I have a pretty simple rule regarding eBooks: I don't pay for them. This typically means I scour the internet for free downloads, worship sites like gutenberg.org, and will actively seek out publisher eBook giveaways. Back in the early days of my eBook downloading, when I was just beginning my searches, I realized that a few publishers offered excerpts (and occasionally whole novels) online for free download. About once every six months or so, I remember to check these various sites - Scribd, the Baen Free library, and others - to see what new offers they might have.
So it came to be that the other day I went on a short downloading spree, hitting various publishers' Scribd accounts. And there, on Harper's page, I had the opportunity to read the first few pages of Greg Olear's brilliantly titled novel Father-mucker. I'd managed to hear about the book here and there through the bookish-internet grapevine, but was put off by the witty title. It seemed like the type of book that might try too hard to be witty and clever but then fall flat. Yet when offered the chance to read the first few pages for free in a convenient manner, not through any browser but on my own time, I decided to take it.
See, publishers may always worry about offering books for free online and may worry about piracy, but there's really no need. Free downloads, teasers and offers of this kind serve only as an advertising tool for publishers. I wasn't planning on reading Father-mucker last week. Now I can't wait to finish it. If I had the ability to buy it on the spot, I probably would (unfortunately for publishers and luckily for my wallet, I live abroad). Harper - by offering a teaser download for the book - convinced even a jaded reader like myself to pick the book up.
And though I don't remember where I downloaded it from originally, what about Perdido Street Station? It was offered for free for about a month back in 2009 and served as a pretty good hook - I now have a copy of Miéville's Embassytown on my shelves. I'm certain I would never have bought one Miéville's books just like that, but after reading Perdido Street Station (and later The City & The City, also not purchased), I realized I liked Miéville as an author and wanted to support him. So I bought Embassytown. Hardcover*.
It's like Neil Gaiman said back in the day: "Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free." Most people are introduced to their favorite authors through different means - a friend lends them the book, they check it out of the library, or in this day and age download it. Many readers will also feel as I do, that buy paying for a book they're supporting the author for writing something good. The amount of times I've bought a book after reading it for free via the public library is... high. Maybe it'll work better if we change our approach to supporting authors and publishing, but I think that publishers can do wonders to promote their authors and books by offering free eBook downloads for limited periods. It's the kind of hook that will work again and again, at least on readers like me.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see how I can get a hold of Father-mucker.
* Okay, okay, it was at Border's going-out-of-business sale so it wasn't full price. But it was still pretty expensive, so I think it counts.