Buying free eBooks

SF Signal have been running a poll on the ‘do people buy books after reading the free electronic version’ question, and they’ve posted the results up.

Have you ever purchased a book that you first sampled as a free eBook?

No. Why should I pay for it when it’s free?
   (12 votes)

No, because I did not like (or finish) the book
   (3 votes)

Yes. I prefer to own the books I read and/or I prefer real books over reading on a screen.
   (43 votes)

I don’t read eBooks.
   (45 votes)

(103 total votes)

While it’s a valuable set of results, I can’t help but feel the methodology was a little flawed. I don’t know much about sociology and the designing of questionnaires, but I think the questions should have been separated out:

  • First asking “do you/have you read ebooks”, then
  • asking those who answered ‘yes’ whether they’ve ever paid for an ebook,
  • whether they bought a physical copy of the specific book they read for free, and
  • whether they bought other works by the same author on the strength of the free material, or from a sense of wanting to pay for something that they didn’t necessarily have to.

Then follow that up with the question about the totemic or practical value of the book as media platform.

Obviously, these results aren’t entirely transferable beyond the arena they’ve been gathered in – specifically genre fans, and more specifically blog-reading genre fans – but it’s still interesting to note that less than half of the respondants have never read an ebook, and only a little over a quarter of those that have read them decided not to pay for it, for whatever reason.

Pricing is going to be an issue with the ebook format, and it’s possibly the one thing holding development back. And I’m not talking about ebook reader hardware (although Charlie Stross made some great points about the problems with that), but the pricing of the actual files themselves – Tobias Buckell has some thoughts on that, and he brings the perspective of a young author at the start of his career arc, enabling him to say what might be unpalatable or less obvious to an older professional:

“Other than Baen’s rational approaches, no ebook program has made sense to me, and as an author, looking over the money made by ebooks by Baen authors, my opinion is that the inability of publishers to price ebooks properly and utilize them is probably costing me money that could be being made.”

That’s the argument of someone who loves their craft, but who also treats it as a modern business. We’ll be hearing more like this, sooner rather than later.

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