By now, pretty much everyone with a presence online has weighed in on the latest news from Wizards of the Coast: the company has halted the sale of PDF versions of their products through RPGNow/Drivethrurpg and Paizo's online stores. As a general rule, I've avoided commenting much on what WotC does, primarily because I'm no longer have any interest in their products. My opinion of 4e isn't a secret, but, since I don't play the game, I rarely have anything to say about it or the company that produces it. I think this is a pretty good policy. I catch enough flak as it is just talking about old school games and the history of the hobby without inveighing against WotC's current products and I don't need that kind of grief.
I'm not at all convinced that this move has anything to do with trying to prevent piracy. They may claim that is the case and it's a convincing claim in light of its occurring on the same day as lawsuits against eight people across the world for illegal distribution of electronic copies of the Player's Handbook II. But, conspiracy monger that everyone knows I am, I suspect there's more going on here than that. Most likely, WotC wants to shore up its bottom line and thinks bringing the PDFs back in house, either through their own online storefront or, more likely, as a feature of DDI, is a way to do that. A far more outlandish scenario is that this could be connected in some way to re-organization of the company late last year, when it ceased to be Wizards of the Coast Inc. and became a LLC.
I don't give much credence to the notion that this move was intended to deal with the growing popularity of older editions of the game or to force gamers to migrate to 4e. In the first case, I don't think WotC cares much about the older editions of the game, which I suspect represent such a tiny fraction of the D&D-playing public as to be insignificant. Likewise, by all accounts, 4e is doing well -- perhaps not as well as some in WotC had hoped or expected, but well enough. I doubt that making AD&D or 3e unavailable in PDF is going to convince their buyers to suddenly adopt the new edition if they weren't interested beforehand. Even if it did, such gamers aren't numerous enough to make up the difference between 4e's current level of sales and the hoped for Second Coming of the 80s. That's why I suspect the move is most likely motivated by a desire to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of "legacy D&D" as they can and that necessitates cutting out the middle men and, quite possibly, using these older products as a carrot to entice their fans into giving DDI a whirl.
That said, I think this could, potentially, prove a boon for the old school renaissance. I think there are people out there now who might be more inclined to give Swords & Wizardry or OSRIC a look-see than they were before this announcement. Again, I don't expect there to be sudden deluge of newcomers to our little corner of the hobby, but I'm sure we'll see an uptick in sales and interest, at least in the short term. It'd be terrific if it was a lasting surge in our numbers, but I'm not naive enough to believe, let alone hope, that it will be.
And that's about all I have to say on this subject.