The debate as to whether to make user manuals available to everyone (regardless of them being a customer or not) is one that continues in the software sector. Some companies advocate it as part of a “try before you buy” product marketing strategy; others have concerns as to whether it will adversely affect their sales or their competitive advantage.
Authors in academic and non-academic fields are also releasing their books for people to download freely. According to John Hilton III and David Wiley of Brigham Young University, in their report Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet:
Anecdotal evidence suggests that exposure to both authors and books increases when books are available as free downloads, and that print sales are not negatively affected.
Hilton’s earlier dissertation studied the sales of religious books before and after their ebook release. In his study, he found the books sold 26% more copies in the period they were available online for free. During that same period, sales of comparable books decreased by 38%.
Putting user documentation online can increase the amount of (information-rich) content for the Search Engines to find. It may also reduce the users’ reliance of the technical support lines.
If users have to provide an email address in exchange for downloading the documentation, then this can also provide the organisation with a source of qualified prospect and customer leads.