Seven Poole, who wrote Trigger Happy, the first decent book on videogames (at least the first decent book I read on the topic) has a thoughtful post on his blog after making it available for free pdf download. After 30,000 downloads, and not many paypal contributions, he concludes that giving ebooks away is not a business model, no matter how much the Techdirt and Slashdot crowd might want it to be. For Poole, the idealists suggesting that creative types can survive by giving away their creativity (and making a living performing live or on merchandising) are wrong. As he suggests to the Slashdot readership:
Oh Mr Freetard, you work as a programmer, do you? How interesting. So do you perform all your corporate programming duties for free, and earn your keep by selling personally branded mousemats on the side?
He then goes on to suggest that the current advantage of print over electronic makes e-books a potential promotional tool; at least until e-books take over. Then:
A reasonable outcome, perhaps, would be something like an iTunes for books, where people choose to buy (DRM-free or at least DRM-lite) copies because it’s still easier for most folk than hunting down a torrent. That way writers would still see some kind of modest revenue from their efforts. Otherwise, if people can’t earn money from writing books, then books will only be written by the rich, and by people in their spare time.
It’s a complicated argument, and I guess that’s the point. Rewarding (or monetising (!)) creativity is not about simple binaries. Some things will work for some people; some things won’t. And no amount of sloganeering can reduce the complexity of the world to a one-size-fits-all solution. Figuring out a way through the jungle over the next decade or so is going to be very interesting…