The Humble Indie Bundle is branching out into ebooks, and their first set is now up. The Humble Bundle is the reason I own about forty-seven indie videogames I haven’t played, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to buy some books I will never read or have already read and have a warm fuzzy feeling about it. That’s how I view the Humble Indie Bundle – as a way to get games/books/music as a reward for charity donation.
That’s not how everyone sees it. I had some back-and-forth on twitter about this tweet, from publisher Marcus Gipps who finds the low price depressing. But I don’t think of it as buying 8 books, and I’m not sure that the buyers do either. Looking at the history of the Humble Bundles, over $11 is actually a pretty good average, and higher than any of the previous bundles. And the choice of books fits that, because they’re not new or particularly expensive books, they’re just good ones which are available cheaply or for free anyway. At least three (the two Link collections, and the Lackey) are freely available online anyway, Old Man’s War was free when they launched tor.com, I got Zoo City for £2.25 and Pump Six for $6. A lot of dedicated readers will have some of them already, but they might get the bundle to buy the rest – Signal to Noise is probably the big draw, and that’s one of the books they’re using to push the average up. They are great books, and I don’t think this would work if they weren’t, but I don’t see it as devaluing the books as much as using a heavy discount to push some older books back into the spotlight, which would otherwise never have sold 15,000 copies. You could keep them at £5 each and sell a trickle of copies, or put them in a big, well-publicised bundle where you get to feel like you’re helping people when you pay for them. Selling books as loss-leaders is not new, but doing it for charity and using older books feels like a difference to Amazon discounting the latest bestseller to draw you in, since they don’t have anything else to sell me but future indie bundles.
And sales seem to be going pretty well. It’s at $175,000 right now and ticking up fast, at the default split it’s about $97,000 to the authors, or somewhere over 10k each. (I’m presuming this goes direct to the authors, and not via a publisher.) That’s not a bad payday, and if it ends up doing as well as even the least popular previous bundle it will double that figure and hit 50,000 sales. The most popular indie bundle ever sold nearly 600,000 copies. I don’t know how many copies will end up languishing on ereaders much like my indie games languish in Steam, but if even a fraction of them turn into sales of your next book that’s a fair few sales.