Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Doctorow system

Cory Doctorow is a high-tech sort of guy and I have sung his praises more than once on this blog. See, for instance, his brilliant analysis of why digital-rights management systems don't work.

Doctorow is also a novelist, and as such he puts, so to speak, his money where his mouth is. On 19 June, he announced on his blog ( that his third novel, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, had just been published by Tor Books.

More to the point, perhaps, than this 'so what?' news, is the fact that the text of this book, like the text of his two previous novels, is available for free online under copyright terms that allow the 'unlimited, noncommercial redistribution of the text.'

Major publishing houses, as we have noted before, are sweating bullets over the danger of having their stuff ripped off digitally, but Doctorow has managed to persuade his publishers that they can relax.

This particular writer invites his readers to send his digital book file to their friends, paste it into a chat, beam it to a friend's PDA, or print out a chapter to hand out in the university common room. What is more, through the terms of Doctorow’s Creative Commons licence, people in developing nations are free to sell print versions of the book for their own profit! As long as they sell them only in developing nations.

Now here is some original thinking. I was going to say at last; but it isn't at last at all, because Cory Doctorow has been preaching this gospel for a while now.

The story comes (via from the Book Standard, where you can read more about it and follow various links to a lot more good stuff as well.

There is much in this story to digest and think about. But one does wonder somehow whether anyone in the big-time publishers is really prepared to do any original thinking. Or at any rate to act upon such thoughts. It's a bit like politicians and the reform of the welfare state. It is, after all, so much safer to go on doing the same old thing. Trying something new could go horribly wrong. A chap might end up out of a job! Oh, calamity!


Anonymous said...

Hey, Mr Allen--

Me again. Like you and Cory Doctorow, I've got that Creative Commons button on my website, but also thought it would be a good idea to include a list of just which countries are "Developing Nations". Here it is, in .pdf (I converted the looong address to Tiny URL): Or just click on it at the bottom of my website,

Anonymous said...

There's one new experiment in online publishing that I'm finding quite interesting:
The SF author Lawrence Watt-Evans is posting a new book online, a chapter every week or two, and basically has his readers pay him directly to write it.

He has a paypal account through which anyone can send him money, and as he reaches some sum, he'll post another chapter. There's some extra details (anyone who gives so and so much will be given a print copy of the book when it's put out by a "real" publisher etc) but that's the gist of it.
It's an interesting idea, and it seems to be working out so far. It's not an approach that I'd imagine would work for anyone who doesn't already have an established fan base though.

The webpage for the book, which has more detailed information:


Charles Stross, another Science Fiction writer, has posted the full text of his latest novel at this website:


I don't know if it's mainly science fiction writers who are going for this sort of approach, or if it's simply because I'm paying the most attention in that field.

Baen books have had great success with putting some of their books online, too. Apparently there's been a marked increase in print sales for books they've put on their website.

Anonymous said...

I've read a couple of Cory's books by downloading them from his site. Not sure it helps sales (I haven't been motivated to go out an buy one of his books), but it's a nice idea.