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While working my way through one textbook, I spotted several errors, TeXed them up and emailed to the author of the textbook. He thanked me and asked for my physical address so he could send me a copy of his new textbook (a more advanced one). I was planning to work though his new textbook anyway, since it matches my interests. Yet I'd much prefer a PDF file and not a hard copy. Would it be rude to ask if he could send me a PDF file instead? I don't want to come over as ungrateful, yet I'd make much more use of it if I had a PDF file.

Definitely of relevance here:

  • He certainly does have a PDF file of the new book since the publisher offers PDF as one of the options (hardcover, softcover, and PDF file),

  • The PDF file in question can not be 'freely' found on the Internet (although its previous edition can).

  • 24
    If you ask for a PDF, you should mention that the publisher makes the book available in that format as well. (To establish that you aren't suggesting pirating it, and to make sure the author knows. A not too tech-savvy author might simply not be paying attention to ebook options.) – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 4 '15 at 21:11
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    you could also comment that it would be easy for you to mark up any comments on an electronic copy. – Mark Joshi Aug 5 '15 at 4:04
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    Ask for a PDF as well. Then you get the book and are not rude, and can load it on your e-reader. – superluminary Aug 5 '15 at 12:42
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    He's offered you a gift from gratitude; accept it for what it is. – Pete Becker Aug 6 '15 at 13:27
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    I find it amazing how worried people are being about being polite to a professor. Professors are just people after all and in most civilised countries are not liable to destroy your life because you didn't open a door for them. If you can work out how to be polite to people in general, just act the same to the professor. – Lembik Aug 6 '15 at 21:15
86

It is a question of framing. Frame it as something that is good for him, not just for you. I'd write something along the lines of:

Thank you very much for your kind offer. I'm indeed very interested in the subject of book X. It probably is easier and cheaper for you if you just send me a PDF, and as I am someone who reads mostly on a screen anyway, I would be equally happy with an electronic version.

(And then you might or might not mention your postal address anyway, but in any case stress again that it is up to him to decide.)

In fact, I have had such situations before (people asking me for a copy of my dissertation [which I would have send them for free in print], but who also mailed that they preferred a PDF).

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    This seems reasonable to me. However, I'd recommend also including a postal address unless you really don't want a hard copy in any case. Just because the publisher has prepared an ebook version, doesn't mean the author has a copy of it. Authors often get a certain number of hard copies of their books gratis or discounted which they are then free to distribute as they wish. Even if the author has a copy of the ebook, the author may not be entitled to redistribute it. – cfr Aug 5 '15 at 1:02
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    Don't forget to mention that the PDF saves paper. – user45623 Aug 5 '15 at 1:08
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    It's very annoying when people do this. If you want a PDF, say so. Don't tell me what is easier and cheaper for me - you might be wrong. – AndreKR Aug 5 '15 at 1:39
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    I wouldn't frame it as "easier and cheaper for you", which is assumptive. My tactic would be to come from a usability standpoint and the digital version being more accessible. – user30980 Aug 5 '15 at 5:58
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    The suggested email is disingenuous: the asker says they would prefer a PDF so don't write to somebody saying that you'd be "equally happy" with a PDF. It's also very annoying if you offer somebody an apple and they say they'd be "equally happy with an orange." Well, isn't that an interesting piece of information? I offered you an apple. Do you want it or not? – David Richerby Aug 5 '15 at 14:21
63

Feel free to ask, but if this author is in the same position I was in when my recent book was published, the answer would have to be "no" Under my contract I got a set number of printed copies of the book, but not even one DRM'd ebook copy. I could send you an electronic copy of my manuscript, but it doesn't exactly match the published version (the copy editing got done to their copy of the manuscript, not to my copy) and besides, I'm bound not to distribute the manuscript.

45

The other side of the argument is that perhaps the professor wanted to write something personal in it and give it to you as a gift. It might be even better to say that you are delighted to receive the hardcover, and wonder if it might also be available online in PDF format.

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    This. It really sounds like he wants you to have a physical token of your collaboration. Accept it. – drxzcl Aug 6 '15 at 12:38
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    +1 did not occur to me, but now that I think about it this is probably the case. – Mehrdad Aug 7 '15 at 21:32
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    You can ask him to digitally sign your PDF. There's nothing more personal than a 256-bit public key <3 – xDaizu May 4 '17 at 8:10
  • Now that's funny. :) – BobRodes May 4 '17 at 8:33
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One thing that hasn't been mentioned in the other answers is that authors often get free or discounted copies of their physical books. As part of my author agreements, I get about 20 copies for free and can buy additional physical copies at 50% that I buy in bulk. This is fairly typical.

I usually keep a stack of my (physical) books in my office to give to people who visit or exchange with other scholars. It's easy for me to drop one in the post at my office and have the staff put the right stamps on the package.

If someone asked me for a PDF or ePub, it'd be more difficult. My press does offer e-copies but they are digitally watermarked to the purchaser. In order for me to give them the ePub/PDF, I'd have to put in an individual order with the press to have the ebook made and watermarked and sent.

So PDFs are non-trivial and a pain in the ass from my perspective. Yes, it's very 19th century, like a lot of academia.

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I can't imagine anyone being offended. Just say, "Thank you very much for your generous offer. However, a PDF of your book would be more useful to me. Can you please send me one instead of a hard copy?". If he can, he will. It should actually be easier for him.

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    @Niko: I'm not going to claim it's rational from a game-theoretic standpoint or something, but I think it's a don't-look-a-gift-horse-in-the-mouth kind of thing. I can imagine wordings that would be perfectly fine for me, but yours specifically would leave a bad taste in my mouth. – Mehrdad Aug 5 '15 at 8:57
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    I think part of it is that it sounds like you're not just asking for another one, but also rejecting the gift. If I were to phrase it, I would instead say something like: "Thank you so much for the generous offer; yes, I would really appreciate it! If sending a PDF of the book may be any easier, I would find that just as useful as a hard copy, since the book is quite useful as a reference to search through electronically [or, insert some other legit reason here]. If a hard copy is less trouble then of course it would be just as valuable and I would really appreciate it. Thank you again!" – Mehrdad Aug 5 '15 at 9:15
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    @Mehrdad But the asker says they want the PDF more. It's disingenuous to pretend that the PDF would be "just as useful". – David Richerby Aug 5 '15 at 14:23
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    @DavidRicherby: I know, but politeness in human interactions doesn't always make mathematical sense. It's enough of a hint that they should get what you're really saying. If they don't, then oh well... don't look a gift horse in the mouth. – Mehrdad Aug 5 '15 at 17:32
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    @DavidRicherby: Because humans don't always interpret literally. If someone offers you X and you reply that Y is more useful than X, it can seem like you're just trying to find a polite way to reject X while demanding Y, neither of which is the case here. On the other hand, with my wording I think it's pretty clear that that's not the case. I couldn't think of a better way to say it while still accomplishing that goal, but if you can, props to you. Just remember that telling the professor what you "want" is not and should not be the sole purpose of your email, so optimize it accordingly. – Mehrdad Aug 5 '15 at 17:56
21

Yes, it sounds like a bad idea. A hard copy is a token of appreciation; you are basically saying that you don't need this gift.

Take the hard copy, which will come with a hand-written note. If not, you can sell it through Amazon and buy the PDF file.

13

As stated in the other answers, the author is probably offering you a hard-copy because his publisher gave him several copies. Also, it's offered as a gift and attempting to negotiate gifts isn't very gracious.

If you do want to ask for a PDF, do not pretend that this is because it's easier for him and do not pretend that you'd be equally happy with a PDF or a hard-copy. Either is a pretty transparent lie. Be honest, say what you want. "Thank you -- I'd love to have a copy. Actually, if it's possible, an electronic copy would be even better, but I understand if that's not an option." But I'd just stick with what you were offered.

5

Yes, it is very rude to refuse the hard copy.

Even though the PDF is practically comparable to the hard copy, the hard copy is being offered as a gift and so refusing it could greatly insult the professor. Academics are not generally proud but it is better not to take the chance. Consider the possibility that this professor rarely offers to send books to anyone but has chosen you especially.

Refusing is the equivalent of saying, "Your book does not warrant the ample space it requires in my bookshelf," or "the cost of shipping is hardly worth a permanent compendium of your knowledge." Even if this is not your intent your gesture can be interpreted as such, so why risk it when the cost of accepting is so low?

So, yes, you should take the hard copy and also thank the professor very sincerely, or else you might offend them.

3

I would definitely be happy about the book and accept it. Even if you don't want to have the book and it would only be on your shelf and regardless of this situation, if someone in life offers you something, they have possibly put a lot of work and effort in making it. I would consider it rude to ask for a digital copy of it, "to save paper" or "because you read it on a PDA" or for any other reason.

Your professor is possibly also a bit older and this does not have to be the case with every older person, but when I tell you that having a physical copy of a book with some ideas from someone, it is a great thing to have it as a book and this will also possibly be the thought pattern of your professor. If the professor wanted to have you a PDF file they would have emailed it to you by now.

If I would be in this situation and I wrote a book and wanted my students to have it and they ask for a PDF file of it I would possibly dismiss the class and hand them a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People and make them write an essay about it, hehe. Again and again. This not only has to do with usability, but also with respect towards another person's thoughts and feelings.

It is another thing when you ask the professor for a copy. Then surly you can ask to have it as a PDF file or as a book if possible. The other way round this would work, however when being offered a gift in life you go by the simple rule, smile, be genuinely happy about it, gladly accept it and if you don't like it put it on your shelf and forget about it. There is more damage done in being picky about the format of a gift than simply accepting it and not letting the professor know you would prefer their gift in another format.

Sure, one or two weeks after you have accepted the gift you could very kindly ask for a PDF version of the book since you like to "have it with you when you travel on the bus to uni" or something along the line, simple reason, for you to be able to take the information in it with you wherever you are, implying you value the information given to you. This again would possibly flatter the professor and not make them think this student refused my gift and it asking for a digital copy to torrent it, no thanks.

Of course, if your professor is a PDA-loving cool dude/chick that loves the latest tech gadgets, has all their classes in digital format and only reads on PDAs you could surly ask for a PDF file straight away, it depends on the situation and the type of character your professor is.

General advise, not only in this situation but for the rest of your life: If someone offers you a gift, accept it as it is and possibly thank them for it, that depends on your manners.

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