Why? Because it's really apparent that people are looking for low-cost ways to print D&D Basic (as evidenced by lots of pics and posts around the net) and Wizards is missing out on valuable revenue because of it.
It would appear to me that many D&D households will become "2 book" homes -- D&D Basic and the Player's Handbook. D&D Basic offers a good extra reference manual to have at the table when you don't need the other class information in the Player's Handbook.
On Lulu and similar services, D&D Basic runs between $6 to $8 to print. Imagine the revenue that could be had by Wizards of the Coast if they added a nice cover and table of contents. Put it on the net for $10 and viola! You now have thousands of dollars in extra revenue for a few more hours of work.
Why isn't this a no-brainer?
I can see a couple potential cons:
- Consumers might complain if it gets an update right after they purchase.
- Without a table of contents or an index, a print product (even a POD) may be received poorly. As a free PDF, the product is able to dodge those complaints.
However, both of these circumstances can be mitigated with clear marketing language on the Print-On-Demand site.
For point #1, if the book is described as a work in progress that may be updated at any time, people are bound to be more forgiving as they currently are with the PDF when an update is release. Additionally, if Wizards was also a little less tight-lipped on when the next Basic update is coming out (such as after the DMG), that avoids the "But I just bought it!" complaint.
For point #2, adding a Table of Contents would be really useful and is pratcially required at this point, but leaving out an index would probably be accepted because of the frequency of updates.
So Wizards -- why not a print-on-demand D&D Basic rule book? Where is the down side?