February 13, 2011

Free access to books

Guardian "Two competing visions of the future went head-to-head online yesterday as HarperCollins and Random House launched contrasting new experiments in book distribution on the same day." by Richard Lea

'Building on a scheme launched in 2006 which allows users to flick through extracts of the books they publish, HarperCollins is releasing complete texts from a small selection of authors for periods of a month to test how free access affects sales.

'The chief executive of HarperCollins Worldwide, Jane Friedman, was keen to stress the flexibility of the publisher's systems.

'"The advantage of our digital warehouse is that we can securely, quickly and easily change what content is available," she said, "whether it is to meet an author's request, to preview a title before it is on sale, or to promote backlist books. And we believe it's the role of the publisher to develop tools to easily allow authors to promote their work to their communities online."

'With Neil Gaiman and Paolo Coelho lined up to be among the first clutch of six titles, it seems as if the publisher is only beginning to catch up with their authors' enthusiasm for free distribution. Coelho, who has promoted free copies of his own work online since 2000, has signed up for HarperCollins to provide an entire book for download every month for one year.

'"I believe that online reading helps increase book sales," the author said. "I am very pleased that HarperCollins is able to make my titles available online for my fans to read."

'Neil Gaiman, who offers readers free stories on his website and has been running a promotional blog for seven years, is convinced that tasters are "enormously useful". He's running an online vote for readers to determine which of his titles will be given away - a poll currently led by his mythical American fantasy, American Gods.'

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