The Internet Archive (mp3)
Length: 9 min
Reader: Jan Rubak
The essay: This essay, originally published in Forbes magazine, was reprinted Doctorow's non-fiction collection Content. In it, Doctorow gives his own testimony on how he can make money by giving away some versions of his books for free. Giving away ebook and fan-made audio versions of his books, Doctorow claims, actually increases the sales of the hard-copy versions of his books. Most of the people who download the books wouldn't have bought a copy anyway, he reasons, so only a small percentage are actually lost sales. Balancing these lost sales are the readers who get the free electronic copy, then either buy a hard copy themselves or recommend it to friends.
Does it work? Well, Doctorow has certainly become fairly successful, but I'm not completely sold on this working for every author on a large scale. I have no problem reading most of my books from a PDA or listening to amateur readings of books. In fact, between free (legal) downloads and borrowing from friends or the library, I rarely buy books any more these days. I do think that, for authors I've never heard of, I would be more likely to buy their books if I had previously read or listened to another work of theirs previously. I have, in the past, bought books that were sequels to books that were given away freely. This "take the first, pay for the next two" strategy, along with the free distribution of a few short works, such as short stories and novellas, would seem to me to be a great strategy for beginning authors trying to convince readers to support them with their money.
The reader: Jan Rubak speaks clearly and distinctly. In fact, this is sometimes too much of a good thing as his over-enunciation may annoy some people, while others might find it helpful. Other than the distinct consonants, there's really nothing to complain about in this reading. He has good recording setup with very little noise. After the initial stilted reading of the title and source, Rubak settles down into a tone consistent with Doctorow's casual style.