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.