Kaplan Publishing is going to give away 95 of its books as free iBooks editions for the week of August 24-30. Brett Sandusky, director of marketing at Kaplan, has a post at the O’Reilly Tools of Change blog about the giveaway, and about the marketing challenges that free e-books present.

Advocates and enthusiasts of free e-books may be a little confused by this, given that it doesn’t seem exactly “challenging” to give an e-book away for free and reap the benefits that come afterward—after all, Baen has been doing it for over ten years—but Sandusky writes:

Free is not easy. For a marketer, Free is really not easy. In fact, I would argue that Free is more difficult than a regularly priced book: Free comes with a different set of expectations. Free changes what we consider important in a product’s life cycle. ROI on Free is virtually impossible to calculate.

The challenge, Sandusky explains, is not so much in the actual giving away of product, but in how to determine what effects the giveaway has had on sales. Does it create “loyal” customers? How do you assign value to a free product? If you’re giving it away for free, what does ROI (“Return On Investment”) even mean?

The real value of free giveaways is, of course, the increase in product awareness as people try books they might never have paid money to read, and perhaps discover that they like them. This is why Baen, Cory Doctorow, and others who have given away free works have generally found it helped their sales, and a Brigham Young University study has shown a “moderate correlation” between free e-books and print sales.

Sandusky promises to post a followup looking at the results of the free e-book experiment once it is over. It should be interesting to see what happens.

I previously covered Brett Sandusky’s epiphany that publishing should refocus its attention on serving the consumer rather than serving bookstores. It certainly looks like he’s aiming squarely at the consumer here.


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