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Free downloads = profit

In 2000, Baen Books created a free internet library as an experiment in publishing. The “First Librarian“, author Eric Flint, kept a proto-blog of the experience. I found it educational. Of particular interest is the intro, #1, #6, #10, and #11, as these all confirm that free downloads boost sales, both for books and music.

Cory Doctorow famously makes almost all his books available for download. As he says in the intro to Someone comes to town, someone leaves town:

I’m giving these books away to sell more books [...] Not because I’m some patchouli-scented, fuzzy-headed, “information wants to be free” info-hippie. I’m at it because I want to fill my bathtub with money and rub my hands and laugh and laugh and laugh.

British hard scifi author Charles Stross has managed to make the full text of Scratch Monkey and Accelerando available online. While Scratch Monkey hasn’t been published (and now probably never will be), Accelerando has been published, and quite recently. Stross agrees with Flint and Doctorow that free downloads boost sales, and admits that he would like to make all his novels available in this way, but publishers refuse to let him keep the electronic rights to his books. I’ve read most of his books, and judging by the high quality of his writing, maybe it won’t be long before he has some pull with publishers.

The situation is tragic. New authors, who could really use the exposure that free downloads would provide, are most likely to be refused by publishers with outdated electronic rights policies.

There is a tendency to dismiss the idea that information should be free as idealistic. The reality is that there is growing evidence that it actually makes economic sense. The information economy is turning out to be stranger than we could imagine.

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  1. [...] just spotted another case where free information = profit. The Brazillian technobrega scene is driven mostly by artists encouraging their music to be copied [...]

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