We’re Not Alone.

September 27th, 2007 by Antti Hukkanen

Sympathy for the devilI’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?

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8 Responses to “We’re Not Alone.”

  1. Eric Flint has also written an interesting series of columns on copyright and DRM for Jim Baen’s Universe. I’ve collected links to the currently published columns in this series. All columns in the series are freely readable by all (even though JBU is a subscription-based webzine).

  2. Yep, yep. I too applaud the Baen Free Library. Still, I’ve only read one book from their collection, Fallen Angel by Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Michael Flynn. It was that kind of a book I would imagine, from several long scriptwriting meeting with Johanna, science fiction authors decide to collaborate after drinking for a week. And yes, I did like it, even if the Green party was the evil fascist imperium in this book. At least it was a nice crash course to international scifi fandom.

    Oh and this was the book that taught me what “filk” is.

  3. There are some very good books in there, though they tend to be firsts in series so you stand the risk of getting hooked and having to spend money to get the later installments. I usually recommend Flint’s 1632 (alternate history in which Finns make a brief appearance) to people who want to try the library.

    I think I’ve read most of the free library by now :)

  4. Gruppenführer says:

    Tehkää nyt se leffa ja lopettakaa häslääminen kaiken maailman muun tauhkan parissa.

  5. Ha ha! Herr Gruppenführer taitaa kuvitella, että elokuvia tehdään istumalla tietokoneen ääreen ja painamalla “Tee elokuva”-nappulaa. ^_^

  6. Tässä ollaan niin korviamme myöten natseissa Rautataivaan tutkimustyön kanssa, että pakko välillä tehdä Jotain Aivan Muuta… Muuten meilläkin voisi napsahtaa päässä ja meistä tulisi hallitusta ja YK:ta kammoksuvia, maailmanloppua odottavia, natsiufokirjailijoita.

  7. Saruwine says:

    I don’t think the success of Mssrs. Brown and Remes has much to do with the public not knowing what they buy. After all, haven’t they been sellling quite a few titles of that stuff of theirs? Apparently people know what they like and know what they’ll get.

  8. Laurentius says:

    Actually, the Baen Free Library is much more than just the books on the website. Many hardcover books from Baen come with a CD-ROM that contains several titles, usually all the previous books in the series the book belongs to, plus many more books from other series (sometimes even complete series) and/or standalone titles that might interest the reader. The biggest surprise is, that on every CD it is said explicitly that you are freely entitled to copy and distribute the contents. And no sign of DRM in sight.

    At first, I used to read David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” books this way – copied from the CD-ROM or from the website. Alas, now I am hooked and buy them as they are first published in hardcover (and get the CD’s in order to corrupt the minds of other potential victims of military SF). Fortunately, I have been able to resist such a strong addiction to the other series like Flint’s “1632″ and John Ringo’s “Legacy of Aldenata” (hunting them in second-hand bookstores doesn’t count, does it?). :)

    As for “Fallen Angels”, it was a fun read, but to be honest though it felt a bit too much like an insider joke of the, by the, and for the U.S. fandom at the turn of the 1990′s (the characters based on existing persons, for example). However, it was highly entertaining to try and catch all the gazillion references to other works of SF (including the authors’ own – gotta love that part where “Crazy Eddie” rambles about spaceflight).