It's amazing to me that, fifteen years into the internet revolution, we're still arguing about stuff that seemed like it had been settled a decade ago. Case study: Go the F*** to Sleep.
It's #1 on Amazon. Has been for weeks. I'm guessing it will stay that way until its release - and then some. It sold in a big six figure movie deal to Fox. Foreign deals are happening across the world. And all because the PDF has been passed from person to person to the tune of (I'm guessing) millions of copies around the globe. And it hasn't even been published yet.
Nonetheless, people in the media and in publishing are anguishing over the "piracy of the intellectual property." Shelf Awareness quotes people raising concerns about the "long-term impact."
Several thoughts jump to mind:
1. There would be no worries about the "long term impact" if people weren't passing around the PDF and turning the book into a phenomenon. It wouldn't be at #1. It wouldn't have a movie deal. It would just be another clever book that might work one day. Or it might not. Ask the folks who specialize in clever books. How many of them hit #1 on Amazon, ever? How many become must-buys for consumers? How many become phenomena? (Most don't. Like all other books.)
2. It might be that, really, this is just proof positive that there's huge business in selling something that people can get for free. Oh, wait: we already knew that was true! I had an author whose ebook (a novel) was given away for free last year (it was a backlist promotion to support a new release coming out). The free Kindle edition rose to the Top Ten - and, simultaneously, the PAID Kindle edition of the same book was in the Top 100. This would seem impossible, but yet it's not. People were paying for a book they could get for free. In the same format, providing the identical reading experience.
3. Even if you don't believe - and you should - that free can drive demand if it catches fire, in this particular case, the PDF is NOT the thing itself. It's a PDF. This book is funny. You want to have a copy if you've read the PDF (I have, and I do!). You want to share it with your friends over dinner. You want to hold it. It's a book, through and through - in the "object" sense of a book. So many of the people who've already read it are buying the physical book, because they want the real thing, the lasting expression of the experience, the object that is the thing itself.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think giving books away is the answer for our industry. I'm not generally a fan, but that's because I don't think free works unless it works. Tautological, I know, but it's obvious enough that for something to gain tremendous value from free, it needs to be something that can go viral. Go the F*** to Sleep is exactly that, and whatever marketing genius decided to press send on the unencrypted PDF deserves a prize. Because free made this, and we'd do well not to wring our hands over success.