The era of the “sharing economy” is upon us. From Uber to AirBnb and Snapgoods to Taskrabbit, web-based companies can now match service providers to their customers easily and directly. For the taxi and hotel industries, the result is unprecedented and unforeseen business disruption; for the clients, the range of choices brings a heartening level of competition to the marketplace that means lower prices and greater satisfaction.

In book publishing, the closest to a sharing economy model is what some call an “access economy.” The operating principle is that idle value is wasted, so to put books to work, publisher and authors are turning to making them free of charge. The results are clear, but maybe not in the way you’d expect, says Neal Maillet, editorial director at Berrett-Koehler, based in Oakland, California.

Neal Maillet

“I’m not suggesting that book publishers need to give everything away for free. I mean, that wouldn’t work for anybody,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “But there is a less of a firewall than I think a lot of us were taught who grew up in publishing maybe in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s when you really were trying to lock down content. You better control your content, went the thinking, you better make sure that everybody pays their way in, or you’re going to lose your shirt.

“I really have found that there’s a balance,” Maillet continues. “There really is a happy medium where access is more important than having complete control of your content. And we found ourselves in our publishing company where we’ve gained value, where our books have sold more, as we’ve given them away.”

Giving away books not only draws attention to an author and a title, Maillet asserts, but freebies also help to drive sales. Oscar Wilde, it turns out was right: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Neal Maillet has enjoyed a thirty-year career in book publishing, working at companies as diverse as Bantam/Bertelsmann, John Wiley & Sons, and Jossey-Bass Publishing. He was previously publisher of Timber Press, a subsidiary of Workman. Neal received his BA in English Literature from Columbia University and subsequently proved his dedication to book publishing when he took a 50% pay cut from waiting tables in Greenwich Village to accept his first job as an editorial assistant. He grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, one mile from the headquarters of Copyright Clearance Center.

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