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June 16, 2005 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Charlie Stross releases his new book Accelerando as a Creative Commons e-book, thereby buying in to the open source idea that offering up one's intellectual property (under certain circumstances) will result in greater sales of the physical object, not fewer (see: Cory Doctorow). In a time where promotional opportunities for new and "mid-list" authors seem to be continually shrinking, is offering up a complete work the current equivalent of the author interview or newspaper puff piece? Or is it simply a recognition that here in the 21st century anything can be pirated -- better to offer up your work in good will (and in a form where you have some control), and hope some of the kids will realize that behind the free content is a guy who needs to eat? And what happens if/when all books become digital books?
posted by jscalzi (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Anyone else sick of hearing about Cory Doctorow?

Cory Doctorow to give on-line, CC-licensed 'cyber-reading' of Cory Doctorow's new book, 50 Short Stories About Why Everything Everywhere for All Eternity Should be Completely Free and Remixable, and Also You're Going to Hell if You've Ever Even Thought About DRM, as presented by noted Cory Doctorow fan, Cory Doctorow. (Posted by Cory Doctorow at 12:25pm)

Sorry. Had to do it.
posted by Mikey-San at 9:53 AM on June 16, 2005

I just want to plug the book's contents: reading the stories that make up Accelerando in Asimov's over the past few years has made me happy to be alive. Don't miss it.

(I already have a copy of the book on order at my local sf specialty shop.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:01 AM on June 16, 2005

John, any chance you'll release future "Old Man's War"-universe novels in the same way? I'm pacing back and forth here, waiting for the sequel...
posted by mrbill at 10:07 AM on June 16, 2005

I don't think that releasing X under a CC license is necessarily only a move to generate publicity. Some people out there actually believe in the philosophy of the license they choose, for example the derivative work license. I for one use this for my music, because if people want to sample it I think they should have every right to.

On the flip side, some people out there will just use it to build publicity, offering a few books for free until the point where they have people hooked. When that happens, these people will switch to offering only non-free versions and hope their fans don't tear them a new one for the flip-flop.

CC licensing isn't for everyone, and unlike Doctorow I don't believe that it should spread to everyone/everything/everywhere.
posted by pemdasi at 10:10 AM on June 16, 2005

I think there are several economic benefits for an author to do such a thing. First, the auther gets a larger audience, more eyes are more likely to read what he wrote. Second, those that *really* like what he wrote may be willing to buy the physical book. Also, if the author was able to impress sufficient people and garner a significant following, people may be willing to pay to read his next book having been suitably impressed with his original work.
posted by forforf at 10:11 AM on June 16, 2005

Digital books will never overtake the real thing until we have at least 300 DPI e-paper and a way to "turn" the pages.

Or a home printing press/bindery that can spit out a mass-market paperback equivalent in under an hour.
posted by darukaru at 10:12 AM on June 16, 2005

"John, any chance you'll release future 'Old Man's War'-universe novels in the same way?"

Dunno yet. I'm certainly not opposed to free e-versions of my books -- Agent to the Stars is free to read on my site, and I and Tor made a free e-version of OMW available to servicepeople stationed in Iraq/Afghanistan. But to some extent I'm following Tor's lead with the OMW books and their electronic distribution.

I do have some tentative plans for early-mid 2006 to serialize a story on my personal site and then offer it as a book, but those plans are highly fluid at the moment.
posted by jscalzi at 10:26 AM on June 16, 2005

Forforf - See Metalica as an example of the possible pitfalls of switching philosophy. In their early days they encouraged bootlegs and tape dubs as a way to build their fan base. The time of easy song sharing via the internet rolls around while Metallica has all the fans they thought they'd ever need. So Lars et al come out against Napster, saying that people shouldn't "steal" their songs. What happens? Backlash ensues, and Metallica loses many fans. Not enough to significantly effect their sales, but then again you are talking about a huge rock band there. Take a small time author, who one day decides that after releasing a few books to critical internet acclaim they are going to stop giving it away and start only charges.

I think the chances are that the readers won't follow in most cases. For example: if Cory Doctorow up and decides he doesn't need CC to get readers and starts only releasing non-free books, I wouldn't buy anything the guy ever writes again.
posted by pemdasi at 10:27 AM on June 16, 2005

darukaru: "Digital books will never overtake the real thing until we have at least 300 DPI e-paper and a way to "turn" the pages.

Yeah, and the printing press will never overtake the real thing (manuscripts) until they figure out how to make it look like hand-lettering with color pictures in the margin.
And the VCR will never take off until they manage to make you think you're in a large, cavernous space and sell you popcorn and a soda.
(goes back to reading accelarando on his palm)

posted by signal at 10:29 AM on June 16, 2005

offering up one's intellectual property will result in greater sales of the physical object is not "the open source idea".
posted by Nelson at 10:42 AM on June 16, 2005

True enough, Nelson; I stand corrected. I would, however, offer it up as an open source corollary: That many people who offer content freely may do so in the hope that some who try it will then purchase an alternate version of the content.
posted by jscalzi at 10:46 AM on June 16, 2005

Digital books will never overtake the real thing until we have at least 300 DPI e-paper and a way to "turn" the pages.

We already have the technology for excellent e-books. There just hasn't been one marketed in the U.S. yet. (And the Librie was originally released so crippled that you couldn't even convert your own text to read on it, but had to buy something from their very small catalog of texts.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:53 AM on June 16, 2005

I've never seen so many people so obsessed with how to communicate, while at the same time so blind as to what's actually being communicated.
posted by solistrato at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2005

Doing a CC release of "Accelerando" was obvious, really, once I asked the critical question: What would Manfred do? :-)

-- Charlie
posted by cstross at 11:08 AM on June 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Big fucking fan, I am. I think stuff like this will prove out easier in the niches and with people who have strong goodwill on the net. Like Charlie Stross. I am buying the paper version, because I like to read off paper and own books, but I will poke around in the electronic format a bit, because I can. Oh there you are Charlie, sorry about the 3rd person, good on ya!
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2005

(um, i thought people stopped buying metallica albums because they started writing awful songs, like aural equivalent of steaming piles awful)
posted by maura at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2005

(maura, that is the reason, but this world revolves around blogging and p2p and boingboing. please get with the program.)
posted by solistrato at 11:59 AM on June 16, 2005

The last book I bought was something I read the first several chapters of online: Practical Common Lisp. But I don't know what license it's under.

I've not really seen a good ebook format. PDF prints of pages don't quite work right with the typography for me, and can choke on weird formatting. Then there is the issue of dealing with tables and graphics.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:14 PM on June 16, 2005

Ok, maura and solistrato... Read my post. I quote: "Not enough to significantly effect their sales,"

That being said, there were documented events at which Metallica fans burned cds and records because of Metallica's actions against file sharing.
posted by pemdasi at 12:32 PM on June 16, 2005

I love you, Charlie, and would offer to bear your children if I didn't think that, uh, Feorag would beat the crap out of me. Also, my eggs might be stale.

Anyhoo. I too will buy the book even though I've read all the stories as they were published, because I'm a fan and I want to make sure that you keep writing and (more importantly) keep publishing.

But I think a point that's being missed is that Accelerando does consist of material that has already been published, so the risk/reward equation here makes sense. Fans who have already read the stories will, like me, buy the book anyway. Those who discover Charles Stross through reading a free version of Accelerando have a relatively large (and rich) back catalog of his books to explore, and hopefully, buy. It's not like he's putting everything he's ever published online.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2005

I just downloaded it to read now, and will buy it pronto when it's released for easier re-reading, and to look nice on the shelf as my love for books is deeply covetous, and to keep Charlie slogging away in the word mines instead of doing things less useful to me.

I shudder to think of the days when Charlie is through his pre-existing "backlog" and we only get his books as often as we get Ken MacLeod's or Iain Banks' or Alastair Reynolds'.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:27 PM on June 16, 2005

I've wondered for a while why more authors don't do this and turn their sites into depositories for their back catalogues. Would you make more on ad and t-shirt revenues (a la PVP or Penny Arcade) than you would on royalties?
posted by RakDaddy at 4:11 PM on June 16, 2005

Personally, I think this is a really good idea, because I only buy books that I've read before, and like enough to own. I really liked what little of Stross I've read, so I guess everybody's happy this way. :)
posted by dhruva at 9:09 PM on June 16, 2005

I finished it last night - and it's very kick-ass. Charlie, I'm going to go out and buy a physical copy soon.
posted by mrbill at 10:07 PM on June 18, 2005

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