Giving it Away

My Orycon panelmate Cory Doctorow has an essay in Forbes Magazine of all places, talking about his role as an author in the post-scarcity world. I am far from universally agreeing with everything Cory says, but I’m right with him down the line with his thinking on literature, the role of free works in the entertainment ecosystem and such. I and other lovers of literature owe Cory a lot for actually putting his nuts on the line and living according to his beliefs. Without his example, we’d have a lot of theory with no case studies, and for being that case study I thank him.

I especially like his dig at Forbes, pointing out that giving his books away for free is one of the things that led to him getting the high-paying and fairly cush gig writing that essay for them. Self-referential meta-smack talk! I love it.

4 Replies to “Giving it Away”

  1. There are a lot more people writing books and making a little bit of money at it than there are people writing freelance articles for Forbes.

    The only real difference between print and digital publishing is that the physical costs go from trivial(compared to hand copying book) to practically non-existent. There is certainly a chance that several hundred years of copyright law was a big mistake, but I personally doubt it.

  2. Max, that’s, like, the point. There are a plenitude of mid-list writers who make a little but not a lot of money. Cory elevated himself out of that by raising his profile in a radical way – giving away his books day and date of their paper release. Thus far, all his print sales have exceeded expectations. I don’t know thus far of anyone who gives some or all of their books away in electronic form (CD, Charlie Stross, Baen Books) that has underperformed expectations.

    I’m not sure where you pulled the copyright thing out of. You have to control the copyright in order to have the rights to give the books away. Are you a mid-list writer yourself? My experience on SFF.net and DM.net is that midlist SF writers are the most deeply opposed to this sort of thing. They don’t seem to realize that obscurity is far more threatening to their careers than anything else.

  3. Just as a data point, I’ve bought almost every book that I get and enjoy as a CC-type download (that’s available to buy). Accelerando, Peter Watts’ stuff (the new one, Blindsight, is great! Haven’t bought it yet, but it’s now on my post-holiday purchase list), all of Cory’s stuff, Benkler’s Wealth of Markets. Not everyone does, certainly. But it’s not all lost sales by any stretch of the imaginiation.

    I like having “real” books, and I use them to evangelize authors to folks who don’t like etext, but I LOVE having a Nokia 770 full of stuff to read. And I definitely appreciate being able to try before I buy without spending 45 minutes standing in the SF aisle of B&N.

    It’s a great idea, IMO. Physical books aren’t going anywhere in the near future, and in the meantime, digital versions can bring an author out of obscurity, and give his fans a great asset (etexts are great for searching for that quote on the tip of your tongue, etc.)

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