The debate about free content started with music and has moved fully-fledged to books. Well, at least to my knowledge, it started with music; maybe it started with something other than music, but that was the big splash. Who here remembers Napster? Colleges around the nation tremble at the recollection of the agitated students, agitated lawyers, bandwidth issues, etc. I don’t know what you call it when books are stolen and distributed illegally (aside from a violation of intellectual property), but we definitely know it happens.
Apparently some publishers have decided to skip the awkward Free is Bad Please Don’t Steal Our Content stage and go straight to the pretty cool We Control Our Content and Are Happy to Let You Have Some stage (with completed books; no violated authors here). Some, like Bantam Dell, are promoting new authors in what I consider a brilliant strategy to pique interest. It got me — six pages into Hannah Tinti’s The Good Thief (which I had, up till now, heard of but had no interest in) and I already have a favorite sentence:
… before long the monastery had turned into a de facto orphanage for the bastard children of the local townspeople, who still occasionally tried to burn the place down.
You can read the first six chapters of The Good Thief, courtesy of Bantam Dell and Issuu (you don’t have to register, but I did, mostly because I love the interface).
HarperCollins also is down with the free, only here you get backlist instead of frontlist. You can now (and for a limited time only, not sure how limited) read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere for free, either online or offline (if you want to download it, you’ll need a recent version of Adobe Reader). I’m a NG fan, so I jumped all over this as well.
I’ve stayed out of the brouhaha over Midnight Sun until now, but I feel like I should make the following statement lest any of the above be misconstrued. I hereby declare that I am ALL ABOUT authors having control over their work, be it finished, unfinished, just recently conceived of in a corner of their brain, whatever. I just think it’s nice when we find a middle ground between the readers’ very natural desire to check out something before deciding to invest in it and getting the creative people their richly deserved money. I’d bet that initiatives like Bantam Dell’s and HarperCollins’ give sales a bump — if you actually enjoy what you’re reading, who wants to have to read it on an LCD screen that you probably can’t curl up with/take to bed/read in the tub?