Jeffrey Trachtenberg has a fascinating piece in Monday's Wall Street Journal called Boundless Possibilities. If you have a subscription to the Journal, you can read it here.
The general idea is to give books away, in whole or in part, over the Internet. Readers comment on the posted content and, in some cases, propose and even implement changes.
The approach is more of a natural for nonfiction than it is for fiction, but in either case it raises a recurring question: when you give someone a free product, are you cannibalizing your sales, or growing your market?
There are no easy answers, but the principle is this. If giving away a free sample creates enough new customers to cover the cost of the sample and the opportunity you lost for a sale because you gave away the one sample for free, give those samples away.
What would happen if, simultaneously with the publication of a quality suspense book, the author started posting a chapter every other day (or at some other, possibly slowing, interval) on her website? If each chapter ended in a ferocious cliffhanger, would readers get hooked online and then swallow the bait by purchasing the book (at the end of each chapter posting, there would be a link to an online bookseller)? If so, how many? How many readers who would have bought the book would instead choose to read it piecemeal online? And how many new customers would the online promotion create through web presence and word of mouth?
Beware -- your answers to these questions function like responses to an inkblot test. Some people believe in a zero sum universe -- your win is my loss, a resource used is a resource cannibalized, scarcity is the natural condition of things. Others believe in synergy, win-win, a resource used is a resource invested, abundance is the natural order of things. In many ways, your outlook will determine your marketing.
Me, I give away a lot of Rain books, especially to people who've demonstrated their enthusiasm for the series and willingness to get out the word. Some of these people would have bought the book if I hadn't given them a copy. I'm betting they bring in enough new readers to make the give-aways worth while. What do you do?
BTW, anybody out there like Morcheeba? Been listening to their stuff and like it a lot, especially the album Big Calm.