Sci-Fi's Cory Doctorow Separates Self-Publishing Fact From Fiction : All Tech Considered Cory Doctorow is a best-selling science-fiction writer, champion of creative commons and, now, self-publishing pioneer. He tells NPR's Michele Norris the key to making money off a business model that's built around the word "free."
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Sci-Fi's Cory Doctorow Separates Self-Publishing Fact From Fiction

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Sci-Fi's Cory Doctorow Separates Self-Publishing Fact From Fiction

Sci-Fi's Cory Doctorow Separates Self-Publishing Fact From Fiction

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Cory Doctorow is a best-selling science fiction writer. He's also a champion of a certain kind of license called creative commons. And let me explain what that means. While you can buy Doctorow's books in print at a bookstore for a price, he also makes his material available online for free.

Doctorow's latest book is called "With a Little Help." It's a collection of short stories and he's distributing it without the help of a publishing house. Instead, his online community has replaced his publishing house. Not only does he build buzz through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, he uses his online network to edit his copy for typos or provide advice on packaging and shipping.

So, how does he make money with this business model that's built around the word free? Cory Doctorow joins us now with the answer to that question. What is the answer? Where's the profit margin here?

Mr. CORY DOCTOROW: Well, the short answer is I'm doing everything. I'm doing everything I've ever done that ever made me money and everything anyone else has ever done that seems to have made them money. I give away the free ebooks in the hopes that people will buy paper books. And I have these print-on-demand paper books from There's four different versions of it with four different covers. And if you send me a typo 'cause it's print on demand, I'll fix it in the next copy printed, give you a footnote with your name on the page, maybe you'll buy another copy. I call that monetizing the typo.

I'm soliciting donations 'cause people said that I should. Lots of people for years have said, you should - I want to give you money, why won't you take it? And I said, well, that would cut my publisher out of the loop. And this time around with no publisher I can go ahead and do it.

And then, finally, I'm doing these limited edition hard covers. They're $275 each. There's only 250 of them. I'm printing and binding them in runs of 20. They're beautiful hand sewn books. Set into the cover is an SD card with the audio and then bound into the end papers are original paper ephermera, a sentimental paper from my friends, other writers who sent me everything from Jay Lake sent me his cancer diagnosis and Kathe Koja sent me her uproariously funny grade two report card. And Joe Haldeman, author of "The Forever War," turns out to be quite a water colorist, and he sent me some of his water color sketches.

NORRIS: How does the money that you might make from this kind of exercise compare to an advance that you would get from a publisher?

Mr. DOCTOROW: Well, for short stories it compares very favorably. This is a collection of reprints. I've done two of those with respectable New York houses. The advance on the first one was $1,500 and the second one was $10,000. I've already made $10,000 on this one. I sold off a commission for this one. It's all reprints except for one story. And I put it out that if you'd like to commission a story for it, I would consider it if it was a mutually agreeable subject and then I'd write it. And so Mark Shuttleworth from the Ubuntu Project gave me $10,000 to write a story for it.

I recon if I sell the hard covers, which I think I will, I'll make 40 to $50,000. And then whatever I make from the audiobooks, which I'm selling on CD, as well as giving away as free downloads, and the donations and the print on demand books where I'm getting $3 a copy instead of $1 a copy, well, that'll be just gravy on top. I'm thinking sort of 70, $80,000 net.

NORRIS: You have an interesting resume. I guess we can add the word pioneer to that.

Mr. DOCTOROW: What I'm doing that's pioneering here is I'm taking a bunch of stuff that other people have done, cherry picking the stuff that seems to have worked the best, throwing it all together and then publishing a lot of data about the process and the outcomes. I have the leisure to do that because, A, I'm financially stable. You know, I sign novel deals for, like, lots of money and that, you know, keeps me afloat and I don't have to do anything else to make any money and I can afford to waste a little time on this.

And also because I feel like it's giving something back to people. And then, finally, out of, like, sheer mercenariness, I think people want to buy the book partly because they want to be part of the experimental data set.

NORRIS: Cory Doctorow, good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Mr. DOCTOROW: Oh, it was my pleasure, thank you.

NORRIS: Cory Doctorow is a science fiction writer and co-editor of Boing Boing, the popular tech culture and science blog. His latest book is called "With a Little Help."

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