Reinventing the Book: Seth Godin & Cory Doctorow

I want to write about two authors who are both giving away their work in different ways. My impression is that their examples are still the exception but that may change with time. The whole concept of combining free and paid content is a tricky concept but these two seem to have an idea about it. These two authors write well and really understand the culture of the Internet.

Cory Doctorow has serialized his new novel, MAKERS, online for free in installments. The print (i.e. paid) version of the book came out in November 2009 before the free installments of the novel finished. I suppose the idea is that if you had been reading the free chapters and got hooked then you could buy the book and find out how it ends. I’ve read the novel and very much enjoyed it. As far as I’ve read, Doctorow thinks that giving away his books for free online has likely been a benefit to him, not to mention others. Doctorow also frequently writes columns and other articles about copyright, DRM and related issues in intellectual property.

As a longtime fan of science fiction, the novel itself was a great read and I would certainly recommend it. It is also the kind of science fiction that I would feel comfortable recommending to others that may not normally enjoy the genre. It is set on Earth with technologies like 3D printers (which already exist, actually) and really interesting if slightly scary biotechnology. It is also something of an argument for what might be called “maker” or hacker culture. You should simply be able to take technology you have in your hands and rework it to do other things. If you’re not sure if the book is for you, you can read it online for free directly from Doctorow’s website. And yes, it is available in FIFTEEN different formats including PDF and plain text. Any computer or device connected to the Internet should be able to read at least one version of the novel.

Seth Godin, the business author/blogger, meanwhile has adopted a very different approach for his new book Linchpin. The offers is now closed but if you donated $30 US to the Acumen fund, you could get a review copy of his latest book, Linchpin in January. I generally find his books and blog to be interesting and I am curious to see how this plays out. The idea in this case is to abandon the concept of there being certain reviewers or editors that have to be courted but rather opening it up to everybody. The philanthropic aspect of the project is also quite appealing. Donating to an organization and getting a book to review is not a combination I’ve seen before and so far, I like the idea! If I like the book, then I’ll do a review here in February.

Unlike other business authors, I appreciate the fact that Seth Godin makes an effort to see how his ideas could apply to other contexts such as charities and non-profits. He is also extremely good at giving presentations. He has given two talks at the TED conference (both under 20 minutes long) that are well worth a look; the tribes we lead and standing out. I found both interesting but the book Tribes and the related ideas likely have a wider audience. The standing out video is more about marketing and communicating ideas but that applies in many contexts as well. Godin does not provide step by step instructions or anything like that, but he does have plenty of ideas to get you thinking.

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