& obtaining pdfs of books

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Purpose of this memo

A common thing to do is search for "book pdf" and find a copy to link to link to someone, another common thing to do is find digital copies of a book to take with you (rather than lug along on a lengthy train journey). Is this bad or good? I want to provide some analysis of the subject.

I do not think that having easy-to-find book PDFs is a bad thing for most authors and publishers.

My position

I think that easily available PDFs of books may increase sales of the physical book if the book is good, and decrease them if the book is bad. This follows my experience where I have found a PDF and want a physical copy. Reading (non-fiction) PDFs is difficult, you cannot easily go back a few pages to check something, you can't use your finger as a bookmark while you check the index, I prefer physical books and I have yet to find someone who doesn't.

I do have a Kindle DX and that helps, it's easier to read than a screen, can be put on a desk like a book, but it is slow to browse and jump through, checking the index and going back afterwards is a nightmare.

Another reason for the increase is the ability to share. I can now say to people "check out this book" and link/send them a copy of the PDF. If they think it worth the investment, they (like me) will then buy that book.

The only case this wont happen is when the book is really expensive. There will come a point where one will think "for £120 I can live with a PDF"

The same thing also happens with libraries though, many of the books I have actually ended up buying I first inspected online or at my library.

However access to PDFs has stopped me buying books before, because the book is dire.

It is one of those things that by its nature cannot be studied reliably, however PDFs of books have been around for ages and have not collapsed the market. I would be more worried about the current trend on for Indian sellers to offer their Indian-Economy edition textbooks to Western markets.

Common claims

Every book downloaded is a sale lost

Unlikely - for two reasons.

  1. Multiple downloads by the same person
    • I recently cleaned out my books folder by removing duplicates, the largest had (7) after the name, indicating it was the 8th time I'd downloaded that PDF. I would not buy a book 8 times.
    • It's common to almost use searches as ways to access certain things, for example I search for the weather every time. If I know I can find some books in certain places they become easy to reference.
      • Example: Hatcher's algebraic topology.
        • There have been times where I've searched for the PDF online rather than go downstairs to get the book.
  2. Love of paper - especially for non-fiction
    • Non-fiction books are always better on paper. I have never met anyone who disagrees. The main reason is that it is easy to jump around and we as humans have good memory of what was near what, we also have a good memory for how far into a book the thing we're looking for is. Digital copies lack these.
    • Even going back a few pages to check something in a pdf is tedious, there's no finger-between-the-pages to mark it while we check the index or whatever.

However there is a case where it might be likely to yield a lost sale:

  • The book is dire. There are many times I have found a PDF and thought "whoa, bullet dodged there" when I saved anywhere from a penny to £80.00 avoiding a poor book.