Free books, free music, free movies ?

Neil Gaiman's publisher HarperCollins have given him the green light to do a free web-release of one of his books and Neil's running a poll to see which one he should put online. Go vote! They'll leave it up for a month and track sales; if the experiment succeeds, they'll do more.

Paulo Coelho, the best-selling author of “The Alchemist”, is using BitTorrent and other filesharing networks as a way to promote his books. His publishers weren’t too keen on giving away free copies of his books, so he’s taken matters into his own hands.
Coelho’s view is that letting people swap digital copies of his books for free increases sales. In a keynote speech at the "Digital, Life, Design" conference in Munich he talked about how uploading the Russian translation of “The Alchemist” made his sales in Russia go from around 1,000 per year to 100,000, then a million and more.

So is Coelho just seeding torrents of his books? That’s just the beginning. He took it one step further and, as quoted above, set up a Wordpress blog, Pirate Coelho, where he posts links to free copies of his books on filesharing networks, FTP sites, and so on.

Radiohead's seventh album, In Rainbows, was released in October 2007 as a digital download for which customers chose their own price. Although it was reported that 1.2 million digital downloads were sold by the day of the album's release, Radiohead's management have not released official sales figures, claiming that the Internet-only distribution was intended to boost sales of the physical album. Yet according to Yorke, Radiohead's profits from the digital download of In Rainbows outstripped combined profits from digital downloads of all of the band's other studio albums.

What about free movies? Hulu is already going towards this direction with free episodes of popular series. The model is feasible and will be sustained by ads. Who is it going to be the first ?

Like Seth Godin used to say :

Most industries innovate from both ends:

* The outsiders go first because they have nothing to lose.
* The winners go next because they can afford to and they want to stay winners.
* It's the mediocre middle that sits and waits and watches.

The mediocre record companies, mediocre A&R guys and the mediocre acts are struggling to stay in place. They're nervous that it all might fall apart. So they wait. They wait for 'proof' that this new idea is going to work, or at least won't prove fatal. (It's the impulse to wait that made them mediocre in the first place, of course).
So, in every industry, the middle waits. And watches. And then, once they realize they can survive the switch (or once they're persuaded that their current model is truly fading away), they jump in.
The irony, of course, is that by jumping in last, they're condemning themselves to more mediocrity.


Matteo Damo said...

Great post!!!

Let me add just one thing: we used to think that if you don't pay for a thing, there's no value in it. Companies made us think this way during time.
In my opinion, even if there's not a direct connection between giving away something for free and making money, the truth is that through the Web the decision of offering something exposes the author and his creation to the judgement of a potential huge audience. If the judgement is positive, the reward comes in a double-fashion form: traffic/links to your blog (which can be monetized through ads as Hulu does) and/or offline interest (selling more copies in the real world because of word-of-mouth as Coelho understood). ;)