Give and ye shall receive

There is a writer (in fact there are several) who's fond of giving away digital versions of his books. Yep.

There is a writer (in fact there are several) who's fond of giving away digital versions of his books. Yep. He distributes his intellectual property, the sweat of his brow, as if it were flu germs. And he rails against the short-sightedness of evil media dinosaurs (like the record companies) who don't understand the fundamental principle of the digital age: Give and Ye Shall Receive.

So What?

Receive what, exactly? The writer's stated reason for his largesse is that it drives sales of his "real" books at (for example) Amazon, which is (on the face of it) the most peculiar thing I have ever heard. But maybe I'm wrong: Maybe what happens is that someone will start to read his book on-screen, like it, then realize just how painful it is to stare at a computer for 300 pages. Within seconds, he's on Amazon pushing One Click and the writer is leaning back in his chair and giving me a faintly superior smile. Well, maybe so. In that light, his strategy makes sense--but only for a limited time. It's not theoretically sound: The only reason it works is that today's laptops are so awkward to take to bed (which is mostly where I read): They're big (compared to a book), they're heavy, they're low-contrast, and they're power hungry. Not exactly designed for an optimal (horizontal) reading experience.

One day soon, however, we'll have thin, low-power e-book readers based on electronic paper that are easy to read and easy to sleep with (I won't mention any names). At that point, the writer's approach becomes untenable since the digital versions of his books will actually be readable--and thus very few people will bother to buy the "real" ones.

Of course, there will always be paper fetishists who need the original on their shelves, but I promise you that most of us won't feel that way, any more than most iTunes customers need physical CDs. When this situation kicks in and his sales start to slide, it'll be interesting to see how the writer responds. My guess: He'll decide that the evil media dinosaurs might have a point, after all.

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