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My latest Locus column, “Special Pleading,” talks about the damned-if-you-do/ damned-if-you-don’t nature of free ebook scepticism. When I started out giving away my print novels as free ebooks, critics charged that it only worked because I was so obscure that I needed the exposure. Now that I’ve had a book on the NYT bestseller list, a new gang of critics claim my strategy only works so well because I’m established and can afford to lose sales to free ebooks. The arguing tactic is called “special pleading,” and it’s a dirty rhetorical trick indeed!

The Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom experiment really pissed people off. It was denounced as a breaking of ranks with authors as a class, and as a stunt that I could only afford because I had so little to lose, being such a nobody in the field with my handful of short story sales and my tiny print run — at least when compared to the big guys. Free samples were good news if no one had heard of you, but for successful writers, free downloads were poison.

To “prove” this, critics often pointed to Stephen King’s experiment in online publishing, “The Plant,” which King gave up as a bad job after earning a mere hundreds of thousands of dollars in voluntary payments, and which he never returned to. A genuinely successful writer like King had nothing to gain from the publicity value of free downloads, they said (ironically, this appears to be the story that Charles referred to in the July Locus, citing it as proof of the success of free downloads).

Special Pleading