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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 12:43 EDT

Amazon Experiments With Free E-Book Offerings

August 7, 2009

Amazon.com’s latest venture offers users of its popular Kindle reader free e-books from many noted authors, The Associated Press reported.

Popular and prolific thriller author James Patterson is among those giving away free books to Kindle readers, including the first installment of his young adult series “Maximum Ride”. The book, titled “The Angel Experiment,” is one of the most downloaded among the growing list of free e-book offerings.

“I like the notion of introducing people to one book, while promoting the sales of another,” said the prolific and mega-selling author.

Patterson said they’ve given away thousands of free e-copies, and added that while “Maximum Ride” is already big, they think it could be a lot bigger and that requires getting people to read it.

Over the past few months, top sellers on the Kindle – with downloads in the tens of thousands – have included such public domain titles as “Pride and Prejudice” and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” and novels by Jennifer Stevenson and Greg Keyes.

The top three Kindle sellers in recent days have been free books: Patterson’s, Joseph Finder’s “Paranoia” and Keyes’ “The Briar King.”

Maja Thomas, senior vice president of digital media at Patterson’s publisher, the Hachette Book Group, said there’s always going to be someone who wants free things.

“What we’re trying to do is link free with paid. It’s like priming the pump,” she added.

Scott Shannon, publisher of the Del Rey/Spectra imprint at Random House, Inc., which published Keyes’ fantasy novel, said what they like to do is make the first book in a series free, usually a series that has multiple books.

Del Rey has had especially good luck with Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” fantasy series after offering the first book for free, Shannon said. Since then, the other Temeraire novels’ sales increased by more than 1,000 percent.

However, many publishers and authors have expressed concern that the standard cost for electronic editions of new releases, just under $10, will take away sales from the more expensive hardcovers and set an unrealistically low price for the future.

But many are remaining open-minded about free books, which present a chance and a challenge: Readers may buy other books, or, they may simply seek more free titles.

Shannon said it has been a huge hot-button topic they’ve been discussing within their division and at the corporate level.

“We have had phenomenal success with using free books to get people to buy others by an author. But in the long term, we have to guard the market. We have to make sure people understand that time and energy goes into writing a book,” he added.

Ellie Hirschhorn, Simon & Schuster’s chief digital officer, said consumers love free things.

“Free is a good price. But the opportunity they present to publishers is to experiment, and I stress experiment.”

Amazon.com has been aggressive about keeping e-book prices low, and has given free e-books high visibility by including them on the Kindle best-seller list.

Amazon’s main rival, Sony, does not include free works among its best sellers.

“We work hard to provide customers with the best value possible and pass savings on to them whenever possible,” said Amazon.com spokeswoman Cinthia Portugal.

Portugal added that Amazon includes free books among its top sellers because the list is “based on customer orders – customers are still ordering these books, they just have a price tag of $0.00.”

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