In recent days, I’ve received an increasing number of emails from people in various countries requesting PDF versions of my books, often for free. Their reasons range from the perfectly valid to the somewhat questionable to the frankly clueless.

Unfortunately, I cannot accommodate these requests, no matter how compelling the reasons.

Let me explain. I am not denying these requests for the sake of being difficult, or stingy, or cold-hearted. Rather, the reasons have to do with the logistics and economics of self-publishing in the digital age.

First, my SAT grammar book (albeit the original version) is available for Kindle download through Amazon. I’m not sure what the international restrictions are, if any, but in theory it should be downloadable from just about anywhere.

As for The Critical Reader, I am legally prohibited from distributing it electronically. The book contains passages taken from a number of copyrighted sources, and in order to include them, I had to obtain legal permission from various rights holders — a process that involved dozens of emails, several thousand dollars, and, in several cases, waiting periods upwards of six months. Most of the contracts granting me the reprint rights to the passages stipulate that I may only distribute a print version of the book. Sending out PDFs of the book would be a breach of contract on my end, and could result in my being sued for thousands or even millions of dollars.

In addition, please consider this: my books represent months and in some cases years of work. They are the result of thousands — literally, thousands — of hours of unpaid work. The second I put my  in someone else’s hands I lose control over its distribution. It takes half a second to hit the “forward” button and send a PDF to someone else, who in turn sends it to another couple of people, who all send it to another couple of people, on of whom posts the entire 380-page file on College Confidential for free download — as I’ve seen happen with other books.

Aside from the lost royalties, when (if) I discover that my books have been distributed on the Internet and do nothing, I am at risking for losing my copyright — that is, I could potentially lose the rights to my own work, which I spent all of those years producing. In order to protect it, I have no choice but to take very expensive legal action.

I am in the process of investigating ebook options. If I am able to find a relatively straightforward means of having a secure electronic version of The Critical Reader created, then it may be worthwhile for me to go back to the various publishers I am beholden to and request electronic rights. But that will be a longterm process. In the meantime, there are risks I simply can’t afford to take.