|October 27th, 2009|
He’ll be taking audience questions, as well as answering some of ours. Visit by following this link, or if you’re on my site reading this, just click on the embed below:
(event over, but here’s the log!)
Today we had Cory Doctorow in Metaplace, and he was a fascinating speaker! We had way too many audience questions than we had time for, and could have probably went all day long. Read on for the full chat log!
Cuppycake: As many of you are aware, Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author and blogger at BoingBoing.net. He’s known for his activism on DRM and copyright, and for providing his books for free on the web through Creative Commons licensing.
Cuppycake: We’re excited to have him in Metaplace today!
Cuppycake: Hi Cory
doctorow: Hi there!
Cuppycake: First question
Cuppycake: You are a huge proponent of giving away electronic forms of your books. Can you talk about why?
doctorow: Well, there’s a few pieces to that
doctorow: First: it makes good commercial sense. Ebooks are poor substitutes for print books, so giving away ebooks is more apt to entice someone to buy than to replace a print book (or as Tim O’Reilly sez, “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity”
doctorow: Second, It makes artistic sense. It’s the 21st century. Copying is not getting any harder, Making art that you don’t intend to have copied by your audience is quaint and historical, but it’s hardly contemporary
doctorow: Finally, it makes moral sense. I’ve copied my ass off all my life. So does every other artist I know, Telling people off for copying is just hypocracy
doctorow: If ti wasn’t for mix-tapes, my entire teen years would have been celibate
Cuppycake: So you’re basically making mix-tapes for reading
doctorow: Something like that
Cuppycake: That’s kind of how I feel collections of short stories, which you seem fond of writing.
Raph: Your teen years would have been celibate except for short stories?
Cuppycake: You seem to be a fan of writing short stories, given your collection “A Place So Foreign and Eight More.” What unique challenges do you come across when working on short stories
doctorow: Indeed — short stories are great experimental vehicles. You can take lots of risks without worrying that you’re going to blow a lot of time on a failure
doctorow: The biggest problem is keeping them short — exercising the self discipline to leave stuff out
doctorow: It’s like Brian Eno said, “Be the first person not to have done something”
Raph: Where do you publish short stories these days anyway?
doctorow: I’m working on four anthology stories right now; one for a Jonathan Strahan YA anthology of Mars stories; one for a Kelly Link anthology of YA steampunk; one for an Open University coursepack and one for a YA collection set in the Broderlands universe
doctorow: And I just finished a short for my new collection
Cuppycake: That’s a lot of young adult stories! What is it about writing for young adults that appeals to you?
doctorow: They’re fun to write because everything is so dramatic — there’s a lot of drama in doing something for the first time — telling your first lie of consequence, or making your first noble sacrifice
neojabule: cory, can you tell us about your latest publishing experiment ?
doctorow: Sure — it’s a DIY short story collection being made available in a variety of forms, from free download to $250 limited hardcovers and even a $10,000 commissioned story.
doctorow: The idea is to get some facts on the ground about how much money a writer like me stands to make from a variety of different publishing possibilities
doctorow: And to compare this income with the income from a mainstream publisher
doctorow: I’m publishing all the financials, and doing a lot of stuff that really pushes out the boat for print on demand — different covers, realtime updates to the text (if you send in a typo, I’ll fix it and give you a footnote on a page)
Cuppycake: Huh, that’s really unique.
doctorow: There’s a lot of supposition about what a publisher does and can do, and how valuable that is to a writer. I’d liike to start building a robust data-set that others can contrbute to
Cuppycake: Very cool
cyberf: Can you tell us what the commissioned story is about?
doctorow: Yes — I’m podcasting it in installments atm. It’s called EPOCH and it’s about the shutdown of the first AI. It was commissioned by Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu/Canonical fame. It’s a comic story, but also poignant, and turned out to be a bit of an exegesis on game theory and politics and operatig sy
doctorow: stem design
Cuppycake: Carlton would like to know: Cory, when your work is peer-edited online, how do you ensure due credit?
Raph: For those who don’t know, Cory talks that way in real life too.
doctorow: I’m not sure if you’re asking how you make sure no one rips off your idea (answer: doesn’t matter, ideas are easy, executiion is hard) or how everyone gets credit for the typos they fix
Cuppycake: I think credit for the typos they fix.
doctorow: If the latter, it’s never really been practice to give detailed acknowledgement to peer groups (“Thanks to Dave for that fix on p2, thanks to Alice for that typo on p5″)
doctorow: Usually you just add something like “Many thanks to the Foobar Workshop for their invaluable assistance with this story”
Cuppycake: He says “not just typos, but actual creative input”
doctorow: Again, you never really give detailed ackowledgement for that sort of thing from a writing group — “Thanks to Dave for suggesting that I make the main character a Wookie, etc”
doctorow: It’s understood that everyone in a workshop makes suggestions, the writer takes those away and figures out how to make sense of them in a way that is uniquely her own
Cuppycake: Quick moderation interruption/reminder:
Cuppycake: Feel free to ask questions in the Backchannel tab of your chat window
Cuppycake: Our moderation queue is cutting messages off for some reason.
Cuppycake: Cory, Lobo7922 is wondering, there is a fear that science fiction is turning towards near future too much. What are your thoughts?
doctorow: I think that sf has always been about the present, using near future, far future (even recent past, e.g. SPOOK COUNTRY or distant past e.g. SYSTEM OF THE WORLD) to talk about how society TODAY is relating to technology
doctorow: Writers don’t always know that that’s what they’re doing, but I think you find in every prediction about the future a great deal of information about the predictor’s anxieties and hopes about the present (but not much about the putative world of tomorrow)
Cuppycake: Pinkbagels asks, With everyone fairly literate, why is it the publishing industry seem to dictate what readers want? Likewise the ‘formula’ for writers–Why are they so constrictive with creativity?
doctorow: I don’t know that I agree to either proposition. In the first case, there is a vast world of publsihing outside the literary mainstream (for better or for worse). The LEFT BEHIND novels sold millions of copies without support from mainstream booksellers, distributors or a publisher
doctorow: In the second place, if there’s a forumla in trade fiction, I haven’t seen it. I read a LOT and I find all kinds of stuff being published
Cuppycake: Several of the audience are wondering – is it working for you? Has giving your books away for free turned into lots of sales for you?
Cuppycake: (I imagine it’s certainly turned into lots of PR for you, which in turn helps to sell a few)
doctorow: Well, it’s a hard question to test emprically — I can’t go back in time and re-release the books without the CC license and see how they perform. But Little Brother’s had 90,000 hardcovers pressed in the USA over 9 printings, and continues to sit in Amazon’s top 10,000 most days, more than 18 month
doctorow: AFAICT this puts it in the top 1% of all books — but would it be doing better if there wasn’t a CC license? I certainly can’t prove it
Cuppycake: That’s impressive.
Cuppycake: So it’s working for you, but whether or not it’s working better is still a question.
doctorow: What I *can* say is that others who’ve had more controlled experiments (e.g. Baen, which publishes a lot of series with well-understood sales arcs)
doctorow: suggest that it works
doctorow: And what’s more
doctorow: It works for me artisticially. There’s no practical way
doctorow: o prevent copying of books on the net
doctorow: so I can either ignore it, wet my pants in anxiety over it
doctorow: or embrace it and see how I can exploit it
Cuppycake: Carlton is wondering – ” Cory, what effect do you think the give-away model will have on more traditional journalism, newspapers and so on?”
doctorow: I think that the main impact of the net on newspapers has nothing to do with “give away models”
doctorow: The main problems newspapers are facing are:
doctorow: 1.The rate-card nosedived. They used to get $50/1000 readers for display ads. Now they get 1/10 of that — because there are better ways to advertise to the same readers, and advertisers weren’t placing newspaper ads in order to support the 5th estate
doctorow: they were placing them in order to sell stuff and newspapers are second-best for that
doctorow: 2. Most of newspapers came off the wire services
doctorow: Once every newspaper was online, it because abundantly clear that 90% of the day’s paper
doctorow: was nearly identical in every city
doctorow: just copy lazily pulled off the wires
Cuppycake: Good point, didn’t think of that!
doctorow: and that makes sense when we all read papers by looking at the newsprint on our doorsteps
doctorow: but it doesn’t make sense when you’re logging into the web to read them
doctorow: Newspapers dug their graves by overrelying on the sugar-high they got from running wire copy and charging big bucks for advertising
doctorow: and systematically underinvested in investigative journalism and local news
doctorow: Now that they’ve worked out that people want this stuff, they’re going around
doctorow: declaring themselves to be the world’s great champions of local and investigative
doctorow: but they drove the spikes through the hearts of both
doctorow: Note that this applies mostly to US/Canadian papers
doctorow: Other countries’ papers are Different with a Capital D
Cuppycake: They’re also slow, right? I pick up a newspaper and I read things I’ve already known for 24 hours because of Twitter, RSS, blogs like yours, etc.
doctorow: I don’t have any problem with the idea of newspapers as being home to more synthetic, less time-bound pieces
doctorow: I LOVE sitting down on Sunday morning with the Observer and reading the whole thing cover to cover
doctorow: Seeing the synthesis of all the week’s stories
doctorow: *Disclosure: I write a column for the Guardian, a sister pub to the Observer
Cuppycake: I’m picturing you with a cape and a coffee, reading the newspaper on Sundays.
doctorow: *Disclosure But I read the Obs on weekends before I got ont he payroll
Cuppycake: Speaking of…
slackerlord: Has the whole cape and goggles thing started to get old yet?
doctorow: Not really! It’s really funny — I go to lots of places and find myself being given capes and goggles to wear
doctorow: I look good in goggs, too!
Raph: We were looking for some for you here right before you got here
doctorow: Saw that!
Cuppycake: Neojabule: cory, do you have any idea how far the creative commons licensed books are spreding in other than english langage ?
doctorow: I wish I did! The crisis of being an English speaker is that there’s so much stuff available in
doctorow: my native language that I don’t actively need to look to
doctorow: foreign languages to fill my in box
doctorow: and so it’s easy to get lazy and just miss the rest of the world
doctorow: I know that the non-English CC projects are doing great work
doctorow: Esp Spain, Brazil, France, Italy…
EricaJaneMP: Love the idea about demystifying the value add. Are there any other artists you know that are doing similar things in different industries?
doctorow: Well it’s certainly the case that musicians are leading the charge here
doctorow: David Byrne, Trent Reznor, Amanda Palmer
doctorow: Jonathan Coulton etc etc
doctorow: Jonathan Worth, the photographer, really has the bit in his teeth on this
doctorow: And Roger McGuin and many other great folkies are all over this stuff
doctorow: Plus there’s the movie people — Kirby DIck, Brett Gaylor, many others
Cuppycake: ledflyd asks, Cory, do you predict that a “little brother” scenario could play out in a present day United States and, if so, how confident are you are with this prediction? How much would you wager?
doctorow: You mean, could we end up in a situation in which US citizens are spied upon without warrant or suspicion
ledflyd: to the scale in your book, yes
doctorow: In which terrorism suspects are denied due process and subject to torture?
doctorow: In which people are arbitrarily detained, denied habeas corpus
doctorow: In which your association with people who are believed to be terrorists makes you a terrorist in the eyes of the law?
doctorow: That doesn’t sound like a prediction of the future; it’s a description of the present.
doctorow: Little Brother described a matter of degree, not a fundamental shift
Cuppycake: Lots of publishing questions here
Cuppycake: Freon asks – “I read most books from a library. Yours I’ve been able to download and read without going to the library. Why are so many other authors scared of offering free downloads if their books are already free at the library?”
doctorow: Well, a lot of writers think that libraries should be banned, too! Margaret Atwood said that it was the equivalent of car theft!
doctorow: I think that writers — and other artists — have a precarious existence that’s optimized, by and large
doctorow: for the technology that used to exist, not the technology that
doctorow: exists now. It’s easy to forget that last year’s technology
doctorow: screwed up the livings of the artists who predated it
doctorow: And that today’s incumbents are yesterday’s usurpers
doctorow: Every pirate wants to be an admiral
doctorow: “What I did was progress. What you’re doing is theft.”
Cuppycake: Do you think libraries are still as valuable?
doctorow: I think that there’s never been a more important time for libraries and librarians
Cuppycake: I just read in the news that some city (I can’t remember which) was closing down all of their libraries to save money.
doctorow: Libraries aren’t just buildings full of books
doctorow: They’re places where information literacy is taught
Raph: It was the Philadelphia Free LIbrary, and it was saved actually
Cuppycake: Oh good
doctorow: Where skilled researchers help the public navigate the space of human knowledge
doctorow: As the space expands — or at least, the part of the space available to us expands — there’s never been a time when
doctorow: we needed more expert navigators
Cuppycake: ledflyd: Speaking of advertising and newspapers, does Cory think the advertising model will be able to keep funding the web 2.0? I’ve heard predictions that this cannot last.
doctorow: Advertising was artificially inflated by the cheap money bubble, which enabled advertisers to try ot sell products by bankrupting their competitors in spending wars
doctorow: The uninentional beneficiaries were the sites that were ad-supported
doctorow: Who got a windfall from this runaway spending
doctorow: But the cheap money bubble is over
doctorow: Beggar-your-neighbor is dead
doctorow: And so the rate-cards have contracted
doctorow: But here’s the dirty secret of Web 2.0: it doesn’t take much capital (if any) to start or run many of these online businesses
doctorow: So while they may not warrant $30MM investments on $300MM valuations and turn into businesses generating $20MM/month in profits
doctorow: They MAY be founded by people on a couple credit-cards, run on overheads of $5000/month and generate profits of $15000/month
doctorow: Split among a couple founders as a regular source of income
doctorow: E.g. even if there aren’t many investment opportunities in W2.0, there’s still lots of jobs
Cuppycake: Reminder: Please ask your questions in the backchannel if you have any for Cory We’ll try to get to them before time is up!
Cuppycake: Obo asks, Being an advisor to Metaplace and with your recent novel Makers, do you see Metaplace being in the same spirit as the maker/hackerspace community in driving creativity?
doctorow: Yes — I think that’s the thing that makes Metaplace so exciting. Cheap and easy creativity, low cost of failure, high degree of experimentation.
doctorow: All that stuff is a recipe for inventing awesome stuff.
Raph: The above question was not planted by Metaplace staff.
Cuppycake: Cory, a question from our web lead. He’s wondering what you think of the new Disney keychest?
Cuppycake: (which basically says, you buy a movie of ours once and you have the right to view it on as many devices as we provide it for)
doctorow: Keychest is a way for entertainment companies to limit what you can watch movies on.
doctorow: I don’t understand why customers would pay for this
doctorow: Though I understand why Disney execs wish customers would pay for this
doctorow: If Disney execs were the primary customers for Disney movies, this would be a great app
doctorow: But Disney execs don’t pay for Disney movies today
doctorow: And even if they did, they’re not much of a mass audience
doctorow: Right now, if you buy a DVD, you can (illegally, but easily) rip it
doctorow: We ripped d’s fave 20 Disney movies
doctorow: put them on a USB stick
doctorow: on an SD card
doctorow: We can play them anywhere
doctorow: No pre-roll ads (over 30 mins of pre-rroll ads on Disney DVDs!)
doctorow: (try explaining THAT to an impatient toddler)
Cuppycake: That’s less than a child’s attention span…yah
doctorow: And what’s more, we get the DVDs with all the copyright rights intact, including the right to buy and sell, loan and give them.
doctorow: In fact, I bought half of ‘em used from Amazon — bought, not stole! — for an average of about GBP5 each
doctorow: So the important question for me, as a potential customer for Disney’s new offering
doctorow: is, “What’s in this for me?”
doctorow: Higher prices, less flexibility?
doctorow: Does DIsney really think that parents around the world woke up this morning and asked themselves
doctorow: I wish there was a way I could do less with my kids DVDs and pay more
doctorow: I wonder if Disney’s got anything like that?”
Cuppycake: Phew, so many questions and we’re running out of time.
Cuppycake: last one from Lobo7922 – “What sci fi authors are you reading this days? who do you recommend?”
doctorow: I really enjoyed Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS, a kind of anti-Harry-Potter
doctorow: And I’m looking forward to reading Lethem’s CHRONIC CITY which is here on my desk
doctorow: I LOVED the forthcoming AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton
doctorow: As well as the forthcoming short story collection by Mary RObinette Kowal
Cuppycake: And real quick, what are you working on right now? What can we expect from you soon?
doctorow: Well, my next novel, MAKERS, is in stores this week,
Raph: And it is very very good!
doctorow: and there’s the new short story collection WITH A LITTLE HELP, which is looking like Q1 10
doctorow: but may be out for Xmas
doctorow: And there’s my next YA novel, coming in April, called FOR THE WIN
doctorow: That’s about it!
Cuppycake: Great Cory! Thank you SO MUCH for coming out to chat with us today!
Raph: Tell them what FTW is about!
doctorow: Ah! FTW is about gold farmers who form a trade union across Asia and the US and Eastern Europe and change the macroeconomic landscape!
Raph: It kinda has relevance for the audience.
doctorow: And Raph helped me get the game stuff right!