March 11 – March 18, 2010 Edition

Journal Tracks Effects of Free E-Books on Printed Book Sales

AUTHORLINK NEWS/03/11/10–A study by The Journal of Electronic Publishing released last week concludes that “when free e-books are offered for a relatively long period of time, without requiring registration, print sales will increase.”

The study indicates that there is a moderate correlation between free digital books being made permanently available and short-term print sales increases. However, free digital books did not always equal increased sales.

The report written by John Hilton III and David Wiley, said “This result may be surprising, both to those who claim that when a free version is available fewer people will pay to purchase copies, as well as those who claim that free access will not harm sales. The results of the present study must be viewed with caution. Although the authors believe that free digital book distribution tends to increase print sales, this is not a universal law. The results we found cannot necessarily be generalized to other books, nor be construed to suggest causation. The timing of a free e-book’s release, the promotion it received and other factors cannot be fully accounted for.

The researchers used Nielsen BookScan to track the data on book sales before and after free versions were available. BookScan tracks point-of-sales data from most major booksellers, meaning that it tracks the number of books actually sold to customers, as opposed to books sold by distributors to retailers. BookScan tracks about 70% of all book sales in the United States but does not cover certain outlets such as Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

Some participating publishers who had offered free digital copies of some print titles saw increases ranging from a low of .05% to 7%. But others did not.

The full study is posted at the Journal of Electronic Publishing.

The Journal of Electronic Publishing (JEP) is a forum for research and discussion about contemporary publishing practices, and the impact of those practices upon users.