Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

OA book on best-seller list

Cory Doctorow's new novel, Little Brother, is in its fourth week on the NYTimes best-seller list.  Like his earlier novels, it's available in both an OA and a TA edition.  (Thanks to Creative Commons.)

Comment.  It takes a second to see what's happening here.  The book isn't just popular or in demand.  It's a best-seller.  The TA edition is selling and it's selling well.  The OA edition didn't block those sales.  By making the book more widely known, it very likely gave the sales a positive boost.

Update.  The book is now in its fifth week on the Times best-seller list.  Also see this note on Doctorow's donate page for the book:

Every time I put a book online for free, I get emails from readers who want to send me donations for the book. I appreciate their generous spirit, but I?m not interested in cash donations, because my publishers are really important to me. They contribute immeasurably to the book, improving it, introducing it to audience I could never reach, helping me do more with my work. I have no desire to cut them out of the loop.

But there has to be some good way to turn that generosity to good use, and I think I?ve found it.

Here?s the deal: there are lots of teachers and librarians who?d love to get hard-copies of this book into their kids? hands, but don?t have the budget for it....

Thanks to Gavin Baker for the alert and for this comment:

So [Doctorow] has a list of libraries and teachers requesting a copy of the book. Readers who want to donate can choose from the list, then buy a copy online and have it shipped to one of the schools or libraries; Cory then removes that school from the list.

It's interesting because here, the OA edition creates demand which translates directly into more revenue for the publisher -- not just for the author. The same solution also helps alleviate the pressure of tight budgets/high acquisition costs on libraries and expands availability of the work. It's a win-win-win, thanks to OA.

Update.  Also see this Tasha Robinson's interview with Doctorow for A.V. Club, June 11, 2008.  Excerpt:

AVC: Was the Creative Commons release strategy a hard sell with Tor that first time out?

CD: No, it was totally trivial, in fact. I lucked out in two respects....Tom Doherty [publisher] and Patrick Nielsen [editor] both looked at this and said, "You know, electronic books represent the worst ratio of hours spent in meetings to dollars generated in income of anything we've ever tried at this press. Here's something that's relatively free?all we need to do is give it away, and we can see what people want to do with it. And if it works, great. And if it doesn't work, well, we've learned. And if it's inconclusive, we can try more, because we're a big press, we've got lots and lots of books, and we can try lots of different things." And if it's going to work for anyone, it's going to work for me, because I've got such a good online presence. And you can see that they're now trying this with writers who have a less prominent online presence, and they're finding that by and large, it's working pretty well for them.

I think the most compelling, intuitively true study that I've seen on online distribution? Rufus Pollack from Cambridge University, who's a Ph.D. candidate in economics there, conducted it. What he concluded was, for the bottom 75 percent of music, piracy represents a small-to-midsize increase in sales, so it generates more sales than it displaces. For the next 20 percent or so, in the 75 to 98 percent range, it's a wash. You lose some copies, you get some free publicity, you more or less break even. And then for the tiny minority that would be at the top, that 2 percent, it represents a small loss. And those are the people who can kind of afford it. If Stephen King loses a couple hundred bucks to piracy on his latest book, it's not going to break his bank. Tim O'Reilly says piracy is progressive taxation?the people who can afford it most are the people who suffer it most. And the people who need it the most are the ones who benefit the most. That was a pretty intuitively true study, and it seems like it's holding true. I'm still in the bottom 75 percentile of art, of published works, and I think I'm getting a lift from Creative Commons, and I think I'm going to hit a point where it'll make just as much as it loses, just because I'll be well-known enough. And then I might level up to the point where I'm making tons and tons of money just from royalties, and I might lose a couple hundred bucks here and there just because of infringement from piracy. But at that point, piracy will have gotten me to the place where I can afford to lose some, so I'm not going to cry down my shirt.

AVC: Just as a thought experiment, if someone came along and proved that the Creative Commons model was costing you 50 percent of the money you'd be making without it, but it was putting your books in twice as many hands, which way would you go?

CD: That's a really interesting question. I don't know. I think if that was the case, I would become self-published. Because I suspect that I would want the book in more people's hands, and my publisher would say that between taking a financial loss every time one of my books comes out, and increasing my notoriety, they would prefer not to take the loss....

AVC: Do you hear from other authors who want to use the Creative Commons distribution model, but can't get their publishers on board?

CD: Yeah, all the time. They all want to know "Where's the quantitative proof that Creative Commons sells books?", because they all want to take that to their publishers. And I just don't have answers for them on the quantitative-proof question. I have a lot of qualitative metrics, like everyone I know who's tried it has then continued to use Creative Commons. And if this were any other market activity, you would say these people who may not have quantitative metrics, but have a good qualitative sense of how the whole thing works, those people seem pretty conclusive on it. We should probably listen to them. That would be the normal conclusion, after seeing everyone in a marketplace doing something and then repeating it....