Saturday 26 September 2009

You get ZERO for FREE

All three of the first Year Zero Writers novels - Benny Platonov, Glimpses of a Floating World, and Songs from the Other Side of the Wall - are now available as ebooks for free.

I want to take a moment to explain why. Inevitably this will mean rehashing some arguments I've made on this blog, and on others. So if you've heard it all before, please bear with me. Because I want to give a list of reasons and starting points for conversation, I won't be going into too much detail. Not because there isn't any, but because that would make the post way too long.

So, why decide to make our work free? (In electronic format - you can, of course, still buy the paperbacks) Of cousre, these reasons don't just apply to us - go forth and make your books free.

Here's my Free Manifesto:

1. People want content to be free. They expect content to be free. As hardware tech advances and people fall in love with it, the hunger for free content grows. I'm going to call this phenomenon FREED. And FREED IS GOOD. It's a wave the new writer can ride.

2. For a new writer, the choice isn't between giving your book away and having people pay for it. It's between giving your book away (and maybe getting some readers), and having no one read your book. Why should someone pay money for a book by someone they don't know? The answer is they won't. Let them get to know you.

3. File-sharing is a fact of life. Embrace it as a way to get your book read. Make it easy for people to do. It's NOT true they'll file share YOUR book anyway if you protect it. More's the pity. They won't. They'll ignore it and file-share Dan Brown/Stephanie Meyer instead.

4. Free does not devalue something. The value of culture isn't in what you pay for it. More importantly, it's not even PERCEIVED to be in what you pay for it. What we value most is what we have a personla and emotional connection to. If you're an author, it's THAT you should be trying to reproduce and not a sense fo "having paid for something". That's what I mean when I encourage writers 1. to engage their readers and 2. to try and recreate the festival spirit. Soem people call it "adding value". Yes, increased money is a result, but that's not the aim - the aim is to "add attachment".

5. Freemium goes with 1,000 true fans like hand in a tight, sheer, silky glove. Jargon apologies. Freemium is the term coined, I believe, by Chris "Long Tail" Anderson to describe the business model by which you give something away for free in one format, with the intention of selling it n another (paperbacks etc).1,000 true fans is Kevin Kelly's idea that to make a living from your creativity you only actually need 1,000 true fans who will pay for your work. Clearly these two ideas marry up nicely. If you give your work away for free, not everyone who takes it will aslo pay. But you don't need them to. If you've got a great product, and back it up with direct engagement with your readers through your blog, book tours, other events, you will build a following of true fans who WILL pay - for the paperback - and more.

6. Free helps us sever the link once and for all between culture and money. At a time when increasing internet access starts to outstrip access to banking, this is, on a global social level, essential. As creatives from all over the world acn put their work out there, and consumers seek to remunerate them, if we rely on the old equation of value and money, the only model available will be to go through third party conversion agents. We will see the developing world's creativity raped for profit in the exact same way as happened to its natural resources centuries ago. We need a new way fo turning the desire to reward into benefit for the producer; and whilst money plays part of that role, it can't be the only part.

7. The big one (and the one most likely to change in coming years) is timing. I won't claim ebooks are THE future. I don't think they are. Not in their current form (the future is intelligent paper). BUT they are about to undergo a mini explosion. As are sites where readers find and promote content they love. The effect of that is simple - if your material's out there now, as the medium grows, the effect of your presence early in the game will be multiplied. I've paid serious attention to the Indie ebook market for about 3 weeks. And I can already tell you who the "players" are, and there aren't many. The chances of great content being discovered and creating a buzz is still high. BUT ONLY IF IT'S THERE and ONLY IF IT'S FREE. And out of that soup, a whole new landscape will emerge. As with satellite TV and internet provision, it's at the start of the tipping point that it's most important to focus solely on market share. And that's where we are now. Now is the time to stake your claim.


  1. This is a very clear statement of the case for Freemium, Dan. I remained to be convinced until about two weeks ago, but then everything started pointing in the same direction. This is definitely the way forward if you want readers. People forget, it's a long distance race.

  2. This is a new concept for me. I am going to have to absorb this.

  3. Hi, Liz. Absorbing is definitely the right approach. And as with all these things, if you're thinking of trying it out - read the people who disagree (Malcolm Gladwell is the most outspoken) as well first.

  4. :D I love the title of this post-very ambiguous.
    -Licorice Lain

  5. Thanks. It's meant to sound like that Yarkshire saying "you don't get owt for nowt" :-)