I recently read this article on the Publishing Perspectives website called “What would happen if Amazon gave every Ebook away for free?”, and it was a thought-provoking read!
Last week, China’s answers to Amazon, Jingding and Dangdang, both gave away around 50,000 ebooks away in celebration of the upcoming World Book Day.
“The giveaway, which the ebooksellers said was being done to help promote commercial ebooks and raise reader awareness, has been criticized by publishers and authors alike. Zhao Chen, from People’s Literature Publishing House, told Beijing News that giving so many books away would “bring harm” to publishers, while Zhang Hongbo, secretary-general of the China Written Works Copyright Society, called the promotion “sloppy,” particularly if the companies had not sought permission of the publishers beforehand (a spokesperson from Dangdang would neither confirm nor deny whether the company had contacted publishers, though said the site would honor requests to stop offering a title if specific complaints were made).”
If Amazon was to do the same thing, it is suggested that people would simply download as many free ebooks to their reading devices as possible and then would be less eager to buy books either in print or ebook form.
The article closes with: “It is, if anything, likely to reinforce the idea that books should be free.“
[For the whole article, see What Would Happen If Amazon Gave Every Ebook Away For Free? - Publishing Perspectives]
I think it is probably correct that people would take advantage of the offer and download as many ebooks as they could while they can. This raises a few concerns for me:
- I personally like free ebooks when they are on offer, and i will download the classics for free anyway as their authors are long deceased. But if i download too many, the odds are that even i won’t get through them all very quickly. It won’t stop me buying more books in the future, but in all fairness, it never feels like i actually own the ebooks, after all, Amazon could pull the plug and steal back the digital copies quite easily i’m sure.
- It isn’t fair to the authors who put so much hard work and time into their books, and ultimately get paid through royalties, which are non-existent for every free book that is “sold”. This makes a poor return for all that work.
- Similarly, it isn’t fair to the publishers who have spent a long time editing and producing the book, not to mention all the time spent working out costings and seeing if it would make money if published and the long marketing campaigns used for it.
- If these books were free, then people might demand that everyone else should make their books free as well. Print books would go into decline and bookshops would disappear completely from our streets.
- Online companies would be more popular, however they would lose out on profits if the books they “sold” were free.
- Sellers of reading devices and smartphones with reading apps would make a lot of money very quickly through increased sales due to demand so customers can download and read the free ebooks. We’d all be slaves to machines. Where’s the fun in that?
- It will be a sad day for me when all my books are only available as ebooks and end up as a list of files on my Kindle. I like having a mixture of print and ebooks, mainly for when i’m unable to charge up my Kindle or if it’s raining, or if the print book comes out first and i’m desperate to read it without waiting for the ebook! See, even though i have a Kindle and it saves physical space on my shelves, i still prefer print books!
So, there you go, my opinions and speculations on this topic. It seems horribly dystopian if you think about it!
What do you think?