There were a couple of news items this weekend that are related to my e-book rant of the other day, and which shed a bit more light on the ‘why don’t we give it away’ argument.
In The Guardian, Jon Evans tells us why he gives away his books online:
Why? Because to quote the publisher Tim O’Reilly, “the greatest threat an artist faces is obscurity, not piracy”. I don’t worry about people who read my work without paying. I worry about people who don’t know my books exist. An online release reaches a potentially enormous audience, gets free publicity (because a free book from an established author still seems perverse and hence notable) and attracts readers by letting them try before they buy. If my writing is good enough – and I’m confident it is – people who read one of my books for free will be willing to buy the others.
And he links to the Baen Free Library, whose ‘First Librarian’, Eric Flint, sums up why they’re encouraging authors to give away their books online:
Earlier, I mentioned “two reasons” we were doing this, and stated that the first was what you might call a demonstration of principle. What’s the second?
Common sense, applied to the practical reality of commercial publishing. Or, if you prefer, the care and feeding of authors and publishers. Or, if you insist on a single word, profit.
I will make no bones about it (and Jim, were he writing this, would be gleefully sucking out the marrow). We expect this Baen Free Library to make us money by selling books.
How? As I said above, for the same reason that any kind of book distribution which provides free copies to people has always, throughout the history of publishing, eventually rebounded to the benefit of the author.
And what if (God forbid!) the book disappears? Will the publishing industry go the way of the buggy whip concern?
The future can’t be foretold. But, whatever happens, so long as writers are essential to the process of producing fiction — along with editors, publishers, proofreaders (if you think a computer can proofread, you’re nuts) and all the other people whose work is needed for it — they will get paid. Because they have, as a class if not as individuals, a monopoly on the product. Far easier to figure out new ways of generating income — as we hope to do with the Baen Free Library — than to tie ourselves and society as a whole into knots.
Well, that’s a relief.