The Book Standard article Buying the Cow, Though the Milk Is Free: Why Some Publishers Are Digitizing Themselves talks about digital publishing and its relationship to book sales. Figures are given for the examples they give, including Cory Doctorow’s books, Charlie Stross’ Accelarando, the Baen free library and O’Reilly computer books.
Interesting to note is that although the free digital download rate is large, it often increases book sales. This seems counter-intuitive to me on one level. Why would people buy a book when they can get it for free? This is the fear of piracy in action. The difference, of course, is that the download is digital and the purchase is for something you can touch. I’ve often said that I prefer holding a book instead of reading from a screen, I just always thought that others felt differently. (As if I am a truly unique individual instead of a statistical nobody.) Maybe more people prefer hardcopy than I thought.
Charlie’s quote from the article says it best.
“Readers like samples, and the ultimate sample is the entire book,” says Stross. “People are more likely to download the entire thing, because there’s the promise that they can read it all on their computer. However, in practice, most people don’t like reading on a screen or a PDA. If they get hooked, they’ll continue reading until it hits their personal pain threshold. Then they’re highly motivated to seek out the paper edition-in hardcover, if necessary.”