At last major publishers are beginning to leap onto the free e-book bandwagon and offer various titles to internet readers. Hooray! I saw that HarperCollins's Eos is giving away a Sara Douglass title, The Serpent Bride, to celebrate the imprint's tenth anniversary.
A free Sara Douglass novel sounds like a neat thing to me, because I've never read her and I'd like to give her stuff a try, but not enough to spend eight to fifteen bucks -- which makes me a typical internet free e-book reader.
So I followed the banner ad, went to the HarperCollins web site page, and clicked on the Adobe format icon for Sara's free novel. And got this page, which informed me that the book was $15.96. Obviously I clicked on the wrong thing, so I went back to the first page and read the fine print:
"To obtain your free e-book of The Serpent Bride, click to download in the format of your choice. By redeeming the coupon code EOS3 you will be simultaneously subscribed to our Inside Eos newsletter and our e-books newsletter. If you are already a subscriber you will only receive the free e-book."
Coupon code. Right. So I'll checkout and enter that, and I know it will zero out the $15.96, and then I will get my free e-book. Yes?
No. As it turns out, I will go to a sign-in screen. And then, after I enter my e-mail address, on to a registration/password screen to set up my HarperCollins account. Which I do only because I've come this far and now I have to see how many more hoops they're going to make me jump through to get this e-book, which at this point had better be magnificent.
The registration/password screen takes me to yet another a checkout screen, with the e-book still listed as $15.96, plus now they want my credit card information, but wait, there's the little box in the middle where I can put a coupon code. I put in the code, and finally it does zero out the cost of the e-book, and I only have to go through two more screens to actually get to the download itself.
It's downloading now as I type this. I went back to the main screen to re-read all the fine print, and found more hoops:
"Offer valid to legal residents of the United States only, ages 13 and older, and expires on July 31, 2008 (12:00 am EST)."
I understand the age 13 and older -- God forbid we encourage twelve year olds to do something as disgusting as reading -- but why is the offer valid only in the U.S.? Are we only allowed to celebrate an imprint's anniversary within our borders? What if someone throws a party for Eos in Rio? Will they call the cops on them?
And what's this bit about me being a legal resident? Why do you care? How are you going to check, for that matter? Do I have to show a green card or a work Visa to my computer if I'm not?
Disclaimer: I grew up in South Florida. Half the people I know came here illegally. Oddly enough, they could still read and buy books. Incredible, I know, but true. But wait, there's more:
"Limit of one free copy per person. Multiple copies will not be sent to the same e-mail address. Not responsible for mistransmitted submissions. Fraudulent submission of multiple requests may violate state and federal laws and could result in prosecution."
Ah, there's no marketing strategy quite like inviting people to try a book by one of your authors while simultaneously threatening them with criminal prosecution if they make more than one request. I'm tempted to try to download it again just to see if they send the Feds to my house. Author arrested for downloading two copies of free e-book, film at eleven.
Publishers, here are some suggestions from a writer who has been doing this freebie thing for a very long time. Don't make people check in, sign up, register, or enter codes. Don't send them your newsletters or SPAM them. Don't shove your politics in their face by questioning their residence status, and don't stiff the rest of the readers on the planet for not being American residents.
If you advertise a free e-book, just give people a free e-book. Give it to anyone who wants it. Whoever they are, wherever they live. Don't put them through hoops or ask for anything in return. Because if these readers are interested enough to download the book, they may like it so much that they'll order the next book in the series, and the next, and the next.
P.S. There is no such word as mistransmitted. Please stop using it.