The PDF lets people get access to books long out-of-print. It is a marvelous technology.
Recently, I sent off 15 volumes that are 40 years old to a company that converts books into PDFs. This is going to cost me about $500 to post these materials on this website. I am going to post them free of charge. I think they are that important.
If I were doing it the way that the Mises Institute did it, or if I were trying to make money selling printed books, I would do what Mises did: combine PDFs with print-on-demand books. It is an excellent marketing strategy. People who want to read a book can read it free of charge on-screen. They have to use a desktop or laptop computer. But nobody wants to read a long book on-screen. So, the next step for the person reading the book is to click the “print” button or icon. This way, for about two cents a page, a reader can get the book printed out. This is obviously a true believer. True believers own three hole punches. Then they insert the pages into a three-ring binder. Presto. You have a book.
The Mises Institute figured out the next step. Most people don’t want to have ugly, tall, three-ring binders filling their shelves. So, they take the next step. They order a book that was printed on demand. This is a sensible way to market to those people who still read books. The Mises Institute has sold a lot a books with this strategy.
Not every organization wants to sell books. I used to run an organization that did: the Institute for Christian Economics. I decided in December 2001 to shut it down. I had created it a quarter-century earlier in order to fund the typesetting, printing, and distribution of my books. I published other people’s books, too. The strategy worked, but I had to invest something like 20 hours a week free of charge to run the organization. I had to write monthly newsletters, write the cover letters, and hire two or three women who ran the bookselling and subscription operations. In 2001 realized that I could typeset a book with my own typesetting equipment, convert it to a PDF in less than a minute, and post the PDF on my website in less than a minute. Why should I ask people to donate money, which was no longer necessary?
I have paid thousands of dollars to convert the books I published into PDFs. You can download them free of charge on this website. But this is not enough for some people. They think I ought to convert all the books into Kindle books, or some equivalent EPUB format. This would of course cost thousands more dollars. But that’s what they want me to do. They do not understand the fundamental principle of economics: at zero price, there is greater demand than supply. They say that they want to read my books on a smart phone.
This misunderstands what I am trying to do with my scholarly materials. No serious scholar reads an e-book. He cannot footnote specific pages. The book does not have numbered pages. It automatically formats itself to the size of the screen. A scholar wants a physical book in his lap, where he can mark it up. He will accept a PDF if he gets to read it for free. With a PDF, the pages stay consistent, so he can footnote them appropriately. In other words, people who change civilization don’t read e-books except to get a brief, overall view of the whole book. Then they either print out a PDF or they buy a print on demand book. My market is people who want to change civilization. It always has been.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)