I was just thinking about authors' websites and the practice of them posting the first chapter of their books on their sites (or not,) when I remembered the Baen free library. Sci fi publisher Jim Baen has encouraged "his" authors to let him take their out-of-print books(1) and put them up on his website in their entirety for anybody to read. You don't have to pay anything or even sign up. The premise is that this is free advertising. You can read an author's older works for free and decide if you like his or her style before buying something that is current. According to author Eric Flint, this actually works great. I was wondering if this would be a viable option in the LDS market.(2) Because I live far away from any LDS bookstores, I rely on the web to give me the information I need to help me choose the books I buy. Is there anything in the dreaded contracts that would prevent authors from putting an entire, out-of-print book up on their personal websites?(3) Better yet, is there anything stopping a publishing company from making their own free library?(4) Or is there anything stopping them from putting up as many as three chapters from each new book on their website, so that readers outside the range of brick and mortar stores can browse and make better-informed decisions?(5) (I just checked a random Baen book, new for April, and there were seven chapters free for perusal!)
Check it out at http://www.baen.com to see how it works. In my opinion, it really is the next best thing to being there.(6)
I've already discussed this before, here and here. But this practice is becoming more and more common, so I'm revisiting it. Also, there is a difference between a publisher and/or a published author (with their publisher's permission) choosing to post excerpts of out-of-print books on the Internet, and non-published authors publishing works on the internet for critique.
1. If a book is out of print, there is nothing wrong with the publisher and/or author (with their publisher's pemission) posting it in its entirety on the Internet. I think it's a great idea, for the very reasons you listed. As a publisher, I'd also make it available as a POD title, if someone wanted to order it after reading it in electronic format. The only caveat is, make sure you plaster copyrights all over it. Many people assume that if it's on the net, it's public domain and they are free to re-publish and sell or distribute it as they wish. This is not true.
2. Of course it's viable. And again, a great idea. However, it's probably a low priority for many publishers because it won't be a big money-maker and there will be some expense involved in setting it up. (Hmmm, I think I'll bring this up at our next staff meeting.)
3. Depends on the publisher and their contract. If you're an author with an out-of-print book, make sure you get permission from your publisher before doing this. And if they're fine with it, make sure you put links to your in-print titles at the end of each chapter, something along the lines of "If you're enjoying this book, check out the author's other titles at...)
4. No. (See answer #2)
5. No. In fact, that's a very good marketing idea. However, if the publisher has more than just a few titles in print, they'll probably have their authors do it on their own websites, just because of the time and web space involved. Publishers should provide the files for the author to upload to their sites.
6. I agree.