11th mar, 2008

The power of free

The combined reading of the Wired special “Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business ” and Tobias Buckell´s very nice blogpost ” Free ebooks, three points, and a whole lot of rambling” inspired me this morning.

Buckell relates several stories where authors who have published some of their works as free e-books have been accused of wrong doing. Niel Gaiman – who just published the “American gods” novel as a free e-book -  tells that he is accused of devaluating the book (as in all books) by giving it away. Buckell´s analysis is that there can be increased sales in giving books away for free, and tha’ts why publishers (who makes a living from selling books) are starting to give free samples or whole books away without compensation. Several authors have experiences increased sales after publishing free content.

So why do it?

  • Firstly most books stop selling after a year or so (like music)…so why not give it away for free as an e-book?
  • Second its a way to gain attention…if nobody knows you nobody will buy your book and you cannot expect your publisher to market you as Harry Potter without a proven track record.


But giving something away for free is not a recipe for automatic success, as Buckell tells. ” People who’ve been blogging 10+ years and building up a large audience have what is called by marketing experts, a platform. A platform from which to shout and distribute and encourage. It’s that platform that often makes a big difference. But a lot of people mistake the platform with the technology (ie: give away a free ebook/make millions. Start blog, make millions). They miss the hard work part.

So very true.

While doing this I came to think of the free books or DVS´s which sometimes accompany women’s magazines…they are free too. Well first of all it´s mostly Barbara Cartland stuff (which is fine, but in my opinion lacks the quality of fx Gaiman). But the motive from the author/publisher is much the same the be exposed to a larger audience hoping to sell more books.

So is the same true for other IP areas? Probably not to the same extent, since the mecanics are different in the different typs of IP. Some patent holders however does licence some of their technologies for free if they have downstream technologies which will profit from an increase in users – its called lock in…think ink printers or standardization. Mostly patent holders will try to recover roylaties from their technologies. Open source projects do a similar kind of thing…giving away the code for free, collecting revenue from service of the same code. In Trademarks the setting free is not so likely…the value of a trademark is that the customer is certain that the company behind the product is reliable…hence if everybody uses the trademark the customer is not sure of the quality behind the product – and most likely the trademark will be lost because of dilution.

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