Sunday, June 08, 2008

No Hoops, Please

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.


  1. Anonymous1:25 AM

    Great post Lynn! I actually had to read this to my husband because I got a kick out of it. Excellent points all around. So, did you end up with the book after all was said and hooped? I mean done. ;)


  2. Lynn, you cracked me up. And this is brilliant. I hope the publishing industry takes the advice.

  3. You know, the world should have more people like you in it. ;-) (Or is it "on it"? I don't know, I'm not from the US -no dowloading for me!)

  4. Anonymous6:11 AM

    You have to be a US legal resident? Er, did they happen to realise that Sara Douglass is actually an Australian author? Are they being ironic?
    Ah, I get it. They couldn't possibly offer us legal Australian residents a free Douglass book, could they? Might impact on their sales here.

  5. Anonymous6:30 AM

    Thank you.

    It's bad enough that publishers (like record labels) have taken this long to grasp the promotional value of freebies. But after decades of doing the wrong thing, they've (mostly) only progressed to doing the right thing the wrong way.*

    I have dial-up internet because it's what my family can afford. It doesn't work well with the applications that some publishers are using to display ebooks on their websites. I want to know why they can't just format it as a PDF that I can download and read offline. Do they want to give me a free book, or not?

    And they may as well forget about newsletters. My email filters auto-delete them.

    *In my opinion, Cory Doctorow does it the right way. And I've bought several books by an author I first read through Baen's free library.

  6. Oh dear, that's a lot worse than getting a TOR free ebook. Oficially, they have limited it to US residents as well, but I gave in my German zip code and get the weekly emails just fine. *grin* There was one step to sign up, and there are really no more than the one email a week with the download links, and maybe a second with recommendations. I can live with that.

  7. Yeah, totally don't seem to care that I'm in the UK :). And they're a lot friendlier than these peeps.

    Does the whole "mistransmitted" thing mean that if the ebook doesn't dload properly the first time, you're not allowed to try again? Because my dial-up and I often have four or five tries at the Tor .pdfs....

  8. My mind is well and thoroughly boggled.

    I shop at Whole Foods sometimes. They have trays and trays of free samples all over the store. Take as much as you want to try. Nobody is even standing over the product telling you how great it is. It's just there. Period. I try a lot of free samples. I buy a lot of what I try--stuff that I never would have bought if I couldn't taste it first.

    Prepackaged guacamole? Ewww, no thanks. How good could that be? But wait a sec, here's a sample. (Munch, munch). Oh my dog! It's delicious. I must buy some right now. And next week I must come back for more. And the week after that.

    Just sayin'.

  9. Holy crap. At first I was all "free ebook by an author I'd like to check out, squee" but now I think I'll just stick with the book a week those pushers at TOR are supplying me with. I've been introduced to a bunch of new to me authors by this program, and it's EASY. All I had to do was sign up for the newsletter and download the freebie they send me every week.

  10. Anonymous2:36 PM

    I've heard of the "phone" police but never a Novel Enforcement Squad. What's the world coming to?

    BTW - I've been on the Tor Free-E bandwagon for a month or so and don't recall such strigent requirements. Wild.

  11. Well said.

    And ditto the folks praising the Tor model. Yes, there's a quickie sign-up, but then it's a free e-book a week, no muss no fuss.

    I hope someone from HarperCollins Eos reads your post.

  12. [rant]They do the same with sites of TV series. They put info (free wallpapers, images, spoilers of episodes, interviews, etc) for free public access... if you are an US resident.
    They actually BLOCK your access if they detect your IP isn't in US range, so you only see a screen where basically they say that you are unworthy of watching their show or having their free goodies, because, hey, you are a second class citizen of the world! (non-US citizen). (well, not exactly, but let me tell you, it makes you feel like one).

    And since I live at the end of the world (Argentina, South America), sometimes I do want to see spoilers of TV series that I've heard about. Series that aren't aired here or won't ever be. Series I might be interested in buying, via DVD, mind you.

    Why they allow US residents to see them, and the non-US people are stonewalled? It doesn't give them any brownie points in my book, really.

    It is a very small thing, really, but makes my blood boil. We aren't second class people because we are not US resident/citizens. And we aren't going to enter the US borders illegally through a web site, or something. We want to see, to make a buying decision!

    So, you know what? If the strategy is meant to force us to buy their DVD, it backfired. Because just out of spite, I wouldn't buy ANY series, or ANYTHING that comes from that particular TV cable chain ever again. I won't give my hard earned money to people who think my money is good enough to be spent in their products, but discriminates me as a second class citizen of the world. So, they lost a customer. Tough luck. [/rant]

    Back to books, I've gone through the process you mention with several editorial houses (I don't remember any limiting their access for download to US residents though, but by now you guessed how well it would go with me). Now, I don't even bother. I had to close several mail addresses because of the spamming. If it's free, it's free, no strings attached.

  13. I hate complicated things. If it's too much trouble, I don't mess with it.

  14. Anonymous9:14 PM

    What a great post indeed. It's funny how long it takes the powers that be to do the right thing, even when its sensible.

  15. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I came across that yesterday while I was browsing and was like... free e-book all right. Only that price kept flashing at me. So I ended up not downloading it because I am extremly lazy and didn't want to bother with it.

  16. Anonymous4:16 PM

    I actually downloaded the first book Eos offered, one of Lois Bujold's I already own in paperback. I jumped through the hoops, finally downloaded my copy, went back to read it awhile later only to find I could no longer open the file I'd previously been able to use. I was also no longer registered with HP.

    Free books sure are nice, (understatement) but when there's this much hassle getting to them? Count me out. I'll stick with those authors I love and spend my cash else where.

    No thank you, Eos. Take a page from Baen Books and Tor. I've given my loyalty (mostly) to the authors in their stables when given the first taste free.

    p.s. I'm eagerly awaiting Omega Games in August!

  17. Julia mentioned the Baen Free Library, but she didn't provide a link so I thought I would provide one. These guys have the right idea - you can download a free ebook as many times as you want in any of the available formats.

    [image]Man in dirty mac with inside pockets bulging with books.

    "Come on, little girl ... the first taste is free."[/image]

  18. Anonymous6:15 PM

    I prefer the Baen model myself... Surf up, flip through the titles (perhaps sorting by author), perhaps read a chapter or two online, decide you want novel X, download in your favorite format, done. No account or email required, just download and go (or read online).

    Sometimes a hardback by a Baen author you like happens to have a cd full of their entire Baen backlist... And of course, you can download those for free too.

  19. THANK YOU! A fantastic post.

  20. Anonymous1:00 AM

    I don't know who is in charge of online marketing at HarperCollins but they just don't get it.

    They make it exceptionally difficult to get their stuff and then they time limit it and exclude the rest of the world. They have online book clubs and then only let you read the book online.

    I think they are desperately trying to prove that giving away online copies doesn't work by making it a hassle to get them.


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