Laissez Faire Books (LFB) is a seminal libertarian institution that dates back to 1972, six years before I was born. In its heyday, it played a central role in the libertarian movement as the largest libertarian bookseller, a publisher of libertarian books, and an old-school social network, hosting social gatherings and other events. This was before my time.
I’d never bought a book from LFB until yesterday (the 19th). By the time I became a libertarian in my undergraduate years at Louisiana State University, after reading the work of Ayn Rand (starting with The Fountainhead) at the urging of a friend, I was able to learn about libertarianism and Austrian economics from a large and growing sea of resources online. I bought books from Amazon and the Ludwig von Mises Institute (LvMI), read online articles and blogs, and took advantage of the growing library of digitized books and other media put online and hosted by the LvMI.
Laizzez Faire Books was fading into irrelevancy and, I think, in danger of being shuttered for good as it was passed from new owner to new owner. Enter Agora Financial, the latest owner of LFB, and hopefully the organization that will oversee its resuscitation and return to relevancy. With Jeffrey Tucker at the helm as executive editor, the prospects for profitability, innovation, and spreading the message of liberty are exciting indeed.
Many, if not most, of you know Jeffrey Tucker as the editorial vice president who led the LvMI into the digital age, building it into the open-source juggernaut with a vast online and free library of liberty and a thriving community that it is today. We were sad to see him leave that beloved institution, but eager to see what he would do in charge of a for-profit publisher and bookstore. Now we’ve been given the first taste.
Laissez-Faire Books was founded in 1972 when issues of intellectual property hadn’t been worked out in detail in the libertarian world. There was of course the Randian view, which took IP to the most absurd extremes. Then there was the Rothbardian view, which had a very strict view of what is and what is not property and because IP doesn’t pass this test, the Rothbardian perspective tended toward the open model.
LFB itself never questioned the statist conventions on this topic. In fact, it even went through a period in which its owner worked to send take down notices to sites for posting old books to which it claimed the rights. How well I recall my own disgust! LFB uses the state to stop the spread of libertarian ideas! That’s just incredible.
Well, Agora Financial took over the institution this year and it immediately became obvious that they were Kinsellaites on this question. While working at the Mises Institute, I had worked with the new LFB to do some co-publishing in the commons. So when I accepted the position as publisher and executive editor, I made it a condition that, wherever possible, we always publish into the commons.
Management readily agreed, and even wondered why I was making such a big deal out of this. After all, this is a gigantically successful company and they have learned that the most important way to sell a product is to market it as widely and broadly as possible. If by putting something in the commons, you stand to reach more people, isn’t this a great thing? Isn’t this what commerce is all about? And from a mission point of view, isn’t this what libertarian education is all about?
Indeed it is! I immediately felt that we would soon be running an important experiment: a large scale publisher in the world of commerce would soon be publishing with Creative Commons and eschewing copyright in every way. This is a massive step for the libertarian world and even for the world of publishing in general.