Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Does giving away e-books increase sales?

That’s the subject of a study conducted by John Hilton III and David Wiley, both of Brigham Young University.

Their study was based on sales records for 41 books within three groups and notes sales records 8 weeks before the free digital release and books sales 8 weeks after the free digital release. The complete study and conclusion is available here:;view=text;rgn=main;idno=3336451.0013.101

After listing to all the pros and cons of giving away e-books to generate print sales, I found it interesting that one of the conclusions in this study is that there was 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 increase sales.”

About the authors:
John Hilton III received his M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and currently is a Ph.D. student in Instructional Psychology at Brigham Young University. He is interested in researching open-access issues, particularly the creation and use of open educational resources, and looking at how free digital book distribution affects print sales and the impact of books.

David Wiley is an associate professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University.


Kim Smith said...

Vewwy interesting :)

s.w. vaughn said...

Hmm. I know some notable authors (including Cory Doctorow and J.A. Konrath) strongly believe in the sales-influencing power of free e-books - and their individual sales data seems to support that conclusion (they have shared numbers - Konrath has several very detailed breakdowns on his blog).

Personally, I think book sales are all the result of voodoo magic. That's right. VOODOO. People sticking pins in little cloth books and such. That's how sales are made.


Marta Stephens said...

My take on this is, if you're with a large publisher and have an established readership, you could put your grocery list on an e-book and sell it. It's not as simple for the writers who are not well known.

I don't see it that there is an absolute answer to this, but rather a myriad of factors, the right timing, and endless possibilities.

Terry W. Ervin II said...

An interesting study, even if limited. It resulted in more questions than answers. Questions which the free ebook = increased print sales discussion has had for quite some time.

But they've begun, with this limited study, to put some hard data out there.

John Hilton III said...

For those interested in more information, I gave responded to concerns about the study here:

I've also just completed two other studies in this area, which are discussed at


Marta Stephens said...

John, thanks so much for the additional links!!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

My publisher has been doing this for a while - apparently there are merits! Thanks, Marta, for the interesting article and links. ;o)