Take a Free Book and Pass It Along: The Concord Free Press Story

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Jul 28, 2011

Book lovers face two major problems: 1) new books can be relatively expensive and 2) they take up a lot of space. E-readers have solved the second problem, but not the first and have driven down the demand for hard copies of books in the process. A publisher in Concord, Massachusetts has come up with an innovative way to solve both problems using hard copies of books, while also promoting the work of authors, and driving charitable donations.

The Concord Free Press was founded in 2008 by Stona Fitch as a way to promote his book “Give + Take.” He self published and then gave the books away for free. This created the model for subsequent books. The Concord Free Press gives out all of its books for free. They request that the reader follow a three-step process. First, the reader is asked to donate any amount of money to anyone or any organization. Next, they request that the customer post the donation on the Concord Free Press website. The final request is to pass the book to another avid reader. This concept solves the two major problems mentioned above. The first problem is solved simply by the fact that the book is free and the second one is solved by the fact that the final step keeps books off of shelves and in the hands of book lovers. In addition, if a reader followed the three steps he or she can now feel good about having made a donation as well.

The Concord Free Press has now published five books, with a sixth coming soon. Three thousand copies of each book are made and distributed through independent local bookstores or the Concord Free Press website (which will even provide free shipping if it is at a reasonable price). Fitch says he is not out to make money on the Concord Free Press, but instead wants to have some impact on the happiness of others. A note on the Concord Free Press website states that each book it publishes has led to approximately $45,000-$50,000 in donations, for a total of about $220,000 to date. The Concord Free Press asks that authors, designers, and printers donate their services. It also has revenue sources coming from donations from the general public as well as from their e-book store. The e-books are not free, but the publisher does not ask the customer to donate money nor do they require that you share the book (since that would be practically impossible on an e-reader). So though the Concord Free Press charges for these e-books they keep the cost low ($7.77). Some of the e-books are new titles while others are good books the Concord Free Press believes should get another chance. The proceeds are split evenly between the author and the Concord Free Press.

Stona Fitch is no Abbie Hoffman, author of “Steal This Book,” he doesn’t think all books should be free. The authors of books published by the Concord Free Press retain the rights to their books and some have later published their books for profit. For book publishers who are still out for profits, unlike Concord Free Press, this experiment shows that there is an ongoing value in hard copies of books. Each book published by the Concord Free Press generates about $16 in charitable donations. This project also shows that people still have a desire for hard copies of books. Not only are people reading the free books, they are also donating money to keep this practice afloat. At the same time, the Concord Free Press distribution model reminds people to pass on the books that they might otherwise keep on their shelves by donating the books to those who cannot afford to buy them, or simply giving them to a friend.

The idea of giving books away is certainly original and has caught the eye of many who wonder what impact such an innovative concept could have. As the book industry adjusts to a new world of apps and e-books and struggling bookstores, it’s vital to consider new ideas like this innovative “Take + Give” concept. Concord Free Press fosters the idea of hard copies of books and e-books working together, and shows that people still desire hard copies of books. It also shows how people will always take notice of any concept that gives things away for free. It’s important to keep in mind that books are books are books and whether they are free, electronic, or on paper it’s still created with one purpose in mind, to be read.

Elizabeth Corr is a student at Northeastern University and an intern at InfoTrends.

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