A few days ago Cory Doctorow decided to give away his second novel, Eastern Standard Tribe on the internet. It is available in all kinds of formats and is the kind of science-fiction that is pretty much guaranteed to rock your world. He combines the wacky evilness of today with the slight advances of tomorrow to create a world that’s both smirkworthy, and apprehensively depressing. It’s also very short. so you do have time to read it.
As well, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is Cory’s first novel that he gave away on the internet; also quirkily rad.
What he’s doing with this represents something totally new on the electronic frontier. I mean, people have been giving their creative content away on the internet since it began, but only now is the trend becomming that even non-internet content (both of Doctorow’s books were and are published in dead-tree format as well) is being given away on the net even as it’s just being released into stores. It’s kind of like a pre-emptive strike against content pirates ; “so you’re going to copy my book and give it away on kazaa? i’ll beat that! i’ll host it on my site, fucker.” ).
And it works.
Authors who double realease their books like this (under a Creative Commons licence, which is a copyright that allows the creator to choose the conditions necessary for copying, manipulating and performing the work) see uniformly greater success than other internet authors. When one author’s book, was released for free on the internet the used copies of it on amazon went up in price by 40%!
Of course, this could easily be attributed to the fact that that particular author only distributed his book in pdf format, which is wholly unworkable except on a desktop, where few people want to sit and read a 300 page book about linux. But even the sales of Doctorow’s books, which are available in (and portable to) all formats, can be attributed to this, as many people, hooked by their internet meanderings with the texts, probably wanted a copy in the one format that they are really used to. This leads back to the core of the question (at least for me), which is not whether the internet is an effective promotional tool (whether the promotion involves the seemingly foolheaded act of giving away thousands and thousands of copies or not) , but if it is an effective distribution tool. Is there money to be made off of those electronic copies? And will be makeable without the help of the bloated traditional publishers?
Of course, that’s just the kind of thing that Cory deals with in Eastern Standard Tribe, so you really should go read it.