Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How About a Free Book Day?

Edward Champion just suggested that the trade book business borrow an idea from the comics world (who probably got it from Ben & Jerry's to begin with) and institute Free Book Day.

I think that's a splendid idea -- if it worked along the lines of Free Comics Day, then each publisher who wanted to participate would create a book (probably short, certainly paperback) to be given away and retailers could decide whether they wanted to participate. Readers would just have to go to the right bookstore on the day, and take their pick. (And, like Free Comics Day, I bet a lot of those readers would spend some of their own money while they were there.)

Penguin could give away something like the 80p classics of a few years ago; St. Martin's could offer Evanovich's One for the Money, and Scholastic Garth Nix's Mister Monday. (I expect giving away the first in a series would generally be a good plan -- it's worked for e-books for several years.) Those are just random thoughts, but every house would have some property that could entice readers to other things, and authors willing to give away a little now to get more later.

Who could get this to happen? It could be be the best thing to happen to the book business since pre-cut pages...


Johan Larson said...

Do book stores and comics shops have the same problem? It makes sense to me that comics shops, being obscure holes-in-the-wall, would be willing to give stuff away to generate more foot traffic. But book stores these days tend to be rather hefty operations, with excellent visibility in major malls. I suspect their problem is converting browsers to buyers, rather than getting enough bodies through the doors.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Johan: Most people never set foot in a bookstore, so just getting them in the door would be a plus.

Books don't have quite as many problems as comics do -- people don't regularly say things like "Gosh, I didn't know they were still printing books! -- but they're still very much a minority taste, so getting a small fraction of the non-regulars to start reading would be a lot of new customers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting you should mention MISTER MONDAY, Andrew. There's been a campaign running in WH Smith stores in the UK for almost five months, giving away a free copy of MISTER MONDAY with every pre-order of HARRY POTTER #7. The last I heard they'd given away close to 300,000 copies, and sales of the subsequent books in the series have greatly increased at WH Smith. I get something like 0.02c a copy on these giveaways but they are effectively a loss leader for my other books, not just the KEYS TO THE KINGDOM series but my fairly extensive backlist. I won't know the full effect of the promotion till later in the year, but the early signs look like they have brought in lots of new readers. I suspect many of these readers would never have come across my books in the usual 'browse the shelves' fashion.

Getting the promotion, by the way, was hotly contested. WH SMith wanted a giveaway that was book one of a series from an author with a large in-print backlist, but that still left a lot of competition . . .

Scholastic in the US also did another kind of loss leader, a $2.99 version of MISTER MONDAY last year, as they did years earlier for the THE FALL in my SEVENTH TOWER series, and again these low-price versions have led a lot of people into the series.

I think there is scope for more of this kind of marketing. Free book giveaways for commuters at train stations for example, could hook lots of new readers for a series or an author 'brand'.

Also you might be interested to know that many years after you did so at the SFBC, Harper US are planning to do an omnibus of SABRIEL-LIRAEL-ABHORSEN -- with the novella from ACROSS THE WALL as well, so it will be quite a lengthy tome . . .


Garth Nix

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