Is the Honor System a Failure for Books?

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Is the Honor System a Failure for Books? Listen to this article

Is the Honor System a Failure for Books?
(image courtesy Smashwords)

Smashwords today on their blog revealed some interesting statistical data; that people are cheapskates.

I know, you’re shocked. Try to keep it together for the rest of this post. Apparently, in a wide-ranging study (353 people!) only 15% paid. Everyone else downloaded the book for free. Smashwords explained their take on this data:

Not captured in this data is any other ancillary benefit received by the author/publisher. Possible author benefits might include:

* customer goodwill
* purchases of print versions
* free author and book publicity from satisfied readers on blogs and social networks
* increased fan base to which to market other titles by the same author/publisher

I neither encourage or discourage our authors to use the Radiohead model. As I’ll discuss this weekend in my Ebook Revolution session with Dan Poynter at The San Francisco Writer’s Conference, there’s no one-size-fits-all pricing strategy for ebooks. Your choice of pricing really depends on your objective as an author, and also your subject matter. Are you looking to maximize readership or revenues, or do you want to do both?

High prices tend to discourage readership by reducing affordability. Lower prices expand the available market. Free eliminates price as a barrier. And the Radiohead model offers a middle ground by trusting the customer to decide.

Smashwords has an interesting point, even if their data is highly, highly suspect. I wonder why they picked 353? Did they not have an even number of people for the time frame they wanted to use? Or were they just looking for a way to show the most shocking numbers possible (ONLY 15% OF PEOPLE WANT TO PAY FOR BOOKS) to prove they are right?

There is definitely something to the idea that there are psychological triggers for consumers, and when prices cross them we all subconsciously recoil. $.99 is a bargain, $1.00 makes us pause. Mike did a great job of showing how this has affected the music industry earlier this week.

But my issue with Smashwords post is that it seems designed to tilt us all into believing free riders dominate ebooks. And they do, to a certain extent. But there’s no context to the reasons the statistical pool was chosen, and that makes it very tough to believe it is as bleak, or that pricing expectations are as low, as Smashwords wants to make it seem.

Do you believe Smashwords is right on with their assessment? Do you pay for books you download from them, or do you just enjoy your free ebook and move on? Share below!

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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?