It’s not everyday that you find an organization that practices what it preaches. And in a volatile, and still evolving, market such as ebook publishing, it is even more priceless to discover such a company. Baen Books is just this rare creature. They have a clear understanding of their readers and an optimistic ideology about their marketing strategy. Baen Books offers a free library of science fiction novels drawn from their backlist. They’ve been doing this since 2000! (I know, I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. This isn’t new news, but it is to me!)
I discovered the Baen Free Library when I was searching for some older titles by favorite science fiction authors that I was unable to find on Amazon (I have a Kindle). So I widened my search. I was expecting to find more of the usual disputes between a publishing house and the powerhouse wholesaler Amazon. Instead, I found a clearly stated mission statement. Jim Baen, the founder of Baen Books, agreed with author Eric Flint to offer ebooks for free because
The resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.
And so it began.
Baen Books does not condone ebook piracy. However, they also don’t believe that tighter regulations will stop it. Rather, as their Prime Palaver says:
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.
The Baen Free Library is their attempt to encourage creativity and welcome new readers to their brand. Authors from this publishing house are invited, but not required, to post one or more of their books for free. These books are available in a variety of formats. The author may choose whichever book they want to share. (If they write a series, they are encouraged to post the first book in it however.) The author may choose to stop offering the book at any time as well.
The other, more down to earth, reason behind the Baen Free Library is simple economics. The company is banking on readers enjoying the free library so much that they then want to spend their money on other books sold by Baen. This is even more likely when you consider the type of books offered for free by the library — first books of series. It’s the drug dealers’ method of sale: get them hooked with a free sample and then reel them in for big money later on! Luckily, addiction to science fiction novels has not yet shown to have such harmful effects as addiction to drugs. 🙂 I love this quote from the Prime Palaver too.
Don’t bother robbing me, twit. I will cheerfully put up the stuff for free myself. Because I am quite confident that any “losses” I sustain will be more than made up for by the expansion in the size of my audience.
There have been many doomsday articles written about the demise of print. However, Eric Flint is not worried about books becoming obsolete. He makes an excellent observation about this by comparing the fate of buggy whip makers and car manufacturers to that of writers. Flint observes that, unlike buggy whip makers, no one has yet invented a device that makes writers obsolete. There is no machine that can write creatively or well.
I’m very happy, so far, with my experience with Baen Free Books. The website is simple and straight forward. I even learned something about my Kindle because of it! Although I was aware that I could buy books from other companies than Amazon, I was intimidated by the technological hurdles I imagined that I’d have to leap. I discovered that it was easier than I ever imagined. The Baen Free Library has streamlined the process to allow their books to be sent to a Kindle just by emailing it to the Kindle owner’s account.
And I know that when I am looking for quality science fiction books in the future, I will probably buy them from Baen Books.