Working for the Clampdown

In light of Amazon apparently tightening the screws in its hot-and-cold relationship with free ebooks, I’ve been wondering how that particular aspect of the self-publishing wave is going to play out over the next few years. This particular righty-tighty move will have little effect on its own – “The company predicted that the new policy will only affect .1 percent of its associates” – so they’re probably just fine-tuning the knobs and trying to put a little hurt on certain perceived competitors, in this case websites that get paid by Amazon for directing people to where they can find free Kindle ebooks. On the one hand, the websites are driving traffic to Amazon, which is good for them, but on the other hand, maybe it’s not worth as much to Amazon as it’s costing them. Small potatoes, to be sure.

The free ebook segment is composed of different theories and practices. Some people offer free ebooks here and there, a day at a time, in promotional efforts in the hopes of attracting attention and stirring up interest.  A typical scheme these days is to write series of books, giving away the first one and charging for the others. This differs from offering a free sample of a book, which for me is the best way to browse online. I almost always download a sample first unless I know it’s something I really want. Others seem to be playing a longer game, offering their works for free for long periods of time (through Smashwords and other sites that allow this, unlike Amazon), hoping to build up an audience over time before starting to charge. That’s probably not a terrible idea, seeing as it can take years and years to accumulate enough interested readers (depending on the type of book, of course). I’d guess that most self-publishing writers have not fully come to grips with that likelihood.

Others have no intention of charging for ebooks ever. Some hope to get sales for paperbacks, others for movie rights, for overseas markets, or other such alternate avenues. Some aren’t in it for the money, period, but have strange, inscrutable motivations defying all laws of gravity, thermodynamics and commerce. Some of these people (ahem) are treating the whole thing like a worldwide online jam session for “amateur” writers.

But ultimately, will there be a concerted clampdown across the industry? Will Smashwords, and Feedbooks and Apple, and Barnes and Noble (assuming they survive) and Sony et cetera join up with Amazon in requiring some at least minimal form of pricing someday?This would not surprise me at all. I’d expect some new rules such as “you can make it free for the first month only, or for one week every year, but otherwise it’s got to be at least whatever is a penny under whatever is a dollar in the various world currencies”. Why not? Why should they be giving stuff away forever without restriction?

It’s possible that some kind of book-subscription service will come to be the norm, similar to Pandora or Spotify in music. This could answer the problem of piracy as well as blur the distinction between free and not-free, as well as between indie and traditional publishing. In the long run, that’s my best guess

Meanwhile, in piracy news:

Alex Knapp summarizes a recent report on illegal downloads:

That report shows that the number of music files being illegally downloaded was 26% less in 2012 than in 2011. What’s more, 40% of the people surveyed in the study who said that they’d illegally downloaded in 2011 did not do so in 2012. So what’s responsible for this massive reduction in piracy? According to the survey, it’s not stepped-up enforcement – it’s the availability of free music via streaming services like Spotify. Nearly half of the people who had stopped or sharply reduced their music downloading cited those services as the reason for stopping.

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4 thoughts on “Working for the Clampdown

  1. Hi Tom

    You may be right that some sites will start clamping down on free ebooks – and I agree that Amazon certainly seems a bit queasy about them. But just as there are numerous free apps in Apple’s AppStore, I’d like to think that a proportion of free material will continue to be tolerated on at least some platforms – because it helps bring traffic to the site. So maybe instead of a requirement to charge a price, we will see new rules being imposed e.g. you get kicked off if you fail to rack up a minimum number of downloads etc. But the optimist in me hopes that, because ebooks don’t actually take up that much space (so should be relatively cheap to store), some platforms will continue to host free ebooks without requiring them to pay their way.

    The other model would be for self-published authors to pay their own distribution costs – so that readers wouldn’t have to. That may sound pretty unattractive and I hope it won’t come to that, but many self-published authors already contribute to the costs of making their material available in hard copy – so it’s really just a case of extending that principle to ebooks. Provided the fee was fairly modest (which it could well be), I’d be prepared to consider it – because if you are an unknown author and your main concern is to get readers, offering your work for free does seem to help (despite the fact that, as you point out, most paid-for ebooks allow free sampling).

    Paul Samael

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    • On reflection I’m thinking now that it’s likely to be only Amazon that tweaks the knobs on their free ebook policies because they’re such fine-tuners. The other sites like Smashwords and Feedbooks will still be glad of the ‘foot-traffic’. It’s probably likelier that it’s writers who are more and more turning away from ‘free’ because so many of them seem to be kind of short-sighted and/or greedy.

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      • Well, it’s such early days with the whole ebooks thing that it’s hard to predict how it will turn out. I find myself veering erratically between optimism and fear that this thing I have invested quite a lot of time in will suddenly be taken away somehow (which could happen if all the major platforms suddenly decide that, now that they’ve established themselves, it’s time to maximise revenue…..).

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      • There’s another site called free-ebooks.net for distributing stuff. They have a bunch of money making hoops and hurdles but these can be deftly sidestepped, and one of the people there has been very solicitous with me and helpful, offering promotion on their site and asking for more titles. You might want to check them out too

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