More On Free E-Books

There’s been a lot of interesting stuff written in just the last few days, fortuitously (some of which was brought to my attention by Charlza in his comment to my last post). Simon Owens has a long article about the Tor free e-book program on his blog, bloggasm. He notes several authors’ impressions that book giveaways have helped sales, and quotes extensively from Tobias Buckell, a newer writer who seems to be doing very nicely. There are some provocative comments from readers, on both sides of the question.

Rob Sawyer responds on his own blog with a much more analytical approach to the question. Pointing out that there’s really no hard data for us to base judgments on, he does a nice job of extrapolating some likely ranges for increased sales (and earnings) for writers. In his view, the benefits are probably far more modest than suggested by anecdotal reports. A key point in his argument is that Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, who have reported such apparent good results, are not necessarily typical cases. Both of these writers have huge online presences, and probably got way more downloads than the average writer would. (Certainly they have far more active blogs and web sites than I do.)

So where does this leave me? I learned from reader Pascal that a fair number of my earlier novels are already up on Bit Torrent networks in pirated PDF editions. He got copies to me so that I could look at them, and I see that they range from barely readable hack jobs to thoroughly professional-looking work. I must say it was a shock to see how many novels by how many SF writers are floating around in pirated editions. I’m of two minds about it: On the one hand, it’s clear copyright infringement, and to a significant degree badly done infringement. On the other hand, it’s free publicity.

One of my workshop students suggested, why not find the pirate scanners who did the good job and see if I can get them to scan in the first three Chaos books for me. Then I could put at the top of the PDFs:

“This electronic edition, and no other, has been distributed with my consent and co-operation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will download it, and no other.”

(If you don’t recognize the source, it’s from Tolkien’s note in the Ballantine Books edition of The Lord of the Rings, following the Ace pirated edition, many decades ago.)

So am I any closer to a decision on whether to post Sunborn for free when it’s published? Not really. But leaning now towards putting the first three up to introduce new readers to the series, then letting the book carry it from there.

But we’ll see.

“Advice from this elderly practitioner is to forget publishers and just roll a sheet of copy paper into your machine and get lost in your subject.” —E. B. White

Post your comment before you lose your train of thought. (Mine already left the station.)