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Favorite e-book price: free

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Many in publishing are looking optimistically toward e-books -- they’re easier to distribute than traditional books, could shape new business models and provide new revenue streams. One hope is that e-books might provide a lower price point than printed books, which can be $25 and up for a hardcover.

But free is probably a little lower than any publisher was thinking.

Sunday, industry blog Galleycat looked at Amazon’s bestseller list for the Kindle and found that 64 out of the top 100 Kindle bestsellers are free -- they’re being ‘sold’ for $0.00. And as of this writing -- the list is updated hourly -- the number is the same. Sixty-four of Amazon’s 100 e-book bestsellers are free.

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In a Saturday press release, Amazon declared, ‘On Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.’ This might be big news on another day, but it’s clear that e-books are instant and there’s a lot of pressure to have gifts in hand on Christmas. Instead, we have to wonder, what does ‘purchased’ mean, exactly?

Amazon’s top 10 Kindle bestsellers currently include a large portion that are free. The list now has eight free books. Only two in the top 10 -- one each from major bestselling authors Dan Brown and James Patterson -- will generate any revenue. If customers at Amazon continue to ‘purchase’ e-books at a rate that rivals traditional books -- but the majority of those e-books are free -- what does that mean for e-books, and the publishers that make them?

-- Carolyn Kellogg


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