Free Books. Free Mind.

Steven Poole on his experiment with free books. Do read the whole piece.

At the end of last year, I decided to give away my book, Trigger Happy, in DRM-free .pdf format. I called it “a kind of experiment”. Thirty thousand downloads later and counting, it’s time to collate the lab results.

Internet distribution is awesome, but you knew that already. More people got Trigger Happy from this website than ever bought a copy of the printed book. The interest shown in an eight-year-old book about videogames by people as far afield (from my point of view) as Brazil and Russia has been immensely gratifying. My book was converted to be readable on the Nintendo DS; and the Nebraska Library Commission made a spiral-bound printed copy for their collection. Links to the download attracted a lot of attention to this site, and in December there was even an article about the book published in the French newspaper Libération.

All of which is to say, it was a pretty good publicity stunt. It might have sold a few more hard copies; more importantly, it gives my future books a better chance of at least being picked up in a bookstore by people who downloaded this one.

Although I didn’t do it for the money, I was also, of course, interested in testing the idea of giving stuff away and allowing people freely to express their appreciation. So I put a PayPal button below the download. Is this, as some people say, an exciting new internet-age business model for writers and other creative types?

A lot of wisdom in the comments too. To wit:

The model described is already in place for writers of the magazine/newspaper variety. Specifically the part where a paying client needs something written and must come up with an incentive to get it done. This is different from the traditional book model where a writes comes up with a book, and must convince someone to *retroactively* make it worth their while. You could, for example, write on a form of commission, coughing up chapters and ideas as your audience shows willingness to pay for them. No pay, no write. The internet happens to make this part easy too.
Your dichotomy only exists if you assume that you have to create the work first and figure out a way to compensate for all that lost time second.
This is how I’ve found open source software to work: enough gets written for free to scratch the creator’s particular itch, but specific feature requests or promises of reliability aren’t addressed without some form of payback: a service contract, maybe a job.

picture via teresia

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