The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive


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Date: Tue, 19 Jul 2005 22:19:21 -0400 (EDT)
From: moderator@portside.org
Reply-To: portside@portside.org
To: portside@lists.portside.org
Subject: Cory Doctorow: Download this book!

Download this book

by Cory Doctorow
<http://craphound.com/someone/000363.html>

This is my third novel, and as with my first, Down and
Out in the Magic Kingdom and my second, Eastern Standard
Tribe, I am releasing it for free download on the
Internet the very same day that it ships to the stores.
The books are governed by Creative Commons licenses that
permit their unlimited noncommercial redistribution,
which means that you're welcome to share them with
anyone you think will want to see them. In the words of
Woody Guthrie:

     "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of
     Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and
     anybody caught singin it without our permission,
     will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't
     give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to
     it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to
     do."

Why do I do this? There are three reasons:

* Short Term

In the short term, I'm generating more sales of my
printed books. Sure, giving away ebooks displaces the
occasional sale, when a downloader reads the book and
decides not to buy it. But it's far more common for a
reader to download the book, read some or all of it, and
decide to buy the print edition. Like I said in my
essay, Ebooks Neither E Nor Books, digital and print
editions are intensely complimentary, so acquiring one
increases your need for the other. I've given away more
than half a million digital copies of my award-winning
first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and that
sucker has blown through five print editions (yee-HAW!),
so I'm not worried that giving away books is hurting my
sales.

* Long Term

Some day, though, paper books will all but go away.
We're already reading more words off of more screens
every day and fewer words off of fewer pages every day.
You don't need to be a science fiction writer to see the
writing on the wall (or screen, as the case may be).

Now, if you've got a poor imagination, you might think
that we'll enter that era with special purpose "ebook
readers" that simulate the experience of carrying around
"real" books, only digital. That's like believing that
your mobile phone will be the same thing as the phone
attached to your wall, except in your pocket. If you
believe this sort of thing, you have no business writing
sf, and you probably shouldn't be reading it either.

No, the business and social practice of ebooks will be
way, way weirder than that. In fact, I believe that it's
probably too weird for us to even imagine today, as the
idea of today's radio marketplace was incomprehensible
to the Vaudeville artists who accused the radio station
owners of mass piracy for playing music on the air.
Those people just could not imagine a future in which
audiences and playlists were statistically sampled by a
special "collection society" created by a Congressional
anti-trust "consent decree," said society to hand out
money collected from radio stations (who collected from
soap manufacturers and other advertisers), to compensate
artists. It was inconceivably weird, and yet it made the
artists who embraced it rich as hell. The artists who
demanded that radio just stop went broke, ended up
driving taxis, and were forgotten by history.

I know which example I intend to follow. Giving away
books costs me nothing, and actually makes me money. But
most importantly, it delivers the very best market-
intelligence that I can get.

When you download my book, please: do weird and cool
stuff with it. Imagine new things that books are for,
and do them. Use it in unlikely and surprising ways.
Then tell me about it. Email me with that precious
market-intelligence about what electronic text is for,
so that I can be the first writer to figure out what the
next writerly business model is. I'm an entrepreneur and
I live and die by market intel.

Some other writers have decided that their readers are
thieves and pirates, and they devote countless hours to
systematically alienating their customers. These writers
will go broke. Not me -- I love you people. Copy the
hell out of this thing.

* Medium Term

There may well be a time between the sunset of printed
text and the appearance of robust models for unfettered
distribution of electronic text, an interregnum during
which the fortunes of novelists follow those of poets
and playwrights and other ink-stained scribblers whose
industries have cratered beneath them.

When that happens, writerly income will come from
incidental sources such as paid speaking engagements and
commissioned articles. No, it's not "fair" that
novelists who are good speakers will have a better deal
than novelists who aren't, but neither was it fair that
the era of radio gave a boost to the career of artists
who played well in the studios, nor that the age of
downloading is giving a boost to the careers of artists
who play well live. Technology giveth and technology
taketh away. I'm an sf writer: it's my job to love the
future.

My chances of landing speaking gigs, columns, paid
assignments, and the rest of it are all contingent on my
public profile. The more people there are that have read
and enjoyed my work, the more of these gigs I'll get.
And giving away books increases your notoriety a whole
lot more than clutching them to your breast and damning
the pirates.

So there you have it: I'm giving these books away to
sell more books, to find out more about the market and
to increase my profile so that I can land speaking and
columnist gigs. Not because I'm some patchouli-scented,
fuzzy-headed, "information wants to be free" info-
hippie. I'm at it because I want to fill my bathtub with
money and rub my hands and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Developing nations
A large chunk of "ebook piracy" (downloading
unauthorized ebooks from the net) is undertaken by
people in the developing world, where the per-capita GDP
can be less than a dollar a day. These people don't
represent any kind of commercial market for my books. No
one in Burundi is going to pay a month's wages for a
copy of this book. A Ukranian film of this book isn't
going to compete with box-office receipts in the Ukraine
for a Hollywood version, if one emerges. No one imports
commercial editions of my books into most developing
nations, and if they did. they'd be priced out of the
local market.

So I've applied a new, and very cool kind of Creative
Commons license to this book: the Creative Commons
Developing Nations License What that means is that if
you live in a country that's not on the World Bank's
list of High-Income Countries, you get to do practically
anything you want with this book.

While residents of the rich world are limited to making
noncommercial copies of this book, residents of the
developing world can do much more. Want to make a
commercial edition of this book? Be my guest. A film?
Sure thing. A translation into the local language? But
of course.

The sole restriction is that you may not export your
work with my book beyond the developing world. Your
Ukranian film, Guyanese print edition, or Ghanian
translation can be freely exported within the developing
world, but can't be sent back to the rich world, where
my paying customers are.

It's an honor to have the opportunity to help people who
are living under circumstances that make mine seem like
the lap of luxury. I'm especially hopeful that this
will, in some small way, help developing nations
bootstrap themselves into a better economic situation.

DRM

The worst technology idea since the electrified nipple-
clamp is "Digital Rights Management," a suite of voodoo
products that are supposed to control what you do with
information after you lawfully acquire it. When you buy
a DVD abroad and can't watch it at home because it's
from the wrong "region," that's DRM. When you buy a CD
and it won't rip on your computer, that's DRM. When you
buy an iTune and you can't loan it to a friend, that's
DRM.

DRM doesn't work. Every file ever released with DRM
locks on it is currently available for free download on
the Internet. You don't need any special skills to break
DRM these days: you just have to know how to search
Google for the name of the work you're seeking.

No customer wants DRM. No one woke up this morning and
said, "Damn, I wish there was a way to do less with my
books, movies and music."

DRM can't control copying, but it can control
competition. Apple can threaten to sue Real for making
Realmedia players for the iPod on the grounds that Real
had to break Apple DRM to accomplish this. The cartel
that runs licensing for DVDs can block every new feature
in DVDs in order to preserve its cushy business model
(why is it that all you can do with a DVD you bought ten
years ago is watch it, exactly what you could do with it
then -- when you can take a CD you bought a decade ago
and turn it into a ringtone, an MP3, karaoke, a mashup,
or a file that you send to a friend?).

DRM is used to silence and even jail researchers who
expose its flaws, thanks to laws like the US DMCA and
Europe's EUCD.

In case there's any doubt: I hate DRM. There is no DRM
on this book. None of the books you get from this site
have DRM on them. If you get a DRMed ebook, I urge you
to break the locks off it and convert it to something
sensible like a text file.

If you want to read more about DRM, here's a talk I gave
to Microsoft on the subject, and here's a paper I wrote
for the International Telecommunications Union about DRM
and the developing world.

June 19, 2005 12:01 AM

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