David Drake Gets It

David Drake publishes an email newsletter for his fans. He archives them, so I might fix the link when it shows up, but the current one isn’t up yet. This is the language that I wanted to spread:

I’ve read the proofs of Master of the Cauldron, the sixth Isles fantasy, and seen the excellent cover Donato did for it. It’ll be out as a November, 2004, Tor hc, and is also a Baen Webscription title: that is, the book is being released in installments in a variety of electronic forms (none of them encrypted) to people who have signed up for the month’s releases.

Don’t ask me precisely how it’s done because I’ve never done it myself, but lots of people do and I’m assured that it’s very easy. If this (Webscriptions, that is) seems like something you’d be interested in, go to Baen.com and take a look. (Me, I’m entirely a dead tree person. My house is the Trees’ Graveyard.)

The combination of a Tor hardcover coming out as a Baen electronic release is a first. It was possible because Tom Doherty and Jim Baen have been friends of each other and of me for a long time. I wanted to try it because it’s a form of advertising, increasing interest in the book among people who spend a lot of time on-line and are in a position to spread the word if they like what they read. I suppose there’ll be some payment to me also for the electronic publication, but that’s a trivial consideration compared to the word of mouth advertising.

I should mention that this is a handshake deal for all three parties. Tom asked me to send him an e-mail outlining the plan so that he could agree for the record in case he was hit by a truck. I did so, but the three of us trust one another and trust our mutual ability and willingness to work out any glitches.

There are writers who go where the money looks best for the current project. That’s fine–more power to them. But I continue to work with people I trust implicitly, because then I can focus on what I want to do: writing books. For me at least, this works much better than trying to maximize short term gain would.

I’ll probably buy the dead tree version too, but he is absolutely right about the power of the electronic versions. I bought the latest Lt. Leary book in hardcover in no small part because of the CD that came with it. It had the entire Drake electronic library (the ones that had been converted to date) on it, with the following disclosure (to the best of my memory; I don’t have it in front of me because I mailed it to a friend):

The contents of this CD may not be resold. The contents may be copied or traded freely for personal use.

Here’s the logic: if having freely available copies around killed book sales, then you wouldn’t see many more sales beyond the number of public libraries. Everyone would just go check the book out from the library.

That isn’t how it works. I think David Drake is a terrific writer. He writes entertaining stories that give me insight into the mind of the warrior, and remind me of the classical notions of honor and duty that are sorely missing in today’s society. I want to help him share those stories with as many people as possible — and if he gets filthy stinking rich in the process, that’s all the better. We need more rich people in the world.

But I need a way to let people know how magic his stories are. It is one thing for me to tell someone, “hey you should really go down to the bookstore or the library and get copies of these books.” It is another thing for me to say something on my blog about how great a guy David Drake is and how awesome his stories are, and then email them a good Hammer’s Slammers PDF.

Without that, I have to mail books to people — and I do mail books to people. But email is much better than mail.

If you haven’t checked out the Baen Online Bookstore, you really should. Baen gets it, and they have a lot of terrific sci-fi and fantasy writers publishing through them. Even if you aren’t buying, they a great free library Eric Flint, another great Baen writer, got the ball rolling and wrote (in part) this:

And, just as important — perhaps most important of all — free books are the way an audience is built in the first place. How many people who are low on cash and for that reason depend on libraries or personal loans later rise on the economic ladder and then buy books by the very authors they came to love when they were borrowing books?

Practically every reader, that’s who. Most readers of science fiction and fantasy develop that interest as teenagers, mainly from libraries. That was certainly true of me. As a teenager, I couldn’t afford to buy the dozen or so Robert Heinlein novels I read in libraries. Nor could I afford the six-volume Lensmen series by “Doc” Smith. Nor could I afford any of the authors I became familiar with in those days: Arthur Clarke, James H. Schmitz, you name it.

Did they “lose sales?” In the long run, not hardly. Because in the decades which followed, I bought all of their books — and usually, in fact, bought them over and over again to replace old copies which had gotten too worn and frayed. I just bought another copy of Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, in fact, because the one I had was getting too long in the tooth. I think that’s the third copy of that novel I’ve purchased, over the course of my life. I’m not sure. Might be the fourth. I first read that book when I was fourteen years old — forty years ago, now — checked out from my high school library.

In short, rather than worrying about online piracy — much less tying ourselves and society into knots trying to shackle everything — it just makes more sense, from a commercial as well as principled point of view — to “steal from the stealers. ”

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.

For me to worry about piracy would be like a singer in a piano bar worrying that someone might be taping the performance in order to produce a pirate recording. Just like they did to Maria Callas!

Sheesh. Best thing that could happen to me. . . 

David Drake, Eric Flint, and Jim Baen get it. Spread the word.

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