Giving it away • 1 October 2008 • The SnowBlog
Giving it away
How could giving away books for free encourage people to buy them? But then giving away songs for free has been encouraging people to buy albums for the last half century. The market for music recordings (records, tapes and so on) exploded when music radio came along. What you can sell, what you should give away and where it's all heading are tricky questions. Cory Doctorow's latest non-fiction book contains a collection of articles that help you think the whole thing through. If it's your job to think about the future of a publishing venture then you should really think about buying a copy. Or you could simply download it for free from here. (But if you do that, consider donating a paid-for copy to a library by clicking here.) In the book, Cory makes some fabulous, fundamental points about DRM. (DRM is the collection of mechanisms that control when people can use the media they've bought. So DRM is the thing that tells you that you can't copy your iTunes downloads to your non-Apple music player. Or that makes your British DVD player refuse to play American DVDs despite the fact it can.)
He makes equally good points about Intellectual Property. These days movies, music and increasingly books are just ones-and-zeroes. There's no physical barrier to spreading them around - at least none that works (for reasons the book explains). The only restraints are individual psychology and the enactment of laws. And those laws are being written and revised now. They'll define the commercial landscape for future publishing, so it's not a bad idea to know the direction they're taking and to work out what that means for you.
If I had a criticism of the book it's that Cory tends not to spend much time trying to work out how we can earn a living in this new world. In his defence that's probably because nobody has those answers. What he's much stronger on is explaining exactly why an existing market might be about to close up, and why laws intended to protect doomed businesses are themselves likewise doomed. Recommended*.
*And I'm not just saying that because he bought me a couple of cups of coffee once.