What are the implications, if I choose a Creative-Commons-license for my work? Cory Doctorow seems fine with this. Is this exceptional?

  • Personally, I wouldn't bother with CC licences because they set your views at the time of choosing one in stone. Instead, I found an adapted copyright notice to be better when I decided to switch my works from a non-commercial licence to something akin to the CC-BY-SA licence.
    – user5219
    May 22, 2013 at 12:19

2 Answers 2


For Cory Doctorow it has attracted a great deal of attention to his work that he would likely not have received otherwise. If he has twenty times as many readers, but the proportion who pay for the text they read drops from, say, 70% to 10%, there is still about three times the turnover.

Is it good for you? Some considerations:

  1. If you care about reaching readers, free texts with money put into marketing are hard to beat.
  2. If people are to pay for a book they could have browsed on their machine or printed out themselves for free, the physical product had better be a more rewarding thing to own. There's no way, for instance, I would want to print out a full English dictionary for myself, and I find it hard to work from textbooks from screen. But for a novel that one does not expect to reread, what makes the physical book so great?
  3. Most books attract very few readers, whilst some are written by J.K.Rowling. Free content can help build up momentum for your work, though it is unlikely to make the need to market your work go away, but it will make exploiting the pockets of your readers harder. And how else will the expensive marketing campaign be paid for?
  4. Not many people can be well-known as "the author who releases their books for free", so Cory's marketing bonanza can't be shared by all that many people. If you're looking to make money, you have to think about just how many new readers CC-ing your work will attract. I'm guessing CC-ed content can work very well for reference works, where lots of people will be attracted to your website, and will want to refer to your work many times, but not so well for fiction.

I've wondered about the idea of releasing texts as minimally formatted text files under a CC-AS-IS license, with a beautifully typeset version available as, say, a paid e-Book or printed. This would be trying to exploit point #2.

My work is mostly concerned with scientists who want to reach as many readers as possible. This might seem to make CC publishing ideal, but in fact it is troublesome: to attract readers, they need to publish in prestigious journals, which are not CC and want copyright assignment. So the goal of reaching readers here speaks against the CC route.

  • I hadn't thought about the ramifications for academic writers and the like being a fiction writer. Very sound point.
    – One Monkey
    Dec 21, 2010 at 11:14
  • Science and the big publishers/journal is a big can of worms. Open Access come to mind (okay, after some googling because I didn't remember the exact term). And the fact that the more prestigious the journal, the more outrageously expensive the subscription. Coupled with cutbacks for university funding, more and more libraries find it hard to keep those subscriptions. All things that go counter one of core principles of science. Dec 21, 2010 at 15:13
  • @jae: There's much less of a correlation between journal expense and quality than you might think, mainly because many of the best journals are published by scholarly societies, which for the most part charge what they need, not what they can get. Open access seems to have run out of steam, because the biomed journals didn't go along with it. Dec 21, 2010 at 19:20
  • "prestigious" seems to, but doesn't actually, imply quality; and I didn't think it does. But either way, the price of (some?) journals is a problem. Which OA running out of steam doesn't change (and copyright assignment, apart from being evil (not joking), hinders dissemination) Dec 21, 2010 at 19:28

I'd be hard pushed to think of any other well-known authors who do this at present but I think it may become, as they say, a thing.

Here's my perspective. Kindles and the like are becoming more and more popular, so electronic distribution of books is becoming easier. The author has two enemies, the enemy of the popular author is piracy or thievery, people accessing their popular work without paying for the privilege. The budding author has an entirely different problem obscurity.

When you start out you are vying for people's attention with thousands of other products and you need something to appeal to readers. Just allowing people to read your stuff for free is a great way to combat obscurity at the present time.

Obviously the only practical way to do this is via downloads. One day I imagine there will be many free books to download (as in books intentionally designed to be freely downloadable from the outset) there already are a significant number of classic texts on sites like the Project Gutenberg ones. It's only a matter of time before some authors become of the mindset that, at least to begin with, fame is better than fortune to start out with.

When it's not so special to be offering a free download of a book an author will have to think of even more ways to attract what the marketing fraternity charmingly refers to as "eyeballs". Until then there's a small upcoming niche available for those who capitalise on the wider distribution channels for electronic texts and the relative rarity of offering CC licensed materials.

Most people, I should point out, believe I am crazy.

  • +1 for the very last sentence. But for the well-thought out "bit" before that too. :D Dec 21, 2010 at 15:02

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