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Friday, February 29, 2008

The nature of free

I'm currently talking to Harpers about ways we can make the American Gods online reading experience a more pleasant one. And about ways to give American Gods away that would make Harper Collins happy while also making, say, Cory Doctorow happy too.

I was surprised by a few emails coming in from people accusing me of doing bad things for other authors by giving anything away -- the idea being, I think, that by handing out a bestselling book for nothing I'm devaluing what a book is and so forth, which I think is silly.

I like giving stuff away. I think it's sensible. I like that you can read Sandman #1 on the DC Comics site, for example. (It's at http://www.dccomics.com/media/excerpts/1696_1.pdf. (Although for reasons known only to DC, they have put the last two pages of the story in the wrong order.) We've got five short stories up at http://www.neilgaiman.com/p/Cool%20Stuff/Short%20Stories, and I just realised on poking around that I've put more essays and things up over the years on this blog than have ever made it into the essays section, and a lot more audio than ever made it to the rather threadbare audio section (although there's lots of free audio now up at http://www.last.fm/music/Neil+Gaiman)


During one of the interviews recently, a reporter said something like, "Of course, a real publisher wouldn't give away paper books," and I pointed out that 3,000 copies of The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy were given away by Douglas Adams' publisher, with a 'write in and get your free book' ad in Rolling Stone. They wanted copies of HHGTTG on campuses in the US, and they wanted people to read it and tell other people. Word of mouth is still the best tool for selling books.

This is how people found new authors for more than a century. Someone says, "I've read this. It's good. I think you'd like it. Here, you can borrow it." Someone takes the book away, reads it, and goes, Ah, I have a new author.

Libraries are good things: you shouldn't have to pay for every book you read.

I'm one of those authors who is fortunate enough to make my living from the things I've written. If I thought that giving books away would make it so that I could no longer make my living from writing and be forced to go out and get a real job -- or that other authors would be less likely to be able to make a living -- I wouldn't do it.

As I tried to explain in the Guardian interview, the problem isn't that books are given away or that people read books they haven't paid for. The problem is that the majority of people don't read for pleasure.

...


If a kid picks up a candy bar and runs, you give him a warning before you cuff him. Same with those mindless teenyboppers who go to the Hickory Farms store, and then take double samples of fruitcake and cheeselog, you warn them that they will be charged with a felony(grand theft), and that if they attempt to fight and run, they will be, unfortunately, first tazered, and if they continue to resist violently with intent to maim, then wounded. Fortunately, wounding fire to suppress teenage kleptomaniacs is relatively easy, they all run in straight lines, and a hit in the knee will be relatively simple from the second floor. But they all get a warning first, we do not simply shoot shoplifters unless they resist violently.


Ah, the joys of the Mall-Ninjas. Click on the link for context and much, much more of the same. Really wonderfully, dreadfully, unintentionally, funny...

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