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By now, many of you have probably read Cory Doctorow's piece in Publisher's Weekly, where he lays out his current publishing experiment - first announced at the 2009 Campbell Conference (about which I wrote a guest editorial for Abyss & Apex, out now!). Each month (for a year) in PW, Doctorow will update us on the progress of this project.

Michael Stackpole writes an incisive and insightful critique of Doctorow's project on his blog, and will follow up with a couple more articles over the next couple of days.

If you're a writer pondering the future of publishing (or other artist pondering a similar future), Doctorow's personal experiment is quite interesting. However, don't dive head-first into trying to duplicate Doctorow's project for yourself without first reading Stackpole's analysis and determining if it'll work for you. Do you have:
  • The time to devote to all of the things necessary to assemble and promote a project of this magnitude. Trying to duplicate Doctorow's project will not succeed (beyond the success he's already enjoyed in the form of PW support, pre-sale of the expensive and unique copy, and massive support from friends) unless you build a powerful and attractive online presence to draw potential buyers. And blog and speak and write about it to spread the word.


  • Generous and talented friends willing to donate their creativity to your project. Doctorow wouldn't be able to do this without help from a diverse talent pool who are working for free. This is an intriguing model, essentially creatives forming a creative union that each will likely be able to call upon for their own future projects. Small-scale socialism. I think more of us should do such, as well as help promote one another (as xjenavivex has been doing). This kind of cross-promotion only helps everyone involved. To me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of Doctorow's project - and I hope to discover later that he's doing the same for those who helped him.


  • The network bandwidth necessary to deliver massive volumes of electronic files, including ebooks, podcasts, and whatever else you create for your fans. Doctorow has a powerful tool to deliver his content: Boing Boing.


  • An established name and reader base. Note how Doctorow is able to promote his new novel on his website, which "attracts more than 5 million unique visitors to its site each month, and has over 600,000 RSS subscribers," according to Federated Media Publishing. So he'll be able to use this tool to deliver bandwidth-heavy downloads without incurring a new expense. Most of us won't have to worry about this too much, but the goal is to get so many downloads that we want to worry about bandwidth!


  • Enough wealthy or dedicated fans to purchase special-edition volumes. One special copy of Doctorow's book will cost $10,000 (already sold). That's a true - and wealthy - fan. About a year ago, Kevin Kelly wrote a definitive article about "1,000 True Fans" and how they can support an artist. He defines a "true fan" as someone who will "purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work... each will spend one day's wages [or $100] per year in support of what you do."


  • And the time and patience to do all this while trying to work on your next piece.
I'll be following Doctorow's progress closely, because my novel, Transcendence, comes out in print this winter from Hadley Rille Books, and I'm looking into ways to promote it and help it find readers. If free - both in terms of cost to readers and help from creative friends - works as a business model, I'm all for it. In the mean time, I remain curiously skeptical.

Chris

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Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
saffronhare
Oct. 28th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
That's some splendidly useful and insightful information -- thank you for posting it!
mckitterick
Oct. 29th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
It seems pretty important now, as publishing is changing. Had to share!
sarahkanning
Oct. 28th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
Hi Chris!

Cory Doctorow's plan reminds me of Seth Godin's advice about creating a bestselling book -- check out the link below for his full presentation on the topic (which is good for explaining why and how this works).

Some specific takeaways that made sense to me:

1. Books are souvenirs. (My take: we as writers are in the business of creating an experience, an immersion into a world we've created. Create a compelling experience, and people will want the souvenir.)

2. “The enemy of an author is not piracy, it’s obscurity.”

10 Bestsellers: Using New Media, New Marketing, and New Thinking to Create 10 Bestselling Books - http://toccon.blip.tv/file/970223/
mckitterick
Oct. 29th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
That was a really useful and insightful talk. Already have lots of ideas for how to apply some of those ideas! Thanks for sharing it. I can now see where Doctorow got some of his ideas, though he's much more reliant on talented friends than Godin, who is more about spreading the word.
klingonguy
Oct. 28th, 2009 08:27 pm (UTC)
First, congratulations on the novel. This is the first I've heard of it. Hooray!


Small-scale socialism. I think more of us should do such, as well as help promote one another

Absolutely. And, as we both have the same publisher, I think can work out something that will make you, me, and even Eric happy. Let's do it!
mckitterick
Oct. 29th, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I haven't wanted to talk until I had a contract in hand, but Eric's just about done with editing, so I think it's safe to mention.

I hear ya! I have lots of ideas, too... let's stay in touch.
(Deleted comment)
mckitterick
Oct. 29th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I bet. Good luck growing that fan base.
kmarkhoover
Oct. 28th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
I also think cross-promotion with writers and people in the business is a good model.
mckitterick
Oct. 29th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
Absolutely.
timwb
Oct. 29th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
Nice free advertising he's getting for this new novel, using this grandstanding half-experiment.
mckitterick
Oct. 29th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
That's for sure. At least that part of the experiment is working!
sf_reader
Oct. 29th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
When will Transcendence be released?
mckitterick
Oct. 29th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
Don't have an exact date yet, but we'll be doing the contract soon. "Winter-ish" is the current date ;-)
xjenavivex
Oct. 30th, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the mention. Your support means so much to me.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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