Giving It All Away

Tor books has been giving away free ebooks for a few months now, to build a subscription base for their upcoming newsletter. These are unprotected, full-length novels in PDF and HTML formats by some of sci-fi and fantasy’s best and most well-known writers. As far as I know, while the books may not be their most recent, non of them are out of print–not that it really matters, of course. This is, of course, nothing more than the age-old practice of giving away free samples.

Some, however, have drawn similarities between this program and Creative Commons wackos (and, indirectly with the idiotic “infinite goods” theories), who say that if you give away the electronic (infinite) version, then you’ll make up for it by either selling the physical (“scarce”) version or its analog. For music, this means giving away the songs to induce people to attend concerts. For books, it means giving away the ebook to induce people to buy the physical book.

Of course, the Tor program is fundamentally different. I’m guessing that the Tor marketing folks have no delusions that they’ll sell significantly more copies of the books that they’re giving away for free. They will likely expand their newsletter’s subscription base, and they’ve probably built demand for other books by the same authors. In fact, I’m going to either borrow or buy the sequel to one of the books I read through the program. But, it’s ludicrous to propose building a sustainable business model around the notion that people will buy another copy of something they’re getting for free, either to get a version that’s increasingly less relevant (current ebook readers are approaching physical books in reading comfort) or simply to be nice.

The “infinite goods” theory, as mentioned before on this blog, deserves its own debunking. The essential nature of the Creative Commons notion, however, can best be summed up by one of its most well-known proponents, Cory Doctorow:

As a very early adopter and promoter of Creative Commons licenses, Cory Doctorow’s reasoning for using them for his works is well known in certain circles. For instance, in an interview with Greg Grossmeier, community development intern at Creative Commons, Cory gave his reasoning as it relates to the type of writing he does: “Not only does making my books available for free increase the number of sales that I get, but I also came to understand it artistically as a Science Fiction writer that if I was making work that wasn’t intended to be copied, then I was really making contemporary work.”

From that same interview Cory describes how he sees the relationship between the increasing role and power of copyright and the people who use those works: “As the copyright wars deepened, I really started to understand the cost of imposing a 20th century exclusive rights style copyright on individual users of works in the 21st century would lead to a dramatic decrease in freedoms that are really important like free speech, free expression, even free of assembly and freedom of the press. All of these things would come under fire as a result of the copyright wars.”

Cory’s support of the CC licenses also stems from his dislike of overly restrictive forms of protection on creative works. As expressed on his personal website’s bio page, written in 2006, “I believe that we live in an era where anything that can be expressed as bits will be. I believe that bits exist to be copied. Therefore, I believe that any business-model that depends on your bits not being copied is just dumb, and that lawmakers who try to prop these up are like governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on living on the sides of active volcanoes.” [Emphasis added. I mean, come on: “bit exist to be copied”?!?]

My apologies to the Creative Commons Web site for copying so much from their page. These are, however, just bits, and so they shouldn’t have any complaints.

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