The hot new price for e-books: free

There were already a lot of people unhappy about the low price ($9.99) that Amazon was charging for many titles being sold on its Kindle electronic reading device. They worried that Amazon was giving the books away. Well now, in some cases, that's exactly what Amazon is doing: giving e-books away for free.

According to the Associated Press, James Patteron's "The Angel Seller" is just one of several popular e-books being offered at no charge. "Patterson is among the biggest brands added to the growing list of free e-book offerings," reports that AP. "Over the past few months, top sellers on the Kindle – with downloads in the tens of thousands, authors and publishers say – have included such public domain titles as 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,' and novels by Jennifer Stevenson and Greg Keyes."

But Patterson's novel is a particularly clever choice as a free offering because it is the first in a series. "There's always going to be someone who wants free things," Maja Thomas, senior vice president of digital media at Patterson's publisher, the Hachette Book Group, told the AP. "What we're trying to do is link free with paid. It's like priming the pump."

Commentators are divided on the wisdom of the plan. "Marketing genius," says ChannelWeb. But free books "present a chance and a challenge," points out RedOrbit: "Readers may buy other books, or, they may simply seek more free titles."

It's a gamble, for sure. Only time will tell the impact of "free" on the habits of book consumers.

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