On his Guardian blog Digital Rights, Digital Wrongs, sci-fi author Cory Doctorow argues the case for releasing free e-books simultaneously with print editions. (Doctorow does this himself through the use of Creative Commons licences.)
A publisher’s publicity and marketing for a book is an excellent way to get it into some readers’ hands, and the word of mouth enabled by freely copyable e-books then acts as a force-multiplier to expand the publisher’s efforts. Whether your “natural” audience is small or large, free downloads generally expand it, by letting readers make informed guesses about who else will like it, and giving those readers a persuasive tool for closing the sale.
On a related note, Random House announced late last week that Dan Brown’s upcoming blockbuster The Lost Symbol will be released as an e-book simultaneously with the hardcover on Sept. 15. Prior to this announcement there was some hope that Random House might challenge Amazon’s $9.99 pricing strategy, but it seems that not even Brown (and his rumored English-language print run of 6.5 million copies) has that kind of clout.