I'm sure that many of you are guilty of visiting sites like 4Share and Scribd to find that book you really want to read. Some thrifty pirate out there has taken the file that was once a .mobi file for Kindle or an Epub and cracked the DRM and then posted it for free on the site. Millions of people then download the file and read the book for free. If you want to see the rundown of the impact this is having on the industry, read this.
I see pros and cons to this kind of thing as a self-published author. On the down side, people are cracking the DRM on our hard work that we want people to pay for and then pirating it out to potentially millions of people. The up side is that it is being read by millions of people. 50 Shades of Grey, a fan fiction piece based on the best seller (Twilight), has been pirated and shared on these sites. Industry leaders are saying that this could have been the reason it has been on the best seller list for weeks on end. The fact is that of the few hundred thousand (mostly women) who download the free version, those women then tell their friends who are not as technically savvy who then download legal copies for their Kindle or Nook. In a way, the piracy of the book is helping to sell it. People who read my blog know how I feel about the Twilight saga, so I will leave my critique for another time, but this is a strategy that could be used by a self-published author to get their book in front of readers.
This is why the first part of my new book This Broken Earth will be absolutely free out of the gate rather than let people pirate it who want to pirate it. 50 Shades of Grey shows that a free book release can boost sales. Never mind that the book is horribly written and is being called "mommy porn" by critics.
Self-published authors should consider releasing at least their first book for free, especially if that book is part of a series. However, make sure that the free book is the best writing you can muster. A bad free book is just that: a bad book. Here's hoping I can live up to my own standards for Book I: The U.S. of After when it hits digital stores on August 1st.