At the Writers’ Union AGM the other day, listening to Bill Kennedy, brilliant web editor, director of the Scream literary festival, Coach House press guy. There was mention of John Degen’s well publicized decision to make his terrific novel from a couple of years ago, The Uninvited Guest, available for free download.
Bill noted Coach House also got lots of publicity back in 1999 when it made every book it published simultaneously available for free download. Effect on Coach House’s business: actually, none they could observe.
He also explained why they stopped the practice after five years. Their subsidy for doing it ran out. In fact, making books available “free” had significant production costs for Coach House (more so in 1999 than now, but still). When no one would give them more grants for doing it, they had to stop.
Seems like a nice illustration of what “free” digital content so often means: in the name of digital freedom, the creator/producer is expected to subsidize the users. You might say the purchasers of Coach House’s printed texts were subsidizing those who got it unpaid online (in that the subsidy used for digital freebies might have gone to lower the price of the printed books). It’s like PLoS, the Public Library of Science, and other online “free” journals, where the authors are required to pony up thousands of dollars to be published in the free journal.