Growing up, I loved game demos and shareware. There was something sublime about the variety of choice one had with free partial games. If I wanted to play DOOM, I could. A level of Jumping Flash? Why not? I could even play multiplayer Twisted Metal and wash it down with some Warhawk or the entry campaign in Wolfenstein 3D.
The best part was, though, because I grew up kind of poor, these games and their variety often came at little to no charge. For the price of a single rental or a slight download on our newly acquired dial-up internet, I had hours and hours of fun at my fingertips and never got bored with it.
And if I really loved a game and played the heck out of it, I could always go buy/rent/borrow the full version to placate myself.
It really was the perfect gaming platform, but it wasn’t until the Playstation that it really proliferated. Why, you ask? Economics. Cartridges were too expensive to manufacture for demo purposes, but CDs cost pennies. It was also about that time that the internet became more available to the public, so shareware and demos could and did spread like wildfire.
My other favorite hobby, reading, has only recently begun to delve into making use of new technology, but now that it has, my love of demoing unknown software has bled into it, too.
Really, before Amazon’s Kindle and the ebook boom, there was no good way to try a book before you bought it. Sure, there are public libraries and standing in the aisle of the bookstore, but it’s really hard for an avid reader to get a good feel for what a book really is unless he or she can really settle in with it.
Enter the 21st century, revolutionizer of books and reading. There are effectively three ways for authors to get samples of books in readers hands:
- Sample chapters for ebook readers. Amazon did a great thing with the Kindle: it started offering free samples—up to 4 chapters, sometimes—of any book in their digital library. This is very much a “try before you buy” scenario, in that readers are allowed to download the samples and demo them at their leisure on whatever handheld ereader they choose. There is no need for a browser or special software to read, and it also accounts for those people who wish to not read and deal with glare on their computer monitors that often results in PDF and HTML samples.
- Free is good. Economically, ebook samples are awesome. If I’m down on my luck and need a few somethings to read, I don’t have to make a special trip to the library; I can just download some sample chapters and read anything I want—for free. Free editions get people to buy more from an author/company far better than even a public library can: There are no more large volumes to heft around on a maybe. If I like the book, I can hit “purchase” and own it immediately or keep the sample for when I can afford to. If I don’t, then, I can delete it off my device and go about my business. In addition to samples, many publishers/authors include the first novel in a series as a free ebook download—Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb is an example—to hook readers and all but force them to buy the next installments because they are already engrossed.
- Bloggity Blogs! John Scalzi did with it with The God Engines: post a free first chapter on the author’s blog to stir up interest in the hardcover release. This tactic is especially effective if there is no ebook being released simultaneously with the print version, which would mean no sample chapters are readily available for consumers to peruse. It’s not quite the promotion that free downloadable ebooks/samples are, but it gets the reader tossed into a community based around the work.
I’m currently reading a book I found based on a free sample: World of Warcraft: Arthas, Rise of the Lich King. I had avoided it for a long time based on my previous burnout with franchise fiction and the complete travesty that Richard A. Knaack’s Warcraft novels had been in the past. But I went to Amazon, found the excerpt from Chapter 4, and sat and read it while my wife was in Anne Taylor. It wasn’t half bad, so I downloaded the full novel and have been very much enjoying it’s not-quite-literary fluffiness. I had passed Arthas over in the past because of my dislike of other books based on the franchise. If not for ebook samples, I’d have missed a fast, fun read.
So, if you haven’t bought in to the ebook phenomenon just yet, then I highly suggest you give it a shot by demoing a few samples here and there and seeing if the format tickles your fancy, and if you’re already a fan of ebooks and are not readily sampling various authors and new reads, I ask you “why not?” Really, no cost and no risk? What do you have to lose?