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The Unfortunate Downside To Free Ebooks (The Ilona Andrews Incident)

An image of a zero dollars followed by an equals sign and as yet calculated amount of dollars

Yesterday, a tweet circulated widely about an ebook that was stolen – certified as such by the writers who go by the pseudonym of Ilona Andrews. The couple (who from now on I’ll be calling Andrews), had posted the ebook, Questing Beast, to their website, allowing readers to download it for free. This very gracious action was thus taken advantage of.

At first glance, this was a stupid advantage to take. A free ebook placed on Amazon by a third-party for a sum (no longer available since Amazon appears to have since acted, albeit a month later) was not likely to get very far in this age where news travels at literal broadband speeds. The sort of profiting potential, capitalising on something free, would have been stopped eventually, perhaps even more so because Andrews has a fair following and because it was given freely by them. Because readers in general are a pretty loyal bunch; the word was bound to be shared amongst anyone who found out about it.

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Yet it managed to go on for a month, if Amazon’s product details are to be believed – and I’d say they are – which raises the question of just how much money was made from this venture (the book was listed for $6). You could say that Andrews can’t claim a literal profit loss, because it was put on their site for free; but they would be affected in the way that, for example, a reader could have downloaded the book from Amazon, not realised it was free elsewhere, and felt duped when they later found out. Most would likely see the error, but if a reader isn’t familiar with the authors – doesn’t read their blog, doesn’t know who the correct publisher is – it could result in a loss of further interest. And of course there is the issue of copyright.

You just don’t expect it to happen. In fact what Andrews was doing is the sort of thing marketers seek to get their company clients to do – offer your products for free and you will create a loyal following. The authors were, to use a colloquial term, onto a good thing. Of course the happy irony is that now they will likely see a surge in readers across all of their titles. Something good has come from something bad, but it’s a pity it had to happen as it did, even if the long-term value is positive.

This episode highlights just how careful you have to be when you make a digital purchase. In thinking about stolen content being about getting something for free, we neglect the fact that the opposite exists.

If you’re interesting in reading a bona fide copy of the Andrews’ work, go to their site

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October 31, 2012, 12:17 pm

Interesting story, thanks for sharing!

It’s despicable that this happened. I mean, on Amazon you’d expect authorised books only. It’s not like this was on an untrustworthy website. Or was it, after all? I’m glad they took action and the book is no longer for sale.

Literary Feline

October 31, 2012, 4:56 pm

Things like that make me so mad.


October 31, 2012, 7:32 pm

What a headache, not to say heartache, digital theft seems to be becoming for authors. Thank you for spreading the word. October is my month for stretching my reading comfort zones by dipping into paranormals and s/f. Although I did not get around to trying an Ilona Andrews book out this time, a couple were on my list of candidates. Until your post told me about the free read I was not aware of that offer, though, so thank you for that, too.

Andrew Blackman

October 31, 2012, 8:13 pm

Wow, that’s an amazing story. It’s good that it had a happy ending – you’re right, Ilona Andrew will get a lot of publicity from this. But it does feel wrong that someone else profited – I hope they are prosecuted for it. As a side note, I wonder what will happen to the people who bought the stolen book – I’d imagine Amazon will delete it from their Kindles now that they know it was stolen. They can get their free copy from the real author, of course, but I hope they also get their money refunded.


November 1, 2012, 4:08 pm

Oh, wow — I hadn’t thought of someone selling another person’s free ebook as their own — that is so messed up!

Megan Peterson

November 3, 2012, 2:54 am

Wow. Just… wow. Thank you so much for this post. I had not heard this story, and as a new writer just thinking of getting her feet wet in the world of self-publishing… this is incredibly relevant news for me to hear. I have read several sites recommending the ‘giveaway something free’ model of readership building, but (again, new here, just starting to consider self-pub) I hadn’t yet examined all the potential implications. Certainly not _this_ one.

Thank you again. It is nauseating to think that someone would this.


November 6, 2012, 11:29 am

Judith: I thought it important more people know. Yes, you would expect authorised work on Amazon, you expect it to be as legitimate as a high street store, but being online makes that more difficult. Sadly it was down to the author to do the work.

Literary Feline: It’s good there with social media word gets round quickly.

Danielle: Yes, there are a lot of issues for authors to deal with. That’s good to hear. I’m thinking of reading their works too, now, since this episode. I hadn’t heard of them before.

Andrew: Yes, it’s nice there’s a positive side. As far as I know, Amazon is taking further action now. I’d like to think Amazon would delete the book but provide a link to the real copy, though I doubt that will happen. Hopefully it will be fully explained, however, because not all readers will be following the authors on Twitter to hear about it.

Audra: I know, it sounds unworkable in this day and age, though maybe it’s our surprise that allows it to happen, because we don’t think it would.

Megan: Glad to have provided some useful news :) Yes, usually giving something away free is a good idea, in fact it’s seen as bad if you don’t, but as far as I’ve found this issue hasn’t been confronted in the articles I’ve read about giving away things for free. And it’s surprising that it would happen to a short story. Best of luck in your publishing venture!



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