While the debate about the future of ebooks rages on, with authors and book publishers alike concerned about how a well-worn business model is rapidly changing, a new academic study claims that giving away free electronic versions of your books can boost sales of the printed version.
The study has been conducted byJohn Hilton, a doctoral candidate in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University who is researching issues around open education and open access.
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Hilton coauthored a study published in The Journal of Electronic Publishing titled "The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales," where he and his colleagues examined Bookscan sales for dozens of print titles before and after they were released online for free.
Hilton and colleague David Wiley had examined sales for 41 print and the BYU academics found that generally, a free ebook release is correlated with increased sales of the printed book.
"Of course the big elephant in the room is that whatever it'll be today, it'll be different three years from now, maybe even three months from now," Hilton told Bloggasm.com. "As people get more iPads, or something like a Kindle takes over, all of this could drastically change."
"Think of the educational benefit of making this resource available," he added. "I think there's a huge benefit to society by making something available for free. Recently I've been involved with another study with my dissertation, and this studied just eight books, and over a few week time these books were downloaded over 100,000 times, and sales increased moderately.
"But the point wasn't whether sales increased or decreased; here are 100,000 people who accessed works who otherwise wouldn't have. So my hope would be that this study would relieve people's fears that if they put books online for free their sales would tank, and they'd say, 'let's think about a more global benefit to having your works online for free.'"