Free Books at Amazon — What’s All the Fuss?


Amazon’s launched their “Select” program — meaning that Amazon Prime members can read enrolled books for free. These books have to be exclusive to Amazon for now. Authors decided if they want to opt in or not, and are compensated from a pool of funds that all participating authors share in based on total number of books read through the program. And you would think from all the fuss that the sky is falling yet again. (It used to be falling about every couple of years, but technology has accelerated this so that it’s falling at least once a month now.)

Personally, I think it’s an author’s decision what to do with his or her own writing. Give it away, sell it to the highest bidder, sign a contract with a publisher (a good one, or a even one that’s going to make your life hell)…it’s a personal choice and we all get to make ’em.

For Amazon’s program, I did sign up. I’ve two books enrolled, and I’m about to bring out a new book and put it in the program. It’s an experiment, but isn’t everything right now in this ever shifting market. However, what really got me excited about the program is that fact that it works like a digital library.

As a kid, I got my reading start in the local library. I still remember the pleasure of getting my very own first library card so I could check out my own books (instead of checking them out under my mum’s card). Free books at the library made me into a life-long reader. So free books online–a way for folks to access books and read more. That’s fantastic.

I don’t expect to get rich or famous from the program — I’m one of many authors. I do hope I’ll get additional exposure and perhaps sales of other books will go up — I know if I like a book, I don’t just want a copy from a library, I want a copy at hand. I don’t really think of this as “losing sales” — a sale isn’t a sale until money has exchanged hands, so I think folks looking for free books are folks looking for free books.

As to what anyone thinks of the program, I recommend taking a deep breath and going and reading the actual terms. There’s a lot of not quite true facts being batted around, and a whole lot more about how this is going to put other folks out of business, and given the number of books that are out there I think this is more than unlikely. There are tons of books out there, and exclusive distributions have been around for a long time in a lot of different outlets.The sky is not falling, publishing is not dead, books are still going to be around, and that means we’ll have booksellers, too.

It’s up to each author to decide for yourself if it’s right for you or not. Make the call that you can live with. If you don’t like the terms, don’t opt in. If you do, try it out. It’s that simple. No one is an idiot or a fool for making a choice here. And that’s the real joy of being an author right now–there are choices. Lots of them. And if you just want to post your books for free on your site, go for it. We all write for different reasons, and it’s about time we started to celebrate that diversity of choice.

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