Why I may start reading more Science Fiction, or What the RIAA Doesn’t Understand

Having been the victim of entirely too much bad science fiction in my life, I find myself hesitant to read new authors. Every time I go to the bookstore I wander through the SF aisle and look, but rarely find anything compelling enough to pick up.

Don’t get me wrong, some SF is real literature. If you don’t believe me, try Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy. (Don’t stop at the first book, read the whole original trilogy, but feel free to skip the rest of the franchise.) And Orson Scott Card is worth reading because when he’s good, he’s really good. (He’s also really bad from time to time.)

I suspect all that’s going to change, due to the Baen Free Library. Author Eric Flint gets it. Quoting from his introduction to the Library,

Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

…We expect this Baen Free Library to make us money by selling books.

This is what the RIAA doesn’t get about services like Gnutella and the old Napster. While it may be true that college students are stealing music, the rest of us are buying more. Personally, the only thing I hate more than bad SF is buying a CD because I liked a single that I heard on the radio, only to find out that I really don’t like the rest of the album.

Generally what happens is:

  1. I hear a song on the radio that I like
  2. I download that song and a couple of other tracks by the same artist from Gnutella
  3. If I like the music, I pick up a couple of the artist’s CDs the next time I go to Borders or Tower Records.

And the best part is that I end up buying albums that never would have occurred to me otherwise. In the last year, I’ve bought CDs by Portishead, Beth Orton, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Weezer, Moby, and Alice in Chains, every single one of them after listening to MP3s.

And I’m not the only one. I’ve observed this behavior in most of my friends. If the RIAA are too dense/narrow-minded/stupid/greedy to figure this out, eventually they’ll be replaced by a sensible business model.

Eric Flint is right. I’m going to read one of his books on my Palm, and if I like it I’m going to go buy some.

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