Text vs. Video
Would You Like Some Books with that Broadband Deal?

Why Amazon Should Try a "Radiohead Experiment" on the Kindle

Radiohead Remember that Radiohead experiment back in 2007, the one where they allowed free downloads of their latest album and asked listeners to pay what they felt was fair?  Some say it was successful and others beg to disagree.  Assuming Amazon ever gets back to an in-stock inventory situation with the Kindle I think they should try a similar experiment with a big-name author's next book.

Why?  First of all, it would be interesting to know how much value readers place on content, particularly e-content.  Secondly, although some customers won't pay a penny for it, others will and it's that data that would be so fascinating to study.

Then there's the PR opportunity for Amazon, publisher and author.  Imagine how much free publicity this would generate.  It would probably open that author up to new customers who've never read his/her previous work.  But for Amazon it's an opportunity to generate a lot of buzz about a product they do almost zero advertising for; sure, they're out of stock, but again, I'm talking about the value of this when (if?) they ever get inventory again.  As I've also said before, I'm amazed at the number of people (including regular Amazon customers!) who've never even heard of the Kindle.

Btw, just like the Radiohead deal, this would be a limited-time offer.  Unlike the Radiohead deal though, I could also see an opportunity for Amazon (and the publisher/author) to sell sponsorship of the event.  An ad (or series of ads) would appear in (or periodically throughout) the free Kindle edition of the book.  This would help offset the lost revenue from downloaders who turn out to be freeloaders.  Then again, is that really "lost" revenue?  Those people probably wouldn't have bought the paid edition anyway.

Only a very forward thinking publisher and author would participate in something like this.  It's not without risk, of course, but it's also an experiment in a very limited space; the number of Kindles out there is tiny compared to the number of book-buyers who don't own a Kindle.  So even if it's wildly popular but nobody pays a penny for the content the other 99.999% of the book-buying public won't have been affected.

Speaking of that other 99.999%, Amazon, publisher and author could use this as a way to promote the book to that majority as well.  Think word-of-mouth and add in an affiliate discount code Kindle downloaders can pass along to their friends, creating even more buzz and giving everyone an additional incentive to buy the book.

One final thought: If a publisher really wants to do this they wouldn't even have to work with Amazon to make it happen.  They could simply offer the unprotected mobi file on their own site for a free, limited-time download.  Think about that for a moment...  That publisher would be able to establish a direct relationship with all those Kindle owners, capturing e-mail addresses and the opportunity to market directly to them in the future.  Take that a step further and if the publisher makes it clear to the customer, they could conceivably sell that list to other publishers to market to them as well.

See all the interesting directions this can go in?...



i dunno about the experiment and whether its a good idea or not... but i DO know that if i download a book with ads in it, im not paying a red cent for it. i dont care if it was the best book ive ever read. i ALREADY paid for it by viewing the ads.

in fact, given the choice of buying the book for a reasonable price, and getting it for free with ads, id buy the book. every time. at the very most, i might DL the ad-supported copy if i wasnt sure if i wanted the book or not, read enough to find out, then delete it and buy the paid book if i wanted it... and just delete it period if i didnt. and if the book were (in my opinion) overpriced, i STILL wouldnt opt for the ad-supported book, i just wouldnt read it at all.

i am sick and tired of being advertised to, sick enough that even free stuff isnt enough to make me subject myself to it, and im willing to pay (or skip a product entirely if paid isnt an option) to avoid it.

Joe Wikert

I hear you and I suspect there are others who'd agree with you. I should have also mentioned that paying customers would receive a second version of the book, completely free of ads.

I'd be curious to know how you feel about ads in magazines though. Do you not buy magazines because they have ads? Lots of people are quite comfortable with ads in magazines and realize they help keep the cover price down. I'm one of them and it's highly unlikely I'd pay more for the same magazine without ads.

By the same token, I'd welcome a new book format that's lower-priced and subsidized by ads. In fact, I'm quite certain this model would lead me to experiment more with authors I'm not willing to pay full price for today...but perhaps I'm in the minority.

Book Calendar

Maybe they could do it instead on some authors older series of books as an attempt to push some newer titles. Maybe do a retrospective on a specific authors older works.

David Nygren

I agree that it would be an interesting experiment. Of course, these days, I don't see publishers being willing to give anything away for free (though it's now that their situation is so bad that they really should be experimenting). The only potential problem is that Amazon, a publisher or an author might not really get any new readers this way. People usually decide NOT to read something because either they're not interested or, even if they are a bit interested, they just don't have time. Compared to other non-essentials people willingly spend money on, books just aren't that expensive. Even fairly avid readers usually have more books in the queue than they have time to read. If there was a book I wanted to read anyway, and that book was free or low-cost but had ads, yes I would gladly take that deal. The ads don't bite. In fact, in the course of reading a book, I think they'd be nearly invisible to me (bad news for the advertisers, but maybe others wouldn't be as blind). In any case, you're right that experimentation is called for and the big boys better get busy with it.

David Nygren

Coincidentally, here's post about Trent Reznor successfully using something like the Radiohead model:



there have already been publishers experimenting with this... tor offered a free book a week for quite a while, and baen regularly releases CDs with ebook versions of many of their books. currently, orbit is offering a book a month for a dollar... and i can tell you right now that THAT promotion is probably working great for them, because after reading "the way of shadows" (this month's book) i immediately bought the other two books in the trilogy and read them as well...

what is needed is more promotion of these specials. as adverse as i am to being marketed to, id be willing to put my email address on a list that kept me updated on these kinds of promotions... if i hadnt run across a blog post about orbit's promotion id never have known about it, and quite possibly never have read those books (which would be a shame, because i really liked them)... so i agree that the publishers need to do more to get the word out, and amazon as well, since they benefit from the increased sales of other full-priced books by the promoted authors.

as far as magazines go... nope, dont read them. a big part of it IS because theyre so overloaded with ads now... MUCH worse than it was 20 years ago. a lot of magazines are more than 50% ad pages... but even without the ads i probably wouldnt read them because the content is so poor anymore. comic books are even worse, i used to buy and read them avidly, but nowadays theyre 60-70% ads, and even shorter than they used to be. plus i hate the new art styles and storytelling direction. but thats a different discussion :)


Author Jeffrey Carver has used this model with the first three books in his Chaos Chronicles series. He first just offered them for free, but several people kept telling him that they'd like to pay him for them, so Carver eventually set up a "tip jar" with a Pay-pal button. Those who download any of the first 3 books in the series are offered the option to pay what they think the books are worth. See http://www.starrigger.net/ebooks.htm


I(and all of my friends) love Radiohead. Only a couple of people I know bought the album when it was offered online. I did, however, buy a copy of the CD at Starbucks. The whole internet thing was what caught my attention though---Like handing out free books at a convention.

The comments to this entry are closed.