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Publishing Idea #6: The Freeness of Free

March 30, 2010

It must have been over 10 years ago that I was in a giant chain bookstore back in Virginia. I was at the register to buy a book when I noticed a free book for the taking.

“Free?” I thought. “Must not be a very good book.”

I didn’t take it. A free book, and because of my perception of “free,” I didn’t take it.

The book in question? Robert Jordan’s first book of his bestselling Wheel of Time series (which I haven’t read, but I’ve heard it’s quite good until the 29th book).

Free plays tricks on your mind. When it comes to a physical object, freeness diminishes the perception of the quality. Sure, you might take the free book, CD, movie, whatever, but you’re probably less likely to read it because it’s free. Why not read that book that cost you $15 instead? At least that book has assigned value.

But there are ways to give things away for free and have them retain value. I read about a great example of this today. The Concord Free Press gives away all their books. They’re a small publisher with a decent supply chain, and their authors seem pretty good too. But they’re a nonprofit. They’re not even a charity.

Their model is pretty basic: They’ll give you a book, and you donate some amount of money to a charitable organization. Simple as that. This model has gotten them tons of good press and raised about $300,000 for charity (from three books).

Do people read their books? I don’t know. But these books certainly have more value than a strictly free book. This free is free + charitable donation + reading a book that other people are talking about. That last part is perhaps the most valuable.

My publishing company, Blank Slate Press, is going to find value in free (and yet we won’t be a nonprofit). We have to select our first author first, though. Stay tuned for more news about how BSP will give value to free.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2010 3:17 pm

    Just stumbled on Type Tribe. Looks like a great concept and a business model with a lot of potential.

    It sounds very interesting that you are going to use the power of free with Blank Slate Press. There seems to be quite a few voices in the publishing industry looking into how free can be a part of the future for publishing. It seems like a lot have learned from the music industry and don’t just dismiss the digital evolution as a bad thing.

    Personally i think it is about seeing the story as more then just the book. Then finding out how much value you can give away for free. while using the power of the internet to share ideas and keep costs down.

  2. March 30, 2010 4:41 pm

    Peter–thanks for your comment. When it comes to books, I think free is about exposure. You want to get your name out there. You want to be the buzz about time. The catch with free, as I mention in this post, is that you don’t want to come across as someone who’s not worth reading. You need to add value to the freeness. Do you have any ideas of how to do that?

  3. March 30, 2010 8:29 pm

    Interesting. I give all my books away for free at http://freado.com. The hard copies I sell online and in bookstores. I’m really more interested in getting the information into the hands of the right people.

    • March 30, 2010 10:51 pm

      How does Freado work? I checked it out, but couldn’t seem to find an “About” page.

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