Like most questions in this business, the right answer is “It depends.”
And, since ebooks and digital reading are still embryonic, at less than 1/2 of 1% of the total industry, I’m sure that the answer will change.
In the music world, an enormous amount of the digital music is freeware — legitimately given away by the rightsholders, with the hope that it will be passed on to others. Some people think that the book world should follow suit. I have some thoughts on the issue. (Surprised? I thought not!)
What models are there, so far?
1. Advertising. (This includes sponsorships, product placement and overt ads.) This hasn’t worked even for magazines and newspapers on the Web, and it’s a lot less likely to work for books. Books aren’t timely, there aren’t circulation figures that you can reliably pitch to sponsors, and so on and so forth. I’m not even going to class this as an “It depends” unless you’re selling the umpteenth installment in a successful series.
2. Selling ancillary products. Musicians do shows. Authors? Not so much. There are consultants who use books as expensive calling cards, and high-profile speakers who are able to follow this model, but there aren’t many of them. If you are among them, grand. Giving away copies of a book virally in order to add energy to another career is a great idea, but it’s not going to work for most of us.
3. Electronic ARCs or galleys. This really does work for most of us. The model is the same as the ARC on paper: give away some copies in order to build buzz for the rest. It could be that you’re giving away your current book, or it could be something from the deep backlist, but make sure that you help people understand the limits on the permitted sharing. That can be accomplished by DRM (as in the giveaways on the Kindle) or by actually asking recipients to limit their sharing, but it needs to be made overt in some way.
4. Giving up on compensation entirely. Many musicians and other artists create for the emotional rewards, knowing that they’re highly unlikely to ever make a living at it. This does work for many authors, but most of us want to make a living. And books tend to take longer to create than songs, or most other artforms.
So, what models did I miss?
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