Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n”, is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

Why do you give away your books?

Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. The commercial question is the one that comes up most often: how can you give away free ebooks and still make money?

For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity (thanks to Tim O’Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. Mega-hit best-sellers in science fiction sell half a million copies — in a world where 175,000 attend the San Diego Comic Con alone, you’ve got to figure that most of the people who “like science fiction” (and related geeky stuff like comics, games, Linux, and so on) just don’t really buy books. I’m more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who’s in the tent bought a ticket to be there.

Ebooks are verbs, not nouns. You copy them, it’s in their nature. And many of those copies have a destination, a person they’re intended for, a hand-wrought transfer from one person to another, embodying a personal recommendation between two people who trust each other enough to share bits. That’s the kind of thing that authors (should) dream of, the proverbial sealing of the deal. By making my books available for free pass-along, I make it easy for people who love them to help other people love them.

What’s more, I don’t see ebooks as substitute for paper books for most people. It’s not that the screens aren’t good enough, either: if you’re anything like me, you already spend every hour you can get in front of the screen, reading text. But the more computer-literate you are, the less likely you are to be reading long-form works on those screens — that’s because computer-literate people do more things with their computers. We run IM and email and we use the browser in a million diverse ways. We have games running in the background, and endless opportunities to tinker with our music libraries. The more you do with your computer, the more likely it is that you’ll be interrupted after five to seven minutes to do something else. That makes the computer extremely poorly suited to reading long-form works off of, unless you have the iron self-discipline of a monk.

The good news (for writers) is that this means that ebooks on computers are more likely to be an enticement to buy the printed book (which is, after all, cheap, easily had, and easy to use) than a substitute for it. You can probably read just enough of the book off the screen to realize you want to be reading it on paper.

So ebooks sell print books. Every writer I’ve heard of who’s tried giving away ebooks to promote paper books has come back to do it again. That’s the commercial case for doing free ebooks.

Now, onto the artistic case. It’s the twenty-first century. Copying stuff is never, ever going to get any harder than it is today (or if it does, it’ll be because civilization has collapsed, at which point we’ll have other problems). Hard drives aren’t going to get bulkier, more expensive, or less capacious. Networks won’t get slower or harder to access. If you’re not making art with the intention of having it copied, you’re not really making art for the twenty-first century. There’s something charming about making work you don’t want to be copied, in the same way that it’s nice to go to a Pioneer Village and see the olde-timey blacksmith shoeing a horse at his traditional forge. But it’s hardly, you know, contemporary. I’m a science fiction writer. It’s my job to write about the future (on a good day) or at least the present. Art that’s not supposed to be copied is from the past.

Finally, let’s look at the moral case. Copying stuff is natural. It’s how we learn (copying our parents and the people around us). My first story, written when I was six, was an excited re-telling of Star Wars, which I’d just seen in the theater. Now that the Internet — the world’s most efficient copying machine — is pretty much everywhere, our copying instinct is just going to play out more and more. There’s no way I can stop my readers, and if I tried, I’d be a hypocrite: when I was 17, I was making mix-tapes, photocopying stories, and generally copying in every way I could imagine. If the Internet had been around then, I’d have been using it to copy as much as I possibly could.

There’s no way to stop it, and the people who try end up doing more harm than piracy ever did. The record industry’s ridiculous holy war against file-sharers (more than 20,000 music fans sued and counting!) exemplifies the absurdity of trying to get the food-coloring out of the swimming pool. If the choice is between allowing copying or being a frothing bully lashing out at anything he can reach, I choose the former.

How do I donate to you?

Due to popular demand, I’ve set up a system to accept donations — see here for more

32 Responses to “About Little Brother

  1. Spartanicus

    Fantastic book raising important issues, and I love your reasons for giving it away.

    Question, though: As ebook readers such as the Kindle continue to improve, do you think this will impact your ability to earn money for your work, or do you think (like some music) users will gladly provide money to keep you going and reward your efforts?

  2. Thorax The Impaler

    hey man thanks for helping widen creative commons. and the book i like it and i just started reading it. im 15 and i see all this coming. as soon as i make some money il donate . keep up the good work

  3. Nick Edelstein

    Cory, I could not agree with you more. I love the way you phrase things and express your ideas. I’m a musician and my favorite thing – next to performing – is collaboration. Thank you so much for your artistic contributions ~Nick

  4. Paranoid Android

    Reading the free download and loving it. Everyone I know between 13 and 25 is getting the hardcover for their next birthday.

  5. Dan

    Pretty interesting marketing ploy for a youngster. It’s a thin line to walk, when deciding whether to give it away or sell it. Like him, I think offering a free coloring book for kids is a better route to follow. Check it out if they wish!

    Free Kid’s Coloring Book

  6. Simon

    I’m interested in buying the audio book but how can I trust the Shop Ads widget you use? How do I know it will use SSL? Typically with retail sites I can at least tell they use a secure connection by the https in the url. Am I missing something or am I supposed to give my payment details on pure faith alone?


  7. Alethea

    Just a quick word, which you may or may not read, to mention that people your own age ALSO really enjoyed Little Brother. It was skillful and thought-provoking. I read it on an older Palm as I moved around between cities and thank you very much for making it easily and freely available. When it is in French, I will buy a copy or two happily for some youngsters in the family. But if it were not this time, it would likely be next time – your good will capital is enormous right now and invested in all your readers. Keep up your physical strength, congratulations on your life milestones, and thank you again.

  8. xuxppxxuxyyy

    hello it is test. WinRAR provides the full RAR and ZIP file support, can decompress CAB, GZIP, ACE and other archive formats.

  9. COTeach

    I just wanted to let you know how much I loved your book. Right now I cannot keep enough copies on my shelves for my high school students to read. Having the book available online is an amazing resource for my kids to access the book.


  10. ...is there more?

    this was an amazing book.. i recommend it to everyone and I’m wondering if there will be similar books like a sequel? of sorts?

  11. Cory Doctorow

    I’m working on a new YA book right now for a 2010 publication, called FOR THE WIN, about economics and video games and labor.

  12. David M. Russell

    Congratulations for your pioneering approach to sharing your creative endeavours. You may not have been the first but you’re certainly on the crest of a wave. I have realised that fretting about ‘theft’ of my works is silly (perhaps, stupid!). So, I’m giving mine away. It just makes sense. As you acknowledge – reaching a wide audience through a traditional publishing approach is likely in most cases to secure a miniscule return – and I’d prefer my writing to be read than never see the light of day. Thanks for the inspiration, sensei, all power to you!
    Aussie Larrikin.

  13. François

    Hi Cory,

    I already have bought one of your books in hard cover “Down and out in the the magic kingdom” the French edition.

    I knew I could get it for free but I choosed to buy it, not only for all the reasons you gave in the article above but also because I could do it and I fell free to decide. You were not pointing guns at me to BUY it like RIAA or MPAA does. So I choose to pay for it and to reward not only a guy who writes nice stories but a guy who has really understood that old times copyrights would not apply in the internet era.

    I’ll propably buy this one too.


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