I said it before–major props to Tor for the free ebook program it recently launched in conjunction with their new website (which will be taking to the skies on th 20th of this month). I’m a staunch believer in the power of the internet, and how important accessibility is to the future of the publishing industry.

Simon Owens over at Bloggasm posted a great article/interview (which has consequently been picked up by BoingBoing among others) about some of the authors involved in the project and how it’s boosted their sales. You can read the full article (which I recommend) “Did Tor’s Free ebooks affect sales?”. I liked the section about how Tobias Buckell was approached by Patrick Nielsen Hayden at a SF convention, too. Not every author out there is a Doctorow, of course, but many are learning that it can make a huge impact on sales to give before you get.

Buckell told me he was asked to participate in the ebook giveaway by Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who approached him about it at an SF convention.

“Patrick and I were at Boskone and Patrick was buying me a drink and asking if I’d be interested in having the book in one of the giveaways to get my name out in front of lots and lots of people,” he said. “I had the paperback of Ragamuffin about to come out soon, and I figured it was a good idea to get my name out there — it couldn’t hurt. I love the idea of giving the first book in a series away. It was an easy ‘yes’ for me. So I checked with my agent to make sure he had no objection. Theoretically Tor owns the electronic rights to it, so they can do whatever they want. But Patrick did check with me and pretty much everyone else was on board with the idea.”

The theory that free ebooks released online will boost print sales is not a new one. Information radicals like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross have been releasing their books under creative commons licenses — which allow readers to freely pass around the texts without fear of copyright infringement — for years, but it’s only recently that most major publishers have dipped their toes into the pool (though incidentally many of Doctorow’s books have been published by Tor).

Why do some people resist this sort of freebie exposure? I think it goes back to Writing Workshop #1 and my Gollum Theory.

You see, for many writers, what they do is precious. Too precious. And publishers often fortify that, because it makes sense from a business perspective (or at least, it used to). But the more I write, the more I realize that writing is not precious. Words, images, stories: yes, these are precious to a certain extent. And I feel immensely connected to my characters and stories. But most of what you read is a retelling of something else. The copyright cops of our age are putting ownership above creativity, restricting and restraining what we can and cannot say (and where and when we can or cannot say) to the point that the entire idea behind storytelling is being compromised.

It goes back to the whole barding analogy I’ve been using. Bards were storytellers. But their audiences were expected to remember the stories, and to tell them again.

And you know what? Stories changed. A lot. If it weren’t for the changes in storytelling over the centuries, there’d be only Arthur, Gawain, Guenevere (or two or three depending on what poem you read) and a very prominent Cai and Bedevere. No Lancelot. No Tristan. No Elaine. No Round table. No Holy Grail. Yeah, you read that right. We owe all of those to the French, who told and retold, molded, changed, messed with, and altogether revamped the entire Arthurian tale–so much so, that by the time we get back to England with Malory, villains are heroes, and heroes are villains (see: Gawain).

… this is longer than I meant for it to be. And I have digressed entirely into a vague Arthurian tangent. I do this. I apologize.

Tangents aside, Owens article is, I hope, the first of many that explore the fact that “Free” and “profitable” can go hand in hand. We “rebels” of the internet age aren’t going quietly…  and thankfully, big names like Tor and Forge are helping us out, too.