To Free or Not to Free 2- The Revenge

Last night I was chatting with a friend and discussing the audiobooks conundrum mentioned earlier this week- if you give the audiobook away for free, will they pay for the text versions or not?

My friend, commented that from his perspective in fact the reverse approach may have netted more fish- give the text away for free, and then charge for the audiobook version. His logic was that audiobooks are less effort to read, and therefore more and more people are being drawn to them out of the sheer base human quality of laziness. He felt that if people like the text, or even just the beginning of the text, they might in fact pay to have the audio version just to make their lives easier as they consume it.

He also pointed out that if something generates fans, then those fans will want to consume more of that something, and in different ways. People who read books don’t avoid the movie version, they tend to flock to the movie version- hoping for an enhanced experience of what they loved about the book.  How much would people pay for a version of the book read by the author themselves?

Now, this approach won’t solve all the problems- for one, how do you get people to read your work in the first place? Part of the reason for podcasting novels to begin with was to have a fresh medium that wasn’t cluttered with a zillion other people fighting for notice. (And even now, with lots of people doing it, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared with the number of people writing away on Fiction.net or their own personal blogs.) The ability to have your work stand out like that, and be given a chance by a lot of people who might not normally touch it is a pretty big advantage in making a name for yourself.

Another issue that would come up is the question of finding an actual publisher- as in, someone to market your books and pay the initial costs of getting them out there in bookstores. If the text is available online for free- why would they want to touch it? (Answer- they probably wouldn’t, you’d need to write a new book for them once you got their attention.) Of course, things are also changing in the e-book realm, with sites like Smashwords helping to enable people to get their e-books published across the formats and platforms. Also, thanks to Lulu.com and similar sites, if you want to do it yourself, that’s feasible too. (Of course, you could also use Lulu.com to sell the audiobook version for pay as well…)

So, unfortunately, the story is far from simple, and the issue is far from closed on the best way to market your creative writing talents online. Do you do the publisher route, and hope you don’t get lost in the slushpile? (Although this site seems to have semi-solved that problem through crowdsourcing.) Or do you take what is almost the modern independent musician route, where you give away your base product for free, and try to make your money through associated merchandise? Is there a happy medium in between?

My friend thinks it’s all about human nature, and finding the best way to navigate the base human needs and desires to get what you want. It would be interesting to know if anyone is doing it his way, and if they’ve had any success doing it as a result.

One thought on “To Free or Not to Free 2- The Revenge

  1. Webcomics do the same thing, selling stuff available for free, and yet many of them make good money (in the case of Studio Foglio, apparently more than they ever did through traditional publishing).

    The issue is more complex. A publisher’s ability to generate sales depends on a lot of things, including distribution patterns, shelf position, advertising, etc. Even big publishers fail to get good sales out of good books sometimes. To turn around and say, “it’s because it’s available free,” when plenty other books that are free sell well (e.g. BAEN), is just the call of a publisher trying to shift the blame somewhere else.

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