. I don't know if I would download a free copy of book #2 or beyond without having read book #1.

But I'm OCD like that. ;)

Bren said...

I actually became a fan through your blog. Bloody Mary was the first book of yours I read. It stands on its own apart from the series. It left me wanting to buy more of your books. For that reason I sugest issuing Bloody Mary as an ebook.

Cheryl Hagedorn said...

I just blogged an interview this week with Randy Richardson who decided to give his ebook, Lost in the Ivy, away through the Chicago Underground Library.

Simon Haynes said...

I wrote an ebook reader specifically for plain text and html files - yBook (it'll turn up if you search google) I call it a paperback emulator because it shows two textured pages which turn when you click them. If you want to link to it when/if you put your book online, you're most welcome.

I too would like to give away my first novel, but before that happens it'd have to be published in other markets (UK and US.) For now, I'm only published in Australia.

Anonymous said...

*cute lil innocent smile* You could give 'em away to people who are know for doing reviews on their blogs. I know a bunch, including yours truly.

I agree with conduit. It serves you better to give them away to people who are also going to (hopefully) be advocates and word of mouthers for your book. You should get something in return, even if it's just a list of people to send promo stuff to, people who will give you feedback or people who will pass it on.

Simon Haynes said...

By the way, if I had to register to download a free ebook .. I wouldn't. Or else I'd use a throwaway gmail account and fake details.

If you're giving something away, that's one thing. If you're asking me to buy it with 10-15 minutes of my time, that's something else entirely. I'd sooner browse a bookstore with those 15 minutes and then pay for the book I want.

I give away my own software with no strings attached. Yes, I'm missing the opportunity to 'monetize the experience' or 'value-add for the consumer' ... and I'm more than happy to do so.

According to Google Analytics my software site generates 120,000 hits per month and my writing site, 25,000. I'm more interested in having those people remember the name 'Spacejock' than in getting their email address.

Anonymous said...

Simon said:
I give away my own software with no strings attached.

The difference, though, is that you don't have to be convinced that giving away your software is a good idea. Joe, on the other hand, has a reluctant partner. I'd think they'll want some meaningful data before they consider the test a success.

Maria said...

I wouldn't fill out a marketing form either. Maybe supply an email address, but 10 to 15 questions or minutes? Nah, I'd figure you were more interested in my info and that maybe the book was a gimmick--not that good or some sort of promotional thing because the download would sound like a gimmick.

Stuart Neville said...

You could make the questionnaire optional - a surprising amount of people will take the time anyway. The questionnaire itself should be a maximum of six simple questions, with three to five selectable answers per question (allowing free text answers is pointless as it can't be quantified). Aim at the process taking one or two minutes to complete. Any competent ASP or PHP programmer could set it up to store the responses to a database, then churn them out as graphical analysis.

I do these all the time for clients, and although some people will be put off (as some commenters have rightly noted) many will not if they feel they're getting something in return. Often we do this for competitions, but one client ran an unusual personality test on their website which would return a customised report to the user. Within a week they had 1500 registered people, of which 70% agreed to be emailed occasional product info. Couldn't this kind of method be applied to potential readers.

Devon Ellington said...

Here's an idea for the future to discuss with Hyperion -- a novella that's available for free that's separate from the print books. Shorter, more people likely to read it, perhaps. And no "competition" (in Hyperion's eyes, perhaps) with the print versions.

To answer your specific questions, my suggestions:

1. First book in the series, to hook new readers;
2. You want to reach more than 1000 readers, so set a deadline for entering, have them submit their info and then do a random drawing for 1000 names (there's got to be a way to do that).
3. Do a mass email to your mailing list and put it on your MySpace page; also, contact each of your blogroll buddies and ask them to devote a specific post to it (provide the info in a press release) with links to the site where people can enter.

I'm very interested to see how this turns out. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

If you're writing a series, and trying to attract new readers, the only book to offer is the first one of the series.

Aimlesswriter said...

"my average reader (a woman in her mid-fifties)" Wow...I'm almost up to your "average reader" give me a couple of years...(I'm 49) but you are right. I want to stuff a book in my purse and read it when i wait in line, at the doctor's office, lying in bed or in that traffic jam to nowhere. I also buy books on CD for the car.
As for the ebook I can't help you. I spend enough time at work on the computer I'm not going to stare at it for enjoyment too. Alturnative? Print out the book, scatter paper all over my house not to mention the cost of said paper and ink...
Thanks anyway. I'll go to B & N and buy a book.
However I do like to read a chapter or two to spark my interest to buy the book!
Am I the norm or an old dinosaur? I don't know. It will be interesting to see how your little experiment works.
When is your next book hitting the shelves???

Anonymous said...

As a new reader having the first book offered would be best to peak interest. If you wish to bring attention to the new book then include the teaser excerpt often found in the back of books for the next release.

I'm interested to know how this turns out. Personally I've bought entire series based on reading something for free at the library. I in fact bought the book I read at the library as well just to have the whole collection.

I've bought cds friends have made copies of for me so I could hear them and I've bought the dvd or paid to see a movie a second time after getting in to see it on free passes.

In the end the more people you can expose and interest the more likely you will stumble on those of us who prefer to have things for our own with all the bells and whistles.

Many of the most avid readers are a little budget limited and getting to try before we buy ensures we're getting something worth our money. Once you make a fan out of someone willing to go through a three days of mac n' cheese or ramen in order to pick up a series, you have a fan for life. lol.


Stacey Cochran said...

I would recommend giving one of your novels to me, and I'll publish it on Lulu, make it available at, Barnes & Noble online, and every other chain in the U.S. and U.K.

I'll design a professional cover for you and split the royalties with you.

We can also make it available as a download. Free or for a charge.

Give me a call. Let's talk.


Christine said...

You're key demographic may not be buying e-books, but someone's is. Romance and Erotica readers (which are mostly women, mostly older, I think) buy them by the truckloads. It's what made Ellora's Cave the juggernaut it's become in the genre.

I don't think it works for all genres, true, but it does for some. Very, very well. I've talked to several erotic e-book writers who make their living writing smut for viewing on computer or PDA or whatever.

I don't read that genre, but I do like the Mobipocket reader.

And most e-books I've seen are reasonable- in the MMP price range.

I don't read 'em often, but it's obvious someone is. My publisher uses profits from e-book sales to fund the trade paperback print run. Which means they're making enough for that. Smart, IMO, pretty smart.

I agree, though, that we need better technology to read them on. Sony's e-ink or whatever it is, is pretty amazing, but currently expensive. If I had a reader I could afford, I'd probably buy many more e-books. Heck, I'd save me money AND space in my house (and paper). And I could download most of those puppies to a thumb drive or CD.

Anonymous said...

Joe: Giving away free downloads of prior titles isn't that much different than bookstores selling remainders at $6.95. The concept is to get the prior book read, hook a reader on the series, and sell upcoming titles later. I also like the PDF format you propose, since everyone has Adobe Reader. Like remainders, I'd probably be inclined to give away the earlier titles that have pretty much reached the end of their legs.

Lone Wolf said...

To be honest, I do not like to read text for long on my computer. It's not very nice on the eyes. Plus, I don't feel like printing off 100's of pages either. That is why I perfer books. I have downloaded a few ebooks (including yours JA. Thanks!) and a couple scripts, and I have not read any of them completely. Because, again, I do not like reading text for long on my computer. Blogs I can handle. Short Stories I can handle. But, novels I'd rather go out buy them at the bookstore or through amazon or other online bookstores.

I first go my hands on Whiskey Sours by checking out the audio book version through my local library (I'm able to listen to my headphones at work. Hooray!). I loved it! So I went to the bookstore and bought Bloody Mary, which is near the top of my to read list.

Yet, I would hate to give up on the whole ebooks phenom. I'll give one of JA's ebooks a try and maybe I'll explain how the experince went on a future post.

Novella's and short stories would be better for internet purchase in my opinion.

Lone Wolf said...

As far as the free books go, I feel allowing access to read the first chapter or two might inspire people to go out and buy the books. Even if the whole ebook was online for free, I would probably just read a few chapters and if I like it, then I'll go out and buy it.

Lone Wolf said...

There is an idea! I would definitely be happy to buy downloadable audio books for cheaper than CD package value. Transfer the book into the ol' iPOD and hit the road jack.

Audiobook downloads should be huge buy now. Are people doing this yet?

Anonymous said...

Giving away eBooks might be a great idea. While you're talking with Hyperion, however, you might also discuss pricing of your eBooks.

I buy a LOT of eBooks, mostly from I like getting them in LIT format, with covers, such that I don't have to manipulate them in any way to make them readable. I'm willing to pay for this.

I disagree with you that paying $6.95 for an eBook is out of the question. My primary suggestion here, however, stems from the fact that whenever a King, Parker, Connelly, etc. book moves from hardcover to paperback, the eBook price drops as well. Thus, I can buy most books by these authors for $6-8. Yours remain at $14. Why is that.

I've really enjoyed ORIGIN and THE LIST and appreciate you making them available. Your web presence and these books are what turned me onto your Ms Daniels books. Thanks.

Cheers --- Larry Marshall

Sariah Wilson said...

I'm with Devon on the 1000 people - make it a random drawing. There's nothing more frustrating than stumbling across a promo where the first 1000 people get something only to realize you are a day late and there's no way that you can get in on it.

With doing a drawing, you'd probably attract more readers and get more newsletter signups if people felt like they had a fair shot at the prize.

Anonymous said...

I got this from Seth Godin today... timely and interesting:

Anonymous said...

Most authors already have the first chapter available to read on their websites - publishers are usually happy to grant permission for that. I'm sure this results in a few sales.

I'll be interested to see how this works out. Like Joe, I've just not found very many of my readers - the ones I meet in real life, at signings or book group meetings - who are even aware I have a website. The majority of readers I meet do not use the Internet in this way. And believe me, I ask, every time I'm at any kind of gathering of readers, mine or anybody elses. The show of hands when I ask if anyone's been to my website, or blog, is just pathetic.

Yet, I do believe that future readers - if my teenagers are any kind of sampling - will be looking for entertainment/information in this way. All you have to do is look at the tumbling sales of CDs, in the last couple of years, to see how this will happen.

So I'm torn about all this - seeing the future, yet the readership of today is what I have to be aware of. Sometimes I think it's a danger, hanging out on blogs like this, on writers' forums - it gives you a skewed version of reality, because we are not the typical reader that an author needs to cultivate, in droves, in order to succeed in this business.

Lisa Hunter said...

Use the first book in the series. That way, all the readers will be new to your work (i.e. no cheapskate fans who want the latest one for free).

Anonymous said...

You are such an obvious shill for Lulu. I see on your website that you go around the country giving sales pitches about self publishing with Lulu. Paid for by Lulu?

Please. Why would Joe "give" you his novel to publish when he has Hyperion? It's already in bookstores and on Amazon.

MontiLee Stormer said...

I neglected to say that if you needed a blogger to help push your download, I'd be happy to do it. My professional site and the duck are at your service

Tom Schreck said...


I say give away WS for people who sign up for something so you capture their e-mail.

I don't think you'll lose a single sale--I think you'll gain the ebookers.

On the Ropes

Jana Oliver said...

My publisher gave me permission to distribute the MS Reader e-book for the first book in the Time Rovers series to build interest in subsequent books. She said to spread it far and wide. As she sees it, if someone gets hooked on the e-book, they might buy the actual print book and then go to buy the rest of the series. Right now I need to buy a sizeable reader base and this one of the best ways to accomplish that goal.

I think it's a sound plan. I'm trying to exploit it for all it's worth.

Anonymous said...

If you really want to do the survey, get people's emails then send them the link to download. If they give a fake email they get nothing. A week later send them the link to the survey. If it's not more than 20 questions and the software's not bugged (half those surveys are impossible to finish) you'll probably get a decent return.

You can do all this with an autoresponder (look for one without ads).

The alternative is to give away the book free and post the survey on your site.

I just finished reading Origin. Interesting story.

Unknown said...

i think that mobipocket, and rtf formats might be better than HTML. I read most ebooks on my palm and can use either for that. I buy from Baen and Fictionwise (seconding drm is bad for books). Since you asked put the first one up, teasers are a great way to find a new author. I've ended up reading and buying more that way that in a bookstore.