I first heard about Cory Doctorow last year, when I was seeing reviews of his young adult novel Little Brother all over the book blogs. The Guardian had an interview with him this past weekend wherein he discusses why he gives his books away for free:
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.
He also discusses the mixed messages we send kids about privacy:
Kids’ relationship with privacy is really confused; they’re told by teachers and adults that their privacy is paramount, that they should stop disclosing so much information on Facebook and so on. And then they go to schools where everything they do is monitored; there’s mandatory spyware that takes every click they make, every word they utter and sends it back to teachers and headmasters for disciplinary purposes.
Hallelujah! I haven’t read Little Brother yet, but I went immediately to his site today and downloaded the free PDF. Even though it was already on my TBR because I had seen so many good reviews, this short, thoughtful interview impressed me a great deal and made me more determined to read his work. I love to read interviews like this one, that make me want to read an author’s work because of how they come across as people, as opposed to how they come across as writers. You can download Cory Doctorow’s work, including his latest novel, For the Win, at craphound.com.
What do you think about authors who give away their work for free?
8 thoughts on “Impressive: Cory Doctorow”
Little Brother is a great book, and Doctorow’s essays “Content” are the best I’ve found on the implications of new media on copyright. His short story “To Go Boldly” is also worth reading, although I haven’t found a free version, but it’s collected in Space Opera 2.
That’s quite an interesting and refreshing viewpoint, really. If you create something you value and want to share it with other people, why not?
I’m sure there are plenty of others who will disagree with Doctorow. Author’s have to eat too, of course.
mmm yes, the question is of course how you make a living if you give your work away for free… Of course, the internet makes it so easy to share whatever it is that you write about. And there is no printing cost, but still…
Becca and seachanges, it’s only recently, I think, that many authors could live off their writing, and those authors are still far and few between when you think about it. Actually, plenty today still cannot live solely off what they make from their books, so they teach, they do all kinds of freelance writing, they blog, and so on to make a living…especially those who only have a book out every four or five years.
Yes. It’s obscurity.
There’s lots of talk in the writing community about how best to use all the new media at our fingertips. But people are very conflicted over it too. I think that if the reading public get used to being allowed lots of free writing, it will eventually devalue it – you do appreciate more what you pay for. However, for authors, obscurity absolutely is the problem. I think tasters and teasers and first chapters and author information, maybe a short story or two would all suffice, but even then, given the vastness of the internet, it might not be enough to launch or promote a new author. I thnk at the moment the problems mutate as fast as the new media!
How do you make a living though then?
Wow, interesting. I will have a look at this.