Canon Press putting up its stuff on Google Books got me thinking about giving away content you would normally pay for. I’m not an “information deserves to be free” kind of guy, but I do have some sympathies that lean that way. I think that if you work hard on something, whether a book, movie, music, software, etc, that you have every right to charge for it and expect people not to steal it.
But, if you create something, say a book, that very few people will read and that will mainly be available in university libraries, why would you not give it away for free on Google Books (or whatever). Give the whole thing away free, as in beer. I’m not talking about popular level books and biographies that are going to be on the bestseller lists, or even books that are relatively new, but books that no one has any interest in buying. The authors and publishers should make them available for students and other scholars to, you know, actually read.
The impetus for this is that I’m still doing some research on a very narrow topic and my medium sized library (~1,000,000 books) just doesn’t have everything that I’m looking for. So, I go over to Google Books, do a quick search, and find dozens of books that would really help me. A lot of these books probably sold less than a thousand copies when they were printed, and often that was more than ten years ago. Plus, the majority of people who will ever read the work will do so from a library, never even considering purchasing the book.
If a book has virtually zero chances of being purchased (many aren’t even in print), then why not put it up online for free? Not only would it help students and scholars, which is why they wrote the book in the first place, but it would also serve as advertising for the writer’s current and future work.