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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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Matthew Peterson: Youíre listening to The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at Iím your host, Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero, which some reviewers have compared to Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Artemis Fowl.

My next guest is Cory Doctorow, 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. Welcome to the show today, Cory.

Cory Doctorow: Oh, thank you very much.

Matthew Peterson: Now your first book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was the first novel released under one of the Creative Commons licenses?

Cory Doctorow: It was the first novel ever released under Creative Commons licences, thatís right.

Matthew Peterson: The very first one . . .

Cory Doctorow: Came out the same month as the Creative Commons licenses came out.

Matthew Peterson: So I know a lot of people donít really understand what that is. What does that mean exactly, the Creative Commons license?

Cory Doctorow: So normally copyright says that as soon as you make something, itís all rights reserved; you donít even have to write all rights reserved on it. All rights are reserved to you, and that includes a whole bunch of things that in the non-internet world, where you donít have to make copies, you wouldnít think the copyright would stop you from doing, or copyright doesnít stop you from doing. So in the non-internet world, if you want to loan someone something, it doesnít violate copyright law, Ďcause loaning doesnít involve making a copy. Whereas, in the internet, loaning someone something always involves making a copy, Ďcause everything you do on the internet involves making a copy. Same with if you write out a story based on another story and you want to share it with your friends. Generally, copyright either doesnít affect that because itís fair use. Thatís to say that itís an exception to copyright or just because copyright holders canít figure out how to sue you because youíre trading a handwritten manuscript back and forth among friends.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah.

Cory Doctorow: But as soon as you do it on the internet, first of all youíre making lots of copies and second of all youíre visible to all these enforcement tools that go around the internet looking for people who are violating copyright law. So a lot of us feel like just because youíre doing it on the internet doesnít mean that it should be illegal. You know, people have done this stuff with books for as long as there have been books. Certainly longer than thereís been publishing or copyright. People have been writing... re-writing the stories they love and sharing the books they love and so on. And so what Creative Commons does is gives you a really easy way to mark your books or other content in a way that says some of the rights are reserved--the rights that you need as an artist to make your commercial fortune--but the rest of the rights are not. The rest of the rights youíre giving up or giving back to the public.

So thereís a few different kinds of Creative Commons license, and when you go to the Creative Commons webpage you can pick which one you want. The one I use says you can make new uses out of this work, so you can make say a song or a video or your own stories out of it; you can share it, but you have to do so non-commercially. You canít charge money for it, and you have to let other people share and re-mis the things that you make. So itís kind of a virtuous circle.

Matthew Peterson: So the Creative Commons licensing allows readers to circulate the electronic edition as long as theyíre not making money from it. So the big question that comes to my mind is, ďHow in the world did you convince your publisher to allow you to do that?Ē [laughs]

Cory Doctorow: Well, you know, it turns out to have been pretty straight forward. Well, Iím very lucky in that my publisherís pretty forward looking, and specifically my editor is the most senior editor at my publisher, Patrick Nielson Hayden at Tor books. And heís a good old fashioned geek. You know, we met on a bulletin board system back in the Ď80s called Genie. And you know, he has his own Lennox machines and so on. And when I suggested to him that I wanted to do this, he said, ďYou know, this whole ebook business has got the worst ratio of hours spent in meetings to dollars generated in income of anything this publishing house has ever done. Weíve been jabbering about this for years without ever actually seeing what people want to do with ebooks. So yeah, if youíre game, weíre game!Ē And you know, as far as anyone can tell, it didnít hurt me. And thereís pretty good reason to believe that it helped me. And so heís keen to have me go on doing it and all the other publishers Iíve worked with since have followed suit.

Matthew Peterson: Someone once told me, I canít remember who it was, that thereís a bigger problem an author can have than piracy and thatís obscurity.

Cory Doctorow: Sure, thatís what Tim OíReilley, whoís the publisher of the largest tech book publisher in the world says, the founder of OíReilley Media. He says, ďMost artistsí problem isnít piracy. Itís obscurity.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, so and youíve continued to do this with your new book, Makers. Now of course the physical book is available as well, so people can read the online one. In fact, I think actually has... does it have the entire manuscript online on their website?

Cory Doctorow: Well, theyíre serializing it and they did it in 81 parts.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, wow.

Cory Doctorow: So I guess, you know, another way of thinking about ďthe problem isnít piracy, itís obscurityĒ is that free ebooks for the most part entice people to buy printed books.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Cory Doctorow: That is, someone who reads a free ebook and gets far enough to realize that they like the book, generally doesnít have much of a problem buying the printed book.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Cory Doctorow: Printed books arenít very expensive; theyíre pretty easy to come by. And screens arenít a great way to read long form work, not necessarily because the screen isnít sharp enough. Everyone says, ďWell, what happens is screens get better.Ē But really because computers are just too good at doing everything for us to do any one thing at them for very long. I donít know about you, but I find, you know, seven minutes is about it for me before someone points me to a YouTube video of a guy sticking a lemon up his nose.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah, yep.

Cory Doctorow: And itís just not really well suited to long form reading. And even the so called digital generation, you know, the research bares out that by and large when they want to read a long form work, paper is much better for them than electronic. And since paper is cheap and easy to come by, you read some of it and you decide you want to by the print book and then itís really easy to find the print book and doesnít cost much. So it seems like itís selling more books. I mean, even my young adult novel, Little Brother, which was aimed at kids, who, you know, famously kids are time rich and cash poor. So generally speaking, theyíll trade time for money whenever that opportunity is presented to them. Even the kids book was an incredible seller. It was a New York Times bestselling novel, you know, 90,000 hard covers in print. I mean, itís just done incredibly well. Here we are nearly two years after the book first came out and they still havenít brought out the paperback Ďcause the hard coverís selling so well.

Matthew Peterson: Wow!

Cory Doctorow: So, you know, I canít prove that thatís because of the electronic downloads. I canít even prove that I wouldnít have sold it twice as well without the electronic downloads, but at least I can prove one thing which is Iím not suffering because of it. Iím doing very well. Iím really happy with the sales of the book. [check out the extras for a lot more on this topic]

Matthew Peterson: Tell us a little bit about your ideas for Little Brother. What was your motivation in writing it?

Cory Doctorow: Well, I guess there were lots of reasons to write it, but I think the one that really sticks with me, you know, a couple of years after having finished it was that it seemed to me that when I was a kid, computers and networks expanded my horizons, that I went from being someone who lived in a fairly enclosed world, where--you know, I didnít have a lot of social power, and the places I could go and the people I could meet and the ideas I could encounter were pretty limited--to a world where it was more open, where I had access to more tools and ideas and communities than I had ever had before. You know, I started using computers pretty early. My dad was a computer science teacher and, you know, in 1979 we got an Apple 2+ at home and a modem and I really went to town with it.

And it seems to me like today if I was a kid, I would really think of computers and networks as things that were closing down my horizons, by and large. Weíre surveying kids using the networks. Marketing creeps are following them around. We are using cell phones to follow them as they move around the city. Weíre using all of this technology to sort of spy on and control and limit the scope of what it means to be a kid. And I worry about that, Ďcause I think that if you grow up feeling like technology belongs to the people who have power and control as opposed to regular people, then you wonít find in technology all those wonderful opportunities that were really important to me, that really opened up my horizons.

Matthew Peterson: And so that really helped you to write Little Brother, and it was a young adult, it is young adult. Itís about hacker kids. [laughs]

Cory Doctorow: Yeah, itís about kids who figure out how to use technology to fight against the war on terror. To get San Francisco out from under the grips of a paranoid and hysterical department of homeland security, who basically put the city in lock down after a terrorist attack and have treated everyone in the city as a potential terrorist.

Matthew Peterson: And thatís very timely. And your next book, Makers, itís not YA. Tell us a little bit about Makers.

Cory Doctorow: Makers is about people who make gadgets, who invent new technologies even though thereís no more money left in the system, even though the economy has collapsed. And they figure out how to go on making things, just for the love of it, in little cooperatives all across America: occupying dead malls and recycling junk yard technology to re-invent the economy.

And I wrote it as a kind of parable about the dot com collapse, which I lived through in San Francisco in Ď99 and 2000. And it was really interesting Ďcause the money just sort of vanished out of the city of San Francisco, overnight. And it went from this boom town to this ghost town, but the people who were left behind went on creating, even though there was no money left in it. It turned out that you didnít need like a foosball table and an aeron chair and a weekly massage and a barista to invent the web. All you needed was a laptop and someoneís WiFi.

And you know, thatís where all of Web 2.0 came out of really, was were these people who went on making even though the money was gone. And they made for love. They made the things that they thought the world needed, not the things that some pointed headed boss thought he could get venture capitol for.

And it becomes such a huge success that of course it attracts all this money, just like Web 2.0 did, which creates another bubble, which creates another crash. But after the crash, having learned their lesson, they go on making. And thatís the second act of the book, is what happens when people really have no money and they go on making. And they end up getting sued by big companies and fighting these legal battles and creating these new kinds of organizations and fighting pitch battles in the street and eventually prevailing, I think, itís fair to say.

Matthew Peterson: Well, your books are very timely: Little Brother with the homeland security and Makers with the economy is really collapsing. I live in Arizona and I can tell you itís really hurting here too.

Cory Doctorow: Well itís funny, Ďcause I had no idea the economy would collapse [laughs] when the book came out; it was really about the last economic collapse, not this one.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, really? [laughs]

Cory Doctorow: I guess I just got lucky.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah. What are you working on now?

Cory Doctorow: Well, so Iíve just finished my next book which is another young adult novel called For the Win, and itís about gamer kids in the developing world in India and in China, Singapore, Malasia, and in California who form a global trade union, who form basically a resurgence of the old industrial workers of the world, only they call themselves the Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web. And they organize using video games, where their bosses canít follow them because theyíre better at the games than their bosses are.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Well, that is exciting. Iím excited to look for the For the Win. Well, weíre about up for a commercial. Itís been so nice talking with you, Cory.

Cory Doctorow: Nice chatting with you too.

Matthew Peterson: Iíve been speaking with Cory Doctorow, New York Times Bestselling author of Little Brother and Makers. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Cory.

Cory Doctorow: Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you.

Matthew Peterson: Alright, make sure you visit to listen to the bonus questions that didnít make it onto the live show. Iíve still got Mindy Klasky and Garth Nix coming up next. So, donít go away.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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