I’m ashamed to admit that I only today learned of the Baen Free Library project. To those not In The Know, it’s an online service by the publishing company Baen Books that offers electronic versions of their books for free. It’s been around since 2000, and currently offers 98 titles. To quote First Librarian Eric Flint: “I will cheerfully put up the stuff for free myself. Because I am quite confident that any ‘losses’ I sustain will be more than made up for by the expansion in the size of my audience.” So they’ve been saying (and proving) the same thing that we demonstrated with Star Wreck – that free distribution cannot but benefit the authors – since the turn of the millennium. So we weren’t quite the first, although apparently, Mr Puskala endorsed the Free Library on our forum already in 2002.
So why is this fact so hard for show business to admit? Why is the industry trying to clamp down on online piracy when it’s so obviously counterproductive – more regulations means higher costs means artificially-elevated prices means piracy appears more attractive? Beats me. Probably because it’s so much easier to cling to what you grew up with instead of trying to change with the times. Possibly because the prevailing ideological climate seems to be moving in a more draconian, paranoid direction. We can only hope that successful endeavours like the Free Library (and Star Wreck) will eventually convince the movers and shakers that free distribution is an opportunity and not a threat.
Actually, I know the true reason. It’s because only good authors benefit from the publicity generated by free distribution. Let’s face it: without the artificial hype generated by massive publishing efforts – if people knew what it is they’re buying – would the likes of Dan Brown or Ilkka Remes ever sell a copy?
And would we really be any worse off for it?