Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The 53% Solution

Last year 400,000 books were published or distributed in the U.S., and some 15 million writers were working on some type of WIP. However, 53% of the Americans surveyed admitted that they did not read a single book in 2007. These NEA stats come courtesy of Rachel Donadio's NYT article, You're An Author? Me Too.*

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 (Scribd is a free service and hosts everything at no cost to me or the readers.) To date, the 22 freebies I've posted over there have been viewed a total of 9,273 times. That's an average of 78 views per day since I started the project. *Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

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.

*Registration may be required to access the article.

16 comments:

  1. That's fantastic! Congrats on the awesome response. I don't have more than one or two short stories, but I love Scribd so far.

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  2. Your Scribd offerings are a much-appreciated gift. And I've shared the link with online heavy reader friends.

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  3. I love going to the grocery store on free sample day. I wander the store, grazing, and often buy something because I've enjoyed the sample. Not always, but often.

    I remember one day when I bought some of every single sample I tried. Either the samples were outstanding or I was really hungry.

    It works exactly the same way with free samples of writing. I read a short story online and love it, you bet I'm going to be hunting for that author in the bookstore.

    Readers are not looking for a new book to buy, but looking for a new author to enjoy. Because of that, free samples work.

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  4. I love the free stories. And the stats you give are fascinating.

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  5. Wow, glad to hear of your success with Scribd. I'm one of those who first picked up your books after following your blog and reading the free stories you post on the net, though that was before you moved to Scribd.

    I'm personally a big believer in using the internet as a marketing tool for authors. As one of the netted millions, I actually have more time to spare on the net than when hanging out in a bookshop (which I only get to do once in a blue, blue moon). Almost 90% of all the new books I picked up over the last year were books I saw promoted on the internet.

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  6. I remember when I finished reading When Angels Burn and there was the excerpt in the back for the next book...after reading that, I was hooked. And when that fix ran out I went to the then Darkkyn website, found the Midnight Blues free e-book, and well that just cemented it. I am sooo grateful for the free e-books. I also love the cover art pics on the books. I love the Twilight Fall cover pic. Speaking of which, I went and bought some Snow Caps... :) Thank you for the reading facts and it's so true. In my profession, trying to get young readers to read and to love reading is a very big challenge in schools today. So, THANK YOU!!!!!

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  7. Okay, you've convinced me to give it a try. I created my own scribd profile and popped up my first freebee story. I have a few others sitting at home that I'll stick up there as time permits.

    Wish me luck!

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  8. Your free stuff got me hooked. I started reading it when you had your old website up and when the Darkyn novels started coming out, I kept thinking I had read it(them) before...hee. Free novels in general have definitely influenced my purchases over the last 7 years....

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  9. I love to read free books! I've found many a new author by reading an ebook on-line. Of course, I also read 10-15 books a month too. It is a shame that 53% of those polled had not actually read a book last year.

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  10. Hello! Long time no post and here I am full of questions.

    This is a really interesting post and I spent some time on Scribd. I have some questions though.

    Scribd doesn't really seperate work out by genre. And if you search fantasy not too much comes up for genre (but lots of Final Fantasy stuff). A search for fantasy fiction at leasts yields one fantasy novel in the first page of search results (with 120 views, which is better than Jules Verne's work with only 3 views). If I rank search results by most views the first result is something about a woman suing her employer for having too much sex?!?! Not exactly what I had in mind!

    A search for science fiction is similarly mediocre. Most Views is topped by some strange Guitar Archive Index and most relevant is something about Strange Facts about SF.

    I guess what I'm getting at is how are people finding you on Scribd? Via the blog? Via searches on Scribd like the ones I did?

    I'm not sure if the numbers you have are driven solely by availability on Scribd.

    If the blog is directing readers to Scribd, are you really gaining new readership or is it simply fan appreciation? Not that I'm knocking what you're doing, I'm just trying to understand how it works and how to maximize the benefits.

    I'm not sure I see how Scribd provides independent results, yet. I think something like this is important in the future, but it seems sort of iffy right now. Some other factor has to be in play to drive the readership I think.

    I would be interested in your thoughts based on your experience.

    M

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  11. It's true about the internet...I haven't bought a technical book in years. Actually, I have hardly bought *any* books for about a year (I used to limit myself to US$50 a month). That's mostly because I'm farming (working 70+ hours a week, and all the money is going into getting the farm shipshape), but being able to find decent stuff to read on the internet is a factor too.

    My backlog of books to buy when I have money again is getting frighteningly long...

    --Josh

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  12. Thanks for all the positive comments, folks. After a day of reading the latest batch of hate-mail, it's a nice change.

    SBarret wrote: Okay, you've convinced me to give it a try.

    Excellent -- good luck!

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  13. M wrote: Hello! Long time no post and here I am full of questions.

    Hey, lady. Nice to see you again.

    . . . how are people finding you on Scribd? Via the blog? Via searches on Scribd like the ones I did?

    I know a lot of my blog readers are going over to Scribd for the latest new e-books, but the others seems to be finding me by document category and tags. When you set up a document, you can pick a category and a sub-category to put it in, along with tags of whatever key words you think are appropriate.

    If the blog is directing readers to Scribd, are you really gaining new readership or is it simply fan appreciation? Not that I'm knocking what you're doing, I'm just trying to understand how it works and how to maximize the benefits.

    Sure, it's a legitimate question, and I understand what you mean. I know from my ping post a few weeks back that I get at least 250 visitors a day at the blog, and with that kind of traffic you have to wonder if it isn't all blog-generated. However, almost 90% of the documents I've uploaded to Scribd have been available here at PBW for at least two years via my links to a private FTP. So while my blog regulars might go over to check out a few of the new e-books I've uploaded that weren't available prior to my switchover (like the Darkyn/Juliana trilogy, or the new John and Marcia collection), most of them who wanted to read the existing e-books already had them.

    I think something like this is important in the future, but it seems sort of iffy right now. Some other factor has to be in play to drive the readership I think.

    I don't mind being the experimental lab rat -- it's working out really well for me. :) I think one of the other factors may be that the free content is original work, not electronic versions of stuff I already have in print. When you offer something readers can't get anywhere else, it adds a certain amount of draw.

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  14. Just read in my local paper yesterday that kids to college age are reading *more than ever* via the internet.

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  15. "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."

    Amazon will send a book just about anywhere. And a couple of months ago I picked up a copy of Into The Fire from one of my nearby charity shops, so somebody in my local (UK) area is buying at least some of them.

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  16. Regarding whether or not traffic on Scribd is generated by your blog readers; I'm not sure if I'm entirely representative but I'm a regular reader here and haven't been over to your scribd collection yet.

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