There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Book

[You might want to read part #1 & part #2 – the full thing will be posted on Saturday in one big post.]

In 2004, Cory Doctorow used the example of reading a book on the beach to partially justify his release of his novels as e-books (and to point out that they were complements, not substitutes). It would cost more (and at least be more of a hassle) to print the thing out and haul it to the beach instead of buying the paper copy. They were complimentary products, not substitutes. And he was right – then. Now, the e-book and paperback are functionally equivalent – and giving away the full product can directly cut into your book’s sales. [1]

For Cory – and others, I’m sure – writing is only one part of their life. In fact, Cory’s very much adopted the model that musicians are having to migrate towards: the writing (or music) is a way to get people interested in the other, more profitable things you do. That solution isn’t a bad one – but it’s not a workable one for someone like myself. The three big arenas of my work life (my “day job”, my writing, and academia) do not reinforce each other.

I’m not coming out against releasing CC-licensed work. Hell, everything I’ve posted here on this blog is – including the flash fiction bits. But those are samplers. My thought (hope, really) is that you’ll see those, or some of the other fiction that I’ve written elsewhere, and then go do things like buy a copy of Timeshares, or Hungry for Your Love, or every magazine that I have a story published in. Not because I’m some greedy asshat – but because I’ve got a busy life too.

See, I’ll be writing stuff whether it sells or not. My static website has reams of it – literally stretching back over fifteen years. And I don’t anticipate ever being a full-time writer; I enjoy research and sociology entirely too much to completely give that up. But I could write a lot more – and really justify it – if I made enough between academia and writing to quit my “day job”.

Yes, releasing CC-licensed work can provide externalities – and ones that can be measured in cash. Recently I donated a bit of money to Peter Watts when he needed it [2]; that relationship (entirely online, I’ve never met him) was started by reading the backlist of his works that’s up with a CC-license. The amount I donated far exceeded the amount he would have recieved had I simply bought his back catalog. That’s great – but that isn’t the way to run a business.

So where do we go from here? That’s tomorrow.

[1] Some of the other things Cory says about “ownership”, though, I believe are still extremely relevant. The threat – even unexercised – that Amazon could yank content from me is one of the reasons I’m not buying a Kindle.
[2] I’m neither looking for praise or to argue the merits of that case; that’s beside the point.