I have to admit, I love free stuff. Not the junky stuff you get in your bag at the student bookstore or the casserole dish you get when you open a checking account, but the kind of stuff that is substantial — free audio-books. I used to commute an hour each way to work and listened to a lot of books on tape from the library. Then I changed careers and reduced my commute to five minutes each way, hardly a prime scenario for listening to books on tape. Now, I listen to books on tape while I mow. I ditched the music. I’m a freakin’ genius (not really, if I was a genius, someone else would mow my lawn).
It takes about an hour for me to mow. I used to lament this time and couldn’t wait for it to be over. Now, I wish I had my old mowing situation – An acre and a half that took about two hours from start to finish on a riding mower. Now I push a Neuton mower about my yard and lose myself in audiobooks. I just wrapped up listening to American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (received free by signing up for a trial membership with audible.com via an Pioneer XMp3 promotion. See–FREE).
Knowing how much audio books go for (usually around 30-40 clams, US), I don’t buy them. I’d much rather read a book than listen, but, in a pinch audio books are sweet. A friend of mine turned me on to Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magical Kingdom via a disc of the story he had downloaded from Doctorow’s site–for free. Doctorow did the reading himself and the book was enjoyable. I’ve been mining Doctorow’s stuff since and telling everyone I can about his books.
Cory Doctorow, in a 2003 interview with Katherine Macdonald at Strange Horizons, explains how his downloads for Down and Out in the Magical Kingdom took off and what that meant for subsequent books.
KM: Speaking of the mass movement, what do you think that has to do with the current mad downloading of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom?
CD: Yeah, it’s a good parable for it, a good parallel to it. Tor increased my print run on the strength of advance notice to 8500 copies — so this means that the average first novel from Tor gets fewer than 8500 copies, and I believe that there’s probably a good reason for that, which is that I think first novels probably sell fewer than 8500 copies in hardcover. This says that the audience for science fiction in book form is dwindling, or is in some ways so small as to not be an enormous political or social factor anymore.
There was a time, I think, when first science fiction novels, or all science fiction novels, had a larger audience; certainly this is true of the magazines, which have been in a sad and steady decline for a long time. I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest Locus yet, but it’s got the round-up of all the magazines, and their circulation is plummeting — it looks like the dotcom bust in slow motion. Increasingly, people are getting their information online, and increasingly people are turning to other forms of entertainment. You see this in WorldCon attendance and everywhere else. The thing that is amazingly interesting about the download experiment is that 75,000 people have downloaded this book, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the final total will be in excess of 100,000 people; in fact, I’ll think it’ll probably be larger than that, so the number of people who will download the book exceeds the number of people who could be reasonably expected to read it by more than an order of magnitude — and that’s read it in hardcover, and that’s a pretty stunning statistic.
Patrick [Nielsen Hayden], my editor, when I told him how many people had downloaded it, which at the time I think it was 30,000, said, “Jesus Christ, do you realize that you now have an audience of 30,000 people for your next novel?” It was like, yeah, shit yeah, that’s totally killer.
Andy Shackcloth weighs in with his blog post today breaking down why podcasting, or serialized audio books, can be beneficial.
Podcasting a free serialised audio book gives
- Passage past the agent/editor barrier to public readers
- Diminishing of the grammar/style hurdle
- Free distribution to millions of listeners
- Removal of the barrier to ‘try’ a new author
- Ability to find your ‘personal’ audience
- Develops curiosity for future (hopefully better) work
- Maintains an audience whilst your writing develops
- Direct contact and feedback with audience
- Meet fans of your work
I’ve been considering recording some of the short material I’ve completed or am completing just to get it out there for anyone who is looking for something to listen to on their way to work, while they work out, sipping coffee on a Sunday morning, whatever. I love the idea of serializing novel-length works if the publisher’s okay with that as an effort to compel people to spread the good word (that would require me to actually have a book published, too). I probably would not use it as a self-publishing tool, unless it is something that I was not trying to get an agent for and didn’t intend to sell to a publisher.
Andy has the right of it when he says:
Podcasting your novel as a serialised audio book is no guarantee of easy success. The numbers game providing the potential of a dedicated and loyal fan-base also conceals that same fan-base inside a gigantic haystack of an internet. Your personal audience can be found, it will take time, it will take a sustained effort, it is possible and the method is open to all.