We've known for a long time that "there's no such thing as a free lunch" (go here for a treatise on the origin of the phrase). But what about free books?
There seems to be a large segment of the buying public who think books should be free—in a library, online, or directly from the author. Family and even casual friends of authors assume they should automatically receive a free book. I've heard, "I don't think I have your latest yet," meaning "hand it over." A receptionist in a doctor's office once said to me, "I heard you have a new book out. I'll take one." (Thanks, and I'll take a free mammo, please.)
A woman who runs a used bookstore once berated me for directing a reader to amazon. Apparently, it has escaped her notice that every used book she sells gives *nothing* back to the author. Oh, but that's how they get to know you. Yes, and probably come back for the newest used titles.
Have we done this to ourselves, by promotions, raffles, donations? Do we think readers will like us more, and therefore buy more of our books? Does it work? Common wisdom says half of advertising works, we just don't know which half.
Then there are libraries. Over the years, I've supported them any way I can. For nearly 20 years, I've facilitated a monthly book club at my local library. In the past, I have set up displays in library cases, tutored in library literacy programs, organized panels of authors for events, donated bags of books, and, of course, donated my own new books. And I'll continue to do that. That's not the point.
I can't help wondering: does my local utility provide free gas & electricity to the library? The phone company? The plumbers who might be called for repairs?
I have an alert for any mention of any of my names or book titles. It's how I keep (loose) track of reviews. At least once/week, I get a notice that one of my books can be downloaded free, at the click of a link. Wouldn't it be great if I could add a warning: if you download my book for free, you'll be subject to a $250,000 fine!
If I were more savvy and/or more interested in finding out, I'd do the research necessary to track down how some of my books have come to be free and try to do something about it. But that's not how I want to spend my time. The same with the amazon v. everyone else debate. I'm going to let others work it out.
In my previous career, no one asked me to work in a gas-gun lab for free. I'm lucky enough that I don't depend on writing income to make a living. I feel bad for those who are trying to do that. They shouldn't have to choose between a desire to support literacy and a need to earn a living.
There's no such thing as a free book—someone has spent many hours, working to bring it to life.
I love writing. But the business model leaves a lot to be desired. Some might say it sucks.