If you’re a marketer, I sure hope you don’t have to be sold on the power of free. But sometimes it helps to be reminded. In the UK, a World Book Night in which a number of titles were given away in Trafalgar Square (how’d they keep the pigeons off the books?) has led to — no surprise — a significant increase in monthly sales for most of the participating texts. The only surprise, in my mind, is that so many publishers and booksellers were surprised (which may not be so surprising given the overall marketing cluelessness of the publishing industry as a whole). It’s really simple: giving away free books creates favorable publicity; publicity boosts public interest; increased interest leads to greater sales.
We get this, but too often, publishers don’t. When Writing Copy for Dummies came out in 2005, I had to argue with my publisher over an opportunity to have a chapter published as an article in a well-respected marketing magazine. “You can’t just give it away!” they said. I said that the article would whet the appetite for the book. “But why would anyone buy it if they’ve already read it?” they replied. As you can see, this discussion was much like talking to a small child. I had to spell out the obvious and explain that, 1) magazine readers would only get a small portion of the damned book and 2) the increased exposure would help sales. In the end, I could only permit publication of just a few pages worth of material. Sigh.
If the publishing world collapses, it won’t be because of ebooks or the Web or because young people “don’t read”; it’ll be because publishers refuse to look beyond an aging marketing/distribution model that hasn’t changed since the Great Depression.