Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Free Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A scam: don't fall for it!

Let’s keep this simple.

Everyone likes to get things for free. (Whether they value them is another matter; mostly, they don’t.)

Say you want free books. There are good ways to get them. Libraries, for certain. If they don’t have the book you’re looking for, ask them to order it.

If you like e-books, there are thousands and thousands of free ones available through legitimate online vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.). True, a lot of them aren’t that great, but if you search, you’ll find some gems, one being the Alaska Sampler that David Marusek and I put out each year. There are also legitimate e-newsletters like BookBub that will match your reading interests with time-sensitive offers for free and discounted books.

If you’re a book blogger and/or reviewer, you can be swimming in free books, via NetGalley and/or having a following that will attract the attention of authors and publicists.

Another great way to get free books is to follow an author via her website or on Goodreads. Authors and publishers often arrange giveaways—drawings for free books. And authors sometimes seek out beta readers and early reviewers, with whom they share e-books for free. Authors who have control of their book pricing will generally be happy to let you know about sales and such—a newsletter or email alert function on the author’s website will keep you in the know.

The bad way to get free books is piracy. It used to be that authors worried (if they worried at all) about plagiarism. Now, pirates steal whole books, making money either directly or indirectly off the backs of authors who work hard and earn little, statistically speaking.

Piracy of intellectual property, like everything else in the economic realm, is fundamentally about value.

A Starbucks latte has value.

A McDonald’s Big Mac meal has value.

A novel in which I poured my soul—not to mention three years of my life—has value.

I know, we all make our choices. All I’m saying is that when you consider all the legitimate ways to get a book for free, there’s no reason to pirate it, and there are ample reasons not to.

Which brings me to the ugly. A lot of those free book download sites are straight-up scams, using books as bait to lure in the unsuspecting. They post fake conversations about the books, including review language they lift from legitimate sites and even­—get this—fake “good cop” admonitions against pirating, along with “bad cops” who offer links to the pirating sites.

When you click through to the “free download” button, you’ll be asked to input your credit card information, so the scammers will have it “on file,” in case you want to buy a book later.

Guess what’s next? Fraudulent credit card charges. Nasty malware installed from what you thought was a legitimate website. (The malware is as clever as the fake discussion boards about the book: it tries the password out on your email account and uses it to send emails to your contacts, ostensibly from you, encouraging your friend to click on the link that will load malware onto his or her device.)

Don’t risk it. Get your books the way everyone else does. Authors rarely get rich. But your small contribution to our efforts is much appreciated!

Mark your calendars: Deb has a legitimate free book offer coming up. On Feb. 26 and 27, the e-book version of What Every Author Should Know will be available for free through Amazon. Thanks to author David Marusek for research and links for this post.