According to Seth Godin at the O'Reilly TOC conference this week "Authors are really idea merchants. The ideas that spread best win. Free ideas spread better than paid ideas. The way you monetize this is to sell 'souvenirs'.... It's not a new way of promoting, it's a whole new business."
This was part of his take on HarperCollins new program to offer complete online access to a select group of books for a month at a time. They are also providing "sneak peaks" of selected books by activating online access (limited to only 20 percent of the text) two weeks before the on-sale date. The files can only be viewed via the web and cannot be downloaded or printed.
Author and marketing guru Godin sees the Harper announcement as a typical traditional book publishing mentality attempting a new initiative: "They took all the [viral marketing] things that work--that make it spread--and they're turning them off." His idea is that marketing is "trying to start conversations, and if that conversation takes place the ideas spread."
Godin may be correct, but the big houses are scrambling to recreate the old publishing paradigm within the expanding internet universe. Tor Books is now offering a program with "free digital books from bestselling and award-winning SF and fantasy authors" through a newsletter sign-up on their website. Random House has announced "a pilot project to sell individual chapters of a book online."
HarperCollins Publishers Promotion to Make Select Books Available Online for Free: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance