…books don’t want to be free; they just want to be a whole lot cheaper than they are. And when you make books (not all books, but some) $4.99 or $1.99 or even 99 cents, people will buy more of them. . . .I doubt that people would sign up for anything an author writes. But they might well sign up for notifications (and one-click purchasing) of anything she writes, so they can be sure of the genre, main character, or other necessary qualities. If such a system takes place, it will surely change the nature of the writing, just as we can tell where Dickens broke off his serialized installments while making sure readers would come back for the next.
There’s even the possibility that books could be free and still make money: Amazon has an ad-supported Kindle, so why not extend that model to the books themselves? Magazine writers publish their content in an ad-supported medium, so why not books? Authors such as Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many of their novels on a monthly basis as magazine supplements. And Amazon apparently already has a patent that covers advertising-supported e-books.
As we’ve pointed out before, the book is evolving as it becomes digital — there are Kindle Singles that aren’t much longer than a magazine-length feature, and some magazines and newspapers are packaging features in just that format, as well as newer services like Byliner that have been commissioning custom content. A free Kindle could be just the beginning of an explosion of book-like content from Amazon and others: The company is already talking about a “Netflix for books” that would offer content for a monthly fee.
Why not offer a subscription to an author, so I can automatically get whatever he or she writes, regardless of length or format? This would blend the worlds of blogging, Kindle Singles, magazine-length features and novels into one stream of content, and I’d be willing to bet more people would read more as a result. The printed book, as Seth Godin wrote recently, is a fetish of sorts, like an expensive watch: something we buy because we like to look at it, but something that is no longer really functional or necessary. In the end, that’s likely to be a good thing, not a bad one.
Mathew Ingram contemplates the falling prices of the Kindle and other simple electronic readers, and the falling prices of simple genre fiction in digital form: