Cory Doctorow on Why He Publishes His Books Free Online
Politically engaged and disarmingly geeky, Cory Doctorow is one of the better-known faces of the digital revolution: co-editor of the celebrated blog Boing Boing (“a directory of wonderful things”), he is also author of half-a-dozen science fiction novels and a journalist.
You’ve released For the Win using a Creative Commons licence, giving it away for free. Why?
I give away all of my books. [The publisher] Tim O’Reilly once said that the problem for artists isn’t piracy – it’s obscurity. I think that’s true. A lot of people have commented: “You can’t eat page views, so how does being well-known help you earn a living as a writer?” It’s true; however, it’s very hard to monetise fame, but impossible to monetise obscurity. It doesn’t really matter how great your work is; if no one’s ever heard of it, you’ll never make any money from it. That’s not to say that if everyone’s heard of it, you’ll make a fortune, but it is a necessary precursor that your work be well-known to earn you a living. As far as I can tell, these themes apply very widely, across all media.As a practical matter, we live in the 21st century and anything anybody wants to copy they will be able to copy. If you are building a business model that says that people can only copy things with your permission, your business is going to fail because whether or not you like it, people will be able to copy your product without your permission. The question is: what are you going to do about that? Are you going call them thieves or are you going to find a way to make money from them?The only people who really think that it’s plausible to reduce copying in the future seem to be the analogue economy, the people who built their business on the idea that copying only happens occasionally and usually involves a giant machine and some lawyers. People who are actually doing digital things have the intuitive knowledge that there’s no way you’re going to stop people from copying and they’ve made peace with it.
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