Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

The Doctorow Doctrine and Other Techno-Tectonic Upheavals

First This

I’m back. Sorry I’ve been absent so long. Pay-the-bills-work on tight deadlines, plus a protracted case of the flu interfered with my best laid plans.

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow describes himself as a science fiction writer and a technology activist. A science fiction writer, says he, “envisions the future” and a technology activist strives to “change the future.”

Not all science fiction is future-oriented, but most is, I’d say. Anyway….

Wikipedia says that Cory Doctorow’s parents were “Trotskyist teachers” and that he grew up in a Jewish activist household. Jewish activists, also referred to as the Jewish left, are supportive of left-wing, generally liberal causes and policies.

Cory attended a high school called SEED School in Toronto that Wikipedia describes as “…an anarchistic ‘free school….’” SEED stands for Shared Experience Exploration and Discovery. As a child, he became involved in the nuclear disarmament movement and Greenpeace.

So…his techno-activism has deep roots. It takes many forms.

For one, Cory is a “copyfighter.” Word Spy, www.wordspy.com says that’s “A person who opposes copyright laws and practices that he or she perceives to be unfair.”

He artfully explains his position regarding that (and other things) in a series of short columns written for Locus Online:


Here’s another illuminating article:


Cory’s book, CONTENT – Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future, which includes some of the material available at the links above and much more, can be found here:

CONTENT – PDF DownloadCONTENT on Amazon

Here’s how Wikipedia sums it up: “Doctorow believes that copyright laws should be liberalized to allow for free sharing of all digital media. He has also advocated filesharing.”

Cory Doctorow Is Full of Potato Soup and Monkeys

That’s what my Grandma Elsie would have said. She was English, born in 1888, brought to the United States as a toddler. She said things like that. She had an adage or saying for every occasion. She never once picked up a pair of scissors without saying, “They’ll open and shut but they won’t cut but they’re better than none at all.” Or, when someone made a curious choice, “To each his own said the man as he kissed the cow.” Not that she understood copyright all that well, but Grandma Elsie believed that: “Right is right, and wrong belongs to no man.” I am sure she would have sided with the law, just about any law, copyright or otherwise. If the law says you can’t copy something, then you can’t copy it, and that’s that.

Cory Doctorow Is Probably Mostly Right

Being slightly, and only slightly more web-savvy than Grandma Elsie (who died well before the creation of World Wide Web) I would say Cory Doctorow’s content manifesto is pretty well founded, though a few of his contentions are (possibly) full of potato soup and monkeys. He makes a few arguable assessments and draws some conclusions I find questionable. Maybe I just don’t understand, or he hasn’t yet gotten around to explaining some things yet.

He also sets forth a recommendation for creators that seems to be good policy as it applies to him and some others but not as it applies to most of us, especially in the comic book industry.

A few noteworthy items:

Cory points out that flagrant infringement is rampant. People love to share creative works they like. Of the Internet and the personal computer, Cory says: “These two technologies represent a perfect storm for bringing ordinary peoples’ ordinary activity into the realm of copyright: every household has the apparatus to commit mass acts of infringement….”


Cory describes how it came to this—from a time, not so long ago when making copies of creative works was something that was difficult and expensive, requiring printing presses, record and film duplicating equipment and such, till the VCR, double-deck tape recorder, photocopier and now, oh, my God, the digital age happened along.


Cory calls copying and sharing creative works “culture.” He says: “Culture’s imperative is to share information: culture is shared information.”


He makes lots of really good points and offers wonderfully thoughtful insights into why novels are novel-length, why being a seller of your own work is a bad idea, how live performance, badly wounded by radio and subsequent technologies, is making a comeback thanks to technology. And more.

You really ought to read the material available at the links above. It’s great stuff.

However, I am left with some doubts and some questions. It could be, as I surmised earlier, that Cory simply hasn’t gotten around to explaining a few things.

For instance, because people he calls “copyists” are copying like mad anyway in this digital age he advocates simply accepting that. Furthermore, he recommends actively abetting the copyists by giving away digital copies of your work to start the ball rolling. Make your creative works available for free online.

“Think like a dandelion,” he says. Think of the free digital copies as dandelion seeds cast into the wind by the thousands from each dandelion plant. Many seeds will be wasted, but some seeds just might find a cozy crack in a sidewalk somewhere and, of course, those dandelions will spread more seeds. Cory thinks spreading free copies around like dandelion seeds will increase sales of physical copies, not undercut them. He likens downloading a free copy of a book to picking up a physical book in a bookstore and taking a look at it—the cover, the blurbs. Some of those look-overs will result in physical book sales. The question is, he says, “Will giving away free e-books win me more sales than it costs me?” Yes, he claims.

One reason he thinks so is that he believes that people in general prefer to read long-form works like novels on printed pages, not screens. He goes so far as to say, “I don’t believe that most readers want to read long-form works off a screen, and I don’t believe that they will ever (my emphasis) want to read long-form works off a screen.”

Cory also makes arguments for the other benefit of scattering dandelion seeds—exposure. Exposure begets equity. Anyone who stops by this site regularly knows that whenever the subject of licensing comes up I speak about equity, Q-Scores, awareness—in another word, exposure. Marvel didn’t license Star Wars because we couldn’t dream up our own space opera, we licensed it because just about everyone everywhere knew Star Wars. Equity gained by dandelion tactics, says Cory, can lead to offers, speaking engagements and other gigs.

True and groovy.

Genius, in fact. And, clearly, dandelion thinking is a good strategy for Cory Doctorow.

I still have doubts about whether it’s good for most creators, or applicable to comic book publishers at all.

Here are a few questions and counterarguments:

Giving digital copies away doesn’t obviate piracy. If you can sell hard copies of your work, in spite of the fact that is freely available digitally online, so can the pirates. Maybe better and more profitably than you can.

Once upon a time when I worked at Marvel, at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I went with our licensing executives to a meeting with a Yugoslavian publisher (it was still Yugoslavia back then).

The Yugoslavian publishing execs ushered us into the private office portion of their stand where there was a small freezer. The freezer was packed full of vodka. They poured all present a tumbler full of vodka. We’re talking eight ounces, here, at least. They insisted that before any business could be discussed we must all drink.

It was 9:00 AM.

One of our licensing execs didn’t drink. At all. I think her name was Laura. Anyway, she politely declined. The Yugoslavians were adamant. No drink, no meeting.

Laura reluctantly took a sip. Her glass, almost imperceptibly less full, was nonetheless immediately replenished.

As were all other glasses, each and every time a drop was drunk.

After many a toast, to Marvel, to America, to Yugoslavia, to Bologna, to vodka, whatever, we started to talk business.


Once he judged us sufficiently lubricated, the Yugoslavian publisher excitedly showed us a printed copy of an album, already on sale, made using EPIC Illustrated material.

“But we haven’t started licensing EPIC yet,” said I.

“Look!” he said, “Look at the production values!” He was so proud.

The book looked great. I asked him where the @#$%& he got the repro film. He told me they shot their film from a printed copy of EPIC! Rescreened it! Doctored it up! Wasn’t it beautiful?!

It looked better than the original.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “We’ll pay. We just couldn’t wait for contracts.”

Usually pirates aren’t so honest. Or skillful, but that often doesn’t matter. I have a small collection of knock-off comics from all over the world—South America, the Mideast, India, Viet Nam and elsewhere in Asia…. Most are from pre-World Wide Web days. I suppose that most publishing piracy these days is digital only and the plunder is given away, but I don’t doubt that someone somewhere is still printing up hard copy knock-offs to sell. It’s easier than ever.

Which brings us to thinking like a dandelion.

The question “Will giving away free e-books win me more sales than it costs me?” is moot, pretty much, with regard to comic books. Even if the publishers choose not to give digital copies away, lots of people are doing it for them. An amazing number of comic books are available free online without authorization from the publisher or anyone else. If comic books are freely and widely available, it doesn’t matter how they got that way, they have been de facto dandelioned.

Has being dandelioned helped the sales of the physical versions of the comic books in question? Hard to say, but real-world comic book sales suck, and except for a blip here and there (like the early issues of DC’s New 52) sales have been in decline for a long time.

Dark Horse Comics Master and Commander Mike Richardson is a pretty smart and savvy guy. Last time we got together when he was in New York, we spoke about this subject over breakfast at Lindy’s. He told me that most Dark Horse comics were already pirated and online free before the physical comics were on sale, and in his opinion, it was killing the business.

In his book CONTENT, Cory mentions that his first book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom had been downloaded free 300,000 times and had sold 10,000 physical copies. If I recall correctly, those figures came from an article he wrote in 2004, so surely by now those numbers have climbed. Cory was happy with 10,000 copies sold, and apparently so was his publisher, Tor Books. That’s a decent figure. For a book. All text. Black and white except for the cover. Cheap to produce, relatively high priced.

However, for many mainstream, quality-format, full color comic book, 10,000 copies sold would leave you roughly 20,000 copies below breakeven.

If the publisher or the pirates gave away 900,000 digital copies, would you then break even?

Cory’s belief that people will never want to read long form works off of a screen is surprising coming from someone so technologically aware who envisions the future for a living. Really? They’ll never improve the on-screen reading experience sufficiently to make it competitive with reading printed pages?

Meanwhile, I actually think most comic books look better on a screen than in print. Don’t get me wrong, I love my printed copies, but the computer screen makes good coloring look great and bad coloring less murky.

I don’t dispute Cory’s contentions about exposure and equity. That could be very valuable. If you can afford to run long enough at 20,000 copies under breakeven.

Now, about how Cory’s marketing advice applies to most creative people and the comic book business—it doesn’t. Or I don’t see how. Maybe he’ll set me straight….

Giving digital copies of creative works away for free may be a good strategy in some cases, like Cory’s, but to make money, you need a physical product, an object for people inspired by your dandelioning to buy. In Cory’s case, and in many creators’ cases, that means you need a publisher.

Getting a publisher isn’t always easy or even possible.

Theodor Seuss Geisel was rejected by 27 publishers before finally, through a friend’s intervention, he got his work published. John Grisham was rejected by 28 publishers. J.K. Rowling, 12, and she was accepted only under the condition that she use her initials instead of her name to camouflage the fact that she was a woman, because women writers works allegedly didn’t sell as well as men’s. It took Siegel and Shuster six years to find a publisher for Superman. Etc.

How do we know the above? Because they eventually succeeded, therefore, their travails became known. What about all the creators who never were able to find a publisher? Don’t give me that nonsense about “the good ones all eventually make it.” Baloney. Sometimes the exigencies of life interfere with your quest. What if Siegel and Shuster had been in a car crash and died in year five? What if endless failure to convince anyone to take the financial risk required to publish your work wears you down? Is every talented creator so iron-willed that no amount of rejection deters them? What if illness, financial need or some other force majeure hinders you? What if Hurricane Katrina destroyed your home and all your work?

How did Cory find a publisher? Cory’s books have been published by Tor Books. Patrick Nielsen Hayden is the Manager of Science Fiction at Tor. Cory describes him thus:

“My editor, a blogger, hacker and guy-in-charge-of-the-largest-sf-line-in-the-world named Patrick Nielsen Hayden….”

Here’s how he says it came to pass that Tor became his publisher:

“Patrick and I have a long relationship, starting when I was 18 years old and he kicked in toward a scholarship fund to send me to a writers’ workshop, continuing to a fateful lunch in New York in the mid-Nineties when I showed him a bunch of Project Gutenberg texts on my Palm Pilot and inspired him to start licensing Tor’s titles for PDAs…to the turn-of-the-millennium when he bought and then published my first novel (he’s bought three more since—I really like Patrick!).”

I have no problem with the above. As a person reasonably qualified to make such a judgment, I assure you that Cory Doctorow is an excellent writer. He deserves his publishing success, and probably would have found it anyway, even if he hadn’t had a long relationship with the guy in charge of the largest sf line in the world, barring hurricanes, car crashes and such.

The point of all of the above is that as brilliant as he is—and he is brilliant—Cory had fortuitous circumstances that few have, and that sufficient ability doesn’t always do the trick. Just as fortune sometimes favors someone like Cory, it sometimes screws over someone else.

And here’s another thing: In my experience working in creative fields, 47 years’ worth, I have found that most people empowered to buy creative work for commercial use don’t have a clue. They’re some big shot’s brother-in-law, or the guy from accounting who always wanted to work in the editorial department, or they’re just plain not terribly sharp. I always say—exaggerating for effect a little…maybe—that 98% of the people who buy creative work have little ability to judge it. They know how to process stuff through and how to evade real responsibility. They know they’ll never get fired for hiring Kevin Nowlan or Roger Stern, but they might get fired taking a chance on a new person, like oh, say, you. They can stare at your stuff all day and still have no idea whether or not it’s good enough.

Seriously. They can’t tell. I used to occasionally give finished art boards of a story to Marvel assistant editors and ask them what they thought of the art. With few exceptions, they’d waffle until they came to the splash page, which I’d deliberately buried in the middle. On the splash were the credits. If the creators were “names,” then the assistants said they liked the art. One of those assistants is now a highly placed comic book company creative exec. Be afraid….

Of the remaining two percent, half have good instincts. They know whether your work is good enough or not, but aren’t really capable of explaining why, or giving much help about making it better.

The remaining one percent know whether the work is good or not, can tell you exactly why and exactly how to improve it. The rare Archie Goodwin type.

Find one of the top two percent and you have a chance. They might realize that you’re good and take a flier. Good luck.

By the way, the degree of difficulty finding a publisher is increasing every year. In his article “Put Not Your Faith in EBook Readers” Cory points this out:

“Book reading is just not a mainstream activity in America. Every study conducted since the turn of the century shows book reading as flat or declining. Reports like the 2004 National Endowment for the Arts “Reading at Risk” is full of depressing nuggets about the ongoing decline in the importance of reading books to pretty much everyone: old people, young people, educated people and dropouts, the affluent and the poor.”


That would tend to make the 98% of publishing company buyers even more nervous about taking any risks, and the companies themselves inclined to be risk-averse, which means sticking with sure things, not you.

So, no lock on getting a publisher.

Cory does recommend keeping the day job and getting your writing (or other creative product) out there on the web. Good advice, I’d say. Why not? Be seen. Be read. Maybe your work will take off like a Soyuz rocket. He discourages selling your digital (or other?) work yourself, which he finds turns your readers into customers, a very different relationship that places great burdens upon the writer.

He also says this:

“We live at the mercy of publishing entities. From the RIAA to New York publishing, they’re nearly the only game in town. Your local indie publisher may produce a nice-looking book, but if you want that book sold in actual bookstores, you need to deal with one of the bigs, a company with a sales force and the relations with the retail channels that make it make it possible to get your books on shelves.”

So. Fair enough. If you write prose, if you have a publisher, if you’re marginally successful, or as successful as Cory Doctorow, who calls himself a “mid-list writer,” or more successful but not quite in the “super-rich” category, that is in the 97th percentile or higher, his advice is probably right on the money.

Part 2 tomorrow. The impending end of the world as we know it. And how we might win after all.

Cory Doctorow’s Web Site – CraphoundBoingBoing – A Blog Cory Doctorow co-edits

Cory Doctorow on Amazon

TOMORROW: Creative Commons, DRM, SOPA and the Fate That Awaits Us


The Spirit of Vengeance


Shelly Moldoff


  1. Dear Neil,

    John Buscema, had he lived during the Renaissance, would have given the namesakes of the Ninja Turtles a run for the Pope's money.

  2. Glad to see you back, man. I had the flu back in January when I was about to start a Court Reporters course, and it made life interesting to try to do both — recover from the flu and begin to learn the arcane fingering routines for beginning Court Reporter theory during all the cold sweats and nose blowing. It took me about six weeks before I stopped hacking and coughing. And this was after I had a flu shot in October, so maybe it was a whole different flu strain I ran into.

    Regardless, it was a major PIA and sidelined me for all but the direst necessities for weeks. I made my freelance money and did my classes, but man, I was useless for anything else. Nothing left. It was like my personality disappeared into my apartment and never got out until maybe the end of February.

    Ain't it great how freelancers don't get sick days, yes?

    Anyway, thank you ever so much for coming back to us and bringing your thoughts. Feel better and make money. We're grateful to have you holding forth on this blog. Even with all our kvetching and bitching.

  3. ‎Jim said: "In my experience working in creative fields, 47 years’ worth, I have found that most people empowered to buy creative work for commercial use don’t have a clue. They’re some big shot’s brother-in-law, or the guy from accounting who always wanted to work in the editorial department, or they’re just plain not terribly sharp. I always say—exaggerating for effect a little…maybe—that 98% of the people who buy creative work have little ability to judge it. […] Seriously. They can’t tell." (end quote)

    The other day I was wondering if there were any formal education one could take in order to become editor, and so I searched the web. There isn't. People who become editors are generally those who feel driven to it and who also happen to get the opportunity. Maybe that's the reason for the state of affairs you outline. Should we have a specific education for editors? Wouldn't that go a long way in solving the problem you're pointing to?

  4. Anonymous

    John Buscema was the worst. Absolute genius.
    Even as a kid, I was in awe of his art. Looking back it's amazing he was producing that quality of work in an ongoing comic. And wasn't he doing multiple titles and still producing that level of quality? Some of those Conan panels are unbelievable. Jim, didn't you say that his doodles on the back of his boards were on a level most artists could only dream of? I may have read that somewhere else. The guy was a genius.


  5. Dear Kid,

    RE: "Jim, could you name some people in the industry, who had/have the instinct to realise, if a work is good or not, but couldn't/can't tell why, or how to improve it?"

    I'm not up to date on the current crop. Stan Lee had/has matchless instincts, but wasn't great at explaining things, except in hyperbolic dictums (which were sound, but required interpretation). Julie Schwartz knew what was good and was good at telling you what but not why. Mort Weisinger had pretty good instincts and fundamentals but spoke only about formulas and rules. Bob Kanigher knew what he was doing but only shouted orders at creators. Jim Warren had/has amazing instincts but it took Archie Goodwin and Louise Simonson to convey the whys to the creators. John Romita, Sr. had/has wonderful instincts and could/can show you what to do, but wasn't/isn't the best at verbalizing it. John Buscema was the worst. Absolute genius. He knew. But when you'd ask him how, he'd draw it and show you; when you asked him why, he'd say, "Because it works."

  6. Anonymous

    "…to make money, you need a physical product, an object for people inspired by your dandelioning to buy. In Cory’s case, and in many creators’ cases, that means you need a publisher. Getting a publisher isn’t always easy or even possible."

    [MikeAnon:] Is this really true today given the existence of ebooks and easy-to-use self-publishing sites like Smashwords.com? JayJay is selling her story as an ebook now, and that ebook doesn't necessarily ever have to see printed form. Likewise, if someone were to create a digital comics publishing site that was as easy to use as Smashwords.com, couldn't creators possibly keep their creations exclusively online…forever? (Wow, that's not a bad business idea, now that I think about it. If I had any amount of competence in web site development I would drop everything and start creating such a site. But, alas….) [–MikeAnon]

  7. Anonymous

    Jim, could you name some people in the industry, who had/have the instinct to realise, if a work is good or not, but couldn't/can't tell why, or how to improve it?


  8. Neil,

    I've only sung karaoke once myself, actually – "Jumpin' Jack Flash" on a drinking holiday on Zakynthos, Greece a few years back. I was completely sober at the time. 🙂

    It's actually a lot easier to sing in a band. Give me a band and a stage any day. Singing off a prerecorded track in front of a crowd of half-drunken louts is like making a speech at a family dinner – it only feels embarrassing. I'm still Dr. Jekyll down there.

    And finally, I feel I must repeat once more that I didn't tour Europe in the early 80s either. I must have hit the wrong number key. 🙂

  9. Anonymous

    Ole, I just meant from your post, you and I have a lot in common. I wasn't touring Europe in the eaely 80's, but after a couple of drinks, I have been known to sing Karaoke.


  10. Neil: "Ole, you and I have more in common than you know."

    So you get to know and I don't? That's not fair! 🙂

    By the way, I see I wrote about playing in a band "in the early 80s". I'm not actually that much of a dinosaur. In the early 80s I was about 10 years old and only dreamed about playing in a band. It should have said "early 90s"…

  11. Shane T

    Cory is simply deluded, and he's been around forever. If his theories were accurate, and lead to more sales, that's what every media company would have done a long time ago, since companies like one thing above all others: revenue. The fact is he is one of many people that enjoys free media, and likes to invent a fictional ethos around theft to make himself feel better. Its a shame.

  12. Anonymous

    Ole, you and I have more in common than you know.


  13. I'm with Ole on this one.

  14. Kev From Atl

    Yet another format change for the comments section? And this one is the worst yet. No up and down arrows on the scroll bar? What is going on here?

  15. (continued…)

    I've played in bands and released records myself. In the early 80s I was in a band that was somewhat known in the European underground scene. This was before the web, of course, but I can't see that online piracy of my records would have hurt the band. The difference in record sales would probably have been negligible. It would probably just have been good marketing, making more people aware of our music, maybe coming to our concerts, buying t-shirts… and records. 🙂

    Now, what if I was in a huge internationally succesful band on a big multinational record label? It would probably still mostly have been good marketing, I think. Would it have hurt the record company's bottom line? Probably. 😉

    As for comics, comics are now at last available digitally. Comixology, the Diamond of the online world, allow you to buy comics and read them either on a PC, on an iOS gadget (an iPad is preferable), an Android gadget or the Kindle Fire. All good. But first of all, charging the SAME price for digital copies as print copies is stupid (okay, it's probably being done to avoid upsetting brick and mortar comics shops. I don't want comics shops, or printed comics, to go away either. But it's still stupid). And secondly, it's still DRM – you can't make a local backup of your comics, and if Comixology should go bankrupt and disappear, so does your collection. Which once again paves the way for online piracy.

    I've downloaded (legally and illegally) music, but I still prefer to be able to physically hold the music I love. I've downloaded (legally and illegally) films, but if it's a film I like, I want to display it on my shelf. I've downloaded (legally and illegally) comic books, but I prefer to read and to have comics I like on paper. And you can't collect a computer file.

    I'm sure that the experience of reading comic books (and even "normal" books) on a screen will become (even) better than it is now. Just like the music buying "general public" is moving to electronic consumption, so will probably a lot of readers. So if the copyright holders want to make some money at all, they should give the audience a proper chance to spend some.

    Of course, when everybody's streaming their music and reading on their screens, me and my gang will probably still be paying big money for our vinyl records and printed books and comics.

    Yep, I'm a dinosaur.

  16. Oh, cool! We're entering the piracy debate. "You wouldn't steal a car" etc. A lot of people have strong opinions about this, of course. Often those opinions seems to be the exact opposite of other people's actual experiences. And this goes both ways, I think. Allow me to ramble and digress a bit (probably too much)…

    The piracy debate has been going on for an eternity, hasn't it? No doubt the monks were complaining about lost jobs when Gutenberg invented the printing press. The music industry is particularly guilty – I think the principles are probably valid for most media, comics included, but the music industry first (I think – it may have been earlier for all I know) started complaining when radio was invented and people could hear music there rather than buying it…

    A lot of us are old enough to remember the "Home taping is killing music" nonsense of the 80s. Of course it wasn't. When I taped my friends' records (or the other way around), for example, that only led to me discovering new bands, the bands gaining another fan and increased record sales when I'd saved up enough money to buy the records for myself.

    Slightly later on the record companies' paranoia killed first the DAT and then the Minidisc as viable alternatives to the crappy old cassette recorders, paving the way for CD recorders – which they then tried to stop by introducing "copy protection" on CDs (most American and British copies were exempted, I believe. Obviously piracy was only a problem in the rest of the world…?), which again paved the way for online filesharing. By the way, I once bought a CD where they had even managed to scramble the digital out signal of my CD player, actually forcing me to make a copy of the CD (because the "copy protection" was in most all cases quite easy to get around) in order to (legally) record it to Minidisc.

    Of course, a difference between pirates before and now is that before they would usually charge you money for their illegal copies. These days it's being shared free of charge on the net – and it's "everywhere".

    Amazingly, the music industry seems to have learned a bit at last. How do you stop people from downloading your stuff illegally? Simple: By making it easier to pay for it than to get it through illegal means. Cutting the prices a bit is often a good idea too. So now people can buy millions of tracks on iTunes and other services (and you can even choose to buy only that song you like rather than the whole album) or stream music for a monthly fee elsewhere.

    And as legal downloading and streaming is taking over the CD market (the "general public") we also see vinyl sales rising again. People like me who like to have an actual physical product in their hands, listen to uncompressed music, enjoy the artwork, read the liner notes etc., seem to be returning to the arguably best format there is for the "ceremony" of listening to music. Heck, some of us never really left.

    How much has it actually hurt sales after all? Maybe some, but I suspect the music industry's reluctance to introduce an alternative to illegal downloading (for which they could actually charge money) has hurt music sales the most. I'm sure SOME people have been downloading stuff they would otherwise have paid for. Some people would never pay anyway. And others have probably ended up buying MORE than they would have otherwise. I know I have. You're welcome to see my collections of music, movies, books and comics.

    I'm not innocent – I have downloaded pirated copyrighted material from the Internet. But what I have been downloading has been either stuff that isn't available to buy anyway, stuff I have already paid for (often several times), stuff I'm going to buy anyway or stuff I would never have paid for in any case.

  17. Dear cesare,

    RE: "JIm,

    I know YOU think it matters, but I took you to mean that even quality work gets passed over because the people making the decisions about what to publish can't tell the difference or don't care."

    Of course you did. Sorry I took what you said the wrong way. I'm as dumb as an oyster sometimes. My apologies. Thanks.

  18. Never been a believer in the "content yearns to be free" mantra that a co-worker used to justify pirating music and films.

    However, I will say that I'm one of the 300,000 downloaders of "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" and I did end up buying a copy. So Cory's theory seemed to work out in that respect.

    As I recall, I heard about the book online (http://jimhillmedia.com), downloaded the text and read just enough to know I wanted the book. At the time, I'd been reading a fair amount on a Compaq or Dell PDA (since abandoned) but I thought I'd enjoy this enough to want a hard copy. I also thought I might want to lend it to friends and my kids. (Well, not the later after reading it. Good book, but it had a few elements that I didn't feel were that necessary for the plot -and made it not appropriate for my kids at the time. Maybe I should have edited the text file for them…)

  19. Anonymous

    Jim —

    Thank you for another insightful column. It actually went a long ways towards explaining audio piracy to me, especially in conjunction with a company called Big Finish.

    Big Finish (www.bigfinish.com) is the licensed producer of Doctor Who audio dramas. Full-cast (including most of the surviving TV players reprising their various roles), original music, usually decent stories and always strong performances. They have been producing and selling CDs for over 10 years now. And for 10 years they've been consistently plagued by pirates.

    Worse, the pirates routinely brag on forums about being great fans, about their piracy increasing BF's exposure of such a niche product.

    Despite BF's repeated claims that (1) piracy hurts CD sales and (2) therefore hurts the company's continued ability to produce more dramas (as they use professional actors, writers, and sound engineers you can bet they aren't cheap to produce). To the point the company has gotten into the download business just to compete with these "fans".

    For the longest time I've wondered at the source of these lunkheads' belief and their almost-religious fervor (some pirates are REALLY easy to rile when you point out they are breaking the law AND hurting what they profess to love).

    I do say they draw their mantra from Doctorow but for the first time I think I understand how such "fans" can grow and develop such a philosophy.

    Still think they're all lunkheads, though.

    — Denny

  20. Ralf Haring

    It's true that "quality doesn't matter" with regard to the modern equivalent of getting published. Anyone can create a comic or a photo or a book or a picture or a video and put it on the internet. You don't even need to do anything but make the thing (the *most* important part of course) since other sites will provide the infrastructure for hosting it – youtube, deviantart, flickr. The barrier to entry being so incredibly low means there will be vast oceans of crap, and this is a good thing. It's more than worth it for the cases of someone creating a gem on what would have been a shoestring of a shoestring budget in previous decades, e.g. Felicia Day or Kevin Tancharoen.

  21. Dan

    This column hit me in the heart.

    I tried breaking into comics as a penciller in the early-mid 90s. Shooter spoke with me for over half an hour at a convention. He showed me what I needed to improve. He liked most of my work, but I had a few errors–"little things" he said that made the work not yet acceptable. I thought I had a shot down the road. Fix the bugs and retry next year. A month or two later I read that Defiant was going defunct…

    I also thought I'd broken through (same convention) with an indie (forget which) because the editor just absolutely loved my pages. Then up walks a former Marvel artist — Jerry Bingham — who the editor (kinda proudly) asked to look at my pages… and he just rips me apart. Had nothing good to say. You could see the look on the editor's face change… After Bingham walked away the editor just said something short like "work on it" and thus that shot abruptly died.

    I got much closer to acceptance by McDuffie. I drew pages from the Marvel Try Out Book script. McDuffie absolutely loved my pages. He pored over them saying how I got all the characters right and the storytelling was good and he just loved what I was doing–my style was traditional, in line with all the "how to" books. Then came the hammer…

    "But we don't do that," he said. "We're more over-the-top."

    I knew what that meant. Milestone was competing for the Image sales. And I was anything but Image. (More than one said I was close to Kerry Gammill, whose Power Man and Iron Fist was incredible)…and completely out of vogue.

    And that was that. I could tell I wasn't going to get in this industry. I drew too "Marvel" for the independents and not enough "Image" for Marvel or DC. I admit I was surprised that the closer you looked stylistically to the Marvel how-to books, the less interested they were. (In reality, you could get work if you were traditional, but it had to be spectacular. Image-ripoffs didn't even have to be good. Yes, it still bugs me a bit.)

    Side note: I went to college with David Mack. Here I was trying to do everything the "right way," and Dave was doing everything his own way–against the grain of every piece of advice professionals gave us. Guess who had a career in comics and who didn't…

    (I later got published by Gary Carlson's Big Bang Comics. My greatest claim to fame is three pages of a BB Savage Dragon story. After that, I moved on to other interests.)

    So when I read Shooter's column today, it really struck home with me. I'm one of the 99% who couldn't get in. It's easy to say people shouldn't give up, but sometimes it looks pointless–you start believing you're really not good enough, or that the cosmos is against you or whatever. At some point you just stop trying, and move on to something else.

  22. Anonymous

    hasn't vertigo been using the dandelion model for years? the first issue of most of their big series has been free and available online for as long as i can remember.

    i think the debate needs to start with what do change about existing copyright law. what works, what doesn't. what are the shortcoming that need to be corrected in the free market and what is a fundamental flaw in the law. i don't see how eradicating copyright could ever work, nor how it would be good for anyone.

  23. Anonymous

    It is fun for me when a futurists can't see the future anymore. Doctorow has reached that point.

    I only buy printed books when I can't find it in eBook format and don't want to wait for it.

    I have finished reading the entire Hunger Games trilogy on my Kindle Fire. I did not miss the printed version once.

    I am ready to read everything digitally from now on.

  24. JIm,

    I know YOU think it matters, but I took you to mean that even quality work gets passed over because the people making the decisions about what to publish can't tell the difference or don't care.

  25. Dear cesare,

    RE: "Jim's point about the quality of the work not mattering is distressing to me. I hold out hope that quality ultimately reigns and is acknowledged, even by people who cannot evaluate a work critically or academically."

    WHAT? When did I ever say that the quality of the work didn't matter? I ALWAYS rant about the importance of the work being great.

  26. Dear Mark,

    Wow. Thanks for this terrific link.

  27. Dear Edshugeo,

    As previously described, Marvel's licensing Star Wars happened because Roy Thomas insisted, wouldn't let it go and held his breath till he turned blue. But the reason one licenses anything, anytime, is equity in the marketplace, and Roy's argument (not that anybody at Marvel bought it) was that Star Wars would have tremendous equity. He was right. True, Marvel big shots didn't share his faith early, but his faith was enough, as it turned out.

  28. G'day, JayJay and Jim!

    I don't know if you've read Michael A. Stackpole's blogs on e-book publishing and their effects on the relationship with print publishers, but if you haven't, you can find them archived here:

    Of particular note is this article, Morass No More which discusses rising above the morass of fiction available, although you'll find similar advice in many other of his blog entries.


  29. awa64

    Piracy is generally about one of two things: either about discovery or about correcting a service problem.

    The solution to the latter is to compete with free. Apple and Steam do it via easy availability and compatibility within their ecosystem. Rooster Teeth, makers of the popular web video series Red Vs. Blue, do it by providing their own free versions and releasing new episodes (and full archive access) to paying subscribers.

    The solution to the former is "let it happen." Hell, make it easy to happen. Neil Gaiman said it best during a discussion of the issue: "How many of you in this room discovered your favorite author by borrowing one of their books from a friend?" People don't like to pay money to take a risk on something they don't know they'll like, but they're more than willing to shell out money for something once they're familiar with it–or even pay money for a "nicer" version of one they got to consume for free. That's basically the story behind Jonathan Coulton's success, and several other musicians as well.

    Jim, you raised the issue of pirates being able to produce copies of your work, possibly more profitably than you can. While that is a worrying thought, I don't think it's actually that big of an issue–generally speaking, once someone is trying to *support* a creative work rather than just pay the cost of entry to *consume* it, people become a lot more hostile toward bootleggers trying to sell things for financial gain. I know I try to buy directly from creators whenever possible, even if it costs a bit more, and I know many others do as well.

    Now, the big question for this blog becomes how you implement both of these ideas for comics. For that… I dunno. I'm not really sure how that business model works out. A lot of the other people here have suggested a $0.99 digital pricepoint for comics would help, and I certainly agree with that. Digital previews should help too, and an all-you-can-eat archive access system that actually works (as opposed to Marvel's clunky and platform-limited web archive) would probably bring in some decent cash as well. Plus, of course, there's always advertising–I'd be curious to see the breakdown on how much money popular webcomic artists make from advertising in a month versus how much money any given comic book does. None of those are guaranteed successes, though.

  30. "I've wondered if there are characters that are in the Public Domain or that their Copyright has slipped that someone could use in a Web Comic or regular print comic for that matter. Start off with a few titles, have them in a "shared" universe and let it evolve from there."

    Dynamite had been doing exactly that with the various Project SuperPowers series which took almost every PD Golden Age character they could find and recombined them into one universe.
    While it had an initial success, it, sadly, seems to be petering out.

  31. I am currently getting ripped off weekly by Marvel. Each week I buy their Avengers prelude book which is advertised as the Nick Fury story that takes place before the movie and sets it up. I'm 4 issues in and so far it's a recap of all the "end credit" scenes in the movies. So why do I keep falling for it? It's only 99 cents. The price point makes me very comfortable taking a gamble on it. By the time the new issue comes along I have forgotten that they cheated me last time and hey it's only a buck.

    If publishers lower the price points on ALL their books I'll buy a LOT more and never even consider "sharing". IMHO 99 cent digital copies could actually go a long way toward SAVING comics.

  32. Rob

    Oh jeez, I'm so rude.

    I forgot to mention that it's good to see you posting again, Mr. Shooter, and I hope you're feeling better.

    Be well, dear fellow.

  33. Rob

    I can't take a guy like Doctorow seriously when he's a man that's already got his.

    Copy right is just a way to secure the ownership rights of creators of intellectual property and I don't think stripping people of their rights helps anyone in any way. Cory Doctorow might think so, but as I said Cory Doctorow already got his.

    The problem with debates like these is people tend to ignore the fundamental issues at hand and focus on absurdities. Yes, lets subject everyone to a single model we shall call the dandelion model. Ridiculous.

    Doctorow is perfectly free to choose how he publishes his work and reach new audiences. It seems to me the point of copy right is to grant other creators the same benefit.

  34. Some outstanding points.

    'Comics' must bridge the gap between the lower prices, greater volume model, and it's current market structure. The internet is obviously the way to go. Supporting a labour force that performs the 'digitizing' and distribution of electronic versions of the material is vastly cheaper than lowering prices while still having the same productions costs. Marketing is way cheaper via the net, and there are many options for garnering a following.

    But re-invorgorating an appetite for comics doesn't stop there.

    Jim's point about the quality of the work not mattering is distressing to me. I hold out hope that quality ultimately reigns and is acknowledged, even by people who cannot evaluate a work critically or academically.

    If not, then publishers interested in maintaining and growing its customer base have to replace people who CAN'T see quality, with people who CAN.

    All the monetizing and marketing strategies and philosophies aside, comics are not as good as they can be, or need to be, to valued on both a commercial and cultural level.

    I looked at all this weeks offerings from Comixolgy, and I didn't order anything. I really felt that the art was nearly all sub-pro, and while its nearly impossible to judge a story per say, the premises did not intrigue me. There was no quality. Call me Phaedrus.

    Jim, regarding the notion of 'good fortune' or happenstance and how is affects success, have you read the 'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell? Anyone?

  35. modiplop

    Jim, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on self publishing and wether you yourself would go down this route. Even digital publishing.

    Apart from that I agree with the setiment that if the content is affordable then it would sell a lot more. There will always be the people who download it fro free but they are the ones who probably wouldnt have bought it no matter the price.

    Surely Dark Horse would be better off selling 200,000 copies at a $1 per issue than 10,000 at $4.
    I personally would try a lot more digital comics if the cost was down. If I really liked a comic I would invest in the trades.

    Anyways I look forward to your first self published title when it is available for download (at a reasonable price :o)

  36. I quit buying weekly comics 4 years ago; I was getting sick of spending $40 for 12 books that gave less than 2 hours of entertainment. A comic that used to take 30 min. to read was easily blown through in less than 10 minutes and rarely provided the level of fulfillment I used to enjoy. Over the two years, thanks to the industries recognition of a demand from the OHC/Omnibus market, I have spent close to $8,000 on comic material, much of which was out of print and doing the market no good.
    Now, I just read the two Uncanny X-Force 'Dark Angel' trades I purchased, back to back. It's one story, and if you are of a mindset where every single issue has to recap the entire history of the characters, this run would be quite an unsatisfying slog to get through month to month.
    I'm sure I could have easily downloaded these issues for free, but thanks to critical Internet praise given to this series by Rick Remender, I purchased the first two trades and knew I would want to have the next two. It is NOT as enjoyable to read comics on a computer screen. If Marvel provided free digital copies to read, I'd still have purchased these books. If they gave me digital copies of the new Moon Knight I would not have picked up the trade. So they get my $20, but now they get a customer who feels burned. Why would I ever again take a chance on another unknown book.

    Entertainment used to be free. Music was distributed by radio(helped the record industry thrive), and TV was accessible with an antenna on your roof.

    As an example of why copyright limitations are in need…
    I was born a few months after the Beatles broke up. I lived my entire life with The Beatles music as my soundtrack. I have purchased many of their albums 5 times, from album, to cassette, to CD, to re-mastered CD, to digital download…. 4 lads from Liverpool with a gift manage to create a Genius work before my time, massively influencing my time, and how much do I owe to whichever corporate entity controls the music rights to have access to this music. The same holds true for Micky Mouse, Tom & Jerry, Superman, Bat-Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man.

    I'm not sure of what I'm trying to say, but it seems that if some scanner wants to put up Amazing Spider-man 1-400 for free, Marvel should already be doing so. This would make the scanner redundant. Marvel should look on this as an enterprise, allowing younger, interested possible comic fans an opportunity to experience the history that occurred in some cases 30 years before they were born. This wouldn't stop me from buying the omnibus.

    The problem is that the Internet is an information sharing social medium trying to be controlled buy free market capitolists.

  37. JT Kirk

    This is a very good post, it plays the middle and shows how some of the old guard ideas are wrong-headed and some are there to drive the process. The drive to create ultimately should come from within, but the success of that creation and thus the drive to keep creating, that needs outside influence.

    By the way, glad as hell to have you back posting, Jim.

  38. Ralf Haring

    Marc: "do any musicians give away whole albums for free? Sell them for 99 cents?"

    Some examples would be Radiohead and Trent Reznor (after great success in the previous business model) and Jonathan Coulton (not).

  39. I'm a bit lazy now, so I skimmed over the responses. I pretty much agree with Cory, but possibly for different reasons. I believe that copyrights only had value BECAUSE manufacture and distribution was too expensive and it was manipulated by those who could afford to do so. I think people today place too much value on copyrights and that that modern technology has devalued everything. I am not an advocate of self-imposed restrictions just so we can go back to an old model where everything retains it's perceived value. The value of something is entirely dependent upon what a product or concept brings to the table. I'm reminded that a box of girl scout cookies can be converted into 15 billion dollars worth of graphene (a form of carbon) http://bit.ly/zggvB8 The form of what or how you present is what gives it a perceived value. The dandelion effect is merely an alternative way to give something value in a world where anyone can copy anything.

    In all honesty, I've read thousands of published materials without buying them even prior to the digital revolution. If I passed an interesting newspaper article on the front cover of a newspaper, I'd pick up the newspaper and read it in the store. I look at content generators as being responsible for making their product worthy enough to buy. If that was easy, everybody would be doing it. There will be enough people giving out their work for free, that I need only a way to find it. I don't need a book or music publishers telling me something is good and jack up the price on it. I simply need the word-of-mouth discussion about something to inspire me.

    I disagree that piracy has hurt Dark Horse one bit. Dark Horse's content has hurt them. The art I've seen in their comics is essentially unreadable. If I was offered a lifetime subscription to their products whether digital or printed, I'd tell them to keep it.

    I'm baffled by the reference to Theodor Geisel. He was an advertising artist in the early part of his career. He was a political cartoonist during World War II. His work was published, so I assume he was passed up for his children's books.

  40. Cheap pricing makes sense for commodities. But are all ebooks commodities? Are books "just like dish soap"? I don't think so. Nor does Zoe Winters (emphasis mine):

    There is a whole market of people who will spend more money because they have specific tastes in authors and types of things they want to read and they are willing to pay top dollar for EXACTLY what they want. They don’t want some random cheap read. They want THIS PARTICULAR AUTHOR or THIS EXACT TYPE OF BOOK.

    I think nothing of dropping $10 for an ebook I want to read. If I don’t like it, then it’s my fault if I didn’t get a sample first, or if I didn’t carefully read the description, or know going in how long it was. I will pay for what I want. There are many many many other people like me out in the world.

    I'm one of those people. But I realize there are other kinds of people in the world too. So I don't think there is the One Pricing Strategy That Always Works. If you don't give stuff away, you will alienate the freebie collectors. But are they really the people you wanted to attract in the first place? Are they interested in your book or are they interested in its freeness?

    Freeness isn't enough for me. DC could give away all the first issues of the New 52 online and I wouldn't bother to download them, much less read them.

    All this talk about pricing shifts the focus away from what really matters: the product. But who judges the product? People like this?

    "Writing is one of those abilities you can't really define until you actually read a person's product." – Bob Harras

    I'm not interested in publishers anymore. No more middlemen and their safe, sure, boring things. I want to hear an author's pitch in their own words. If they can't impress me immediately, I'm gone.

    But I'm staying here. This post was well worth the wait. I await your take on digital devastation.

  41. Dear Jim,

    Happy to see you're back and that you were working. Not so happy about your flu. I hope that you've fully recovered.

    Thanks for the links to Doctorow's writings. Now I know what I'll be reading in the near future on my screen. Or at least will be trying to read. As much as I'm a big advocate of the digital future, I guess I'm more of a dinosaur than Doctorow is. I might like potato soup … but monkeys? There's the rub, if I may mix metaphors.

    First, I am puzzled by "Cory’s belief that people will never want to read long form works off of a screen," given the popularity of Kindles and the like.

    Second, I am not a fan of giveaways. If someone wants to give away their work, fine. They own it. But I wouldn't do it. I write for people like myself. I see things on line all the time that appeal to me. If they're reasonably priced, money is no object. Money is even a plus. I want my money to be in, say, JayJay's hands. And I don't give away my ebooks to friends because I want them to enrich my favorite authors. Maybe this mindset is old hat. But it's not uniquely mine.

    Recently I read this article by Zoe Winters on free and low-priced ebooks:

    It [low ebook pricing] also attracts too many one night stands. People who will drive by, click on the buy button, but won’t respect you enough to tell others about it (for the most part) and maybe not even enough to read it in the first place. Many a 99 cent or free ebook languishes for months on a Kindle unread until a reader loses interest in it altogether. I’ve done this myself.

    I think Selena Kitt may have said it best when she told someone that they weren’t losing readers at a higher price point, they were losing downloaders. It’s a different animal. Someone isn’t a reader until they actually… read it. When people don’t have to give any thought at all to buying your book, they may not give any thought at all as to whether they read it. If they don’t read it they can’t love it and tell their friends about it.

    The dandelion approach certainly does result in files on many computers, but does it necessarily result in many fans? People who actually read the freebies (or cheapies) and love them? Should Darcie Chan's 99-cent megahit The Mill River Recluse be the paradigm for ebook novels?

    If X percentage of free ebook downloaders became fans, how much of that percentage would have become fans if they had to buy those ebooks? How much money is the author missing out on? Mutatis mutandis for 99 cent novels.

    Note that I've specified novels. I think JayJay's 99 cent price point is perfect for a short story. But I don't think it should be universal.

    If short stories or serial chapters are like songs and novels are like albums, do any musicians give away whole albums for free? Sell them for 99 cents? (Con't.)

  42. Anonymous

    I've wondered if there are characters that are in the Public Domain or that their Copyright has slipped that someone could use in a Web Comic or regular print comic for that matter. Start off with a few titles, have them in a "shared" universe and let it evolve from there. I know the big 2 try to buy up every character they can, and then generally change them beyond recognition or don't do anything at all with them, but I'm sure there are some out there.

    Someone with the skills of Jim, has the connections to writers and artists that are not finding work, may get them to contribute for a percentage. If the Web Comics got established, then Trades could be printed. Just a thought.

    Nice to have you back Jim,


  43. JayJayJackson:

    eBook promotion isn't too hard.
    I use a combination of twitter/facebook links to promote my books. On weekdays I post links from 11-12 noon (lunch crowd) and at night (10-midnight)when most people are online. You just have to keep at it every day.

    I also do heavier social media promotion on Twitter/facebook starting on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays because those are the days where people are looking for eBooks to read for the weekend.

    Sometimes I'll have sales offering free and 99 cent price reductions.

    I also advertise new titles on the blog when they're ready for sale. Just a picture, a synopsis and links to the eBookstores where they can buy them. Sometimes I'll post up a sample chapter or two.

    I've found that offering a free title on places like Smashwords will allow an author to build a reputation and an audience with readers. This works very well with serialized books. From experience I've seen people who read the first one or two free eBooks would pay for a second or third one.

    Recently I've had a lot of success offering free titles on KDP select. You may have to make your title exclusive to Amazon for 90 days, but the audience for eBooks is huge over there. When used one of my five free eBook promotion days on Amazon with KDP select I had more downloads on Kindle than on Smashwords B&N Kobo and Apple compbined. Plus you can make money on borrows.

    Promotion is a lot of hard work (sitting in front of the computer with multiple tabs open), but if you keep at it you can build an online audience of readers.

    I think Jim could make out like a bandit on the self-publishing. A known name like him could probably make a 1000-1500 sales minimum a month on Kindle.

    But these are the shoestring promotional approaches. Some authors have used Facebook ads, and bought adspace on popular websites.

  44. Cory's mostly right — as Shooter says.

    I think that old-style publishing (in whatever medium) is not going to continue to be viable, because it depends on producing and distributing a copy of the work to be costly. That's no longer true. We're going to see new methods of monetization take its place.

    Over in music, where the revolution is nearly complete, the only alternatives that have prevailed over piracy are cheap and convenient (purchasing singles at iTunes, subscription library access like Rhapsody). There's less money there. For the artists, you have live performances and merch.

    Webcomics are free. There's nothing resembling either the newspaper comic model or the comic book model. Webcartoonists make their money with merch. In addition, the old Renaissance model of artist patronage is making a comeback, particularly with "micro" patronage of small sums from many members of the audience. See Rich Burlew or R. Stevens and their success at Kickstarter. Webcartoonists are also joining collectives to more efficiently handle merch; see Topatoco.

    Authors: There are at least several dozen ebook authors (most former midlisters gone indie, some newbies) who are seeing legitimate success, via the same cheap and convenient route as music. Anything that's not cheap and convenient is going to fail. Authors are also having to do a lot more marketing in order to build an audience — a good blog is an extraordinary tool that should be within the reach of most authors, given their inherent verbal facility. (Cf. Shooter.)

    In short: Connect with an audience. Make copies cheap and convenient, or you won't make any money. Sell merch. Use live appearances.

  45. I've been looking forward to hearing Jim's thoughts in depth on the state of self-publishing today, especially since I've been encouraging him to try it and have just started self-publishing my own work, as Jim mentioned a few blog posts ago. Ever since Jim was on the panel at NYCC with Cory, I've become interested in his work and what he has to say, so I was very curious to get Jim to read some, too.
    It seems to me that, for someone in my position, he hardest part of selling ebooks is the marketing. I find it difficult to do self-promotion. I've been hoping that someone who is better-known, like Jim, would do pretty well.

  46. Ralf Haring

    Nice column, looking forward to the next one.

    Here is a wonderful article by Cory Doctorow from about a month ago recounting a short history of DRM, why information technology seems to confound the mechanisms that have been built to govern every other object, and why copyright legislation like SOPA is far from the end of the attacks on general-purpose computers and networks. Or you can watch the half-hour video version it was based on.

    This widely-circulated Oatmeal comic from a few weeks ago succinctly boils down the piracy issue to its ultimate problem. The solution is very simple, but it isn't the solution that entertainment companies want. The one caveat I'd add is that there's an equally likely branch that could happen after visiting hbo.com … moving on to something else and losing a potential customer entirely. No amount of catching up by releasing something months or years later will matter if I've completely lost interest by that point. Simultaneous. Worldwide. DRM-free. Affordable. That's how you beat piracy.

  47. The notion that giving away intellectual property on the theory that people will try it and then want to buy a copy is wildly misguided.

    Sure, there are certain mass-market entertainment products put out by successful individuals that have seen some notable success, but assuming that worked for a few individuals is a viable model for IP in general is foolish at best. You mention the prospects for unknowns, and that is one concern, but what about material that isn't produced for entertainment? I've worked a long time in the academic book market and I can tell you with certainty that if given the option not to pay for their textbooks, virtually no students ever would, no matter how useful they found them.

    What about specialist material for which there is no mass-market and thus cannot be priced low enough to make optional purchase at all economically attractive? It's one thing when the cost of purchase is some marginal amount under $5, Louis CK has enough potential buyers that he can expect to cover his fixed costs charging only $5 a download, but what if the potential market for an item is exponentially smaller, making it absolutely necessary to price an item of similar size at $50? How likely is anyone to spend $50 on something they can get for free?

    And how about short form material? Items that are nearly ideal for consumption digitally and for which there has never really been a market interested in the material as physical object? Essayists, journalists, and cartoonists? Sure, online free distribution has seen an explosion of amateur production and distribution, but the dandelion theory doesn't seem to be making it one bit easier for any of those people to make a living. It, in fact, has mostly seemed to destroy the livelihood of many of those who formerly had a paying profession.

    The worst part about the "dandelion theory", and the part you hint at, is what happens when the big guys with control of the distribution get in on the free copying. It's purely naive to think that electronic media somehow makes the distribution free and uncontrolled. Someone owns the servers and lines and gets paid to run them; what happens when they get on the "free to distribute" bandwagon? What is the prospect of getting paid for creative work when the market is controlled by companies that act like Megaupload?

    Sure, media companies aren't known for dealing squarely with creators, but do you think Kim Dotcom is somehow going to kick loose some cheddar, or do you think he'll just spend that money getting a jacuzzi installed in his panic room? Worse, if that's the future of media distribution, not only will creators have little hope of getting paid unless they manage to be one of the rare few who accumulate truly massive popularity, all creators will have to accept that they don't even have to sign away their rights to lose all control over their creation. Their treasured creations can be bent, folded, spindled, mutilated, and used for ANY purpose someone else wishes, without even so much as a "by your leave."

    The problem with the Doctorow doctrine is how frightfully narrow minded it actually is. It fails to consider media or content that Doctorow has no direct experience with. Not all IP is novels and entertainment and free distribution just means that the only people who get to be paid are the ones who own the "free" networks.

  48. Interesting article.

    From personal experience I've found giving away eBooks or partials of eBooks have led to sales of…eBooks. For every eBook I gave away on Smashwords over last summer during a YA eBook campagin led to a sale or two of an eBook of that title on Kindle or Barnes & Noble.

    And when I used this strategy on serial titles like my Isis series as part of that campaign, people bought other books in that series so they could follow the story.

    Using this strategy on KDP select last month got me quite a few sales on a weaker selling title.

    Paperback sales…are another thing. Those have been kinda slow for me. Because most people buy my books online in bundles of merchandise on Amazon, I usually don't get paperback sales unless it's Christmas or the summertime. Since self-publishers like myself have a hard time getting into bookstores, I have to focus on the online market.

    I give away free eBooks because I feel people will be happy to have a legit copy of a book rather than head over to a filesharing site like Kazaa or Grokester where the chances of getting a virus or spyware are extremely high. These pirate sites aren't exactly that clean and the quality isn't that great. There's the chance a person may not even get the whole file of said book along with that virus, spyware or malware.

    I feel by giving stuff out free I can earn the readers' trust with some goodwill. I figure once a story is out there, it's out there. And if readers like my stories, they'll share them with others. If they don't well, there's the recycle bin.

    But I've been finding when they really like my work, they go out and buy copies.

    When people share works it's good for the writer. It's increased exposure to new readers. And it allows for word-of-mouth, the thing that really sells books in large numbers.

    Whether they buy paperbacks or not at the end of the day, the word is getting out about their work and long-term this will lead to sales of paperbacks or eBooks.

  49. Minor nitpicking question: Did everyone know Star Wars before Marvel licensed it? A previous post indicated it was a hard sell at Marvel. I was only 11 or 12 at the time, so my first exposure to Star Wars was issue 3 of the comic book, before I even realized there was a movie.

  50. Great column, Jim. I haven't met Cory. Emailed with him a bit when I was adapting his story "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," which I really enjoyed. I think he makes some great points, but I think yours are very important, too.

    Whether we embrace or reject them, all of our upbringings have impact on our world views. As such, I don't find it too surprising that his err on the side of not recognizing private property and work product while mine do.

    I do, though, find it very interesting that there's so much overlap in what we think.

    Really enjoyable post, as usual.

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