Recently I offered my book, God’s Debris, for free on the Internet, under the theory that the people who like it might be inspired to buy the sequel in hard copy. 170,000 people downloaded it in two weeks. Many of them presumably e-mailed it to other people who e-mailed it to yet other people. I’m guessing half a million people read it in the past month. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book, so let’s say 250,000 people loved it. That seems about right based on the reviews on Amazon.
Now for a test of your marketing savvy: How many of the people who loved the free sample went ahead and purchased the sequel? The answer is in the next paragraph, so make your guess before reading further.
I don’t know the exact number, but it appears to be less than a thousand. An alarming number of readers were confused about this whole process and wrote to ask if they could also have the sequel for free.
I have not read (or downloaded) this book, and I have no interest in promoting or in disparaging Mr. Adams' work. I was just struck by the way he's tossing these numbers around. Assuming that the 170,000 individuals who downloaded free copies of God's Debris e-mailed the files to 330,000 of their friends seems wildly optimistic to me. That would mean that, on average, everyone who downloaded the book e-mailed it to two friends. That's not a conclusion I can support; neither do I share Mr. Adams' apparent belief that everyone who downloaded God's Debris (or received it from a friend) actually read the book. Surely, some people just glanced at the first couple of pages and then deleted the file. It cost them nothing but a few mouse clicks, after all. Those casual downloaders and other recipients spent about the same amount of time they'd have done in a bookstore where they'd have picked up the book, read the blurb, then skimmed the first page before replacing the book on the shelf and walking away. Those aren't readers, they're browsers.
Let me drive this point home: You can click here right now and download God's Debris for free. No strings--it really is a free book. Maybe you don't read Dilbert, maybe you've never even heard of Scott Adams, but now that I've aroused your curiosity and assured you this is a free download, you're tempted, aren't you? But downloading does not always mean reading, does it? And reading does not guarantee loving. That's why "...let's say 250,000 people loved it" strikes me as a ridiculous supposition.
Another flaw in Mr. Adams' reasoning is evident in his assumption that Amazon reviews are accurate indicators of a book's reception. If half of a book's Amazon reviews are rated 5-stars, it does not follow that half of the people who read the book loved it. We can be sure only that half of the people who posted reviews on Amazon loved it. What if the majority of readers found the book only mildly entertaining--or even mildly annoying? We'd never know that because those people don't tend to have sufficient motivation (stemming from excitement or disgust) to post Amazon reviews.
But while I smile at Mr. Adams' outrageous guesses, it's a fact that book promotion involves far more wizardry than science. And I clucked in sympathy when I read that people have asked him whether they might also have the sequel to God's Debris for free.
Do you think it's difficult to write a book? Next to impossible to get one published?
Hah. Try figuring out how to successfully promote one.