Giving away free copies, tribes and sovereignty

On Sunday I listened to some amazing podcasts about the music industry and how it had to morph and change in light of Napster and the digital sharing age. I’d recommend you listen to it, seeking parallels in the publishing industry. You can access them here: http://www.onthemedia.org/ Of particular interest was this podcast about musician Amanda Palmer: http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/03/12/05 She typifies the savvy marketer in today’s crazy world. She is creating a following, something Seth Godin calls a tribe.

I tend to gravitate toward the idea of tribes, of creating a unique community. That takes time, but what happens is that you gain fans gathered around a cause, folks who are zealous to promote your books for you. To me, it typifies this verse: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (see Proverbs 27:2).

Giving things away free, in light of creating a tribe, then, makes sense. You are offering a bit of yourself, your heart, for a potential tribe member.

Another strategy to consider is this: the kingdom of God. I love what Randy Alcorn says. He gives away his books as God leads. He keeps several with him when he travels, giving books away to clerks, hotel employees, cab drivers, housekeepers. He sees it as his way of expanding God’s message to a hurting world.

In light of all that, I’ve navigated “free” by praying, asking God to situationally guide me as I give away books. Sometimes He says not to do it. Sometimes He prompts me to give sacrificially. I am learning to let the pieces rest in His sovereign hands.

Aside: My novel, Daisy Chain (like several other authors on this loop) was offered free on the Kindle store last month. The result is hard to measure, though I have seen a spike in actual book sales. The negative is that folks who get the book for free aren’t thinking as they read it that it will have a Christian worldview, so I got some pretty awful, mean-spirited reviews out of the deal. But, on the whole, I think the experiment did give me exposure to a wider audience. I’ve had correspondence with new fans who found me that way.

In this marketing world, I tend to think in terms of one little decision at a time, and that those little decisions, though they take forever, add up to something bigger over time. The key is to continue to be faithful in little things, not get discouraged, hold everything loosely, and rest in God’s sovereignty.