Now, before you get depressed, according to this UK web page, there are 105+ million active internet surfers and 165+ million people with internet access in the U.S., as well as some 450 million internet surfers in 21 countries around the world.
Why should we be happy about this? To use the internet effectively, you have to be able to read. It's not that there aren't enough readers out there -- it's that they're not in the bookstores. They're on the internet.
As an experiment, and because I needed a reliable hosting service, I started moving my free e-books from my private FTP to Scribd* on January 2nd of this year
It doesn't sound like a lot, until you consider the cost of mailing out 78 books every day to people all around the world. With Scribd, there's no paper, shipping, packaging or address-hunting involved. Best of all, only readers who are genuinely interested in reading my work view the stories, so there's no harassing advertising or SPAMming going on. On the reader's end, they get 22 free books and stories that they can read online or download, print out, share, use for educational purposes, etc. Win/win.
Scribd readers have been terrific. They've e-mailed me to ask questions and to request more e-books about their favorite characters (surprisingly, the most frequently requested is Holly Noriko of Lunar Marshall.) I've had a few interesting discussions about the biz with other writers who have contacted me via the site. The Scribd readers are also buying my print novels, because I'm getting a lot of questions and feedback about those as well.
I'm able to access visitor maps for each document I post on Scribd that show me where the viewers are located. Most are in the U.S. and Canada, but I've also discovered that I have new readers in places like Russia, Dominica, Japan, Uganda, and Afghanistan. My print books are hard if not impossible to get overseas, so to have this sort of access to so many readers around the globe is an enormous privilege for me.
The internet, Scribd and giving away free e-books are not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of building a readership during an era when it seems like no one reads. Still, I think it's encouraging, especially for writers who can't afford expensive forms of self-promotion and advertising. I know we can find other creative avenues like Scribd on the internet that can help us reach more readers with our work. We just have to keep thinking in new directions.
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