According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, the author Neil Gaiman increased his book sales after posting one of his books online, for free. While the Free Software Foundation and free software enthusiasts normally talk about free as in free speech, Neil Gaiman decided to rather go for the free beer. Who could resist free beer? Even though the book was available from the Internet, at no cost, an increased number of people decided to buy this and other of his books.
Personally, I think this is great news. By providing their works at no cost (preferably also with the freedoms attached), artists and software developers are able to attract people who are willing to pay for their services. I believe this is the future for an increasingly larger share of the software industry. Attract customers with free, both as in free beer and free speech, commodity and charge for value-adding development and services.
I have personally seen the same with other books as Producing OSS by Karl Fogel, Thinking in Java by Bruce Eckel, several books by Eric Raymond, and the O’Rilley’s Open Books project. Even though they are available for free I have ended up buying several of these books (which I recommend). Bruce Eckel claimed that the feedback he got from his online readers enabled him to write an even better book. This is very much the same as with a lot of the high quality open source software out there. Open it up to contributions from others.
Having material freely available on the Internet enables artists to reach out to new potential fans. I would never have found nor bough anything from stand up artists like for instance Carlos Mencia, Steven Lynch, and Jeff Dunham if it wasn’t for the Internet and youtube. I have also found music and movies in the same way. So keep up this free trend. I believe it will pay off for everyone in the end, well except perhaps for distributors of movies, music and so on.