Self-Piracy

Here’s some controversial advice:

“On the week my book comes out in paperback, I should produce my own pirated version and give it away free? Why don’t I just punch my publisher in the face? That would be less work.”

My agent rocked back in his chair (a chair bought with 15% of my earnings) and laughed. “I didn’t say it was my advice, I just said there’s nothing they can do to stop you.”

***

By releasing the ebook myself for free at this stage of its life, it would do very little damage to sales but will get my words into the hands of a whole new US audience: readers who might then seek out other things I’ve written or pay me to write new things, or buy the properly-formatted Kindle edition with clickable footnotes – or any of the other myriad benefits that Doctorow cites for wanting to give his books away free.

For all those teaching (and learning about) copyright, one of the most interesting controversies of the past decade has been the interpretation of “new uses” of copyrighted works in relation to traditional publishing contracts. There is a good primer on the area by an attorney at Finnegan. Battles over such rights are heating up now.

As for this author’s strategy: I have mixed feelings. David Brooks has noted that in the weightless economy of online life, new rules are necessary:

When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it’s about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology.

OTOH, Brooks has recently been called the NYT’s “main op-ed purveyor of commonsense banalities” by Graham Bader in ArtForum. In the course of reviewing a Jeff Koons show, Bader noted that Brooks’s aesthetic sensibility is a form of “socialist realism,” urging us to “look beyond the unredeemed reality of the present to ‘catch a glimpse of our tomorrow.'” I have lingering worries that self-piracy is one more facet of a race-to-the-bottom for audience in a world of short attention spans, imploding publishers, and twitterature.

X-posted: Madisonian.

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