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Missions 101

Econ Thursday: Free Books?

Jun. 23, 2011By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Before I say anything else, let me say this: Nothing is free!  Someone always has to pay.

There are many organizations that offer their resources for free.  This is a good thing and has Biblical support.  Charging for your labor also has Biblical support!  There is a trend, seemingly led by Desiring God to make resources available for free to anyone who wants them by fundraising and using the profits from the books to do so.  Let me raise a few issues for you to think through:

1.  The giving away of a book is often a waste.  TLI has taken about 2000 books overseas in the past 12 months, but very few are for individuals.  Why?  Because in some cultures, people do not value personal property.  In other locations, there is no way to keep a book from been destroyed from natural elements.  So what TLI does is give books to ministries to house in libraries for pastors to use.  This seems to work pretty well!

2.  Giving away a book often means the book will not be valued.  Like anything else, we tend to take care of things we buy, not things we receive for free.  This is not always the case, but generally speaking, you will treat well that you have worked for.

3.  Giving away free stuff can at times actually increase the amount of money coming into your organization (think Facebook and Dropbox).  So in the case of a ministry like Desiring God, the more people who read books by John Piper will the listen to John Piper and attend conferences with John Piper and watch videos by John Piper.  You get the idea.  Giving away things for free isn't always as sacrificial as we want to make it out to be (again, generally speaking!).  Why do you think publishing houses pay to give away free things (including books!) at conferences?  The primary reason is to introduce people to the book and author with the hope that you will recommend it to others.

I personally like the policy that allows people to get books for free and at the same time offers those books for free for those who can not purchase them.  Just remember - the economics of "free stuff" is a little more complicated than you think.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

Tags:  economics
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