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Old 11-30-2010, 04:19 PM   #1
leebase
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DRM bad, Piracy Good

http://www.baens-universe.com/articles/salvos7

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.

Lee
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Old 11-30-2010, 04:45 PM   #2
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I think the driver is how small the e-book market is despite its growth. We're all bleeding edge geeks here compared to John Q Public. You talk to friends about Flint, Ringo, and others and some them only buy p-books. So a winner because of more p-books get sold. Look ahead some years, whenever e-readers come to dominate the market, and I imagine the song will change.
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Old 11-30-2010, 05:09 PM   #3
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Yeah, I'm kind of puzzled by Baen's approach, too. I completely understand the free library approach of giving away the first couple of books in a series on the theory that customers might buy the rest of the books in the series.

But I don't understand at all why Baen lets you go elsewhere (like http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/2...sionofHonorCD/) and get *all* of the other e-books (i.e., the ones that you can buy on their website for $6).

Baen's free library was started in 2000 or so, when having e-books meant reading them on your computer or on your palm pilot. Even Flint's article was written several months before the first Kindle became available...meaning at a time when e-reading was in its infancy.

So while I don't think that they will ever add DRM, I do wonder whether they will discourage people (by asking, even) from posting CDs with the entire back catalogue of certain authors.

I'm also curious about why David Weber seems to have gone to Tor.
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Old 11-30-2010, 05:10 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by leebase View Post
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.
I've bought many Baen books and I don't recall that happening to me more than once or twice (edited to add: having it later get offered free, I mean - I think I'd be a bit aggravated too if I inadvertently paid for a book that was already in the Library, but I keep track of what's in there closely enough so I've never done that). I figure it's part of the cost of doing business - and at only five or six bucks a pop, why should I wait on the off chance of a book eventually hitting the Free Library?

I am stingy enough to not emulate the people who make donations for books already available for free, or buy them in hard copy if I don't already have it. But the Free Library has introduced me to quite a few authors whose other works I've subsequently bought from Baen.

Last edited by wayrad; 11-30-2010 at 05:29 PM.
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Old 11-30-2010, 05:11 PM   #5
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Don't you want to support art?

The free ebooks I have from Baen are either books I also have as pbooks, which I'm in the process of replacing, or books I'm not going to buy -- though occasionally they've surprised me, and I've bought into new authors or series. I buy books from Baen because they're available immediately when the book comes out, in a format that I want, and delivered straight to my email. If they become available free later on, great, but I don't feel that I missed anything by buying them. I would have bought them on dead trees if that was the only option available, so why should I have any buyer's remorse for paying less for them and not straining my bookshelves any further?

For instance, I bought the complete Hammer's Slammers series. I have pretty much all of those stories as pbooks or in magazines. I also have some in free ebooks. But I shelled out for that nice three-part set because it's a nice omnibus, in proper order, and now I can get rid of the pbooks. Will some book I want be released for free next year? Probably, but I don't want to wait a year when I can read it now, and not waiting is worth six bucks to me.

The bottom line is that they sell something I want to buy, and since I'm an ethical person, I'll buy it. YMMV.

P.S. Baen doesn't just *let* people read and share the contents of those CDs, they *encourage* it. Maybe there are more honorable people out there than we might think.

Last edited by Worldwalker; 11-30-2010 at 05:17 PM. Reason: because I seem to have difficulty with plurals
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Old 11-30-2010, 05:35 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leebase View Post
http://www.baens-universe.com/articles/salvos7
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?
...
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.
Baen is sharply aware of their customer base, and the fact that science fiction fans mostly *don't* buy new books. Oh, some do... but new SF readers are often teenagers, who can't afford new books (or can't afford more than the occasional new paperback), or people who get a book from a friend or a yard sale.

Baen is currently counting on free ebooks subsidizing print sales. And it's working. Eventually, when print becomes an archaic method of story-sharing, they'll need a new model--but that day is nowhere near as close as some ebook fanatics think. (We forget, we cutting-edge technophiles, that the majority of the *planet* doesn't have electricity. And while the majority of the english-speaking world does, that doesn't mean any significant number of them are eager to hand over books for screens.)

I'm sure they're aware that some customers will be annoyed at paying for something they discover they could've legitimately gotten for free. They're counting on the price being low enough that those customers are just annoyed, not angry enough to stop buying from them--that they react with "well, that was stupid of me" rather than "those bastards at Baen cheated me by hiding the free version."

Baen is counting on the idea that, if people *approve* of them, and like their books, they'll sell enough books to survive and grow, no matter how many free books are available. Baen is counting on "happy customer" being a strong enough selling point to overcome the appeal of "free stuff."

So far, it's working.

Yes, with a bit of effort, you can probably get every book in Baen's shop for free--about half of them legitimately, the rest through torrents. And there are people who do so. And Baen has decided not to waste its efforts trying to stop those people, but instead, convincing the ones who know they could, that they'd rather shop at webscriptions.

More ethical, support the authors, legit copy in all the formats, etc. Plenty of reasons to buy instead of pirate, or even instead of getting a legit free copy. And Baen makes it unimportant which reason matters to you; they're not waving around guilt or threats or usability as The Big Reason.

They're trying to be the digital version of the corner bookshop, the ones that have almost all closed down because of the mega-stores. "Come buy from us instead of scrounging at yard sales; buy from us instead of waiting for the library copy; buy from us instead of borrowing from your friend and worrying about getting coffee stains on it." (Or, the digital equivalent: Buy from us instead of downloading a torrent, hoping there's no virus, and reading a crappy letter-sized plaintext PDF.)
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Old 11-30-2010, 05:54 PM   #7
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@wayrad -- I'm not just including the Free Library, but the free cd's hosted on the Fifth Imperium site with knowledge and approval by Baen. Hundreds more ebooks than are in the library. And it's in those cd's that books I've bought appear for free shortly later.

BTW, I'm not angry about that. The $6 I've paid for the new ebooks at Baen have been more than worth the cost. And yes, I like supporting my favorite authors.

What I'm saying is that I have a good number of authors I like to support and limited funds. So I find myself really questioning "Do I buy this David Weber book for $6 or do I just get the free ebook later, and buy the Orson Scott Card book from Tor?".

I was hooked on the Honor Harrington series after the first book. For sure by the third. But I read like 15 of them for free before buying the last 3. Then I find the last three were free too.

Not pirated. Free. Provided for free by the author/publisher.

Part of me says "Lee, keep quiet and just enjoy". But I just have to wonder if what made sense 10 years ago with this philosophy -- if it still holds true today. Today I have NO DESIRE WHATSOEVER to have a paper book. I do not buy, and will likely never buy, any paper book that I've read as an ebook. The ebook IS the book as far as I'm concerned. That's got to be different than the way folks thought before they had the quality ereaders like the Kindle, Sony, Nook and iPad.

I'm just saying that someone like me -- who really feels the need to support the authors I like -- even _I_ find it hard to pay for something that's given away free. Not stolen. Not pirated. Given away. Why would I not just take the free ebooks from my favorite authors who give them, and then BUY the books from my favorite authors who do not give their books away?

If I was going to have to wait a year or two -- yeah, then I'd pay for the ebook. And be happy to do so at Baen's $6 price with no DRM. Knowing they'll release that ebook for free a month from now, or two -- well, I can wait. And while I'm waiting, spend my limited resources on another author who's book I desire to read.

Yeah - I feel conflicted.

Lee
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Old 11-30-2010, 06:19 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by leebase View Post
Today I have NO DESIRE WHATSOEVER to have a paper book.
Me neither, except for reference works; ebook tech just isn't quite up to some reference uses. Which Baen doesn't sell.

Quote:
I do not buy, and will likely never buy, any paper book that I've read as an ebook.
Not even as a gift?

Quote:
The ebook IS the book as far as I'm concerned. That's got to be different than the way folks thought before they had the quality ereaders like the Kindle, Sony, Nook and iPad.
Somewhat, but not so much. There were less people willing to put up with screens when Palm Pilots were top of the market, but the way they felt about them was the same: some people were quick to abandon quality typography for the convenient package; some would never give up the feel of paper; some like a mix of both.

Right now, Baen's picked its method of getting maximum print sales, and it's working for them. It's got a side-effect of discouraging sales from a tiny fraction of the marketplace who really loves what they're doing, but would also, very reasonably, prefer to spend money on things they can't get for free.

So. Twenty years from now, my kids & maybe grandkids get to hear what a great publishing house Baen is; right now, Baen doesn't get as many of my dollars as some other publishers that I buy from, but don't tout, because they're not doing anything special.

Baen's counting on print sales from people who like pbooks, and long-term returns in "cool points" from people who don't.
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Old 11-30-2010, 07:14 PM   #9
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I really question the wisdom of thinking that paper books are the real books and ebooks are just marketing. Of course, that's not necessarily Baen's pov.

Btw, I have been discussing this on their site. Clearly they are firmly convinced in the continuing value of giving their books away. I know that it has worked for me in that they have some of my money they never would have had. And I, like many on this forum give a good deal of word of mouth advertising.

While Baen's selection of books aren't to everyone's taste....how much have folks been talking up Tor or Ace.

Lee


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Last edited by leebase; 11-30-2010 at 07:28 PM.
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Old 11-30-2010, 07:30 PM   #10
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I don't really see there being a difference in Baen making their books free, vs books actually being free from other sources.

I know legally there is a difference. And I guess some people actually obey laws out of a sense of being law abiding, rather than because they find those laws just or are afraid of being punished.

Still, it seems to me that people today are pretty much on the honor system when it comes to books (or music, or even movies) these days. If you want to support the with your money, you can. Otherwise you can get them for free.

Personally, I buy books because I want to give the authors money. Partly to reward them, partly so they will continue to write more books that I like.
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Old 11-30-2010, 07:49 PM   #11
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I guess you are right, Jeremy. I ensure there will be more of whatever I pay for, regardless of whether an ebook is given away or pirated.

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Old 11-30-2010, 07:53 PM   #12
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Don't you want to support art?.
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Old 11-30-2010, 08:38 PM   #13
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I don't personally re-buy free stuff or pay again for things I already own in another format (with a couple of very specific exceptions). And I've never been inclined to the tipjar method, but if it works for other people, that's great.

What I do instead is pay for something else that's non-free from the author/publisher, even if it isn't nearly appealing as the free thing (provided it's at a reasonable price) and thereby hopefully they're supported for their generous free offering and I also get to try something else by them at the same time.

I've gone and bought a series by one author which only looks middling-promising on the strength of his having put up some books-in-progress in serial format from his other series which I actually like as free reads online.

Mind you, I did it during those Fictionwise 50-60% off coupon sales because I'm cheap and there are limits.

But I'm pretty happy to support people orthogonally in return for their free giveaways, even if I'm a bit reluctant to spend my money recompensating them for those particular titles directly.

I think this sort of thing was noted in one of Eric Flint's editorials up on Baen, about how after they put a bunch of Mercedes Lackey's stuff up free in the Library, she got a sales spike for the print books in her series at another publisher.
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Old 12-01-2010, 01:30 AM   #14
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Baen is now on my good publisher list. Reasonable companies like this always get my support. I feel the same way about Stardock. ( I got a little burnt on the recent subpar release Elemental: War of Magic but still..)

I'll be much less likely to hesitate on a Baen book than another company.

And I hate DRM - so I almost never buy DRM'd ebooks - but non-DRM gets my support.
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Old 12-01-2010, 01:27 PM   #15
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The key thing about Baen's attitude is that they are focussed on two things:
  • promoting authors, rather than individual books
  • building their base of happy, satisfied customers.
Both of these concepts lead them to focus on getting you to buy the next book. Whether that's the next book in this series, or the next book from this author, or the next book from Baen.

If you know and like a series, you're more likely to buy the next book. Having all the Honor Harrington books available for free lowers your cost of entry to the series -- you don't have to purchase (or find, or borrow, or...) 10+ previous books. Similarly, if you know and like an author, you're much more likely to purchase their next book in some format or other. And that means more $$ for Baen. Finally, happy satisfied customers come back again and again. They tell their friends that Baen is the good guys. They tell them "Yeah, their rep is for exploding spaceships, but there's also a ton of mysteries/fantasy/reissues of good old stuff/whatever." All of that builds future sales. Which seems to be working far better for them than trying to focus on squeezing the absolute most out of "this book, today."

Overall, this strategy has taken them from a mostly-paperback house, to one with plenty of hardcover releases many of which hit the NYT bestsellers list. That's "many" in a relative sense, as in "a few -- three to five -- bestsellers each year," which is well over 4%. No larger house matches that hit rate on the bestseller lists (it would probably be impossible for them to do so). And Baen's sell-through is over 70%. And, they aren't afraid to reprint when sales warrant it: for example Monster Hunter International did vastly better than expected after a slow start; it's had three printings now (or is it 4? 5? I'm not sure), each larger than the previous. MHI won't hit the bestsellers list, because the sales are distributed over many months, but it's outsold a fair number of NYT paperback bestsellers.

As pointed out by various earlier posters, Baen can work this way because they've chosen to be extremely low overhead, because they maintain their focus on what they do well, and because they are a private company whose owners allow them to take a long view. None of these attributes apply to the Big Publishing Houses.

Xenophon
P.S. I'm not an insider at Baen, I just read their web-boards and pay attention to statements by the Publisher and her minions.

Last edited by Xenophon; 12-01-2010 at 01:29 PM. Reason: added disclaimer at end
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