Ok....I don't think Eric Flint would necessarily agree with my title, but it sums up his point. Except for a very few (your Clancy's, JK Rowlings, John Grishams), the most damaging thing for an author is that no one knows they exist.
Eric Flint makes sure there is a free copy of all of his books available a very short time after the book goes on sale. He is positive it's done more good for him in sales than bad.
Myself, I wonder. I know that the Baen Free Library brought Eric Flint into my life, and that I've read and talked about a number of his books -- and even bought a few. Then again, I could go years without having to buy a book, doing nothing but reading the free Baen books, including most all of Eric Flints. And I'm not even guilty of pirating. He's GIVING them away.
I've bought some Baen books only to see later that they were already free -- or were free a short time after I bought them. Why would I continue to buy what is going to be available for free -- and honestly so? Why not read the Baen book that's free -- and then spend money on the Tor book I want to read that's not free?
Sure, I could read books from the library for free -- nothing new about that. But there's a hassle factor with the library. There is no hassle factor with getting free Baen books (oh, Baen is the publisher Eric Flint works a lot with and a lot of their authors likewise give their books away free). There is no "pirating what I can't afford while I'm a kid, and then growing into maturity and having money that I can spend to buy those things I used to steal". It's not stealing. The books are freely given away.
Yes, I'm an Eric Flint fan because of his free books. And David Weber. And John Ringo. Yes, sometimes I have disposable income that I'm inclined to spend on books. And yes, those three are now authors I could choose to spend that money on. But not if they always give their books away free. Then I start to wonder why I should spend my limited money buying their book, when I can buy a Tor or Ace book that I also want to read, and then read the Baen book a month or two from now -- for free?
Now, another good thing they do is price their new ebooks for $6, and there is no DRM. You can download them in a number of formats to read on any reader you want to. No lock in. No worries if Baen goes out of business, or you decide to switch from a Kindle to a Nook or a Sony or an iPad or to whatever comes in the future.
But still -- I have spent my $6 or new Eric Flint/David Weber/John Ringo books, only to see them offered for free a short time later. And I gotta say it makes me torn. I do want to support the authors I like. But I like a LOT of authors, or at least a lot more than just those three.
Anywhoo -- it does puzzle me. I get Eric Flint's point about the "opacity" of the book market being far more worrisome than theft. I totally agree that DRM is little good and a lot of bad. But I just think if _I_ were an author, my LATEST works would not be free for a year or so, or until, perhaps, they were my 3rd or 4th latest book.