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Free ebooks: Do they result in higher print sales?

4 March 2010 1,709 views No Comment

We have written quite a bit about the economics of ebooks – here, here and here. In fact we had mentioned in one of our earlier posts:

This analysis ONLY considers sales through Apple’s iBookstore. We’ll assume that sales elsewhere will have no impact on our calculations (obviously wrong, but for now, we can go ahead. we’ll cover this particular assumption in a separate post).

Now, thanks to a news tip from Simon Owens at Bloggasm, we can do that. More or less.  In a paper titled “The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales”, doctoral student John Hilton III and Prof. David Wiley have done some good analysis based on BookScan sales data, and have established a clear correlation between free ebooks and print sales, atleast in the short term. Abstract below:

Increasingly, authors and publishers are freely distributing their books electronically to increase the visibility of their work. A vital question for those with a commercial stake in selling books is, “What happens to book sales if digital versions are given away?” We used BookScan sales data for four categories of books (a total of 41 books) for which we could identify the date when the free digital versions of the books were made available to determine whether the free version affected print sales. We analyzed the data on book sales for the eight weeks before and after the free versions were available. Three of the four categories of books had increased sales after the free books were distributed. We discuss the implications and limitations of these results.
Interesting conclusions, including: “As books increasingly become available in digital formats, the effects of free distribution may rapidly change. The explosive growth of Kindle and other e-book formats could dramatically impact how free distribution affects for-profit sales and even alter the relative importance of print sales. As the electronic publishing industry matures it will be increasingly important to research the effects of free distribution of electronic books.”
Also read Simon’s thoughts on this. Definitely, interesting times ahead for the publishing industry.
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