Giving away free books online helps academic sales

give.jpgHere is a very interesting article from The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog about the tie-in between “free” and increased sales. Here’s a short excerpt. You can find David Wiley’s article here.

John Hilton (one of my doctoral students) and I have been researching the question of the impact of “free” on academic-book distribution. Here’s some of what we’ve found:

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has been digitally distributing free copies of its books, but print sales have not declined. “After the complimentary distribution of 21 titles in 2008 that had for many years only been available in print, sales of these titles increased by 7 percent compared with the previous two years,” institute officials reported on their Web site.

National Academies Press makes its publications freely available online, which has increased people’s ability to find the books, and in turn has increased sales, says Michael Jensen, director of publishing technologies there.

James Boyle, co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University School of Law, has made several of his books available freely online. “Why might free digital availability make sense for parts of the publishing industry?” he wrote recently. “First, most people hate reading a book on a screen, but like finding out if it is worth buying. I am sure I have lost some sales, but my guess is that I have gained more new readers who otherwise would be unaware of my work, and who treat the digital version as a ‘sampler,’ to which they then introduce others.”

Yochai Benkler, a professor of entrepreneurial legal studies at Harvard Law School, made his book The Wealth of Networks available free. Open publishing “has probably exposed me to people who otherwise would not have gravitated towards an academic book,” he said.

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