It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Baen Free Library. This invaluable service has been online for years and provides a wonderful service to SF geeks.
What?? You’ve never heard of it? Okay, let me help you remove that rock you’ve been hiding under and I’ll describe it in their own words:
Baen Books is now making available — for free — a number of its titles in electronic format. We’re calling it the Baen Free Library. Anyone who wishes can read these titles online — no conditions, no strings attached. (Later we may ask for an extremely simple, name & email only, registration. ) Or, if you prefer, you can download the books in one of several formats. Again, with no conditions or strings attached. (URLs to sites which offer the readers for these format are also listed. )
Why are we doing this? Well, for two reasons.
The first is what you might call a “matter of principle.” This all started as a byproduct of an online “virtual brawl” I got into with a number of people, some of them professional SF authors, over the issue of online piracy of copyrighted works and what to do about it.
There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences!
I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:
1. Online piracy — while it is definitely illegal and immoral — is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We’re talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.
2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.
3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market — especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people — is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The “regulation-enforcement-more regulation” strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.
In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors — how about you, Eric? — were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.
The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a “loss leader” for Baen’s for-pay experiment “Webscriptions” for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it’s become Baen’s most popular backlist title in paper!
And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.
Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode and checking out Mother of Demons, they either had or intended to buy the book. In one or two cases, this was a “gesture of solidarity. “But in most instances, it was because people preferred to read something they liked in a print version and weren’t worried about the small cost — once they saw, through sampling it online, that it was a novel they enjoyed. (Mother of Demons is a $5.99 paperback, available in most bookstores. Yes, that a plug. )
Then, after thinking the whole issue through a bit more, I realized that by posting Mother of Demons I was just making a gesture. Gestures are fine, but policies are better.
So, the next day, I discussed the matter with Jim again and it turned out he felt exactly the same way. So I proposed turning the Mother of Demons tour-de-force into an ongoing project. Immediately, David Drake was brought into the discussion and the three of us refined the idea and modified it here and there. And then Dave Weber heard about it, and Dave Freer, and. . . voila.
The Baen Free Library was born.
(“Jim” in the preceding quote is the late and much missed Jim Baen, editor in chief of Baen Books for many years, and a seminal influence on SF publishing in the 80s and 90s).
So, essentially if you have the right platform to read it, you can download as many novels from this giant fiction archive as you like, and have at it. It’s a wonderful gesture.
I had a Baen novel or two on my old Palm handhelds for the last several years… never was I without one of them. I recently got an Apple Ipod Touch for Christmas, which has many good reader softwares available for it, including Kindle, of all things. But I couldn’t just download a Baen Free Book, drag it on to a chip and start reading, as I had in the past. One has to use the “Webscription” paradigm now, which involves using a reader that can read RSS feads (STANZA in this case), and then it becomes possible.
It works! It works! Successssss!
It turns out that Stanza (the Ipod software) itself will make the connection (as long as their is a wireless internet somewhere near), link the RSS feed page and download novels it finds there. Not as simple as the old “drag and drop” method I used from the Palm, but you can’t argue with success! A whole vista opens up to me now!
Baen Free Library
Jim Baen RIP
Make some Good Kharma for Jim Baen