Giving Away Free Content Pays

William Shakespeare did it. Anais Nin too. Writers need to eat, and that means we write for money. We tailor our art so at the end of the day we have a roof over our head, clothes on our back, and food in our stomach. Maybe Virginia Woolf said it best: "Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money."

Feels a little dirty though, huh? Like we’re all writing whores.

There are dozens of debates to be had about exchanging prose for pay, but what about the concept of giving it away for free?

My friends over at KGaps Consulting are doing just that with their new book Hub Mentality. You can buy it on for $14.95, or you can download a digital copy for free on their website.

The 100-page book covers advertising models that work and how to successfully implement them in a business. It’s the core of what they do as a consulting company. And it’s not the only book they’re giving away free of charge – there are seven others available on their site.

So if they’re giving away all this free content, how are they making a living at the end of the day? Aren’t they giving away their value?

Greenleaf Book Group, an independent publisher here in Austin, addresses the debate on free content in their Big Bad Book Blog.

In their post “On Piracy, Ebooks, and Giving Away Your Book for Free”, author Neil Gaiman explains that when he made his poetry and fiction free, his fan following dramatically increased:

Places I was being pirated…I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated, and then they were going out and buying the real books.

He persuaded his publisher to put out one of his books, New York Times bestseller American Gods, for free online for a month. Sales tripled.

By polling his audiences on book tours, Gaiman found that most people discovered their favorite authors through a book being lent to them rather than walking into a bookstore to buy a book from an unfamiliar author:

They were lent it; they were given it; they did not pay for it. And that’s how they found their favorite author, and I thought you know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books, and you can’t look at that as a lost sale. Nobody who would’ve bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. What’s you’re actually doing is advertising. You’re reaching more people. You’re raising awareness.

If you don’t care about making money from your writing, what’s the downside to offering it up for free?

If you do care about making money from your writing, giving it away for free – in a structured way – could be the best investment you make towards sales.