Note: I've made my latest book, Overshare, available for free download through this Friday, 1/20/12 - it may be informative to download a copy and look at it in the (free) Kindle Reader app or on a Kindle Fire (it's presented in full color, so viewing it on a monochrome Kindle won't give you the full experience) before reading this post.
The relatively minor transition from hard copy to ebooks has been difficult enough, and there are still plenty of readers who prefer the feel (and even smell!) of "real" books so much that they've sworn they will never switch to using an ereader. There goes a chunk of prospective readers, if you're intending to release something in a digital format.
Finally comes the quality of the content. Once you've brought the experimental digital lit fan to the table, it's much the same as winning over any reader. If your content appeals to the specific tastes and preferences of a given reader, he'll like it and maybe even be so kind as to leave you a nice review on Amazon or Goodreads. If not, he will deem the book a failure. And unless he leaves a negative review somewhere, detailing the reasons for his dislike of the work, you'll never know if it was a failure of form or of content.
I've sent out MANY advance review copies of Overshare. The responses seem to fall very clearly into two camps. On the one side, there are the people who rave about it and respond with genuine excitement to its non-narrative, heavily graphic presentation. On the other, there are the people who initially say they've begun to look at it and find it "fascinating", "intriguing", etc., but then never respond in full. Obviously, these readers ultimately did not find the book to their liking, but I'll never know if it was a failure of form or content from their perspective.
Experimental digital lit is a tough sell. The non-narrative form of Overshare makes it very difficult to promote. While regular users of social media---my target audience---know how to interpret this material right away, others don't know what to make of it. When my own father, who does not use social media, was out for a visit recently, he asked me, "How do I read this book?" One hates to discourage ANY sale, but I have to accept that people outside my target audience aren't likely to "get" Overshare to any extent, and their negative reviews can be a liability.
So now, I'm trying a giveaway. While it's always been possible for prospective buyers to view a free excerpt, an excerpt doesn't adequately convey what the book is all about, or how it's supposed to be "read". People viewing the excerpt are just as likely to be confused as prompted to buy the book. When what you've got to offer isn't instantly accessible and doesn't immediately touch on familiar reference points for your target audience, sometimes the only way to get people to take a risk on it is to give it away at first. Even then, some people will decide it's not worth the investment of their time to try the new thing.
But hopefully, many others will try it. And whether they like it or not, some of them will talk about it. Some will blog about it. Some will post reviews. And with any luck, after you've stopped giving it away, the book will have made enough of an impact that it can stand on its own two feet. Time will tell. If you've decided to download Overshare, and I really hope you will, I would very much appreciate your feedback: in the comments section here, in the form of a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or even sent directly to me via email (my address is readily available on my website, Facebook profile, Twitter profile and Blogger profile).