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Lessig's free book still racking in the sales

Stanford Magazine carries a story this month about our chairman and co-founder Lawrence Lessig's book which has just entered its third printing. This is interesting because the book is freely available online for download (under a Creative Commons license), and has been downloaded about 180,000 times. On the one hand an author can give away free content for folks to remake into audio books, translations, and other formats, and the author still gets paid through traditional book sales. Amazing how that works, and works so well sometimes. [via Copyfight]

It will be very difficult to "prove" that the Creative Common license and the freely downloadable aspect of Free Culture improved sales, but the book is selling and making it freely available has clearly not STOPPED sales. I wonder if it is possible to show that making books available for free electronically increases the sale of real books? I wonder if there are particular genres where this holds more true...


Baen Books is famous for having downloadable versions of their ebooks for sale. In this post they say:

"The difference is certainly not as dramatic as the difference in sales of An Oblique Approach, much less the near-doubling of sales which Mother of Demons experienced. Still, the mere fact that sales increased at all instead of declining is significant"

Some books increased sales highly, some not as much, but no declines were seen.

may I be a bit cynical, I guess that's my role here ;)

* I would say that maybe it improves things.
* or maybe it's the novelty effect. Something new by someone known and yes sure... it's working, but when the trend has passed?

The point is that Lessig would have sold in the classical circuit.

But let's say an unknown author like me, would not sell anything and would not be able to live from it :) free or not.

But stats would be interesting, though you have to take into accounts all sides. Not being only positive.

Also, there are two factors at play here: "free downloads" and the "social networking" of weblogs. With their already established readership via weblogs, not to mention the free advertising via bloggers talking about them, book sales for Lawrence and Cory (and some others?) will of course be interesting.

As Karl says (though I think he is a similar case.. if he were to publish a book I know his weblog readership would quickly snatch up copies), folks with out the social network (Jonas don't kill me for using that term!), be it blogging or any other form of the DarkNet, will be hard pressed to see results, no?

Yes the "DarkNet"... A Social Network, an announcement of "hey I have this book/song/movie/media that I've made" on it, and voila...
Not *that* easy of course but... Sharing Economy, hmm?

I would dare to say that books freely available for download and still sold is hardly new, even if it was more geeky oriented before. I think about the FSF documentation, the Jargon Files, and one must not forget the Project Gutenberg as well.

More recently and more controversial, the second book from the conspirationist Thierry Meyssan is freely available online ( even if it is not free.

I think it all falls back to that the "real book" is not going to die anytime soon if the technology doesn't know a breakthrough. Perhaps Lawrence Lessig's example is a premice of the future, but there's a long way to go. Look at the music, which is lightyears ahead in terms of social sharing. The state of affairs is not that brilliant.

Mr. Lessig's sales are easily explained, not by his generosity, but by the public attention his positions have attracted. He has become a "brand" much in the same way that Donald Trump has. We know from Zipf's Principle of Least Effort that most people will acquire information the first place they find it, regardless of price. So this is not about copyright, but about distribution. How many people who got a free version subsequently went and paid for another? Rather than a moral position about how copyright should be enforced or not, this is simply an extension of the Debbie Fields Theory of Marketing. And urging creators to make copyrights avaialble for derivative works plays right into the hands of those in Big Media who would rather steal these rights than pay a fair price for them. There have been publications of public domain books from the 19th Century which have been welcomed by scholars and students, but these publications seldom exceed a modest first print run because the demand is limited. Lessig created demand for his book by taking a controversial position and giving some copies away, the way that Debbie Fields gives away samples of cookies. This increases his opportunities for more lucrative endeavors such as speaking and his well-paid column in WIRED. I have no problem with what is a pretty smart business strategy -- until it is proposed that this is what everybody should be forced to do in the future. Mr. Lessig may give away rights that are his. They re his property and he may do with as he likes. To insist that everyone should follow suit, against their own economic and legal interests, is another way of oppressing the small creator who does not have much in the way of resources to defend his or her interests. We all get paid something -- usually as little as those in charge of the distribution chain can contrive to pay--but how much we get paid and when is our choice. The rights we have in our work go beyond the economic to the moral. We also have the right to prevent the work from being misused, distorted or used in the services of causes we abhor. Only by vigorously enforcing copyright can those rights be defended against misinterpretation and economic exploitation.
We can't get paid for every use,nor should we, but neither do we have to give away the store.


The world is shifting because of the power of free information via the internet. In Hawaii we have a saying that "Aloha is Free"... true art, like music and thoughts should also be a gift of sharing insight... this shift in artist's behavior will not diminish "sales" but will change consumeristic behavior on a global scale... less is more.

I think that between this, Baen, and Cory Doctorow, the "free downloads are compatible and even beneficial to good sales" theory is pretty well established, at least for the time being. What would be interesting is to see how the figures change with the availability of cheap, long-lasting, paper-quality ebook readers. I suspect we won't find out for a while.

I am on the same plane as Ryan, although from a different angle. Because of the situation I have been in financially and from a decision making standpoint, I have a lot of access to the devices that are claimed to be the paper book killer devices. Ignoring the cost is easy because I often don't have one and can test the products from the vantage point of how well they really work. In reality, there is a connection people still make to paper books and flipping the pages. No matter how good my monitors get or how well oiled my handhelds are, there is a type of connection I make to printed material that I can't to that on an LCD screen. There is also a sense of pride in ownership connected with owning the physical item (a paper book or a physical CD). There is a permanency to paper that digital still doesn't have because of its two-dimensionality - you can see it but you can't touch it. I think that Lessig is proving by example that availability of free isn't always the driving force behind whether or not people will purchase something. A lot of it has to do with culture and upbringing. The same person who steals music (as a broad example) online is also more likely to steal it in its physical form, too. Perhaps there isn't as much raw profit in what some people do, but the rewards are apparently still alive and kicking.

I agree with steven in his statements that there is a connection that people tend to make with the physicality of a book. However, I think this is a romanticism we're going to see fall behind as the convenience, usability and screen quality of electronic books increases. I think it may be difficult for us as a generation who has grown up only with physical books to imagine embracing digital media, but I think it's an inevitability we're going to see explode in the next 10 years.

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Free Culture by Lawrence Lessing. How creative work builds on the past and how society encourages or inhibits that building with laws and technologies. Free Culture going into third printing, download now!... Read More

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessing. How creative work builds on the past and how society encourages or inhibits that building with laws and technologies. Free Culture going into third printing, download now!... Read More

Joiのポスト「Freely downloadable Free Culture going into third printing」: クリエイティブコモンズのブログによると、レッシグ教授の新刊『Free Culture』はCCライセンスのもとで無料でダウンロードで Read More