Even though I gave up the idea of buying an e-ink book reader anytime soon a while ago, I've been slowly building what feels like a fairly large collection of openly available works released either by a publisher or by the authors themselves. A lot of them come from Tor, who've been releasing pdf versions of some of their better-known books every week or so in the run-up to their new website. But at last count, there's getting on for two dozen of them. Except they've just been sitting there, since I normally refuse to read a book off a computer screen; waiting for the day when I have something sort of book-like to read them from.
In the end, I broke and started reading them straight from the screen. What made this a lot easier than it might otherwise have been is being able to easily reverse the screen on my ibook with a couple of keystrokes. White text on black is much, much easier on the eyes.
But what's really good is I'm reading a lot more than I have in really quite some time. Of those books I've read so far, the absolute stand-out so far is Cory Doctorow's 'Little Brother'. I read his first two books - which didn't knock me out so much - but Little Brother is quite enormously good. And prescient. Isn't it nice when you can write about a book and get to use words like prescient? I'd say more about it, and use words like unputdownable, astonishing and utterly gripping, but it really deserves a blog entry all on its own.
The experience of reading these freely given books has made me swing more strongly towards the 'give books away for free, and they will come' philosophy. The ebook I read prior to Little Brother was another very well-regarded novel of recent times by another author, but having read it - and admittedly having quite enjoyed it - I didn't feel at all inclined to go and buy anything else by that author. Not because they're necessarily a bad writer, but because they don't give me that 'must buy' feeling I get when I stumble across something really good. By contrast, Little Brother is something I want a physical copy of, on my shelves.
If people aren't reading so much as they used to these days, it's largely an economic issue. It's a pain in the arse to go out and buy a couple of books and find you either don't like them or can't finish them. It's a drain on your wallet - particularly if you're a student or on a low income - a situation I was more than familiar with back in the day.
Buying two, three or more books in a row that you don't like or can't finish makes for an enormous incentive for many people not to buy any more books at all. But if you find something that really knocks you out - the kind of ur-reading experience that has you gripping the pages, desperate to know what happens next - it makes for an enormous incentive to buy everything else by that author. In other words, it creates customer loyalty. Sometimes intense, outspoken customer loyalty, particularly if the book reminds you why you started buying and reading fiction in the first place. And let me assure you, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is one of those books.