There's a new book that was recently released called Beautiful Children by Charles Bock. I found out about it through one of my classes because it's this ridiculously hyped book, receiving the kind of hype from the publisher (Random House) you don't really see these days. We were mostly looking at it to examine its website, which is really flashy and splashy and visual but overall hard to get around. But today we started talking about it again because Random House is allowing people to download the book for free, from today through Friday, from their website as a PDF. (You can access the download site from the site I just linked above.)
The most interesting thing about the fact that the book is available for download without any sort of DRM (digital rights management) on it, so once it's downloaded, users could ostensibly do whatever they want with it. Of course Random House makes you click this little box on their site saying "Copyright: This book is protected by copyright and is reproduced here by permission of the author and Random House. I read/understand the above copyright." But I'm sure many of the people clicking on that box don't actually understand what they're clicking into at all, since Random House provides no further explanation anywhere on the site. My instructor showed us how he was easily able to convert the PDF of the book into a text file. This means the file can now be manipulated any way the user wants, which violates the brief, vague copyright agreement downloaders opted into by checking the box.
I wonder why Random House chose to do this; perhaps they're riding on the coat tails of the recent success of the Oprah website offering a free limited-time PDF download of Suze Orman's latest book. Beautiful Children has hit number 14 on the New York Times Bestseller List, so perhaps RH just sees this as one further step in promoting the book to new readers. Plus, it's a long book and people aren't yet accustomed to reading long texts on the screen, and not that many of us own electronic readers. Perhaps RH is banking on the PDF being a teaser to lead people into purchasing a print copy of the book.
I did download the PDF, which took only seconds to do, but I have no immediate plans to read it. I really had no desire to read the print version of the book, after looking at the obnoxious website, and I downloaded the book mostly out of curiosity. I'll probably page (cyber-page, rather) through it at some point, but I'm in no hurry. We'll see if I actually delve into it deeply.
I just wonder what will happen now that there will be all these free, downloaded, non-DRM-ed PDFs of the book floating around in the ether. Not that there's a great deal of value in pirating something that's already available for free, but still. Time will tell.
What do people think? Are free electronic versions of print books a good idea? Are they a good way to promote an author and boost his or her print sales, or are they just paving the way for people to pirate?