Can Giving Books Away Pay Off? No Starch Press Publisher Bill Pollock on his decision to offer two of his key titles as free downloads.
Bill Pollock, publisher of No Starch Press, is taking a leap of faith that he hopes will pay off for his San Francisco-based company, which specializes in computing titles. After a long struggle against pirated versions of his titles appearing on peer-to-peer (P2P) filing-sharing services, Pollock made a decision last week to essentially give books away for free. He created an official publisher-provided torrent—an electronic file used in online file-sharing—of two of the publishing house’s key titles, author Leander Kahney’s “Cult of Mac” and “Cult of iPod,” available for free download on one of the world’s largest file-sharing communities, The Pirate Bay.
As Pollock waits to see what effect this move will have on book sales, he spoke with Book Business Extra about how he came to make this decision.
Book Business Extra: Why did you decide to provide these two titles as free downloads?
Bill Pollock: The reason we’re doing it is that we have to do something. You watch music publishers fight P2P, [and] it’s a pointless fight. All it’s done is alienate millions of people. … I don’t know if you’ll see the same [level of traffic] with people downloading books as you do with music. But if you’ve got an Amazon Kindle, you may think, “This book is cool, but I really don’t want to pay for it. Someone told me I could go on [an illegal file-sharing site] and fill it up for free.” … This is happening. It’s not going to shrink.
Extra: How much did the core audience of No Starch Press’ readers—who seem to be more computer-savvy—play into the decision to provide these books via The Pirate Bay?
Pollock: We have the best-selling book about hacking right now. I go to probably a dozen hacking security conferences around the world in the course of the year. I know tons of hackers, and I find it a very interesting community. They’re puzzle-solvers; they’re not evil people. … What we’re doing here is very consistent with our community. I’m saying, “We trust you to support us.” …