Cory Doctorow: ‘It Is Impossible to Monetize Obscurity’

By Jason Boog 

In this encore edition of the Morning Media Menu, we spoke with novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow, author of the 2010 book, For the Win. He spoke about online currency, book promotion and the feasibility of unions in digital culture.

Doctorow discussed his strategy of releasing a free eBook edition of his book alongside the print book. Press play below to listen on SoundCloud. Here’s an excerpt:

I make the books available as free downloads under a Creative Commons license that encourages my readers to share them and remix them, provided they are doing so non-commercially. That means one reader who loves the book who knows another reader who would love the book can put the book in that reader’s hands … Tim O’Reilly says: ‘The problem with writers isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.’ It may be hard to monetize fame, but it is impossible to monetize obscurity.

Doctorow concluded:

I’ve been doing this since 2003, and every time there is just a rush–hundreds of thousands of downloads in just a few days. People go crazy for it, sharing it with friends…What you start to see really quickly is [people writing online] ‘I’ve never heard of this Doctorow guy, but a friend sent me a link to this.’ Over and over again I see that. That’s the thing that makes me really excited, finding new readers who will be readers for life. All the writers that I truly love (who I would buy their shopping list), for the most part, I didn’t buy the first book of theirs–those writers you discover by a librarian giving you the book or by a friend pressing the book in your hand.

(Author photograph via Jonathan Worth)