Cory Doctorow's much-publicized experiment in self-publishing and free digital distribution netted the bestselling science fiction author just a little over $17,000 in the nine months since the launch of his short story collection With a Little Help.
Now, $17,000 is an amount of money at which no self-respecting author should turn up her nose, but does Doctorow's experiment suggest self-publishing and free digital download is as promising an avenue for authors as so much of the recent hype suggests. I'm really not sure.
Looking at his website, Doctorow has at least 13 books to his name, with more on the way. He's won numerous awards, and has been a New York Times bestseller in the traditional publishing world. Here's a short bit of the bio for him from a new book called The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow:
"Cory Doctorow burst on the SF scene in 2000 like a rocket, inspiring awe in readers (and envy in other writers) with his bestselling novels and stories, which he insisted on giving away via Creative Commons. Meanwhile, as coeditor of the wildly popular Boing Boing, he became the radical new voice of the Web, boldly arguing for internet freedom from corporate control."Anybody who has ever read a Doctorow posting on Boing Boing (considered the most popular blog on the web) is familiar with his relentless self-promotion of both his writing and speaking engagements. Doctorow travels the world as a paid lecturer, spreading the gospel of free culture and digital anti-corporatism. His speaking fee for a single event is reportedly as high as $25,000, and he draws crowds. I once went to see him speak at a library branch in Toronto on a cold, rainy night, and I literally could not get in the door because of all the fans who had come out.
If that's not enough to exhaust you, Doctorow also writes a regular column for Britain's The Guardian newspaper, and lists The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and Wired as other regular writing venues. The self-publishing experiment referred to above is, in fact, being performed for his column in Publishers Weekly.
In short, Doctorow has built himself a career, a network of professional connections, and a fan-base any professional writer would envy.
With a Little Help was launched as a free e-book, free audio-book, Print on Demand trade book ($16 price point), and premium hard cover edition ($250 price point). Doctorow created a donations channel toward the free downloads, and presented fans with the opportunity to have a new story written on commission for $10,000 (he described this offer as "underpriced"). Recent PW columns detailing the experiment document just how much help the author turned self-publisher has received from his traditional publisher, bookstore owners, librarians and his editor at Publishers Weekly. So, here's my question...
Shouldn't this book have made more?
Am I the only person who thinks Doctorow should be raking in significantly more that $17,000 from With a Little Help?
I believe in building and maintaining as diverse an eco-system as possible for writing and publishing. I may have disagreed publicly with Doctorow many times (over his positions and tactics in the copyright reform debate), but I would dearly love for him to have made 10 times what he has from this book because that would mean he'd proven there's a viable new market strategy for the legions of other professional writers trying to make their way in the world.
With Doctorow's overflowing rooms full of devoted fans all over the world, his endless sources of free promotion, his network of expertise and assistance, if he can't make a serious go of self-publishing, who can?