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. Clifton Hill

    Fascinating rationale with many valid points. One thing I would note though is that I presume your intent is not to encourage people to copy and pass the work off as their own. It is not mentioned, but probably should be as some people out of ignorance do not understand that despite having the ability to copy and then sell something does not make it appropriate or legal. Some recent examples I have seen were centered on art being taken from a website and then uploaded to one of those sites that sell t-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, etc. created from your uploads. This was done for profit and was thankfully caught by an observant fan of the artist’s. The individual subsequently pulled it down.

    In my travels to hopefully becoming a published author and trying to increase my visual art presence I certainly don’t want to have to deal with something so low and underhanded as this.

    Granted that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I would still not be flattered if someone outright stole my work. If they were a fan and loved it so much they made their own work after being inspired by mine that is entirely different and absolutely acceptable.

    I certainly find this article intriguing and will ponder it for my own journey.

  2. Tom.L

    “…Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction…”


    What a legend! Some of the more impoverished of us cannot afford to buy every novel we would like to read and my local library dosn’t carry this title so I am VERY GRATEFUL for this. And if I enjoy it enough I will certainly be making a space on my bookshelf for this caragious author.

    Cheers Mate :)

  3. Mark Pipes

    I downloaded the book. Then I went out and bought a copy. I *STILL* like physical books, and the chance to support my indie bookstore.

    This book should be required reading in all the schools!!

  4. Andrea Hoare

    Ah! If you need help to translate some of your novels into spanish I am in. Just let me know if there is somebody else already working at it

  5. Daniel Swärd

    I got the paperback as a gift the day before yesterday, could not put it down and finished it yesterday evening. Entertaining, thrilling and has some extremely valid points about what goes on today. I’m going to send the link to the download version to all my friends, and also encourage them to buy the paperback.

    Btw, I loved your references to the pirate party. ;-)

    /Daniel, member of the Swedish pirate party

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