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Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books   By: (1971-)

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Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books

Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference, 2004

February 12, 2004

San Diego, CA

Cory Doctorow


This talk was initially given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference [ ], along with a set of slides that, for copyright reasons (ironic!) can't be released alongside of this file. However, you will find, interspersed in this text, notations describing the places where new slides should be loaded, in [square brackets].

This text is dedicated to the public domain, using a Creative Commons public domain dedication:

> Copyright Only Dedication (based on United States law) > > The person or persons who have associated their work with this > document (the "Dedicator") hereby dedicate the entire copyright > in the work of authorship identified below (the "Work") to the > public domain. > > Dedicator makes this dedication for the benefit of the public at > large and to the detriment of Dedicator's heirs and successors. > Dedicator intends this dedication to be an overt act of > relinquishment in perpetuity of all present and future rights > under copyright law, whether vested or contingent, in the Work. > Dedicator understands that such relinquishment of all rights > includes the relinquishment of all rights to enforce (by lawsuit > or otherwise) those copyrights in the Work. > > Dedicator recognizes that, once placed in the public domain, the > Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used, > modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any > purpose, commercial or non commercial, and in any way, including > by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived.

For starters, let me try to summarize the lessons and intuitions I've had about ebooks from my release of two novels and most of a short story collection online under a Creative Commons license. A parodist who published a list of alternate titles for the presentations at this event called this talk, "eBooks Suck Right Now," [eBooks suck right now] and as funny as that is, I don't think it's true.

No, if I had to come up with another title for this talk, I'd call it: "Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them." [Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them] That's because I think that the shape of ebooks to come is almost visible in the way that people interact with text today, and that the job of authors who want to become rich and famous is to come to a better understanding of that shape.

I haven't come to a perfect understanding. I don't know what the future of the book looks like. But I have ideas, and I'll share them with you:

1. Ebooks aren't marketing. [Ebooks aren't marketing] OK, so ebooks are marketing: that is to say that giving away ebooks sells more books. Baen Books, who do a lot of series publishing, have found that giving away electronic editions of the previous installments in their series to coincide with the release of a new volume sells the hell out of the new book and the backlist. And the number of people who wrote to me to tell me about how much they dug the ebook and so bought the paper book far exceeds the number of people who wrote to me and said, "Ha, ha, you hippie, I read your book for free and now I'm not gonna buy it." But ebooks shouldn't be just about marketing: ebooks are a goal unto themselves. In the final analysis, more people will read more words off more screens and fewer words off fewer pages and when those two lines cross, ebooks are gonna have to be the way that writers earn their keep, not the way that they promote the dead tree editions.

2. Ebooks complement paper books. [Ebooks complement paper books]. Having an ebook is good. Having a paper book is good. Having both is even better. One reader wrote to me and said that he read half my first novel from the bound book, and printed the other half on scrap paper to read at the beach... Continue reading book >>

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