Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ Fares OK Online
You may recall a while back that Harper Collins did a special promotion where Neil Gaiman’s American Gods novel was available to read online for free.
Gaiman relays an e-mail from the publisher that gives some mixed results, which mirror the concerns given by ComicMix’s own Rick Marshall. From the e-mail:
The Browse Inside Full Access promotion of American Gods drove 85 thousand visitors to our site to view 3.8 Million pages of the book (an average of 46 pages per person). On average, visitors spent over 15 minutes reading the book.
The Indies [ie. independent booksellers — Neil] are the only sales channel where we have confidence that incremental sales were driven by this promotion. In the Bookscan data reported for Independents we see a marked increase in weekly sales across all of Neil’s books, not just American Gods during the time of the contest and promotion. Following the promotion, sales returned to pre-promotion levels.
Through an online survey, we know that 44% of fans enjoyed this browsing experience and 56% did not. Some of Neil’s fans expressed frustration with the Browse Inside tool for reading through a whole book. (This poor result is partially due to two problems which were fixed soon after the initial launch – mistaken redirect to the Flash-based reader and slow image load time)
The main concerns of those who didn’t like the browsing centered on the difficulties of online reading, from lack of bookmarks to too much scrolling.
(via The Beat)
Oddly enough, if you read the entire letter (contained in Gaiman's actual blog post here: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/07/results-of-… ), rather than just an excerpt, it seems that the "free book online" experiment was a pretty unequivocal success for the publisher and Neil. His sales rose by somewhere around 40%. The issues that just over half the online readers were basic technical issues (well, except for the "you need an internet connection to read the book," which was baffling to me given the circumstances), most of which are–or, according to the blog entry, were–easily solvable. And 44% of the readers who responded to Harper Collins' survey said they enjoyed the experience.I'm not sure why your article uses the phrase "fares ok." With a substantial increase in reported sales and a high percentage of happy "customers" for what was, after all, a shot-in-the-dark experiment on the publisher's part, I'd call it an unmitigated success.(And let me assure you, I don't work for Harper Collins and have only met Neil Gaiman at readings and signings. I just read his blog.)
More than 60 percent of the people who tried reading it online didn't enjoy the experience. So, on that side of things, it was a failure. Which you have to take into account, along with the good side. Maybe "mixed results" would be more appeasing a description?
EDIT – sorry, 56 percent.
I dunno, a 40% across the board increase in hardcopy book sales during the specific period the book was made free, plus the stat that says the promotion got 41% of the total free readership to try reading a book online counterbalances the people who said they were unsatisfied with the online experience. Especially when one considers that the complaints (leaving aside the people who just weren't happy they had to have an internet connection to get a free book) involve fairly minor issues that Harper Collins says they've either fixed or will fix for subsequent releases.Between the increase in sales and the larger than expected number of people reading the book online, I think it's a win for Harper Collins. And, at 44% to 56%–out of the people who responded to the survey–I think it's probably a win for the viability of online reading as well. Not a bad ratio for the internet, actually.
Part of the problem with LONG download times is that Harper Collins chose to put "American Gods" online as "captured images" instead of as text. This meant that every page was a picture, not words. This kept the book less easily copied to other files. But there are inherent problems with reading from images rather than text. One is that you can't resize the text. You can't use "text to speech" software. You can't search out specific words. Or bookmark your place nearly as easily. And pictures take MUCH longer to download than text, effectively cutting off the book from people still on dial up connections.ComicMix doesn't choose to do much of ANY of that kind of hobbling of the product to maintain control. That is cool.I don't like Zuda. I think that they have a sucky comics reader. It's clunky. Slow. And the pages of the comics are in a size that reminds me more of Sunday Funnies than Comic Books. I have trouble reading past the INTERFACE and seeing the comics for themselves. The ComicMix Reader is much more transparent and intuitive. You can forget it's there and just "flip though the pages."I would think that anything that can show a 40% increase in sales in the short term has to be considered a success. At least an experiment well worth repeating. I also think that having a majority of the people come away with a negative reaction HAS to be seen as a major red flag. That changes to an interface that is intentionally user-unfriendly need to be made.