Did Tor’s free ebooks affect sales?

tor books logo

A few months ago Tobias Buckell noticed a trend in his book sales that most midlist novelists don’t typically see. His book Crystal Rain, which had been released in mass market paperback a year before, experienced a sudden spike in sales, more than doubling from the previous week. Perhaps even more noticeable was the jump in sales of the sequel to that novel, Ragamuffin, which saw an even more dramatic increase.

This was unusual because most titles by midlist authors are sold within the first few months of the release date; after that they drift quickly into obscurity as newer books are given shelf space in book stores, often times pushing the older novels out of the store completely.

When Buckell opened a Bookscan account to track his sales he had to sign a nondisclosure agreement barring him from giving any specific numbers, but in a phone interview he asserted that the sales bump was significant enough not to have been a fluke.

But what caused this sudden increase? Because of all the myriad factors that drive product buys it’s incredibly hard to pinpoint specific triggers, but it just so happened that the jump occurred right after Crystal Rain‘s publisher, Tor Books, had released a free ebook version of the novel online.

Tor began putting out free ebook titles earlier this year to pump up subscriptions to its email newsletter. It will use that newsletter to promote a new science fiction “super site” it’s reportedly launching on July 20 to coincide with the date Americans landed on the moon. Rather than posting the books at a specific URL where people can go to download them, only those who have joined the newsletter list are given access to the titles.

Buckell told me he was asked to participate in the ebook giveaway by Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who approached him about it at an SF convention.

“Patrick and I were at Boskone and Patrick was buying me a drink and asking if I’d be interested in having the book in one of the giveaways to get my name out in front of lots and lots of people,” he said. “I had the paperback of Ragamuffin about to come out soon, and I figured it was a good idea to get my name out there — it couldn’t hurt. I love the idea of giving the first book in a series away. It was an easy ‘yes’ for me. So I checked with my agent to make sure he had no objection. Theoretically Tor owns the electronic rights to it, so they can do whatever they want. But Patrick did check with me and pretty much everyone else was on board with the idea.”

crystal rain cover

The theory that free ebooks released online will boost print sales is not a new one. Information radicals like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross have been releasing their books under Creative Commons licenses — which allow readers to freely pass around the texts without fear of copyright infringement — for years, but it’s only recently that most major publishers have dipped their toes into the pool (though incidentally many of Doctorow’s books have been published by Tor).

Authors who go this route believe that the ebooks act as a form of advertising, arguing that the negative effects on sales from people reading it for free are offset by the word-of-mouth campaigns those same people will initiate. These Creative Commons evangelists also tend to point out that most readers don’t like long texts on a screen, a fact that may cause them to buy the print copy once they’ve sampled enough of the story online.

“I don’t know what the perfect storm of promotion is in terms of trying to reach people,” Buckell said. “I definitely think that the biggest threat facing authors is obscurity. I work in the niche field of science fiction, which is being overshadowed by fantasy right now. I love it, it’s my field of choice, but having done a survey a few years back where I compared the average [book] advances for science fiction and fantasy, I knew the fact that I chose to work in science fiction meant that I’d have probably halved my average advance and readership. Things like this mean getting the word out that I exist can be a major hurdle. Anything that gives me eyeballs is a good thing right now.”

But SF novelist John Scalzi was cautious when talking about his own experience releasing his book Old Man’s War as a free Tor download, noting that it’s incredibly difficult to scientifically correlate any marketing methods to actual sales.

“‘Scientifically’?” he wrote to me in an email. “Probably not, unless you somehow managed to control (or at least account for and factor in) every incident of someone discussing your work and or going down a decision path to acquire the work, which is probably more work than it’s worth. But I don’t think that ‘scientifically’ is the standard required here; I think ‘heuristically’ is probably better. If you consistently see a rise in sales of an author’s work after the release of a free e-book, then heuristically you have a good idea it’s beneficial.”

In his case, Scalzi watched sales of his book shoot up by 20 percent. But what’s even more interesting is that the sequel to Old Man’s War saw an increase of over 30 percent. Both he and Buckell benefited more from sales of books later in their series.

Not all Tor authors I spoke to saw such impressive numbers, however. Like the others, Daniel Abraham was approached by an editor to see if he’d be willing to give away his fantasy novel A Shadow In Summer. The novel is the first in a four-book series — the second was released last year — and its ebook format hit the web in April.

In a phone conversation yesterday Abraham said that he didn’t see any significant increases in Bookscan sales for either A Shadow In Summer or its sequel. Instead, the numbers stayed relatively the same. But he stressed the fact that he didn’t see a drop off in buys either and argued that regardless of sales figures the release still benefited his career.

“It would be in my interest to have more people read my stuff, whether they pay for it or not,” he said. “If I had the choice of having five people buy a hardback and getting the money for that, or 20 people buying a paperback and getting the same amount of royalties, I’d go with the paperback. If I had the choice of getting no money but have four times as many people read the book and talk about it to their friends, then I’m fine with that. The chance to build a relationship with the reader is more important than having an immediate sale.”

Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden didn’t respond to my interview request for this article, but back in February he told me that there were no plans to continue releasing the ebooks after the publisher’s new site launch.

“The free digital books are exactly what we say they are: an inducement to get people to pre-register as users and allow us to send them emailed progress reports,” he said. “The book-length freebies are a temporary program slated to run from now until when we launch. Although the site will be ‘giving away’ a lot of content–indeed, all of its content, as we don’t anticipate any part of it being DRMed or paywalled–the core of the site will not be built around a program of free novel giveaways. That said, we reserve the right to give away free digital books any time we think it’s a good idea to do so. (With the cooperation and consent of their authors, naturally.)”

Every Tor author I spoke to for this article said they hoped the publisher would continue offering the ebooks even after the new site debut. When I asked them whether they would be willing to offer another book of theirs to the giveaway list there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation with their answers.

“I totally would,” Buckell said. “I really think the biggest threat right now is obscurity. Even in my own town — I live in a town of 5,000 people — there are still people who will come up to me and ask if my second book came out, or if I was still writing … I ran into one of my readers at a convention not too long ago at a room party. They asked me when the second book is coming out, and I said ‘oh, it’s been out for quite awhile.’ And later that night they bought a copy. Even people who want to buy my books can miss that three-month window where it’s on the shelf and not even realize it has come out. So there’s such a battle against obscurity and anything that lets me throw myself at the wall to see what sticks is a positive thing right now.”

Contact me at simon.bloggasm@gmail.com


  1. Eoghann Irving Says:

    Interesting article. I’m subscribed to the TOR newsletter and now have a heap of books I haven’t got a chance to read yet. I’d been wondering if the promotion was successful or not.

  2. Chris Says:

    I can vouch for the success of this program. I recently purchases a Kindle and I have purchased several subsequent novels in a series after reading the initial version from this giveaway. I never would have made those purchases had I not read the first one (for free).

  3. Dance Says:

    I also have a heap of the Tor ebooks that I’ve just been reading recently (I thought I would wind up buying the paperback of anything I got sucked into, but turned out I was okay reading on screen, or unwilling to stop long enough to get the pb). Absolutely it’s introduced me to some new authors and I’ll be continuing with some series, certainly Kage Baker and Jane Lindskold, probably Orphans of Chaos and Sun of Suns (Scalzi and Walton were already on my very short “buy next pb” list). I tend to only buy paperbacks when the library doesn’t have the books, so I’m not an immediate dot on the sales chart, but I am a new reader who will probably buy eventually, whose checkout stats will keep libraries buying new hardcovers, and who will pass the name to others. And no money was lost, because I wouldn’t have bought these books otherwise. It’ll take me a while to read all the books, which means the effect will continue (I’d rather discover a series after the author has finished writing it, anyhow).

  4. Robert J. Sawyer Says:

    Interesting post, Simon! I respond at length in my own blog at here.

    All best wishes.

    Rob Sawyer

  5. Jennifer Says:

    This article corresponds with how it’s worked for me- if I loved the book, I’ll run out and buy the sequels (if not the original book itself). I think this is especially great for sequel-boosting. Tor really should keep this up, it seems like nothing but good so far here.

  6. starlady Says:

    I’ve been getting all the Tor ebooks and it’s definitely helped me make some book buying decisions. I bought Scalzi’s The Ghost Brigades and The Android’s Dream in mass market paperback after reading Old Man’s War and will be buying The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale when they hit mass market (alas, I can’t afford hardbacks). Likewise for the sequels to Schroeder’s Sun of Suns.

    I imagine it won’t help in every case — there’s definitely some ebooks I’ve read (not just the Tor ones) after which I thought, “Well, no need to buy any books from THAT author.” Still, at least in Schroeder’s case (I was already a reader of Scalzi’s blog, so I probably would have tried his books eventually), the ebook introduced me to a wonderful author whom I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

  7. Jon Lundy Says:

    The free ebooks from my standpoint would help their sales, however TOR is somewhat bad about followup. I strongly prefer the electronic format books, and would buy in an instant many of the sequals to the books released, if they were available in an ebook other than the Kindle (preferably Microsoft Reader format). TOR at the moment is

    In particiliar John Scalzi’s books, the Orphans of Chaos series and Ragamuffin. I still haven’t finished reading all the books however, and I’m sure there will others that I will be looking to buy, when an reasonably priced ebook is released (but not on the Kindle).

  8. Mark Says:

    I think this discussion conflates two very different things: giving away a book in a free electronic version, and hoping that same book will sell more physical copies, and giving away a book in a free electronic version, and hoping that a _different_ book by that author will sell more physical copies. The latter is also known as “marketing.” The former is also known as “suicide.”

    Why? The fact is that _today_, the options for comfortably reading books in an electronic form are just not as ubiquitous as it is with music. However, the Kindle, Sony Reader, and other ebook readers are, for me and many others, at least, close to being as comfortable as reading a physical book. The eyestrain of reading on a light-emitting screen isn’t there (eInk is, physically, almost the same as ink on paper), and the amount of text one gets per page is just about the same as with a standard paperback.

    So, my point is: we’re not very far from the point where reading electronic versions of books will be just as good an experience–maybe even better–than the physical analog, just as using an MP3 player is a better experience than vinyl (or tapes, or DVDs). Although the sound quality might not be _quite_ as good, the percentage of people who can really hear the difference is minimal, and in any case the loss in quality is offset by the ability to carry _so much_ music at once.

    On my Sony Reader, I currently have over 200 (legally purchased) short stories, novels, etc. in a device roughly the same width and height of a paperback but only a fraction as thick. Mr. Doctorow needs to tell me why, if he gives me a copy of his book that I can put on my reader, I’d have _any_ legitimate reason to go out and buy his physical book. As more people realize this, Mr. Doctorow and other authors will have to reevaluate their position as they see their incomes dwindle to nothing–and making a living as a writer is already difficult enough as it is.

  9. Tony B. Says:

    I’ve loved the free Tor ebook promotion. I’ve read a bunch of books I might not have read before and have purchased or checked out sequels to the books I have read. I’ve been reading books on my phone or PDA (in the old days of ereading) and have always enjoyed it. Whenever someone (like my librarian wife) looks at me funny for doing it I show them and usually they say that they thought it was going to be much worse. For some reason they all think that it’s just black text on a white background. Once I show them you can change the colors of the text and background and in some readers the texture of the background they wonder why more people don’t use it that way. I think ereader and Mobibook could do more to promote the customization of the text so that people know that they can play around with it all to make it enjoyable for them.

  10. Eddie Says:

    Simon, take a look at the Baen Free Libary at http://baen.com/library. Eric Flint’s commentary there is noteworthy.

  11. GVDub Says:

    I’m another Sony eReader owner, but i have a rather different take. If I find a free ebook that I enjoy, I’ll purchase the for pay version (be it electronic or physical copy) strictly because I want to encourage the writer to write more. I consider that to be a legitimate reason. I realize that I may be atypical in this, but I think if you write a good book, and I enjoy it, I should toss some compensation your way.

  12. Patrick Hillman Says:

    GVDub — interesting comment… You know, maybe that could be a model for electronic publishing. Just put your books out there in electronic format (as well as in hard copy), and then put a blurb in the back of the electronic version that says, “If you enjoyed this eBook, then buy a hard copy at [store], or Paypal five bucks to the author at [address].” I wish I’d have thought of that for the last few books I put out in electronic format. Maybe I’ll go back and revise…

  13. Joel Gould Says:

    I have been getting all the Tor free eBooks since the beginning of the promotion and I love the idea. I have definitely been introduced to a few authors for whom I am interested in reading more.

    That said, I think Tor dropped the ball a little bit. I have been reading the eBooks on my Kindle. When I finish one of the books, I would love to immediately buy and launch into the sequel. But I have found that many of the sequels are not available in Kindle format. This is a major lost opportunity for Tor and/or the author.

    I believe that there would be a noticeable further increase in sales if each Kindle (mobi) version of the book ended with a “download the sequel” button.

    (By the way, for such a forward looking company as Tor, it is impossible to contact them via email to suggest that they make the sequels available for the Kindle. And my mailed letter went unanswered.)

  14. Cliff Burns Says:

    In-teresting numbers, Simon, and thanks for doing the crunching on this.

    My site is now my EXCLUSIVE publishing venue–I no longer waste time and energy trying to find the one editor in the world with four working neurons. Instead, I’ve had hundreds of people around the world downloading my supernatural-mystery-thriller SO DARK THE NIGHT, some even paying for the privilege. No editor touched the book, no moron agent vetted it. After nearly 25 years as a professional writer–with two movie adaptations in the works, no less–I got sick of the interminable ass-kissing that went with trying to “sell” a book. I’ll have a kind of sequel to SO DARK THE NIGHT posted in mid-August. No longer having to endure the vicissitudes of the marketplace and the criminal stupidity of those in publishing has been an incredible boon to my productivity. The fact that I no longer have to deal with arseholes with the personalities and intellects of deranged chihuahuas is a bonus. These new technologies are freeing authors from indentured servitude and offering them a direct link to readers. It’s the best thing to happen to literature since Gutenberg rolled out his primitive press. Indie publishing is empowering, creative and exciting. 30,000 readers have signed on to my site since it’s inception a year ago and that, of course, is only the beginning…

  15. Hallvard Says:

    Mark, giving away an e-book while selling the paper book is not “suicide”. Baen has been doing that with some books for years and collected evidence of the opposite. Though they do indeed focus on the “psst, the first one is for free” principle. (A quote from Jim Baen, I think they even put it on a logo somehwere:-)

    It’s weird how people keep rediscovering this nowadays, apparently without even knowing about Baen. They are quite evangelical about it, but much of the industry seems to be trying to ignore them away.

    Tor does know though, they are part owner of Baen after all. They tried earlier to join Baen’s related DRM-free e-book program (Webscriptions) but their parent company got cold feet and pulled them out. Hopefully this little e-book adventure will show their parents that DRM-free books don’t make the sky fall down, even when they are free.

  16. meneame.net Says:

    Novelista aumenta las ventas en papel después de que su editorial ofreciese online el ebook gratis [ENG]

    Hace unos meses Tobias Buckell notó una tendencia que la mayoría de novelistas no suelen ver. Su libro Crystal Rain que se publicó un año antes experimentó un repentino aumento en las ventas, más del doble de la semana anterior. Es difícil ident…

  17. Mark Says:

    I have a wife, two kids, and a dog. I don’t think I’ll base their financial security on the willingness of strangers to “toss some compensation” my way. For someone who wants to make a living as a writer, the entire notion of a “give it away free and maybe someone will pay me for it” business model is ludicrous.

    GVDub: I’m not sure if your “different take” is meant to be different from mine, because I mentioned the Sony Reader. If so, then note: I buy my books and short stories as a general rule. I’ll take a free book if it comes my way, but I certainly don’t rely on it. And, I won’t pay for it if it’s offered by the right people–the copyright owner(s)–for free; why should I? But, of course, if I like the work, I’ll likely buy a copy of his or her other works.

    Again, though, that’s just marketing, and has been used by businesses for ages. After all, the idea of giving away free samples isn’t exactly new…

  18. Anthony Says:

    It’s a good strategy! I vouch it will success. An attractive free ebook can drive the readers to buy the second coming and more.

  19. Dave Bell Says:

    Yes, I’d agree that, eventually, changing eReader tech is going to make a difference.

    But it would be a mistake to just think about ease of reading.

    I’m not a prolific book-buyer by the standards of SF readers, though well above the average of the general population. For me, the capital cost of an eReader is a significant barrier. It represents a significant number of physical books. And the current eBook market, free and paid for, isn’t all that appealing.

    One recent example I came across had the publisher selling the eBook at the same price as a physical hardback. That’s list-price: I can get a discount on the hardback from Amazon, but I didn’t see anything like that for the eBook. Add a contribution to the cost of your reader hardware, and buying the eBook just doesn’t make sense.

    Have Baen got it right with their Webscriptions? I don’t know, but they don’t look stupid.

  20. Paul Says:

    I’ve definitely downloaded a good number of the books and read the first few chapters of them. A lot of them are now on my to-buy list since there’s no way I can really read a whole book online, but I am more than pleased to sample them before I make a purchase.

    So I think the strategy is working, at least for me…

  21. Cliff Burns Says:

    To me, writing is not about financial security, it’s about creating innovative, ground-breaking work. I don’t WANT to the be the type of scribe who supports himself with hack work, following trends in the marketplace, etc.
    My role models are people like Beckett and Borges–who wants to be the next Kevin J. Anderson? I’d rather cut off my thumbs.

    Publishing my work on-line, without editorial interference is not going to support any kind of lifestyle or make me rich. It is, however, going to be accessible to (potentially) millions of readers around the world. Too many writers take a crass, mercantilistic approach to their vocation, putting a price tag and dollar value on their work. That ain’t art, folks, and I want nothing to do with that sort of mentality…

  22. Elsi Says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the free eBooks offered by TOR, many of which have also wound up as free Kindle editions at Amazon.com. I think it may be time for TOR to stop sending weekly freebies. It would be nice if they periodically gave away another book via their newly revamped web site. More important is that they need to keep the ball rolling with eBooks. For example, I am reading _In_the_Midnight_Hour_ by Patti O’Shea. I’m really enjoying it and know that I’d like to delve further into O’Shea’s other books and other books in the “paranormal romance” category. She released a sequel _In_Twilight’s_Shadow_ in June, 2008, but this book is not available in Kindle format or in any other eBook format.

    Now, having purchased an electronic book reader, I am seriously curtailing my purchase of paper books. I’m perfectly willing to BUY the sequel — in other words, I’m not asking TOR to give me more books — but I want to buy it in eBook format and not in paper. The author should want his or her books sold, since earning a living is a good thing. But, the author should not care whether the sale is of a paper book or an eBook — a sale is a sale.

    TOR and its authors should be encouraged to continue this very good program by releasing electronic versions of the books as well as paper versions.

  23. Scott Miller Says:

    I subscribed to Tor’s newsletter when they announced the Ebooks. A friend had mentioned “Old Man’s War” as something I should check out. I had trouble getting an ebook reader, though, and settled on loading Mobipocket on my blackberry. I struggled against reading anything, much less a book at 9 lines at a time.

    But then I found myself stuck on a layover with nothing to read, so I started reading the ebook form of Old Man’s War…and couldn’t put it down. So, even though I hated the 9 lines at a time format of my blackberry, I loved the book…so I bought it so I wouldn’t have to read the Ebook format of it. And I’m giving a copy to my mom, since she’ll probably enjoy it, too.

    If they ever get a “more book like feel” to an Ebook reader, I’ll definitely try more titles like that!

  24. Scott Marlowe Says:

    I’ve been downloading them from Day 1, so now I have a pile of e-books I need to dig into. Of course, I haven’t read any of them yet–been too busy getting through my stack of print books first.

    Typically with e-books, though, I print them out in sections. Maybe the first 50 pages, then the next 50, and so on. If at any time the author loses me, I stop printing and stop reading.

    Thanks for the Tor update–I was wondering when it was going to end!

  25. Mark Says:

    Cliff – Your personal feelings about writing are, of course, yours–and so, are fine for you. And, that’s really just a trite way of saying: you have the right to do with your writing as you will. Of course, you obviously have some other way of supporting yourself financially, which is fine. I hardly think that those writers who choose to make that their career should be faulted as less “serious” and artist than you. In fact, I’d say the opposite is true.

    However, my original point is: what Tor has been doing is NOT the same as the “Creative Commons,” “infinite goods” proponents are calling for, which is that if you give away “free” copies of ALL of your books, somehow enough people will buy the non-free versions that you’ll come out ahead. First, it’s just plain silly to suppose that, _particularly_ as viable alternatives to physical books are developed.

    Second, it’s entirely irrelevant: it’s up to the copyright holder to determine how he want his works to be sold. DRM (the bugaboo of the Creative Commons folk) is necessary to protect from wanton copying at the point where electronic books become more widely used.

  26. Hallvard Says:

    Certainly there are ways to give away freebies for gain with a mixed success record at best. E.g. publishing your own book on the Web only, with a Paypal button for donations.

    If you are going to declare something “ludicrous”, to ignore mounting evidence is a fine candidate by itself. Whatever works, works.

    Yet another publisher who has found it helps to give away freebies: Academic Press (http://www.nap.edu/). Currently 3700 of them, rather more than the free Tor/Baen/Scalzi/etc books we are talking about. Article http://chronicle.com/free/v48/i03/03b02401.htm from 2001 speculates about why it works.
    That does not look like the kind of outfit I’d expect strangers to “toss some compensation” at. Which is neither Tor’s, Baen’s nor Academic Press’ sole business model for freebies anyway. Though on the ethical front I expect Academic Press too does gets shielded from people’s decreasing respect for copyright, or even hostility to it, due to DRM schemes and the like.

  27. Hallvard Says:

    Argh. Is there a way to edit my comments? 2nd para above should start with “Still,”, of course…

  28. Cliff Burns Says:

    Ah, the age old debate: art vs. commerce.

    Our family gets by (barely): we cut out extravagances (no cable, no eating out) and live from month to month. It’s a bit exhausting at times but every once in awhile, just when we need it most, money appears out of the blue to dig us out of a hole. Last time it came courtesy of a movie option of one of my novellas.

    I could live better, I could choose to take on hackwork, novelizations, become the umpteenth Tolkien clone, conform to some agent or editor’s idea of an ideal author (one that goes “ka-ching” when you rattle him) but I won’t denigrate my talent in such a manner. I refuse on aesthetic grounds. I write what I want without editorial interference or sales considerations. Control, as I wrote in one of my Redroom posts, is absolutely essential to how I view myself…as a person and an artist.

    This post fascinated me and I’ve written a reply that sums up my feelings in more depth than space here allows. If you’re interested:


  29. Marilee J. Layman Says:

    I get the Tor newsletter, but haven’t downloaded any of the ebooks because I already have the books I’d want in hardcopy.

    Tor’s entire purpose was to get people to read the newsletter so they’ll come to the new site that opens on the 20th, so they didn’t ask authors for the sequels. This was just short-term marketing.

  30. sueper Says:

    I subscribe to a web site that serves mainly as a start up for new authors. They produce audio versions of their work and supply it free in podcast format with a comments section for listeners to give their opinion on the work. Some of these authors have got publishers attention in this way and now have books in print. One has even got a movie deal out of it. I know this is a little off topic but thought it may be of interest to some of you. The site is called

  31. Jan Rubak Says:

    Mark (@12:30pm), I think you’re overstating the threat posed by eReaders (“incomes dwindle to nothing”), but you do raise a very valid question that I’d love to hear Cory Doctorow address. Most authors are not net-celebrities like he is, and rely primarily on their royalties for income. One of his common arguments is that he’s sanguine that an electronic copy will never substitute for a print copy, and as eReaders get closer to mimicking the print-book experience, it’s not clear what will happen to that argument. It may be a moot point, however, so long as the only available eReaders are high-priced proprietary ones that lock the user into a specific supply source for books.

    For my part, as someone with limited financial resources, I’m a huge fan of the growing “free content” movement exemplified by the likes of WikiPedia, Creative Commons, OpenCourseware, Conexions, Baen, Podiobooks.com and of course Cory Doctorow’s own website Craphound.com. In fact, I often evangelize to my friends about that content which I most enjoy at any given time (sometimes even buying print books to pass around if the material is really good).

    I think Cliff Burns (@5:38pm) and Podiobooks.com have hit upon *one* viable business model for the new digital age. By eliminating the publishing and bookselling middlemen, they can abide lots of people like you who feel no motivation to send any money their way once you already have a legitimate free version in your hands, so long as there are enough *fans* like GVDub (@1:41pm) at the same time who do want to support them by sending a donation. And if having a free copy available means that more people like you end up spreading the word and ultimately creating more *fans*, then that also has value to the author. (BTW, Podiobooks.com claims that at least 75% of the funds donated for any book go directly to the author.)

    Is this the only business model for the digital age? Of course not! Others are sure to emerge, but all of them will seem strange and risky until their effectiveness can be borne out. Ironically, the business model that seems most attractive right now (because it is the most familliar) is also the one that’s almost certainly bound to fail in the long run. That model is the one where we try to force eBooks to act like print books: selling them piecemeal, suppressing their ability to be freely copied and transmitted, cracking down on pirates who distribute illegal copies, etc. This is 20th century thinking which flies in the face of the technological realities of the 21st century, and leads to bizarre restrictive legislation like the American DMCA or the proposed Canadian Bill C-61.

    I’m curious to see when Print-on-Demand will start to take off. I think web-based distribution of eBooks paired with the availability of affordable Print-on-Demand services has serious potential to disrupt the business of big publishers and booksellers, and if they don’t want to be left behind then they should take an active role in offering it as a supplementary service for booklovers everywhere, even if only to sustain the niche markets of rare, out-of-print or just non-mainstream books.

    The thing that really excites me (pardon me while I shift even more to Cory-speak) is that the technology of today has lowered the barriers to entry for authors (as I think Cliff Burns articulated rather emphatically above), and while that means that there will be a lot more garbage available, it also means that there’ll be more good stuff available, and ultimately the good stuff will win the fight for eyeballs—but it can only do so if it embraces the model of virulent promotion by fans which is enabled (dare I say demanded) in the digital age.

    Go Meritocracy! Go!

  32. Redell Walton Says:

    I’m an avid reader and have been purchasing and downloading e-books for a couple of years. Since I also live in a rural area, I would love to be able to purchase books immediately as opposed to planning a thirty mile trip. I have been introduced to new authors by Tor and have added paperback sequels to my physical library. I would have purchased more books if they were offered for sale on the internet in one of the more popular readers since I don’t yet own a dedicated e-reader. Several online E-book stores are bookmarked on my pc and I hope the format thrives.

  33. Cliff Burns Says:

    You raise some VERY good points, Jan. The new technologies, POD publishing and indie writing are recent manifestations and so their impact is 2-5 years away from reaching fruition. The publishers will lose their monopoly, just as music companies were aced out (and daily newspapers rendered slow and obsolete). I’m prepared to move ahead without the “benefits” of publishers and agents, telling MY stories MY way without inept tampering and interference. As long as my work achieves a consistently high level of quality, my readers will find me (it’s already happening) and that’s all I’ve ever asked for. My novels and short stories stack up with anything the Biggies are producing–how do I know? Those aforementioned readers are telling me so, with hundreds of downloads, scores of e-mails and comments and the occasional cash donation.

    That’s good enough for me…

  34. hurricane Says:

    “Not all Tor authors I spoke to saw such impressive numbers, however. Like the others, Daniel Abraham was approached by an editor to see if he’d be willing to give away his fantasy novel A Shadow In Summer. The novel is the first in a four-book series — the second was released last year — and its ebook format hit the web in April.”

    Could it be because this guy’s writing sucks?

  35. Hallvard Says:

    “Could it be because this guy’s writing sucks?”

    His books do sell, presumably to readers who don’t think so. Maybe his books appeal more to less geeky types than us “downloaders”, or to younger readers for whom the price of a book makes more of a difference, or whatever.

  36. Janice in GA Says:

    Well, I for one read “A Shadow in Summer” and would love to be able to download the next installment. Abraham is someone I probably wouldn’t have purchased cold, but I definitely liked the book enough to want to read more.

    But most of my leisure reading is done via ebook, for various reasons. It’s disappointing not to be able to download the next one.

  37. Dave Freer Says:

    I donated my first book to the Baen Free Library just after Eric Flint started it. There’s a huge selection available, DRM free. I’m distinctly a midlist author. My books – available for free electronically – are still selling in paper – in quite reasonable numbers (from 1500 -300 in the last 6 month reporting period, for the books that have been out in paperback for more than 2 years (up to 8). That makes an appreciable difference to my income, and I support a family, kids, 4 dogs, and am staff to 4 cats. It has paid dividends, as has Baen’s webscriptions – e-books priced BELOW physical book prices. Why is it hat every time free e-books get discussed Baen – who were first to do it and have made a success of it – barely get mentioned? Is it because my one co-author is Socialist and former Union organiser? Or another is a stauch Clinton supporter, or that other writers support views ranging from Christianity to paganism to liberterianism? Or is that the covers don’t appeal?
    The company also has had a no DRM policy – “our customers are not thieves” policy from the word go, combatting the temptation with reasonable prices. ‘Piracy’ -the reason for expensive DRM – is easy – yet I make a quarter of my income from e-books. ‘Piracy’ doesn’t actually happen if books are reasonably priced and easily available.

  38. Simon Haynes Says:

    I used the TOR giveaway, Tobias’s blogs about his ebook experience and Cory’s articles to convince my own publisher to try a free ebook experiment. They released the first book in my series as a freebie on the 1st of June, and so far we’ve seen just under 20,000 downloads.

    The ebook release was timed to coincide with the launch of book 4 in the series, so there’s no easy way to determine whether the ebook or the new release caused the interest from booksellers & buyers, but the ebook earned a load of media & blogger interest and continues to attract around 200 downloads per day.

    I intend to talk my publisher into releasing my second novel as an ebook when the fifth book hits stores next year.

  39. Douglas Says:

    I’m going to chime in about the Baen free library as well. Just talking about me: Every book I’ve read there, I’ve ended up buying hardcopy. Why? Because – as EVERYONE I KNOW agrees – the /feel/ of a book is much nicer than reading it on a screen. I’ve gotten into 2 new authors in the past two months due to said free library, because I can try their books – usually the first in a series – to see if I like it. And there’s this thing about series: You want to see what happens next.. Much the same way, the way that the first few chapters of books which /aren’t/ avilable for free are often up has much the same effect. ‘This looks interesting.. Let’s buy it!’
    it’s a good model. I likes it, and everyone at Baen seems to like it. I ‘spect Tor will as well.

  40. Jan Rubak Says:

    I sent Cory Doctorow an email asking for his take on Mark’s challenge from above. He referred me to the following column:
    wherein he basically outlines his reasons for doubting that eBooks will *ever* take off, hype notwithstanding.

  41. ediFanoB Says:

    I found the link to your article at

    I subscribed to the TOR newsletter and then I had several problems because I’m nit a North Amreican resident. I live in Germany. Finally TOR fixed the problem.

    First of all I’m no friend of ebooks. Ebook readers are to expensive for me and I alos don’t like to sit in front of a screen in order to read a book.

    But I donwloaded the ebooks. For me it’s an opportunity to take a deeper look and it supports me to decide whether I buy a book or not.

    I use ebooks like extended excerpts.
    Anyway in case an ebook keeps my interest I will buy it as a paperback.

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