When “Free” = $$$

When Cory Doctorow Ruled the World

RU SIRIUS: You make quite a prominent point about the fact that Over-Clocked [Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present — his new collection of short stories.] is available for free under a Creative Commons license. You also write about the good experience you’ve had with this, as a writer who does want to get paid for his work. Do you think this good experience is universal? Do you know if this has been studied at all?

CORY DOCTOROW: Well, I don’t know that anyone’s done any kind of systematic study. But my anecdotal study finds that everyone I know who’s tried giving away free books as a way of selling printed books has done it again with their next book. So, I think that’s a pretty good sign, right? It worked well enough for people to do it a second time. I guess the definition of insanity is doing something twice and expecting a different outcome. Presumably people were happy with that first outcome.

RU: About how many people do you hear from who are doing this sort of thing?

CD: At least ten or fifteen writers who’ve done this with their novels. And, of course, a lot more musicians. In a certain sense, I kind of live in the bubble of people who’ve done this, right? I mean, all my friends are the people who have done this. But it seems like it works pretty well. And that makes a certain amount of sense, especially for printed material. My thesis regarding printed material is that the basic thing that keeps people from getting long-form works off the screen isn’t the screen quality — it’s that computers are really distracting. It’s really hard to concentrate on one thing for a long time while you’re sitting in front of a computer. So as a result, I think people who get a novel over the wire tend to read some of it and get distracted. But they like it well enough that they’re willing to go out and buy it and read it on paper, which is a lot less distracting.

I haven’t been paying attention to the Sony Reader since my initial series of posts about it. One thing I had wanted to do is to try to convince writers to create some free stuff for it as a way of attracting new readers to their work. Well, look at what that strategy has done for Doctorow!

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