For many, many years, Sci-Fi publisher Baen Books has offered free downloadable
books, and has found it to be a good way to generate more interest and sales
for its authors. It appears that many others are starting to realize this as well. We've recently seen unknown authors
and best-selling authors
both embrace the concept, while pointing out that obscurity is a much bigger threat to their writing than piracy. Now, it appears that other publishers are beginning to catch on. Sci-Fi publisher Tor is giving away free e-books
(apparently with no DRM, either) and the NY Times is now reporting that HarperCollins has decided to start posting free e-books on its website
(including a bunch by Paulo Coehlo, the best-selling author who encouraged people to download unauthorized versions of his books). Unfortunately, these "free" e-books are ridiculously limited. They'll only be online for a month -- and you can only view them with a web connection (no downloads allowed). On top of that, the print functionality will be blocked. This seems totally pointless. For most books, it costs more to print out a copy yourself than to just buy the actual book. It's nice to see some additional support for free books, but HarperCollins plans seem akin to the music industry's first forays into online music. That is, they're designed so that the company can say "look, we're doing something!" but are so locked up that very few people will actually be interested.