In 2010 Mike Shatzkin asked ‘Are free ebooks a good idea or not?‘
Shatzkin focuses on the risks free ebooks pose to publishing industry. He believes that they will be a beneficial promotion tool in the short term, but in the long term may supplant paid books.
Shatzkin worries about whether free ebooks should be on best-seller lists. Currently, Amazon has two bestseller lists for free and paid books. This distinction is a distinction worth making, because free ebooks are always going to be downloaded more.
Shatzkin speculates that someone will set up a consumer directory for free ebooks, called something like ‘ebooksforfree.com.’ Such a site, called http://ebooks-for-free.com/, exists.
Shatzkin also worries about people exclusively reading free ebooks. I’m almost one of those people. My literary diet consists of free ebooks and books I get from public and university libraries. The few books I do buy are from op-shops, and textbooks for uni. Paying six to twelve dollars for a book that I’ll only read once seems like madness, especially considering that public libraries exist. I’d feel guilty if freeloaders like me drove the publishing industry to extinction.
The only way I can imagine the industry staying solvent in a world where free ebooks have become normative is for them to follow Charlie Stross’ suggestion of incorporating advertising into their ebooks.
Have any speculation on the future of commercial publishing? You ought to say something in the comments. Or maybe not. Do whatever, man.