I’ve finished my first couple of essays from Cory Doctorow‘s “CONTENT“; I fancied a little bit of a break so I read Anda’s Game in one sitting. All this reading is due to my purchase of a Sony eReader on a (little bit of a) whim at the end of last year.

My eReader, Stuffed with Free Media

I found myself £150 poorer for the purchase, and not immediately willing to shell out more on E-books (grammatical reasoning behind this spelling) on top of this — I do understand the value of the written word, believe me, I buy a lot of books, but Christmas happened and I had enough dead-tree-format books that I couldn’t really justify the purchase of 1-and-0 books.

One of the things that Cory discusses is that a struggling writer’s problem is almost never that someone is stealing your work; it’s that people aren’t reading it at all.

I’d heard of Cory Doctorow via his activism for the EFF; I read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom a few years ago, as a PDF. I had a recommendation to listen to his podcast, and so I ended up having Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town read ‘to me’ over the course of a few dozen trips to and from work (as well as flights to and from Ireland).

His self-promotion book-ending the podcast got me to go and hunt down a physical copy of Little Brother, no mean feat for a multi-award-winning book – it was very scarce on the ground at airport, ferry or Dublin bookshops; had I an E-book reader at that point I probably would not have bothered, I would have just downloaded it (which sadly, would have cost him his royalties).

So, back to the recent past. I had a reader, and nothing to read. I put a few PDFs on there of technical material, and some gasp pirated SF (which, being god-damned right again, Mr. Doctorow points out is the only written word people seem to care enough about to steal).

None of these were optimised for electronic editions – the PDFs were basically what got sent to the printers, without the crop marks and calibration marks. I was beginning to regret my purchase.

Around the same time, Merlin Mann recommended Stanza as a must-have application for the iPhone. It links into Project Gutenberg, Feedbooks and other free listings, as well as commercial suppliers. After downloading a few of the classics (pretence is hard, I will not be reading Dante’s Inferno in the original translation), the other major supply of free content was Cory Doctorow books and 60’s-era Sci-Fi authors. Long story short, my iPhone is now filled with Harry Harrison and Cory Doctorow books.

Reading off an iPhone is unpleasant – it’ll do in a pinch, and I always have mine with me, but I’d rather be reading off something that does’t feel like it’s actively trying to blind me. Unlike any DRM-ed books I bought, I could just use the tool Stanza provide to download the .epub files, and drop them right on to my reader.

So, I am reading Cory Doctorow because he’s a good author. But I only know that because he’s given so much of his work away, and he has a large captive audience, admittedly of cheapskates, by embracing new formats and shucking off DRM chains. It may have only netted him a few pounds (possibly not even that, are author’s royalties as bad as recording artists?) from the one book I’ve actually bought, but hopefully good-will (ahem whuffie), promotion and readership brings him some comfort.