With e-book libraries, Amazon Prime Reading and the plethora of online services available putting free publications in your various devices, it's a wonder that people still pay any money for books anymore. But a new website called Honest Few is founded on the belief that you should still give something in return for your digital books: social media shares. Instead of shelling out the $3 to $20 you would normally drop for an Amazon bestseller, Honest Few is offering popular titles for free, as long as you spread word of the service and book on Twitter or Facebook. As a former bookworm who now only borrows books via New York Public Library's app or Prime Reading, I was intrigued by this new way of getting a good novel for free.
The process of downloading a book for free on Honest Few is quick and straightforward. Browse the library of available titles, either by cover or on a grid of tiles containing one-sentence synopses. When you see something you like, click on the link below either the image or the quote, and you'll be taken to the book's author page. There, you can read more details about the story, get to know the author's background, and see a list of reasons why the writer thinks you'll enjoy the book. Once you decide you want to read it, you can either purchase it or get it for free.
To get it gratis, you'll have to trade a share or like from your Facebook or Twitter accounts. The idea of exchanging social media exposure for goods and services isn't new. Amazon sellers frequently give users products in return for reviews on the site, while prolific YouTube, Instagram and Twitter stars often get rewarded for talking about certain brands on their accounts. Heck, some people have made a living out of doing just that. But Honest Few lets basically anyone get books for a simple share; it doesn't matter how large your following is.
Honest Few's library is diverse but very limited, with only 59 titles right now. Its offerings range from nonfiction self help and anthologies to fictional tales of romance, suspense and crime. I found the discovery grid interesting, but ultimately a letdown. Everything sounds intriguing when it's summarized in one well-written sentence (kudos to Honest Few's team here). They were so intriguing, in fact, that I ended up checking out new genres I wouldn't have read otherwise. In that sense, the discovery system is effective. But after landing on one too many listings for romance novels I didn't want to read, I started to feel tricked. Or maybe I was a bit embarrassed at my evident taste for cheesy love stories.
If you want to hate-read any of the titles you discover, you can do so at basically no cost to you. It's free; you just have to tweet something, anything, to get access to the book. In theory, when you want to get a book for free, all you need to do is like Honest Few's Facebook page or share that link on Facebook or Twitter. A pre-written post appears, tagging the website's social media accounts and including a link to the page. After you submit your post, you'll get a link to a Google Drive folder with the book you wanted, in MOBI, EPUB and sometimes PDF formats.
Before you can download anything, though, you'll have to sign up for an account. Registering requires that you abide by the site's terms and conditions, which includes a section on Deals. Here, it says that the company only offers "a limited quantity of free or discounted products." Because of that, securing one of these products is not guaranteed, and "most deals are first-come-first-serve, and each can be redeemed for the purchase of one (1) item only." This, I believe, is the part that is supposed to enforce self-government on the user's part. It's oddly worded, though; deals here refers to books, although I wasn't sure until I clarified with the company.
This expectation of good behavior from the user is important because you don't actually have to tag Honest Few or share the link to that particular page to get your free book. You can craft any tweet at all and still get access to the download link. I ended up going on a download spree, and all I did was post some Tweets to my personal account, without even tagging the site. I felt a little bad, but I wasn't sure I wanted to talk about a book I was reading before I knew whether it would be good. To assuage my guilt, though, I tweeted once about trying out the service to feel better about not paying anything for these books.
Having to look at the author's profile before you get the book for free certainly makes you think twice about gaming the system. But it's also very easy to skip the part of each listing that makes you learn about the writer, whether you simply scroll past the details at top speed, or click the "Get It Free" link to just straight to the share-to-download area. If the company wants to truly ensure it gets publicity, it should find a way to make sure that only shares that tag the Honest Few account or link to the site qualify for free books. But perhaps giving away these files for non-restricted posts could be enough to generate the word of mouth that the tweet-for-books system was meant to.
In the end, although I got a few interesting new books out of my time with Honest Few, my biggest takeaway is the realization of how valuable my social media profiles are. If the future of technology involves a similar form of barter trade, I'm curious to see what I will eventually be able to afford. Meanwhile, I'll curl up with some new e-books that I got just by tweeting about a new service.