L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

13 November 2006 Blog Home : November 2006 : Permalink

Web fails to kill print

The idea that having some work up for free on the web helps to increase sales of paper has long been a tenet of Baen Books. This tenet was driven initially by publisher Jim Baen and author Eric Flint but it has subsequently been adopted by pretty much everyone associated with Baen. Despite the fact that Jim (and Eric) have loudly made the case, including hard numbers to back them up, that electronic availability helps increase the sales of the print version very few publishers have followed them. In the lnk aboev Eric makes the point very clearly:

To give perhaps the clearest example, my most popular title is 1632. It has been available for free in electronic format to the public for five years now—and the book has never suffered any decline in sales during that time period. Year after year, despite being available for free as an e-book, the paper edition sells about fifteen thousand copies. That figure fluctuates a bit from one year to the next, of course, but there is no overall downward trend at all. The standard rule of thumb in the industry is that 80% of a book's sales happen in the first three months after publication. But in the case of 1632, sixty percent of the book's sales have come since the first year it came out—during which period the book was always available to the public for free in electronic format.

There are a couple of academic booksellers and a handful of non-Baen fiction authors who have tried it and reported similar success but not many others. However it could be that some magazines get the point well enough to do the same. The Instapundit & spouse, aka Glenn & Helen Reynolds, have done a podcast with the editors of Popular Mechanics where they discuss the fact that they have increased sales because they put stuff up for free on the web. Indeed the editors state that, as Baen has also stated, that web publicity has increased sales of their magazine - or at least of particular issues of it.

There may, at some point be a problem when electronic readers are good enough, but I suspect that at that point a magazine publisher who sells his work at an iTunes kind of price will still flourish and will probably make as much profit as he does today because there are none of the page layout, printing and distribution costs in an electronic edition.

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