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What’s this site?

Last year, in January 2003, my first novel came out. I was 31 years old, and I'd been calling myself a novelist since the age of 12. It was the storied dream-of-a-lifetime, come-true-at-last. I was and am proud as hell of that book, even though it is just one book among many released last year, better than some, poorer than others; and even though the print-run (which sold out very quickly!) though generous by science fiction standards, hardly qualifies it as a work of mass entertainment.

The thing that's extraordinary about that first novel is that it was released under terms governed by a Creative Commons license that allowed my readers to copy the book freely and distribute it far and wide. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the book were made and distributed this way. Hundreds of thousands.

Today, I release my second novel, and my third, a collaboration with Charlie Stross is due any day, and two more are under contract. My career as a novelist is now well underway -- in other words, I am firmly afoot on a long road that stretches into the future: my future, science fiction's future, publishing's future and the future of the world.

The future is my business, more or less. I'm a science fiction writer. One way to know the future is to look good and hard at the present. Here's a thing I've noticed about the present: more people are reading more words off of more screens than ever before. Here's another thing I've noticed about the present: fewer people are reading fewer words off of fewer pages than ever before. That doesn't mean that the book is dying -- no more than the advent of the printing press and the de-emphasis of Bible-copying monks meant that the book was dying -- but it does mean that the book is changing. I think that literature is alive and well: we're reading our brains out! I just think that the complex social practice of "book" -- of which a bunch of paper pages between two covers is the mere expression -- is transforming and will transform further.

I intend on figuring out what it's transforming into. I intend on figuring out the way that some writers -- that this writer, right here, wearing my underwear -- is going to get rich and famous from his craft. I intend on figuring out how this writer's words can become part of the social discourse, can be relevant in the way that literature at its best can be.

I don't know what the future of book looks like. To figure it out, I'm doing some pretty basic science. I'm peering into this opaque, inscrutable system of publishing as it sits in the year 2004, and I'm making a perturbation. I'm stirring the pot to see what surfaces, so that I can see if the system reveals itself to me any more thoroughly as it roils. Once that happens, maybe I'll be able to formulate an hypothesis and try an experiment or two and maybe -- just maybe -- I'll get to the bottom of book-in-2004 and beat the competition to making it work, and maybe I'll go home with all (or most) of the marbles.

It's a long shot, but I'm a pretty sharp guy, and I know as much about this stuff as anyone out there. More to the point, trying stuff and doing research yields a non-zero chance of success. The alternatives -- sitting pat, or worse, getting into a moral panic about "piracy" and accusing the readers who are blazing new trail of "the moral equivalent of shoplifting" -- have a zero percent chance of success.

Most artists never "succeed" in the sense of attaining fame and modest fortune. A career in the arts is a risky long-shot kind of business. I'm doing what I can to sweeten my odds.

So here we are, and here is novel number two, a book called Eastern Standard Tribe, which you can walk into shops all over the world and buy as a physical artifact -- a very nice physical artifact, designed by Chesley-award-winning art director Irene Gallo and her designer Shelley Eshkar, published by Tor Books, a huge, profit-making arm of an enormous, multinational publishing concern. Tor is watching what happens to this book nearly as keenly as I am, because we' re all very interested in what the book is turning into.

To that end, here is the book as a non-physical artifact. A file. A bunch of text, slithery bits that can cross the world in an instant, using the Internet, a tool designed to copy things very quickly from one place to another; and using personal computers, tools designed to slice, dice and rearrange collections of bits. These tools demand that their users copy and slice and dice -- rip, mix and burn! -- and that's what I'm hoping you will do with this.

Not (just) because I'm a swell guy, a big-hearted slob. Not because Tor is a run by addlepated dot-com refugees who have been sold some snake-oil about the e-book revolution. Because you -- the readers, the slicers, dicers and copiers -- hold in your collective action the secret of the future of publishing. Writers are a dime a dozen. Everybody's got a novel in her or him. Readers are a precious commodity. You've got all the money and all the attention and you run the word-of-mouth network that marks the difference between a little book, soon forgotten, and a book that becomes a lasting piece of posterity for its author, changing the world in some meaningful way.

I'm unashamedly exploiting your imagination. Imagine me a new practice of book, readers. Take this novel and pass it from inbox to inbox, through your IM clients, over P2P networks. Put it on webservers. Convert it to weird, obscure ebook formats. Show me -- and my colleagues, and my publisher -- what the future of book looks like.

I'll keep on writing them if you keep on reading them. But as cool and wonderful as writing is, it's not half so cool as inventing the future. Thanks for helping me do it.


171 Responses to “What’s this site?”

  1. Tribeless says:

    As an atheist, I've never found before, Cory, that religion and morality intersect all that often. In fact they make very rare bedfellows. Let's not be trite or fanciful in our arguing.

    Re: "And your argument for this is that it's "morality" and that anyone who doesn't hear that word and roll over on his back and bear his throat at the blinding obviousness of your argument is therefore "immoral" and a black-flag anarchist?"

    Yes.

    Regarding the first part of your rant, at no other stage in human history has civilisation had anything like the computer, and thus,the ability for one person anywhere in the globe to share one file with billions. You say your experiment is to adapt to 'change' (essentially), yet you are completely unaware of the scope and nature of that change.

    You want to see where your second hander society is leading us to? Go look at this:

    http://wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,62985,00.html?tw=wn_culthead_6

    To quote from that article: "Global music sales fell 7.6 percent in 2003 to $32 billion, the steepest decline since the advent of the compact disc, the trade body representing the world's largest music companies said on Wednesday. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry blamed the slump in retail music sales -- now in its fourth consecutive year -- on rampant piracy"

    So, I hope you like your local garage bands, because soon listening to them may well be your only choice of music. No capilist economy, no choice, no freedom ...

    The price of freedom is the price of goods and services, legitimately made and purchased. This is not a difficult concept.

  2. You're no athiest. Athiests don't embrace Just-Because orthodoxy. That's the domain of religious fundamentalists.

    Meanwhile, I'm just as aware as anyone of the possibilities of computers. They're no more disruptive to today's status quo than the printing press, the piano roll, the microphone, the VCR, the home tape-recorded and every other massively disruptive technology were to the status quos of their eras. Each one took the dominant business of publishing from 100% control over some domain to 0% control. So what? The sky hasn't fallen.

    As to music sales: the RIAA member companies eliminated 20% of their SKUs last year and daw a 7.6% drop in sales? So what? Hollywood, which has done no such throat-slashing, has had a better box office year every year since movies started being traded over the net -- in fact, box office has been growing steadily since 1959, with spikes coinciding with the widespread use of the infringing VCR and the infringing P2P nets.

    Go read what neutral Cato-affiliated economist Koleman Strumpf wrote after analyzing the first-ever empirical data ever collected on the relationship of CD sales to file-sharing:

    We analyze a large file sharing dataset which includes 0.01% of the world’s downloads from the last third of 2002. We focus on users located in the U.S. Their audio downloads are matched to the album they were released on, for which we have concurrent U.S. weekly sales data. This allows us to consider the relationship between downloads and sales. To establish causality, we instrument for downloads using technical features related to file sharing (such as network congestion or song length) and international school holidays, both of which are plausibly exogenous to sales. We are able to obtain relatively precise estimates because the data contain over ten thousand album-weeks...

    Even in the most pessimistic specification, five thousand downloads are needed to displace a single album sale...high selling albums actually benefit from file sharing.

    http://www.unc.edu/~cigar/papers/FileSharing_March2004.pdf

  3. Jerry Wright says:

    And the fact that the various record companies started slashing not only production, but artist representation when the original Napster was in its prime, and now physically distribute less than 80% of what they used to has nothing to do with a 7% decline in sales?

    Courts in other countries than the US define and defend copyrights much differently than the US. I'm not sure as to NZs legal situation, but I know Canada does NOT agree with you.

    --Jerry

  4. Tribeless says:

    [Sigh] Its a moral argument Jerry. I think there will certainly prove to be economic evidence for my position, however, that is not my focus.

    I don't give a monkeys' what Canada thinks; I'm not arguing with a Country, I'm arguing for a moral position/concept. Countrys' as geographic units do not have the capacity to be either moral or amoral.

    You justify the theft of a creator's IP through file sharing, when that creator has consciously chosen to use the contract of copyright in order to stop you doing so, then morally you're a low down thief.

  5. So it comes down to this:

    1. You're a bad person if you disagree with me,

    2. Empirical studies that indicate something can be refuted by a bunch of paid-for research from the music industry based on non-empirical surveys, which you can know without actually reading any of the studies in question,

    3. Despite the fact that every chicken-little who preceded me through a century of technical innovation was 100% wrong when he asserted, "This change is different," this change is different. Rilly. Because it is. Rilly rilly,

    4. Aaron Swartz is bad,

    5. So is intellectualism.

    In fact, you needn't have stated #5, since it's quite implicit in numbers 1-4.

    If you think you abhor religious fundamentalism, you're kidding yourself. You just abhor the religions you disagree with. The weird absolutist, ahistorical notions about IP you hold are simply articles of faith, and your rebuttal to anyone who questions them is "You are immoral."

  6. Tribeless2004@hotmail.com says:

    "1. You're a bad person if you disagree with me,"

    No. For all the reasons given above you're a bad person if you breach an author's copyright and file share their work. That IS an absolute. We might disagree on any other number of topics, which would not make you a bad person.

    "2. Empirical studies that indicate something can be refuted by a bunch of paid-for research from the music industry based on non-empirical surveys, which you can know without actually reading any of the studies in question,"

    I'll share half a point with you on this one. Yes, great to see scientific studies being done. But, based on the empirical evidence of the post graduate research I have done, where statistical inference can be extremely 'thin' but you can still claim a win, I'm not going to take one study as conclusive evidence. Remembering that even if that study indicates the true situation (and long term I don't think it does), this does not change the immorality of the act of file sharing - different topic altogether.

    ". Despite the fact that every chicken-little who preceded me through a century of technical innovation was 100% wrong when he asserted, "This change is different," this change is different. Rilly. Because it is. Rilly rilly,"

    Many different answers. Again, I'm primarily concerned with the immorality of the act: anything that has happened in the past does not change the nature of the theft/immorality. The argument you push that changing technology now sanctions theft is a bullshit argument which leads to nowhere that I would want a society to end up.

    "4. Aaron Swartz is bad,"

    From what I've seen of his utterly unthoughtout, and grotesque views on this topic, I'm certainly leaning heavily toward that opinion. I suspect he means well, all liberals do: that just makes his scattergun approach to this issue all the more dangerous.

    "5. So is intellectualism"

    Nothing wrong with intellectualism at all (the study we have brought up is an example of intellectualism that is good: scientific method, that can be seen and analysed). What I'm against is the pseudo intellectionism that takes a scattergun approach to complicated issues and has no discernible coherent/stated philosophical base. This means that the projector of the mis-mash has no way, nor intention, to take responsibility for the results of their actions/statements. There is no context. Swartz's argument in the thread I have given is a perfect example of this.

    "If you think you abhor religious fundamentalism, you're kidding yourself. You just abhor the religions you disagree with. The weird absolutist, ahistorical notions about IP you hold are simply articles of faith, and your rebuttal to anyone who questions them is "You are immoral."

    Another good example of pseudo intellectualism which takes an argument away from context and ends up with meaningless driv... There is absolutely no leap of faith evident in what I have been arguing. I have given clearly why file sharing is theft, and from a stated philosophical/political context why the breach of copyright/IP can lead to no good (ultimately, the weakening of a capitalist economy and thus, freedom).

    You, however, in your preamble to EST, regarding your experiment, state several times, I seem to remember, you have no idea where your experiment is going. Ie, you're working solely off a leap of faith. Well, I believe you are wrong, and I think I have filled in the dots pretty well as to why. Read all my posts.

  7. Jerry Wright says:

    As I understand it, Tribeless, you are against the concept of "fair use". I just found out from my co-editor Don Webb that "fair use" doesn't exist in Canada. It is a critical part of the legal system in re: IP, here in the US.

    Am I reading you incorrectly?

    --Jerry

  8. Eastern Standard Tribe

    Just finished reading Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctrow (author of one of my favorite blogs, BoingBoing).

    Great book, had a pretty interesting view of a near-future world in which online special interest groups morph into ultra-loyal 'trib...

  9. Getting back on the Writing train

    So I've decided to write and serialize a short story on Read/Write Web. I'll treat it as a mini-Nanowrimo, with me as the only participant (unless anyone else is game). I'll aim for 10,000 words in 2 weeks, which is pretty...

  10. To ebook or not to ebook, that is the question

    Over the past week I've been devouring a bunch of Etech 2004 session notes, including one I read today from Cory Doctorow on the subject of e-books. Cory wrote the book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and released it as a...

  11. The Passion of the Information Flow

    I've begun the push to introduce wiki and weblog technologies into the company I work for. As I wrote in my last post, I'm aiming to enhance Information Flow within my company. There is some initial skepticism from my colleagues...

  12. Something for Nothing: The Free Culture AudioBook Project

    Copyright. We all know what that is - it's how creative people protect their work from theft. Copyright is what ...

  13. Something for Nothing: The Free Culture AudioBook Project

    Copyright. We all know what that is - it's how creative people protect their work from theft. Copyright is what ...

  14. Something for Nothing: The Free Culture AudioBook Project

    Copyright. We all know what that is - it's how creative people protect their work from theft. Copyright is what ...

  15. david green says:

    First: love your writing and I read the books free and then see them in the bookstore and buy them anyway (old fashioned: like to see a full bookcase)

    One small note, Lindy's Steakhouse is no more, in its place is a fantastic vietnamese place called Ginger 2.

    Try it next time you are in Toronto.

    cheers, and happy Canada Day

    d.

  16. Oh yes, I'm a huge Ginger (1) fan, though I haven't been back since I swore off carbs.

  17. The Passion of the Information Flow

    Revisit in the context of Chaos Player.

  18. Place And Identity

    Wonsaponatime, as the poet said, my village defined me, then it was my tribe, then my state, then my country. In the impermanent global flux, does it matter any more where I'm from, where I'm going? As Cory Doctorow has it, do we belong to where we a...

  19. Eastern Standard Tribe, et al.

    I recently finished reading Cory Doctrow's most excellent book, Eastern Standard Tribe.
    It turned out to be a real page turner, although not in the classic sense of
    the term. I'll explain more abo

  20. Nick says:

    is this the same site named after the zine Crap Hound?

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