First time I went to a major writer convention, I saw piles of free books -- literally hundreds -- in the goodie room. I asked the writer who was showing me around why the books were being given away. Publishers send them to promote the books is what she told me.
It didn't make sense to me then, and it still doesn't. While we writers are great readers, and we appreciate free anything, we're busy trying to sell and promote our own books. You authors, think about it -- out of the dozens of free books (and bookmarks, and pens, and other promo bits) that we've been given at writer conventions, how many of the corresponding authors' books have you bought?
Marketing writers to writers isn't the answer. We need readers. Preferably new readers, or consumers who presently don't buy books on a regular basis. Unfortunately these people aren't coming to where the books are, so maybe it's time we take the books to them.
My first year as a pro, I took signed copies of my book down to the local ER. Not for promo purposes; some of my nurse and doctor friends worked graveyard shift and couldn't make my booksigning. I brought extra copies so no one else working that shift would feel left out. A month later, most of the trauma staff -- about a hundred people -- had either borrowed the book or had gone out to buy it. A bunch of them e-mailed asking me when the next one would be released.
Give away a book, and you may get a reader in return.
What if publishers took the books they usually dump at one major writer convention and instead put them somewhere else? How about a cruise ship? Complimentary free book in every cabin or next to every deck chair. Think about it: a captive audience, a nice little gift for them. Books do go so great with tanning on deck or relaxing in the cabin. Would be a brilliant way to market almost any title.
Next time you're on a plane, would you like a free book instead of that microscopic pack of honey-roasted peanuts? Or on the commuter train, so you don't have to count telephone poles or wonder what that strange-colored smear on the window is.
Too large scale? Think of all the magazines you've read in your dentist's office. I like Field and Stream and Highlights well enough, but I'd much rather read a book, preferably something to take my mind off the imminent drilling. I've always got a novel in my purse, but most people don't think of bringing one.
Yes, there would be some creative research and application involved. Change does requires some effort. As for investment, publishers already give away thousands of freebies every month, so the books are out there. They're just going to the wrong people and places.
Still don't think it would work? It already has. The Gideons did it with the Bible.