a poll on free online content.

I have an informal poll for you this morning.

How do you feel about writers releasing their material online as "patronage-ware"? (That’s what I call it when someone puts up a story or novel without requiring payment for the download, while asking people to pay whatever they think their entertainment was worth to them.)

Have you/would you pay a writer directly after reading the whole book for free online, or do you refuse to pay for anything that doesn’t come on dead tree from Borders or Amazon.com?

I’m putting up an anonymous click poll to gauge the winds out there, but feel free to respond with a comment as well, if you have thoughts to share.  You have two votes.  If you participate, please choose one of the Pay/No Pay options, and then one of the “…and” answers on the purchase of the paper version.

(Note: I’m still very much going the traditional route to publication, but I’ve been thinking that the traditional way and the Doctorow method are not mutually exclusive.  In the past, I’ve purchased the paper versions of free-to-read ebooks I’ve found online–John Scalzi, Cherie Priest, and David Weber in particular–and I’m pretty sure that others would do the same.)

(Note the Second: This poll is anonymous, and n0body else can see how or if you voted, not even this humble scribe.)


43 thoughts on “a poll on free online content.

  1. Roberta X says:

    I’m not sure if I should even vote, since I do give away my fiction “writing” for free. I had writer’s block for years and I am just writing it down as fast as I can (it’s what I do at lunch instead of read), so I figure I am charging what it is worth — or possibly overcharging!

    It’s very different for someone who actually works at it and expects to publish for money. Since I don’t like e-books, I’d skim it and then buy a real (printed and bound) copy once it is published.

  2. Isaiah Kellogg says:

    As long as Paypal isn’t required. I might pay $2 for an online book, or $5 for a good one, after I read it, but I refuse to use Paypal, and that seems to be the only option ever available.

  3. The Other Jay says:

    I just went back and check my book-pile. 5 hardcovers, 11 paperbacks.

    During roughly the same period, I have downloaded 19 softcopies.

    Of the softcopies, 3 were $0; 10 were $5, and 6 were “ARC”s for $15.

    The incremental $10 for the ARC versions is an impatience tax that I’m evidently willing to pay.

  4. dogzard says:

    Here are a couple of links to an author by the name of Eric Flint, who writes for Baen Publishing.

    I do not know if you have read these or not, but might help shed some light on what you are asking.



  5. jcupp2 says:

    In the last year I’ve read 38 eBooks on my Kindle. I payed money ($1 – $10) for about 80% of them. I do admit to watching for bargains on Amazon and have bought low priced novels by authors no one has heard of because of the price.

    I’ll take a chance and buy a $3 book in one of the genres I read but think twice about spending $8 on a paperback.

  6. Mer says:

    I listen to free online audiobooks far more than read ebooks, and I’ve never once taken a free book and then responded with money. What I have done is take free books and then follow up and buy the paper versions if I like them.

    I have one writer friend preparing to release who has a multi-tiered approach. He’s producing a full-cast audiobook for giving away to get people to buy the ebook. If he can move 2000 ebook units, he has a guaranteed deal at a certain small-but-respectible press.

  7. pdb says:

    I tell you what, Baen has me hooked on their ebooks like a goddamn crackwhore. I happily pay the E-ARC fee of $15 for everything that comes out that I’m interested in, and then I grab the paperback when it shows up at the book store.

    I also email a copy of the E-ARC to my friends who read to spread the word, I’d like to think that increases sales generally, and Baen doesn’t seem to be hurting by giving their older catalog away.

  8. Dr. Feelgood says:

    Check it out from the county library, pretend like I’m going to read it. Return it two weeks late (after one online renewal) having made it halfway through the foreward and swear that someday I’m going to get it again and “finish” it. Tell other people how awesome it is. Do more laundry and pray that I can get to the range on my next day off.

  9. wombatoverlord says:

    I am also a screaming Baen addict – I read all of Weber’s material in free ebook form and went off and bought all of it over the course of a couple years in paperback.

    My inclination would be to have open-format downloadable versions for $5 or less, as I will generally want the dead tree version when the paperback shows up.

    There is, as you mentioned, the Doctorow model (give it away for free and ask readers to donate a copy if they themselves do not want more dead trees) – I find that I am less inclined to do this, probably because there is no initial value attached to my reading of the text.

    So, charge a small amount, and I will buy it twice – charge nothing to start, and I have a hard time seeing it as valuable.

  10. Jay G. says:

    Okay, I’m a fossil. I don’t read anything that’s not in paperback at the least, and prefer hardcover.

    Oddly enough, I hate newspapers – but then again, there’s never an overt leftist slant to the books I read…

  11. I’ve read e-books, and even paid for them, but I don’t enjoy them as much as holding a book in my hand. But it’s a lot easier to read an e-book while pretending to work. 🙂

  12. I’d download it if it looked really good and I might pay $1-2 if I liked it. Honestly, there is so much terrible writing given away for free on the internet that I would not be interested unless (a)I was already familiar with the author’s work or (b) It sounded like exactly my cup of tea.

    If I liked it, and the author had other e-books for sale, I would buy them at the normal price for a novel or short story on Kindle (generally slightly less than the 7USD ea publishers want for paperbacks nowadays).

  13. Weer'd Beard says:

    I have no good means to read a book electronically. My phone screen is just a hair too small, and the interface is not convenient, and I really couldn’t be bothered to read it on a computer screen.

    I do buy print books.

  14. perlhaqr says:

    I paid Scalzi for “Old Man’s War” when he posted it as begware on the internet… wheneverago that was. 10 years or so? And then I bought a paper copy when it came out. And then I bought his other books. All in all, I’d say it worked out pretty good for him and me both.

    I read so bloody fast I can’t ever justify anything more than paperback prices. I think I paid Scalzi $2 for OMW, and what with inflation and all, I expect I’d self-level to about $3 for a pure digital copy these days.

  15. T.Stahl says:

    Pew, at first I didn’t know how to respond to this question, the idea being so completely new.

    The I imagined the following:
    What if ‘Terms of Enlistment’ were the book in question?
    First of all, I prefer dead-tree-books, as I can read them whenever and whereever I like.
    But IF TOE were available online a few months before the paper version, THEN I’d download it and pay 1/3 to 1/2 of the price of the paperback for being able to read it sooner. Later I’d buy the paperback anyway.

    But usually I’d just wait for the paperback.

  16. Michael G. says:

    I don’t have the “all you can read” Baen subscription, but I buy their e-books regularly, including the free ones (i.e. I always donate the price of the book to the free library). Since I bought my Sony reader, I’ve stopped buying real paperbacks. I’ve bought a couple of non-fiction hardcovers, but that’s it.

  17. Rick R. says:

    Every free online book I’ve read from Baen, I’ve gone out and bought the paperback when it was released (usually pre-order via Amazon).

  18. NYEMT says:

    I read voraciously, online and on paper…but I do most of my reading on the train to and from work and at work during downtime. So online novels don’t hold much interest for me.

    I’d also hold out for print versions simply because I like the FEEL of a book in my hands.

  19. Kaerius(SWE) says:

    I have never bought an e-book. I might take a freebie if it’s something I’ve been waiting for (like oh say terms of enlistment), and it would be my first full ebook… yeah I haven’t even downloaded any freebies yet…

    But I much prefer dead tree form, so I’ll buy it when it gets out(in paperback, I’m not made of money).

  20. bluntobject says:

    I read On Basilisk Station on Baen’s free library (while it was out of print), then bought about ten David Weber paperbacks. I read Rolling Hot on Baen’s free library, then bought all the Hammer’s Slammers books I could find. Reading and enjoying a free book online makes it damn near certain that I’ll buy the paper version when it comes out.

  21. Kristopher says:

    You forgot the option: “Republish is online as written by Major Caudill, and then sue the original author for copyright infringement.”

  22. guy says:

    Larry Correia’s MHI got me hooked on Baen. I prefer real live paperbacks to online versions, but I’d rather not have books I don’t like taking up bookshelf space. So I buy the online version then if I like it enough that
    I’ll want to re-read it I’ll buy the paperback.

  23. Jerry says:

    I’m still waiting for your book to hit the shelves. I read the “teaser” and want the rest.

    Would I pay you for it if I read it online?

    Probably not. I will buy it, read it and pass it on to others who will read it with out paying. 😉

  24. Assrot says:

    I like what you did a while back. Offer the first chapter for free online. If I like the first chapter, I’ll by the book when it comes out.

    Hopefully it’s a hardcover book. I don’t care much for paperbacks. I never have liked reading ebooks and will never pay for one. I’m old school. I like “real” books.

    I know most writers start out with paperbacks so if the first chapter is good, I will make an exception and buy the paperback although I’d probably give it away after reading it.


  25. I’m highly unlikely to drop any cash on an online read, but I’m also not going to read an entire book on a computer, either.

    I caught the first chapter of Monster Hunter International at Larry’s blog, and bought the Baen edition the day it hit the shelf. He got his chunk, and I got my happy on.

    I intend to do the same with your book, BTW. The free chapter got me hook, line, and sinker, but I can’t get comfortable for a good long read in front of my monitor. It needs the dead tree, Precious.


  26. daddyquatro says:

    Ditto, tweaker.
    I get uncomfortable reading a long essay on a monitor. Give me something I can hold in my hand, lay down on the coffee table when I need to check on dinner, take to the small room when the need arises and I don’t want to quit reading.

  27. E says:

    I spend all day in front of a screen, and seldom have time to read at length for leisure. I won’t read a book on a computer – getting away from the terminal is usually my first priority.

    I’d prefer to buy a paperback and somehow get the author a bigger cut.

    Oddly, althought I like libraries in theory, I almost never use them and usually buy books used these days if at all. When I was a kid I’d regularly rode my bike to the library in the next town to consume their science fiction section.

  28. Schmidt says:

    I read ebooks, any ebooks for free, and if I really like them, that is, If I am going to re-read them(my record is Cryptonomicon.. I think I’ve read it six times), I buy a copy. Or convince my father whose finances are in much better shape than mine that he is going to like it…

    Ebooks I don’t like paying for. DRM is nasty and you have no guarantee you’ll always be able to access what you bought,..

    As to free online content, you may try asking Peter Watts how it impacted his sales.
    He’s a hard sf author (mostly). Very dark, dystopic stuff, a Russian publisher refused his novel on the grounds of it being “too depressing”.
    All of his books are available for free on the net. Most of them are in print, and one(Blindsight) has already been translated into several languages.

    I think putting up first third of the book… or how much you guess would be guaranteed to get people hooked.

    Ha! I’ve read dozens of books on the 320×240 screen of my phone. It didn’t affect my myopia, though I’ll ask an eye doctor when I see one.
    The phone is great.. the only place where I can’t read is underwater.. though I had some rugged mil-spec phone, even that would be possible.

  29. LittleRed1 says:

    I have real trouble reading more than the equivalent of ten or fifteen pages of text on a computer screen, so it’s dead-tree all the way.

  30. Josh says:

    I’m another Larry Corriea fan…. he’s gotten me hooked on the digital and print stuff….
    I heard about the book on a podcast (Gun Nuts), talked about it on forums (GRRN), downloaded the free chapters (via Larry’s site and Baen’s), and bought a copy at B&N (an hour away). I since have purchased a signed paperback version from Larry through his site, and am on a list to get a signed leatherbound cover version for my wife and so we can more easily read it to my son (great bedtime story 🙂 for a 16 month old)

    basically, if its good, I’ll buy it and possibly get multiple copies, if its mediocre, I’ll just stop reading where the ‘free chapters’ leave off, if its crap I’ll delete the link and try to forget I ever heard of it…..

  31. Tam says:

    It’s very rare for me to read anything longer than, say, “article length” on the computer.

    I own many hardbacks with the Baen CD-ROMs and have never actually stuck one in a machine to see what’s on it.

    JW,R’s “Patriots” and a draft of a novel by an aspiring author are the only two book-length things I’ve ever read on a screen. If I read a teaser and like it, I’ll buy it in dead-tree format.

  32. SgtStu says:

    I’ve purchased only one book online to date; “1634 The Baltic War” by Eric Flint and David Weber.(Excellent, BTW) I imagine there will be more. I have many books on the computer, but sitting there staring at the haunted fish tank gives me a stiff neck. I love dead tree books because they make me feel more ‘connected’ /give reading a more tactile sense of enjoyment plus convenient transportabilty. Hardcovers are not in my budget, a 100rd box of WWB .45ACP is still not much more than a HC. I buy HCs at library book sales.
    But, oh, paperbacks! PBs pack well. An important consideration for those ‘governmently’ mobile individuals like military and Civil Service. I moved seven times in six years (counting basic and tech school, taking root at the last one) while my sister and BinL have moved 16 times in 20 years with at least one more to go.
    I have evolved the system of having the local downtown library order the book new, generally in HC, read it and buy the PB. The local AFB library is not as well funded for new books (not even close) so I pick up stuff at their swap shelf that I might not otherwise have read. Sometimes you get lucky; once, ALL the Tom Clancy ‘Jack Ryan’ books in HC with slip covers in perfect shape. W00T! Having said all this, I would do the kick in the HC % but also buy the PB.

    Sorry for the length,

  33. Josh says:

    I think something that should be taken into account is what you are reading that digital copy on…. from reading some of the comments I have gathered that most of you are reading things on the computer screen. I however was reading and prefer to read things on my iPhone.

    Much like the beauty of the paperback that SgtStu mentions, my iPhone is EVERYWHERE I go, I can be listening to music while reading and control both on the same device if traveling. I can pull it out of my pocket and fire up the program or PDF in a matter of seconds no matter where I’m at or if I have service (which is great when I’m waiting for a horse to get off the walker in the barn, or I’m on the back side of the farm letting my ass take a break from mowing on the tractor)….

    I have heard that the Kindle and other readers like that work much the same way, but I cannot imagine packing ANOTHER peice of gear with me, my phone is there, I use my phone….

  34. ibex says:

    For some strange reason I read a lot faster on a PC than on dead tree. The amount of my donation would depend on the amount of entertainment I got and the length of the novel. $3 for a short, mediocre story, $5-$7 for better and longer stuff. For ToE, I’d drop $10 even in advance, without thinking twice.

    That is, of course, assuming that the format is DRM-free. I’d rather wait for the dead tree edition than bother with that.

  35. weambulance says:

    I’m pretty picky about my recreational reading format. I can’t stand trying to read novels online, although I did read Old Man’s War straight through when it was offered for free online.

    By picky, I mean… I don’t even like non-standard size paperbacks. I do almost all my reading laying on my side, so it strains my hands and wrists to hold a hardcover, and odd sized paperbacks don’t fit my bookshelves right! Also, they love to charge $3-7 more those off-size paperbacks, which are becoming more prevalent all the time it seems. WTF?

    I’ll gladly pay for audiobooks and paperbacks, or both if I really enjoy the story. I take lots of long car trips, and audiobooks are great for my 1.5-2 hours of boring daily cardio as well.

    In a visual format, nothing will ever beat a standard paperback. Y’all can keep your kindles and whatnot, I like my dead trees.

  36. KingsideRook says:

    The Baen Model of “Hey look, free book online” got me to purchase 1632, 1633, Dalmas’ Lion of Farside, and the entire Ghost series by OH JOHN RINGO NO.

    I don’t mind reading books online, but I prefer tree versions. I read the first couple of chapters of Old Man’s War online in not-legal Steal-o-vision because someone recommended it to me, and promptly went out and got it, and Ghost Brigade and Android’s Dream, and then waited for Zoe’s Tale. Keep in mind, all of this is based on b ooks I have sampled or read entirely online and LIKED. Baen alone publishes a lot of SF that just doesn’t resonate with me, though I also am now blasting through Michael Z. Williamson’s stuff after a late introduction.

    I would happily read your book and buy a copy of the paper version based on the first chapter, and I wouldn’t feel bad about throwing down $3 or so after reading it online. That amount is right in my “who cares” expenditure area. Anything over $3, I start wondering how cheaply I can find a used copy of the actual book at McKays.


  37. Murgy says:

    I have a Palm Tx, with MobiReader on it. Over 200 ebooks on the SD card.

    Baen has me hooked like a meth addict on a 90 day bender.

  38. geekWithA.45 says:

    The more I use my bookReader, (Sony PRS-505), the less I’m interested in dead trees: it is my preferred format these days, and given a choice, that’s always the one I take.

    I’d much rather pay an author’s royalty direct, and perhaps a buck or two to defray the cost of distribution.

    I will *not* pay hardback, or even full paperback prices for ebooks, because I know for a *fact* that the cost of artifact and distribution is less than for physical objects, and deeply suspect that the difference ends up in the publisher’s pocket, rather than the author’s.

  39. Jenny says:

    Like the posters above, almost all my fiction reading is paper, with few exceptions. Too much looking at a screen already.

    Out of curiosity though, has there been any success with interleaving stories combining the two?

    That is, you give away for free one side of events on your website, and the other (say from another perspective, with scads more context and the meaning of some of recurring in-jokes in the free version) in the paper book?

  40. Brian Dale says:

    “How do you feel about writers releasing their material online as “patronage-ware”?”

    Good idea; use it to sell paperbacks.

    “In the past, I’ve purchased the paper versions of free-to-read ebooks I’ve found online–John Scalzi, Cherie Priest, and David Weber in particular–and I’m pretty sure that others would do the same.”

    I have, too.

    I ordered Matt Bracken’s EFAD from him, then I read some of it on line while I was waiting for the hard copy to arrive (a few days). I read Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold online, and I’ve since bought two or three copies of it and of The Weapon, and singles of his newer couple of books.

    I’m not inclined to read partial novels except while the hard copy is in the mail to me. If I can’t read the whole thing, I don’t want to open it, get interested in the story, and lend a part of my brain to the author until I cough up the cash. I also go through computers much faster than I use up hard copies. When I buy a hard copy, I own it until I give it to somebody. If it’s on my computer, I only have it for a few years, then I either remember to transfer the file or I leave it behind. This is a problem for me because I re-read good novels over and over, often with years between readings. Furthermore, since the recent evaporation-and-refund fiasco with one publisher’s e-books, then if DRM is involved, I don’t want it at all.

    I’ve read some full length novels on line, from Baen (Michael Z. Williamson, Eric Flint, David Weber) and from Project Gutenberg (WWI stuff). I prefer hard copies, but I will read on a computer screen. I’ve recently re-read Ian Hay’s The First Hundred Thousand, written by a British officer in the trenches during WWI. I bought a 1917-published hard copy several years ago at a library sale, then downloaded its sequel from Gutenberg. I’m currently mid-way through my third or fourth reading of that sequel, All In It: K(1) Carries On. I’ll probably hit alibris or abebooks for a hard copy of that one, too.

    E-books sell paperbacks–to me, at least. I’ve read all of the free books in the 1632 series and, because of that, I’m filling my shelf with the rest, but I’m buying them in paperback. I don’t want to pay six bucks for the e-versions; gimme a real one for eight, or ten, or twenty (Hello, Larry Correia and Matt Bracken–both worth it). Without the free e-versions, I wouldn’t have started buying Eric Flint’s books for a few more years. Same with David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. I’ve just finished On Basilisk Station, and here comes another round of paperback acquisitions. Without the free version, my shelves would be Harrington-free for a while yet.

    Pay the authors? Sure; but for me, if the material is an e-book, I see the act as tipping the author. If it’s made of wood fibers, then I really believe that I own it. If it’s made of electrons, then I’m not convinced.

  41. If I read something online free that I liked, I go buy the paperback. (Funny how many Baen titles ended up on my shelves this way). If I know the author, or it’s recommended, I’ll drop $1-$5 to check out the book, and read it online – or if it had a teaser, like 1-5 chapters, and I got hooked enough to pay for the full book. Either way, if I like the book, I buy it again if it comes out in paperback.

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