free (as in beer) books

I remember scratching my head, scrunching up my face, and muttering “I don’t get it” to myself when I first heard of Cory Doctorow making his books available for free download under a Creative Common’s license. He explains why he does this best in his own words:

I believe that we live in an era where anything that can be expressed as bits will be. I believe that bits exist to be copied. Therefore, I believe that any business-model that depends on your bits not being copied is just dumb, and that lawmakers who try to prop these up are like governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on living on the sides of active volcanoes. Me, Ià ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢m looking to find ways to use copying to make more money and ità ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s working: enlisting my readers as evangelists for my work and giving them free ebooks to distribute sells more books. As Tim Oà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢Reilly says, my problem isnà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢t piracy, ità ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s obscurity. Best of all, giving away ebooks gives me lots of key insights into how to make money without restricting the copying of bits. Ità ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s a win-win situation.

Neil Gaiman will be doing a similar thing. Go and vote for what book you would like to access online for free.

Radiohead got a lot of press for releasing their newest album, In Rainbows, as a legal DRM-free download, allowing customers to decide how much they wanted to pay for it. This reminds me of the Australian restaurant, Lentil as anything, that allows customers to decide how much they want to pay for their meal.

Rhizome cafe in Vancouver has adopted this idea for a dish. Beside the box where you put your money is a description of the philosophy behind the lentils. There are a list of questions like: what is the value of eating in a place like Rhizome?, what is the value of the work that has gone into growing, transporting and preparing this dish, what is your economic situation? what does it feel like to participate in a system where food could be made available to everyone in a community?

I like Doctorow and Gaiman’s creativity in breaking from models that rely on DRM and exploring new distribution models. Who knows, I might even start reading science fiction.

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