Smoke ‘em out

A virtual author

Sci-fi author and blogger extraordinaire Cory Doctorow has for two years been experimenting with an intriguing publishing model: Every time he writes a novel, he sells the print edition at normal bookstore prices, but also freely gives away an electronic copy of the text online. His believes — and I agree — that an author’s worst fear is not piracy but irrelevance: He’d rather have more people reading it than not. As it turns out, his strategy worked: The free giveaway created buzz and word-of-mouth, and his books have sold far more than his publishers originally expected.

What’s particularly neat is that Doctorow is now releasing his books with licenses that allow people to make “derivative works” — to remix, edit, or re-present the book in an entirely original format. Again, traditional publishers thought he was insane, and again they were wrong. Designers and webheads created all manner of cool byproducts that created yet even more buzz, and his sales went even higher. By allowing people to muck with his work, he effectively benefits from hundreds of hours of free labor of supercreative folks around the world.

The coolest remix of all? Second Life, the online virtual world, held a contest to see which of their player/citizens could design the coolest in-game version of Cory’s latest book, Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town. A guy named Falk Bergman won, and he invited Cory to log into the game to do a virtual book signing. Now a Second Life player called lilith Pendragon has designed an avatar for Cory — based on his real-life appearance — for when he logs into the game. Wagner James Au, Second Life’s “embedded” reporter, has a great post about it on his blog:

lilith’s Cory Doctorow joins an esteemed list of her celebrity tributes which also include Frieda Kahlo and Shirley Manson of Garbage (lilith most often wears her Ms. Manson, on herself). Her Cory is so exacting, I initially assumed she’d created a custom skin of him in Photoshop. But as she tells it, she brought Doctorow into this world “just using the [default avatar creation] sliders and looking at his pic. Then I made all the clothes in Photoshop.”

She did have a challenge recreating Cory’s skull-hugging haircut, however.

“I tried to do his hair with prims to get the flat top, but it just looked horrid, and I’m not patient,” she says. “Made a hair texture for his head, similar to how I did the corn rows for Snoop, and tweaked the hair sliders to make a little stick up in front.”

(Thanks to Boing Boing for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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