Are free ebooks a good idea or not?

Commentary by Mike Shatzkin

Kindle is certainly engendering a lot of confusion by billboarding the downloads of free ebooks as “sales.” That paradoxical scorekeeping was the lead for an article by Motoko Rich in The New York Times on Saturday that quoted a lot of people, some apparently disagreeing with each other, but none of them necessarily wrong.

There really are three separate questions to consider, which get elided in these conversations.

1. What is the impact of giving away ebooks as a promotional device, either to boost the word of mouth on the book being given away or to promote an author’s other titles?

2. What is the potential impact on the industry overall of ubiquitous giveaways of ebooks that would apparently have commercial value?

3. When ebooks are given away, how should that sale be “scored” in any measurement of the book’s popularity?

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