On Saturday at WorldCon, Guest of Honor Neil Gaiman read Cory Doctorow’s short story “The Right Book” to a full house for later audio release with an upcoming self-published project. During the question and answer session afterward, the subject of giving digital work away for free came up.
Now, If you know of Doctorow, you know he’s talked about this a couple of times. He’s rather well known for giving his work away, as he had the first Creative Commons novel with Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. But Gaiman is not as well known for his stances on giving things away. (Well. Not as much as Doctorow is, anyway.)
But he did give away free digital copies of American Gods for a month’s experiment in early 2008.
It’s been really fun in my own slow way nudging HarperCollins out of the stone ages and into the dark ages. As far as I’m concerned the entire argument [of the validity of giving digital books away] was won at the point where I got them to put American Gods online…we gave it away for free for a month, and during the course of that month and for about four weeks after, the number of copies of all of my books…went up three hundred percent. As far as I’m concerned, that answered that question.
And in case the American Gods experiment failed to sway him, the results of his
Hugo-nominated Hugo-winning The Graveyard Book experiment definitely did. He had a videographer follow him on his book tour to record him, so you can watch him reading the book in its entirety online. Again, giving away digital copies for free, albeit in video this time.
Whenever I notice that [The Graveyard Book] is slipping down the Amazon ratings…I just go onto Twitter and say, ‘You know you can watch the entire thing for free,’ and then the Amazon ratings will go up. It has been out in the world for forty-three weeks, and for forty-three of those forty-three weeks it’s been in the top ten of the New York Times Bestseller list. So I don’t believe we have lost a single sale.
An audience member did ask how an unknown author could make that happen for himself, as Doctorow and Gaiman are quite popular, and Doctorow pointed out that popularity didn’t matter.
When my first book came out and was the first [Creative Commons] licensed novel, one of the criticisms I heard a lot was, ‘Well of course you can afford to do this because you’re so poorly known; you have so little to lose.’ Now, six years later, I frequently hear people saying, ‘Well of course you can afford to give your books away, you’re so well known.’
We have the audio of the full question and answer session—we apologize for the poor quality when someone asks a question; they didn’t have a mic for the audience.
Soon we’ll post the video of Gaiman’s reading of “The Right Book.”