I saw a link to a Publishers Weekly story saying that Cory Doctorow was kicking off “a unique publishing experiment.” And I thought, cool! Doctorow’s stories aren’t exactly my thing, but I like innovations in publishing, and always wish to know more about them!
But then when I read the article, I was kinda let down. Basically, he’s releasing a free e-book (which he’s done for a while now), an on-demand paperback, and a de luxe hardcover edition. And one dude gave him 10K as a commission on a story.
Well, let me be fair. There are two things that I think are interesting and kind of new about what Doctorow’s doing:
- Doctorow has some nifty-sounding software, contributed by a fan, Vaskin Kissoyan: “a beta of a package called ‘Ange’ that he’s written to single-source my master text files into HTML, PDF and EPub, so that all I need to do is make an edit in the text file and run the script, and it converts the updated file to all the other formats and uploads them for me. There’s a reason this collection is called With a Little Help!” That’s pretty cool.
- Doctorow is going to disclose all of his earnings, from every stream, in a blog for PW, to show that giving away e-books can pay off. I think that’s kind of nice, and might even be useful.
I think what bothers me is that Doctorow’s “packages” aren’t really packages. Each book is a separate product at different, individuated price points, without any overlap. And you get to pick one. Compare that to what this whippersnapper is offering:
- Pledge $3 or more
DIGITAL PACK. Get a PDF copy of the book and follow along with behind-the-scenes updates.
- Pledge $11 or more
PHYSICAL PACK. All of the above, plus get a physical copy of the book. (The more people who choose this level or higher, the better the book is for everybody!)
- Pledge $19 or more
SINCERITY PACK. All of the above, plus your book is signed, and it comes with a little surprise.
- Pledge $29 or more
PATRON PACK. All of the above, plus your name (or secret code-name) is listed in the acknowledgments.
- Pledge $39 or more
SUPER OCCULT VALUE PACK. All of the above, plus get three more copies of the book (for a total of four), so you can give one to a friend, donate one to the library, leave one in a coffee shop with a line of hexadecimal code scribbled across the title page…
Note the refrain: “all of the above.” When you spring for a package, you actually get more than one thing. You don’t choose between a digital book and a paperback — you get both.
This is pro forma true in CD’s model, too, b/c he’s giving away the e-book for free — but what if the e-book, for hard copy purchasers, came without advertising? Might not the collectors’ edition hardcover buyers also want a paperback as a reading copy? How can an upmarket purchase actually give a reader some leverage on a downmarket one – or vice versa?
I’m going to put a marker down on this. In this transitional period, the most valuable and successful experiments will come from people who find new ways to give readers BOTH digital and print books – who in fact create incentives to encourage BOTH kinds of reading – and that in turn value their readers as members of an interlocking community, not (just) isolated buyers at different price points. And that means aligning readers’ interests and offering them MORE than they might think they’d want.