Open Source Creativity: SF Grows Up?


Once Upon A Time, a certain Scottish writer named Charlie Stross made his award-winning novel Accelerando available for free download under a creative commons licence. Sales of the book rocketed. The rest… well, it should’ve been history.

Last month, Pan Macmillan finally creaked open their technological gates and threw a couple of their SF authors out into the wilds of the web. Peter F Hamilton, Neal Asher, China Mieville – among others – are now available to download to your iphone… for a price.

Could this be the first step for SF to embrace the future instead of imagining it?

Neal commented he had a blind fan who was now able to hear his fiction and his publicist added that his downloadable work was ‘packed with extras’ – a tasty lure to coax in those who’d already bought the printed version.

And the clue – as if you needed it – that this is still about money.

Are they missing the point? If Accelerando didn’t prove that freely available creativity raises both awareness and sales, that it entices a reader into wanting to own the work for themselves – and to seek out others in the series…

In his Locus article on copyfighting, Cory Doctorow argues the case for creative commons. Here’s the man who possibly shares more information, more freely, with more people than anyone else in the world… stating that ‘culture’ IS shared information and that, in trying to restrict that sharing, we’re damaging our very social core.

I’m curious as to how his idealism will compare with any publisher’s sales strategy.

When I meet Cory at Forbidden Planet, I find he’s a Direct Line to Thoth – the ‘Directory of Wonderful Things’ is not BoingBoing, it’s Doctorow. He talks to everyone, about everything; he judges no-one and welcomes all. Every person has something to offer him – and he gives a wealth of information in return.

Here is rarity: a man who genuinely practices exactly what he preaches.

So, is it me – or is it kind of ironic that ‘Little Brother’ is available in print?

I’m still thinking about this. Is it indicative of the sf-reading public not yet being ready to give up their lovely, tactile paperback? Is it because Cory wants the book’s message to reach a wider audience? Or is it as sadly prosaic as this: that altruism, no matter how passionate, erudite and well-informed, doesn’t pay the bills?

Accelerando has shown that, for the moment, idealism and coin stacking can work together to ensure a novel’s success – everybody wins, including the reader.

As science fiction grows more and more into science fact, let’s hope the culture and society that surrounds it grows also.

Shared creativity is kind of the point.

The picture at the head of this post is from the Pan Macmillan website, with thanks.

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4 thoughts on “Open Source Creativity: SF Grows Up?

  1. I don’t believe that embracing the future means that you have to dispense with print – just that you have to balance the traditional approach with new ways of distribution, syndication and revenue.Some people will want a traditional print copy bought from a bookshop for a while longer – others will be using Print on Demand, or an ebook reader, and others will expect to find a free version online.It’s funny to see the amount of success that a free online version can generate for the traditional dead tree release – something Seth Godin knows well in marketing, and something the likes of Neil Gaiman have utilised

  2. I’m fascinated to watch how this unfolds – how the disparate platforms will enhance and change each other.Print isn’t done – but it will change. It’s how that change will ripple outwards through the industry – and how the change in the industry will affect the writers, consumers, distributors and (you guessed it!) retailers.The thing to remember is that shared creativity isn’t just – or necessarily – about marketing. It’s about cultural development!

  3. It’s a nice app, except… Pan Macmillian have been selling the books to the iphone all over the world via a UK link which has lead to a lot of publishers in other countries to start making noises about territorial rights, not to mention getting Stanza in trouble…AWF

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