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Cory Doctorow
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Cory Doctorow   Cory Doctorow is the New York Times Bestselling author of Little Brother and Makers. For the past three years, Forbes magazine has named Cory one of the top 25 web-celebrities in the world. According to technorati, his hugely influential tech culture blog called Boing Boing is the most poplar blog on the planet. A huge advocate of filesharing and liberated copyright laws, Cory has received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a Locus Award for Best First Novel, the Sunburst award, and the Prometheus Award. Plus his writing has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and British Science Fiction awards.

Buy Cory Doctorow's Books at the following locations: (downloadable audio books) (independent bookstores)
  Related Links:
Cory Doctorow's Homepage
Boing Boing (blog)

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This episode originally aired on 02/04/2010 with the following authors:
  • Speculative Fiction
    • Mary Pope Osborne (#1 NYT bestselling Magic Tree House series, former Authors Guild president, 53 million books sold)
    • Cory Doctorow (NYT bestselling Little Brother and Makers, Boing Boing blog, top 10 Forbes web celebs)
    • Mindy Klasky (bestselling and award-winning Glasswrights, Jane Madison, and As You Wish series)
    • Garth Nix (NYT bestselling Old Kingdom, The Seventh Tower, and Keys to the Kingdom series, 5 million sold)
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Cory Doctorow

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Bonus Question(s) that Didn't Air on the Live Radio Show

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Matthew Peterson: Let me ask you a bonus question. I thought this was interesting. We didn’t get time for this, but you’re the co-editor of Boing Boing and contributor to Wired, Popular Science, Make, The New York Times, and many other newspapers, magazines, and websites. I can imagine that can be very time consuming. How do you choose what info you’re going to post on the blog?

Cory Doctorow: Oh, you know, I feel like I’m... sometimes like I’m walking through a big space in which someone has broken up a whole bunch of different puzzles and scattered the pieces. And every now and again I see what looks like a piece of an interesting puzzle. It just feels right. And I make a note of it by putting it on the blog. And then even more rarely, some of those pieces will all seem to fit together and they’ll turn into a novel or a short story or a column or an article or a speech. And I’ll get to put them together that way.

Matthew Peterson: Okay. So Boing Boing, that’s a long lasting blog too. Isn’t it one of the very first blogs out there?

Cory Doctorow: That’s right, yeah.

Matthew Peterson: And it’s really built momentum. I mean, I think you’ve got like millions of people that go to that. What gave you the idea for Boing Boing in the first place?

Cory Doctorow: Well, I didn’t start it. It was started by my partner, Mark Frauenfelder. And Mark and his wife, Carla, started Boing Boing as a magazine in the ‘80s. It was a print magazine. I actually used to sell it when I worked as a bookseller.

And there was a big collapse in magazines in America, when one of the big distributors collapsed owing a lot of the publishers a lot of money, and everyone went broke. So it went dormant for a while and Mark was writing for the Industry Standard. And he was writing a column about a new service called blogger, which is one of the first tools for making blogs. And he wanted to try it out so he could write his article. So he thought, “Well, I’ll make a Boing Boing blog to see how the service works.” And he edited it for about a year, and he posted a couple things a week for about a year and then he asked me if I’d guest at it for a week. And he went on holiday. And he said, “You know, I really like how you guest edited it. Why don’t you stay on board?” And I did and we brought in a couple more people. And we just . . . it just kept going.

Matthew Peterson: “Do you got a few thousand hours to spare . . . to do Boing Boing?” [laughs]

Cory Doctorow: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: Well, I bet it’s a lot of fun to do.

Cory Doctorow: It’s a real labor of love.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, labor of love. Definitely.

Extra Material That was Cut from the Show Because of Time Constraints

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Cory Doctorow: [continuing our conversation about Creative Commons licenses] And it has these other two nice advantages. The first one is I don’t have to go around calling kids hypocrites for wanting to copy things. I mean, when I was a kid I copied everything.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Cory Doctorow: And I also don’t have to be the kind of artist who thinks that art in the 21st century doesn’t involve making copies. I mean, I think that’s not a very contemporary look at art. It’s more like, you know, it’s nice that someone wants to be the blacksmith at Pioneer Village, but I’m supposed to be writing contemporary fiction and I’m supposed to be making contemporary art, and contemporary media gets copied. So I get that nice artistic satisfaction too.

Matthew Peterson: Well, I can see a lot of benefits from this. I have some author friends who all they do is ebooks, so it might not be as great if they’re all for free and they don’t have the hardback, but I can see the benefit if you have like a trilogy or a series of books and you want to give the first one away, and that helps people to get introduced to you and to your series and they can buy the rest of the series as well.

Cory Doctorow: Well, I think that that works too. I mean, Baen Books, who do a lot of series books, have found that. But none of my books are series. I’ve never written a sequel to anything. I don’t have the attention span for it.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Cory Doctorow: You know, it probably comes from using the internet too much. And yet, giving away books has sold lots of books. Now your friends who only do ebooks, I mean, it’s great that they charge money for ebooks and that they can get money for ebooks, but I think that if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll admit that they can’t stop people from copying the ebooks without their permission. That there aren’t like technical mechanisms that stop people from copying books.

Copying’s not going to get any harder from here on, right? It’s not like hard drives are suddenly going to get more expensive or, you know, the general population’s expertise in using computers will go into decline or, you know, networks will be slower or computers won’t work as well. I mean, from here on in, copying just gets easier so, yeah, they’re getting money from people for . . . in exchange for this, but in some ways, I think it’s more like a donation than it is like a purchase in that purchases often involve some principle of what economists call “exclusion,” which is to say there’s a gate and you can’t get through the gate unless you hand over some money. And in this case it’s more like they’ve come to the art gallery and looked at the paintings and on the way out there’s someone shaking a bucket asking them for some cash.

Matthew Peterson: Ahh, yeah.

Cory Doctorow: I mean, there’s not way to stop someone from getting that ebook if they want to get it without paying for it, so really what they’re doing it volunteering to pay for it, even though they could get it for free.

Matthew Peterson: That is an interesting idea. I hadn’t thought of that, of the donation after looking at it. I know that there are some audiobook sites like that kind of do that. Where you can listen to the whole book and then, “Hey, donate some money to the author.” You know, “Let him continue his work.” You can’t do it for free.

Cory Doctorow: Yeah, my point is that there’s a solicitation of a donation. But rather saying, “This ebook, which everyone knows you could go and find for free on the internet, costs $9.99.” Is really just a fancy way of saying, “The suggested donation is $9.99.”

Matthew Peterson: Huh, yeah.

Cory Doctorow: Because with the same number of clicks you can find the free one as you can the pay one. There’s just no stopping it, right? So it’s not like a printed book, right? If you wanted to get a printed book without paying for it, it would be a pretty risky proposition, right? You’d have to run out of the bookstore with a book under your coat.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah.

Cory Doctorow: If you want to get an ebook without paying for it, you just go to Google and you search for it and a few seconds later it’s on your hard drive. So really there’s not that, you might call it a coercive element, or at least an element of technical counter measure of exclusion, that’s not there any more.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I think that there is a little bit of a moral dilemma too, because if the book is not under the Creative Commons License, then it is stealing, you know, even though it is available online. ‘Cause yeah, I totally agree. I mean, you can find just anything online, and so I think there’s both sides of the story. Some authors really don’t want to share. I talked to one author who doesn’t even want fan fiction or any sort of thing, and they nip that in the bud every time they see it. And other authors, they love it because it helps promote their book and so forth.

Cory Doctorow: Well, yeah, and I think with the fan fiction question, it’s not just about promoting your book. I mean I think the way that literature moves us is because the characters become real to us in the sense that, you know, in the back of your head there’s like a little simulation of your mom, right? And so if I say to you, “Would your mom enjoy ski jumping?” You kind of look at that little simulation of your mom; there’s kind of a little version of your mom running there and you go, “Mom would you like ski jumping?” The little simulation tells you how you’d feel about it. That’s how we really experience people, you know, when people are in danger . . . .when someone calls you up and says, “Your dad’s broken his leg.” And you feel some sympathy with him. What you’re doing is you’re picturing that little simulation in your head with a broken leg. With fiction I think it’s just the same thing. We get those fictional people running in our little simulators and when they fall down and break their legs on the pages of the book, we’re moved by their plight because we have an innate faculty to be moved by the plight of people who we simulated in our heads.

When you tell people, “You aren’t allowed to keep on telling the stories of the people who I introduced you to in my book,” what you’re really saying is, “You shouldn’t take these people seriously enough, these fictional people seriously enough to care about them.” I think that’s just an incredibly suicidal path for a writer to take.

I did want, with your indulgence, to take a small exception to the idea that this is stealing. This is copyright infringement.

Matthew Peterson: Mmm hmm.

Cory Doctorow: Copyright infringement isn’t stealing. It has lots of characteristics that are different from stealing. It may be something bad; it may be something that we disagree with, but to grab another term from law . . . right? Why don’t you call it, you know, “idea rape” or “intellectual terrorism,” right? I mean this kind of creep of taking any word that denotes something we don’t like and slapping it as a label on everything else we don’t like, it to me, it seems like a way of not thinking about an issue, instead of thinking well about an issue.

What copyright infringement is, is violating a regulation, right? There’s a regulation about what the public is and isn’t allowed to do with copyrighted work and that regulation changes all the time. It used to be that there was no legal framework for recording a song that you had the sheet music for without permission. And then copyright law changed, and it became legal to do it, provided you pay a fee, even if the person who wrote the song didn’t like it. So the copyright (what made and didn’t make a copyright violation) changed over time as the law changed with it. And it’s unlike something like theft, where theft is kind of a very old, well-understood idea that has rarely really changed in our history. Theft has pretty much remained static through our history.

Matthew Peterson: You know, my opinions on this have totally changed over the years. You know, because as I became an author I was like, “Oh, I don’t want anybody to take my book” and so forth, and I’ve had a lot of old timer people in the industry say, “Oh, make sure you . . .” because my book is now an audiobook and ebook and I keep getting these warnings, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that ‘cause then it’ll be spread out and [people will steal it].”

But you know, when I was a kid, I did just like what you said. I would go find a game and copy it and play it, and years later I felt bad and I found that game and I bought it, like 10 years later, [laughs] but it’s good to know the differences between regulations and how the copyright laws change. Same thing goes with software. Used to be, you know, software, you can install on all the different computers or you can install it on your laptop and your home computer, and so on. Every piece of software usually has little rules. And I know there’s a lot of effort that goes into preventing people from copying, even ebooks, you know, with the ebook machines that are out there, the Kindle and the Sony Reader.

Cory Doctorow: Yeah, but none of them have ever really worked, right? So you got all these publishers who are going around buying magic beans that are supposed to stop people from copying books.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] You can still find them.

Cory Doctorow: And people just copied every book ever written without having to circumvent DRM.

Matthew Peterson: Yep.

Cory Doctorow: I mean, it’s like these people have never heard of typists.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yep, I totally agree with you. Well, let’s move over to your Little Brothers and your Makers. I want to talk a little bit about your books real quick, too. And the exciting thing about this is anybody who hears this interview, they’re already online, they can buy your book or they can take a look at some of the serials that are on there, on TOR and other places . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Cory Doctorow: One of the amazing things that’s liberating about not having money in the equation is if you don’t go out and take some venture capitalist’s 50 million dollar investment, you also don’t end up having that same venture capitalist breathing down your throat going, “We gave you 50 on an after money value of 250. We’re expecting to cash out at 10 times that in 18 months when the fund closes. What are you doing to build this business, to a 2.5 billion dollar business so that we can cash out at our expected level?” Right?

So you actually get to do the thing that makes sense. You can behave ethically, you can hire the people who are best, not just enough warm bodies to meet your growth targets. You can sell the products at the prices that make sense to you, all of that stuff. Out of that came this web 2.0 suite, of what I think of as very social and very humane products and programs that are really geared at users and not at figuring out how to maximize profitability. It’s not that they’re not profitable, but they put users first. And that’s really what the technology in Makers does, is it puts the people who are making it and the people who it’s being made for first.

* * * * * * * * * *

Cory Doctorow: And they find themselves fighting the same battles that laborers always fought, but they’re not just fighting them in the streets against, you know, goons with chains. They’re also fighting them on the net in the games against goons who show up as orcs with giant swords. And it’s a really fun book. It tries to do a little of what Little Brother does, which is, Little Brother tried to explain concepts related to security probability, cryptography, and mathematics, and For the Win tries to explain concepts related to the global labor markets, global capital and the derivatives market and macroeconomics. So it’s really a very technical book in some sense, but it’s a technical book that is wrapped up in a real adventure story.

Matthew Peterson: Well, young adults are much more technologically savvy anyway. So I think that’ll work with them.

Cory Doctorow: Mm hmm.

* * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Peterson: Is that what you called it?

Cory Doctorow: For the Win, w-i-n, as in this one is for the win.

Matthew Peterson: For the win! Awesome. I remember at the end... I used to play video games all the time, and at the end, “You Won!” [laughs]

Cory Doctorow: Yeah, yeah.

Matthew Peterson: For the Win! I get it.

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