The Novel Give Away
Can you build an audience through giving away your novel as an ebook? It's an interesting idea and I confess I don't know the answer to the question.
I'd encourage you to read this article from Forbes.com by Cory Doctorow who has been giving away his novels as an ebook online since 2003. More than 700,000 copies have been downloaded from his website. Tor Books has published his novels.
Did the publisher (and the author) lose money because of the give away? He says, "There's no empirical way to prove that giving away books sells more books--but I've done this with three novels and a short story collection (and I'll be doing it with two more novels and another collection in the next year), and my books have consistently outperformed my publisher's expectations. Comparing their sales to the numbers provided by colleagues suggests that they perform somewhat better than other books from similar writers at similar stages in their careers. But short of going back in time and re-releasing the same books under the same circumstances without the free e-book program, there's no way to be sure. What is certain is that every writer who's tried giving away e-books to sell books has come away satisfied and ready to do it some more." While he includes no sales numbers for the printed novel, it outperformed the publisher's expectations.
About a year ago, I wrote about another give away type of program. Greg Stielstra gives away the audio version of Pyromarketing (HarperBusiness), which is a nonfiction book. It’s a way Greg is practicing the principles that he promotes in Pyromarketing. Again like with Doctorow's book, I have no information or insight about the sales of Pyromarketing and how it’s worked out for Greg and his publisher. It is innovative. If you get a few minutes, take a look at his google video on the front page of his site. I found it fascinating and only four and a half minutes.
I retained the electronic rights for my Book Proposals That Sell which people can get instantly as an ebook. From my personal experience, most people prefer to get the printed book (which cost less than the electronic version). For someone who wants the book instantly or is overseas and in a location where receiving the printed book is a challenge, the ebook gives them ideal access to my book.
These experiences may or may not provide you with answers. I call it to your attention to note the innovation and the way authors are working in creative ways with their publishers to attract an audience for their books.