TCLP 2014-12-13 Interview: Cory Doctorow, “Information Doesn’t Want to be Free”

Information Doesn't Want to be Free: Laws for the Internet Age book coverThis is an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In this episode, I interview Cory Doctorow about his latest book, “Information Doesn’t Want to be Free: Laws for the Internet Age.” If you are interested in learning more about the topics we discuss and that book covers, you can also check out books by the scholars we mention: Lawrence Lessig, James Boyle and William Patry. I compared Cory’s book to “The Indie Band Survival Guide” the authors of which are friends of the show whom I have also interviewed.

The audiobook version of the book is already available. Check Cory’s site, the free download and electronic editions should be available soon.


You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

Nina Paley’s Kickstarter: Mimi & Eunice Mini-books

Judging from Nina’s pitch video, she has run afoul of one of the limitations I’ve been hearing about Lulu’s otherwise wonderful print-on-demand service–an inability to set pricing below a set floor. Kickstarter fits the bill nicely for her to experiment with an alternate, almost throwback, approach of capitalizing something more like a traditional print run. Her goal is modest and pitching in at the higher levels can net you some nice rewards. I love my signed copy of “Mis-information Wants to Be Free” and am eager to add a signed mini-book to my special collection shelf.

Nina very neatly works into her pitch an educational aspect to the project. She has worked with Question Copyright in the past to develop some catchy, sticky memetic media that cram key ideas about free cultural sharing and against over-aggressive copyright into your ear like a didactic ear worm. The notion of pulling a mini-book out of your pocket at appropriate venues to that same end is appealing–at least to me. I’d actually love to be able to have a handful of these at events where I speak specifically about copyright. Judging by the eventual retail price she’s trying to reach, that’s the very idea, cheap enough to give away.

My First Kickstarter Project! Mimi & Eunice

First Major Update on Doctorow’s Self Publishing Experiment

I have been a fan and a supporter of Cory Doctorow’s “With a Little Help” since he first told me about it. (I was one of two podcasters with whom he interviewed when the book launched to help promote it.) Having discussed it further with him over the course of several interviews, I love that he views the project’s experimental nature with more of a West Coast mindset, that is one of failures being instructive rather than a reason to halt lines of inquiry altogether.

He’s just released his first major update since the project officially launched. I enjoy that he doesn’t hold back, not only sharing the upsides but also those very gaffes from which we learn so well.

Paperback sales have been rotten. In the first six weeks, I sold a scant 137 copies, as well as 12 MP3 CDs and five Ogg CDs. In all, I’ve earned a lackluster $490.03 in royalties from When I realized just how bad these sales were, I was gutted. So I did what every writer should do when he needs professional advice: I called my agent, Russ Galen.

Galen’s advice and insights are well worth reading and reinforce that the titular help comes from all corners of Doctorow’s world, not just his friends and fans, like myself, but his professional contacts in the realm of traditional publishing. The net-net is encouraging despite this potentially demoralizing lesson and Doctorow remains committed, in no small part because the nature of self publishing lets him continue tweaking the model. I can’t wait to see his next update, promised in a month, to see how he well he fares in tackling the challenges he lays out, especially improving exposure and wrestling with Lulu over paperback pricing.

With a Little Help: first post-publication progress report, BoingBoing

Path Dependency and Lock-in via Nuclear Arms and Space Races

This Slate piece by Neal Stephenson was mentioned at the “Here Be Dragons” event I attended yesterday, co-sponsored by New America, Slate and ASU under their joint Future Tense initiative.

Stephenson clearly illuminates some of the sticking points of technological progress, in particular path dependency and lock-in, with his accustomed flair. His examples, much like in his seminal “In the Beginning Was the Command Line…” essay, are unexpected but all the more apt for their unusual juxtaposition with his main thrust.

The above circumstances provide a remarkable example of path dependency. Had these contingencies not obtained, rockets with orbital capability would not have been developed so soon, and when modern societies became interested in launching things into space they might have looked for completely different ways of doing so.

He maintains this is not an outlier, hinting at a similar trajectory from whaling for lamp oil through to our modern dependence on petroleum. He leaves the second example much more to the reader’s imagination but it doesn’t take much mental muscle to connect the dots he quickly sketches out.

He does an equally enjoyable job of explaining how and why we are locked into the raft of rocket centered technologies at the heart of the narrow band of commercially feasible space ventures. I enjoy that he relates it to being trapped in a local optimum for a hill climbing algorithm. Well worth giving the whole thing a read, bearing in mind that Stephenson has recently been advising entrants into the burgeoning private sector space targeting ventures.

The implication is pretty clear in terms of general lessons for innovation. The sheer scale of economic forces within the space industries is immense, as are the risks. In lower risk spaces, these historical trend lines should better serve to steer clear of the kind of innovation stalling phenomena that have put notional jet packs ever out of our reach.

Space Stasis, Slate

With a Little Help Launch

I’ve been saving my pennies for the deluxe edition of Cory Doctorow’s self published anthology, “With a Little Help“, since he first told me about it in one of my interviews with him last year. There have been a lot of experiments with self produced creative works, involving free and pay what you will models but his plan exceeds them all by quite a bit.

Cory didn’t include a name your own price option but did consider different spending capacities by offering a good variety of options. Like all of his other works, the electronic editions are free to download and share, so long as you do not alter or sell them. To his usual bevy of electronic text formats, he’s also added free audio in a variety of formats. You are also welcome to contribute by shifting to any formats you might like that are missing from what is available.

Participation is one of the ways this project stands out. Cory has always supported fan translations and re-formats of his ebooks. Since the main print edition is printed on demand, he can updated the text for any reason. In this case, he has promised to include credit to any and all who help spot and fix typos and other errors in the text. It’s an excellent idea to reward the efforts of those who help improve the work for everyone.

He also will be transparently sharing the financial details of the effort. At launch, he already has a net of just over thirty-five hundred dollars, mostly the remains of the commission fee for one of the original stories in the book minus his production costs to date. He has promised to update the POD version with appendices for each new set of financial data.

I have to say, all of that aside, the packaging on the various versions for sale is to a one gorgeous. The POD editions, priced at eighteen dollars US, can be had with one of four covers, painted by Frank Wu, Rick Lieder, Rudy Rucker or Pablo Defendini. The deluxe, hand bound hard cover has an original, embossed, color drawing by Randall Munroe of xkcd fame, the iconic image of Cory be-goggled and decked out in a red cape. There is also an SDHC card embedded in the cover containing all of the digital versions of the stories.

Cory is one of my favorite authors, I’ve read just about everything he’s written. He’s also tied with Randy Chertkow of Beatnik Turtle for most appearances on my podcast. If you are unfamiliar with his work, his short fiction is an excellent place to start and you definitely can’t go wrong with this anthology. He’s shared most of the stories on his podcast, all of them I’ve heard are wonderful.

I am also excited about this project because it is the most open experiment in what Mike Masnick of Techdirt refers to as Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy. Cory has turned what is usually a loss in the traditional publishing industry into a possible means for strengthening his readership as well as contributing directly to support his craft alongside his more traditional book deals with his publisher, Tor. The care that has gone into the non-free editions promises that the upgrade from any of the free electronic ones will be well spent. The fact that you can still sample his work without risk means there really is no reason not to and that if you enjoy it, you can help turn on new readers without friction.

What I am hoping happens is that the data he’s publishing feeds into further experiments by other artists of all stripes inspired by his efforts. He’s already shared many of his experiences, both successes and challenges, around this project. I think there are many learning moments to be had for anyone looking to pursue a more bottom up, peer oriented project like this, especially one with serious expectations of return on investment.

I wish Cory all the luck, as I patiently wait for my hard cover to wing over the pond to me, and look forward to an upcoming interview focused on “With a Little Help” that we’ve already scheduled for my podcast next week.

feeds | grep links > Kickstarter for Interactive Fiction, Microsoft Response to Open Kinect, Another Computer Built in Minecraft, and More

feeds | grep links > Encouraging Indie Gaming within Large Publishers, DIY Zero Energy Home Server, and EU Will Rely on Rules not Laws for Net Neutrality

A Tithe for Free Software and Open Source

I spotted this via Hacker News, a proposal from the founder of DuckDuckGo. The idea is to develop another support model beyond corporate patronage and donation. Gabriel Weinberg is putting his money where his mouth is, committing a fraction of the search engine’s profits to funding FOSS projects.

A tithe is a voluntary tax (often 10% of income), usually paid yearly to a religious organization. I’d like to adopt this concept for free and open source software (FOSS), which in many ways is like a religion.

Incidentally, I hadn’t realized DDG is so small, though clearly it empowers them to do something so bold, and to open up direction of how funds should be distributed in part to their community. I already am a fan for their commitment to privacy, well beyond that of just about any other web service.

Weinberg has put the call out for other companies to follow his example. If the funds are offered without condition, as in this first case, I think it is worth spreading the word. I suspect that a huge number of companies owe their success to the use of FOSS so a voluntary tax would seem like a fair return, in addition or in place of technical contributions back to such projects.

Help me start a FOSS Tithing movement, Gabriel Weinberg

Cartoon Collection from “Sita” Creator

Nina Paley’s latest project has been an ongoing, deceptively simply web comic, Mimi & Eunice. Nina has used the pair of critters, vaguely similar to the ones in her “Copying Is Not Theft” one minute meme, to explore ideas ranging from intellectual poop-erty to religion, from bike helmet (non-)safety to body image. The couple has a frenetic relationship that nicely drives the quick hits of the three panel format while hinting at a more nuanced dysfunction to which most of us should be able to relate.

Nina has collected over two hundred of these comics into a signed collection, “Misinformation Wants to be Free”. In the announcement of the book’s availability, she included a clever animation of panels from the comic. She draws every panel free hand so the consistency of pose demonstrated is pretty remarkable. I love how the background also smoothly animates through the color space.

The book is $20 plus shipping and in addition to the signature, Nina will include a doodle of Mimi or Eunice. She’s been experimenting with ideas for merchandise for the new comic and I think the book is an excellent idea. I’ve ordered mine, the price directly supports Nina’s further creative endeavors. Check out some of the comics, the animation, and considering picking up your own copy.