Strategy Behind Making Books Free

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O'Reilly has to have a strategy. I think his strategy is similarly different to what Mod discussed when he made the content of Art Space Tokyo free via the website. However, their strategies differ in that Mod's free content is only available via the website. To gain access to a book version of Art Space Tokyo, you need to purchase it. O'Reilly's giving his formatted copy away for free. So he has to have some reason for doing, meaning it has paid off or he thinks it will. So, my initial thought on the sustainability of "gift economies" is that it is possible. If it wasn't, why would O'Reilly be investing in it?

In a society where it's harder to sell hard copies of books, O'Reilly may be onto something. I wonder if he is more likely to get people to buy the book if they can see it first. Does making it free compel some readers to purchase it? As we've discussed in class, there is something about owning something as opposed to just viewing and accessing it. He's also getting his work out there. Giving his book away for free is almost of way of marketing it without the high cost often associated with marketing. By offering you his work, he's able to build up his name and credibility. You don't have to pay to access credible information. That's saying something in this day and age and has to foster some goodwill.

I immediately associated O'Reilly with artists who distribute their work under a Creative Commons license. What makes him any different from other artists? It's my understanding that artists want to share their work and want others to have access to it without paying for it. The same applies to O'Reilly's readers, and I sense they'll respect him for it. We're back to the goodwill.

So, I guess this takes me to answering: Is a "gift economy" sustainable? Why or why not? It seems like the answer is situational. How is the "gift" marketed? How is the "gift" received by audiences? If the gift adds value and will lead to sales--even if they aren't required--I think it can become sustainable. If the costs up-front to create the "gift" aren't too high, I believe sustainability is a possibility.



Will's picture

Gift Economy

This reminds me of some online releases where you can pay what you want. You don't have to pay anything, but they try to build goodwill because you can have it for free if you want. Radiohead released a pay what you want album, but they eventually took the download off their site. I wonder why they removed it. It would be interesting to talk to some groups/comedians about what they think about pay what you want releases.

Abby's picture

Will, you make a great

Will, you make a great comparison to other industries that have tried pay what you want. It would be interesting to use their experience and data when deciding if it can work with e-books.


I love your questions "Is a gift economy sustainable?" and "How is the gift marketed?" firstly because they sound so ironic, they're hilarious and secondly because, that's the thing: it's not sustainable and it's not able to be marketed because gifts can't make up an economy. That old saying "there's no such thing as a free lunch" still stands. Offering free books maybe a great way to get yourself on the map. In that sense, the free book is a marketing technique for another product (other books perhaps?) But a producer isn't going to turn a profit by giving away their stuff for free. Gifts work as short term marketing techniques, like coupons. But in the long run, it's just an unsustainable foot-in-the-door scheme.

Abby's picture

I wonder if there is a way to

I wonder if there is a way to create coupons that allow readers short-term access to the digital content of a book. That still allows for a preview and gives the potential buyer an overview of the content. Do you think this may allow the writer to bring in additional income?