There’s a new app coming, and on the surface, it looks a whole lot like piracy meets FourSquare. Of course, the fact that a few smaller publishers have come on board and the nomination for a publishing industry innovation award lends a lot of credibility to the concept behind Rook, the free ebook reading app that lets users read any book they want for free, as long as they remain in the location where the book was made available (like a coffee shop or other Rook hotspot).
So how is giving away ebook content good for the industry? As the research has been demonstrating for years, literally going back to early studies by Kobo, Sourcebook, OverDrive, and other reputable industry sources, consumers are fairly trustworthy. Whether it’s library lending, free sampling, or book series discounting, readers will take a risk on a book purchase if they know they’re going to enjoy it. How do they discover that they like a book or an author? By reading. And the studies have proven time and time again that letting consumers try content for free or at drastically reduced prices leads to purchases of either the same title or other titles by that author.
An article in the Guardian on the new app sums it up entirely: “Experiencing something for nothing, or next to nothing, can be the start of a fruitful relationship between consumer and producer. Library users buy more books, as do Kindle Unlimited users, according to a recent Nielsen survey. It’s risky to part with £17.99 on an unknown author, but take a punt for nothing and you might be so enamoured you’ll pre-order their next at the bookshop. Or so the theory goes.”
But with multiple studies and surveys, why aren’t more publishers getting in line to adapt to this consumer behavior? Because they don’t know how. A four-hundred-year old industry wasn’t built on giving away content, and publishers are loathe to experiment with their front list titles, especially under the false belief that it will lead to more piracy. The fact that ebooks themselves haven’t led to increased piracy, and that industry studies have shown book pricing or free content also doesn’t increase or decrease piracy, hasn’t seemed to sink in with publishers.
As with so much about the industry, genuine change is coming from the smaller entities in the game. Independent publishers–two of which will be named as early Rook supporters at the London Book Fair this week–and self-published authors continue to not only shake up the publishing business but also provide the proof that these studies compile. Hopefully with more mainstream approaches like Rook, the rest of the industry will eventually catch up.