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January 09, 2003

Word of Mouth

OK, here's an experiment that deserves to succeed. For a while there's been some evidence that posting the entire text of books online increases, rather than reduces, sales. It's not uncommon for technical books, in particular, where there is a distinct advantage to having the physical text in front of you. Novel publishers have been slower to jump, though it's clear that the existence of Project Gutenberg has stimulated interest in public domain classics. For more recent books, the Baen Free Library includes the texts of quite a lot of good books (often, though not exclusively, the first of a series). Baen has also experimented with selling e-texts by subscription far cheaper than the paper price; and the latest David Weber novel includes a CD-Rom with e-texts of all his other books, and some by other Baen authors. Occasionally, novels (such as Geoff Ryman's 253) have been originally written for web publication, and published as novels later.

But as far as I know, nobody's tried giving away the entire text of a brand new, professionally published novel, at publication, to see what would happen. Cory Doctorow's new novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, has just come out from Tor, and Cory's released the text under a Creative Commons License. Kudos of course to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Cory's editor, and Tor Books. No doubt lots of authors would like to do this; normally the publisher is doubtful. (I bet the publisher's doubtful this time, too, but sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.) Cory says "first-time novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don't have a lot of promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth".

Link everywhere. Tell everyone.

Update 10.1.03: Number 1 on the Daypop Top 40. This is what we want to see.

Posted by Alison Scott at January 9, 2003 08:18 PM

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This is a fun book, I've just finished reading it. Link it, buy it.

Posted by: Lucy Huntzinger at January 10, 2003 09:20 AM

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