Neil Gaiman is not my favorite author. He's good, he's someone I like to read and though I know of many readers who like him a great deal, I don't follow him consistently. Still, when he goes out and says some wonderfully apt, eloquent words about books, free books and the internet, I really have nothing but respect for the guy (via A Momentary Taste of Being - thanks!).
Gaiman's message, other than being in tune with a lot of what I've claimed over the past few years, is ultimately that offering free material on the internet does not hurt publishing and book sales (as we're led to believe - "piracy is evil!"), but does so much for getting the author's name out there and getting his/her writing into the readers' hands.
"I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. I say: okay, do you have a favorite author? And they say: yes. And I say: good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hand. And then anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book, raise your hand. And it's probably about 5-10%, if that. [...] They were lent [the book], the were given it, they did not pay for it. And that's how they found their favorite author."It's more than just a calm realization of the nature of favorite authors (though it's certainly a lovely image). Gaiman nails the fact that profit - real literary profit, the clean and honest kind that we all would like to believe in - comes from returning readers. Readers want to support authors they like. When I read a book from the library (I obviously have not paid for it) and really like it, I very well may buy it. Why? 1. To have the book in my collection, and 2. To support the author. As a reader, the very best thing I can do to show an author that I like him/her is to buy his/her books. A new book comes out? I'll get it. I'll write reviews recommending their works. I'll lend the books out to my friends so that they might buy them too.
How can I be certain that this will work through the internet? Downloading a book isn't like borrowing a book. It's permanent, right? But I've done it. I've stumbled across promotions that offered free eBooks, read them, liked them and gone out to find more by the author. Gaiman is dead-on in this video. Offering your writing freely gets you readers and fans, increases your exposure and boosts sales. I hope more authors and publishers take note.
For an additional video Neil Gaiman made for the Open Rights Group, here's the link to his own journal post.