Tim O’Reilly has posted some observations on whether allowing free downloads of books hurts or helps their sales. This is a question that is difficult to resolve empirically. O’Reilly allowed free downloads of their title Asterisk: The Future of Telephony, by Leif Madsen, Jared Smith, and Jim Van Meggelen. 180,000 copies were downloaded and about 19,000 print copies were sold. It’s hard to be sure how to evaluate this but O’Reilly concludes that, at least, the downloads didn’t hurt sales, and he is probably in the best position to know.

Related News Item: Jonathan Lethem advocates relaxing copyright.