Publishing Idea #6: The Freeness of Free

It must have been over 10 years ago that I was in a giant chain bookstore back in Virginia. I was at the register to buy a book when I noticed a free book for the taking.

“Free?” I thought. “Must not be a very good book.”

I didn’t take it. A free book, and because of my perception of “free,” I didn’t take it.

The book in question? Robert Jordan’s first book of his bestselling Wheel of Time series (which I haven’t read, but I’ve heard it’s quite good until the 29th book).

Free plays tricks on your mind. When it comes to a physical object, freeness diminishes the perception of the quality. Sure, you might take the free book, CD, movie, whatever, but you’re probably less likely to read it because it’s free. Why not read that book that cost you $15 instead? At least that book has assigned value.

But there are ways to give things away for free and have them retain value. I read about a great example of this today. The Concord Free Press gives away all their books. They’re a small publisher with a decent supply chain, and their authors seem pretty good too. But they’re a nonprofit. They’re not even a charity.

Their model is pretty basic: They’ll give you a book, and you donate some amount of money to a charitable organization. Simple as that. This model has gotten them tons of good press and raised about $300,000 for charity (from three books).

Do people read their books? I don’t know. But these books certainly have more value than a strictly free book. This free is free + charitable donation + reading a book that other people are talking about. That last part is perhaps the most valuable.

My publishing company, Blank Slate Press, is going to find value in free (and yet we won’t be a nonprofit). We have to select our first author first, though. Stay tuned for more news about how BSP will give value to free.

Explore posts in the same categories: book marketing, the future of publishing

One Comment on “Publishing Idea #6: The Freeness of Free”

  1. Nicky Says:

    Featherproof’s minibooks are my very favorite free book. Why are things so much more wonderful when they’re very small?

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