Via boing boing, I found Cory Doctorow’s article “Free(konomics) E-Books,” published in Locus Magazine. Doctorow is, of course, one smart cookie and someone who seems to be able to write and publish in different venues an amazing amount of stuff– blogs, books, articles, etc., etc. He is also one of the pioneers in the idea of simultaneously publishing traditional/”for sale” books and electronic/”free” versions of the same books. Basically, what Doctorow does here is give reasons (most anecdotal, but reasons nonetheless) why he feels like the folks who practice this version of publishing actually end up selling more books.
It seems pretty compelling to me. As he says at the beginning:
I don’t believe that most readers want to read long-form works off a screen, and I don’t believe that they will ever want to read long-form works off a screen. As I say in the column, the problem with reading off a screen isn’t resolution, eyestrain, or compatibility with reading in the bathtub: it’s that computers are seductive, they tempt us to do other things, making concentrating on a long-form work impractical.
So, what online versions of books and longer works really do is entice (seduce?) potential readers into going out and spending the money on the more practical and, for the format, better technology, paper books.