I agree with Graham on this, although I don’t have his experience of publishing a book in simultaneous print and free pdf format. Recently someone uploaded my Understanding Henri Lefebvre and I’ve seen various other books online at different times – they don’t always stay around for long. My objection comes when the books are made available online very soon after publication, when it might damage the sales that the publishers need to make to recoup their costs. Making books is expensive – while authors get very little by way of royalties, editors, copy-editors, designers, printers, etc. all cost money. If the book is translated the publisher will have paid rights and a translator. If these are uploaded quickly then it threatens future translations. Book publishers, unlike journals, usually pay their reviewers too. Those costs are there, whether or not the books cost money – open access publishing, of journals as well as books, is not free entirely, even if there is no cost to the reader.
Understanding Henri Lefebvre, like Mapping the Present, is now available as print-on-demand from Continuum. I recently had to order copies of both as I needed extras, and they are very clearly not the quality of the originals. The paper is much thinner, the print quality not as good, and the nice inner black cover on Mapping the Present is gone. They are much more expensive than the original versions, and both books moved to print-on-demand when the original print runs, and, I think, a reprint of Mapping the Present, sold out. Why they need to be more expensive when the core costs have been recouped is unclear – you might say that print-on-demand is expensive, but it’s not that expensive, and it wouldn’t explain the similarly high costs for an e-copy. So I certainly don’t object to people sharing pdfs in such instances. I was a bit less happy when Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography was circulating online soon after publication, especially since Jeremy Crampton and I had made real efforts to ensure it was available in paperback immediately. The viability of future book production, and future book cost, does rely on enough copies being sold to make that business model sustainable, and I know Ashgate did some of its later books in simultaneous hardback and paperback precisely because Foucault and Geography had done relatively well.
One way forward is exactly that pioneered by Open Humanities, Punctum Books and the like – print copies available at a cost but e-copies available at either no cost to reader or at a reduced rate. The challenge, of course, is making such ventures sustainable when these clearly cost money to produce, even if not to read. Perhaps more conventional publishers could follow this for books that have moved to print-on-demand – make an e-copy available at dramatically reduced price, and paper copies for those that want that. Books like Mapping the Present and Understanding Henri Lefebvre have already recouped their costs. Perhaps I should ensure this is built into future contracts.