In the more extensive original version of the article from which we are excerpting, science fiction author Cory Doctorow explains why it is a good idea for authors to share free e-books with their potential fans.
He als makes the point that filesharing is mostly about discovering new cultural creations that one is not ready to buy yet, but that when we discover we love them, we usually buy them.
“I recently saw Neil Gaiman give a talk at which someone asked him how he felt about piracy of his books. He said, “Hands up in the audience if you discovered your favorite writer for free — because someone loaned you a copy, or because someone gave it to you? Now, hands up if you found your favorite writer by walking into a store and plunking down cash.” Overwhelmingly, the audience said that they’d discovered their favorite writers for free, on a loan or as a gift. When it comes to my favorite writers, there’s no boundaries: I’ll buy every book they publish, just to own it (sometimes I buy two or three, to give away to friends who must read those books). I pay to see them live. I buy t-shirts with their book-covers on them. I’m a customer for life.
Neil went on to say that he was part of the tribe of readers, the tiny minority of people in the world who read for pleasure, buying books because they love them. One thing he knows about everyone who downloads his books on the Internet without permission is that they’re readers, they’re people who love books.
People who study the habits of music-buyers have discovered something curious: the biggest pirates are also the biggest spenders. If you pirate music all night long, chances are you’re one of the few people left who also goes to the record store (remember those?) during the day. You probably go to concerts on the weekend, and you probably check music out of the library too. If you’re a member of the red-hot music-fan tribe, you do lots of everything that has to do with music, from singing in the shower to paying for black-market vinyl bootlegs of rare Eastern European covers of your favorite death-metal band.
Same with books. I’ve worked in new bookstores, used bookstores and libraries. I’ve hung out in pirate ebook (“bookwarez”) places online. I’m a stone used bookstore junkie, and I go to book fairs for fun. And you know what? It’s the same people at all those places: book fans who do lots of everything that has to do with books. I buy weird, fugly pirate editions of my favorite books in China because they’re weird and fugly and look great next to the eight or nine other editions that I paid full-freight for of the same books. I check books out of the library, google them when I need a quote, carry dozens around on my phone and hundreds on my laptop, and have (at this writing) more than 10,000 of them in storage lockers in London, Los Angeles and Toronto.
If I could loan out my physical books without giving up possession of them, I would. The fact that I can do so with digital files is not a bug, it’s a feature, and a damned fine one. It’s embarrassing to see all these writers and musicians and artists bemoaning the fact that art just got this wicked new feature: the ability to be shared without losing access to it in the first place. It’s like watching restaurant owners crying down their shirts about the new free lunch machine that’s feeding the world’s starving people because it’ll force them to reconsider their business-models. Yes, that’s gonna be tricky, but let’s not lose sight of the main attraction: free lunches!
Universal access to human knowledge is in our grasp, for the first time in the history of the world.”