It’s Okay To Give It Away

by | Aug 19, 2005

USA Today: Books are losing the battle for attention, especially with anyone born after about 1975. From 2003 to 2004, the number of books sold worldwide dropped by 44 million. True, there are still 2.3 billion books sold each year, but the bottom line is that people are flocking to the Web, TiVo, cell phone screens, PlayStation Portables and DVDs while buying fewer books.

Books risk becoming the equivalent of pot roast in a world full of ethnic foods. There will always be a place for pot roast, but it sure isn’t the place it occupied 30 years ago.

To avoid that fate, the concept of a book might have to change. But how?


Author and activist Cory Doctorow hopes to find out. In June, he released his latest novel, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, online for free on the same day his publisher released printed copies to bookstores. On his Web site, Doctorow encourages fans: “When you download my book, please: Do weird and cool stuff with it. Imagine new things that books are for. Then tell me about it … so I can be the first writer to figure out what the next writerly business model is.”

He’s not thinking that the future of books is simply reading book-length text on a screen instead of on paper pages. He’s thinking it’s something that happens when you decouple the content from the medium.

“For almost every writer, the number of sales they lose because people never hear of their book is far larger than the sales they’d lose because people can get it for free online,” Doctorow says. “The biggest threat we face isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”