Saturday, February 12, 2011

Death, and Free revisited.

Dr Sketchy's is, according to the New York Times, a "cross between a life drawing class and new-wave cabaret" which takes place in over a hundred cities around the world. It was founded by the glorious Molly Crabapple (who drew the "Desert Wind" print you can get from Neverwear). Last week the New York Dr Sketchy's did a very Endless sort of an evening, as Sandman characters Death, Delirium and Desire posed for the assembled sketchers.

Johnny Blazes made an amazing Desire.

Tess Aquarium played Delirium.

And Stoya made a Death that was, well, to die for.

The photos are by the amazingly talented Lauren Goldberg.

More photos and an account of the evening, not to mention photos of the people sketching, can be found at, from where I also stole all the photos.


I'm a patron of the Open Rights Group.

Last year they did an interview with me in my hotel in London. An extract from it went up on this page, and up on YouTube.

In it I talk about copyright, misconceptions about copyright on the web, and my observation that piracy can be a promotional action.

It's been interesting seeing the YouTube video start to go viral over the last couple of days.

I'm not going to embed the video here - head over to Open Rights Group page and look at it there. As Patron I should be sending them traffic, after all.

And I thought I'd repost -- this is sort of fun, this reposting lark -- a few extracts from blogs on the subject of Giving It Away. You can read all of them, and more besides, at

The context is, for the blog's 7th birthday, we put up a book of mine online for a month for free. (There had been a vote, and American Gods won by a landslide.)

From Friday 29 Feb 2008: The Nature of Free

I'm currently talking to Harpers about ways we can make the American Gods online reading experience a more pleasant one. And about ways to give American Gods away that would make Harper Collins happy while also making, say, Cory Doctorow happy too.

I was surprised by a few emails coming in from people accusing me of doing bad things for other authors by giving anything away -- the idea being, I think, that by handing out a bestselling book for nothing I'm devaluing what a book is and so forth, which I think is silly.

I like giving stuff away. I think it's sensible. I like that you can read Sandman #1 on the DC Comics site, for example. (It's at (Although for reasons known only to DC, they have put the last two pages of the story in the wrong order.) We've got five short stories up at, and I just realised on poking around that I've put more essays and things up over the years on this blog than have ever made it into the essays section, and a lot more audio than ever made it to the rather threadbare audio section (although there's lots of free audio now up at

During one of the interviews recently, a reporter said something like, "Of course, a real publisher wouldn't give away paper books," and I pointed out that 3,000 copies of The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy were given away by Douglas Adams' publisher, with a 'write in and get your free book' ad in Rolling Stone. They wanted copies of HHGTTG on campuses in the US, and they wanted people to read it and tell other people. Word of mouth is still the best tool for selling books.

This is how people found new authors for more than a century. Someone says, "I've read this. It's good. I think you'd like it. Here, you can borrow it." Someone takes the book away, reads it, and goes, Ah, I have a new author.

Libraries are good things: you shouldn't have to pay for every book you read.

I'm one of those authors who is fortunate enough to make my living from the things I've written. If I thought that giving books away would make it so that I could no longer make my living from writing and be forced to go out and get a real job -- or that other authors would be less likely to be able to make a living -- I wouldn't do it.

As I tried to explain in the Guardian interview, the problem isn't that books are given away or that people read books they haven't paid for. The problem is that the majority of people don't read for pleasure.

From March 3 2008 More on free and suchlike

This just came in, and I thought it deserved a long reply...

Hello Mr. Gaiman:
As a bookseller, I am a bit surprised by your recent comment about free books and the HarperCollins download. When you say, "the problem isn't that books are given away or that people read books they haven't paid for. The problem is that the majority of people don't read for pleasure," you seem to miss the point that all of us booksellers are hoping to sell your book to READERS as well as non-readers. Our situation improves as more non-readers become readers, but we can't survive when the readers go elsewhere. I am not at all against free literature--I firmly believe that the more people read the more people read--but somehow, if we independents are to survive, we need to be included somewhere in the formula. I also believe that we independents have no RIGHT to exist, that our time may have passed or be passing, but it would be nice if we could survive; I believe we can--and do--serve a very important purpose.Thanks. I don't sense that you have anything against booksellers--I do want to let you know how your comment might be interpreted by some.
Don Muller
Old Harbor Books
201 Lincoln Street
Sitka, Alaska 99835

Hi Don,

I don't see this as either they get it for free or they come and buy it from you. I see it as Where do you get the people who come in and buy the books that keep you in business from?

The books you sell have "pass-along" rates. They get bought by one person. Then they get passed along to other people. The other people find an author they like, or they don't.

When they do, some of them may come in to your book store and buy some paperback backlist titles, or buy the book they read and liked so that they can read it again. You want this to happen.

Just as a bookseller who regards a library as the enemy, because people can go there and read -- for free! -- what he sells, is missing that the library is creating a pool of people who like and take pleasure in books, will be his customer base, and are out there spreading the word about authors and books they like to other people, some of whom will simply go out and buy it.

If readers find (for free -- in a library, or on-line, or by borrowing from a friend, or on a window-sill) an author they really like, and that author has a nice spanking new hardback coming out, they are quite likely to come in to your shop and buy the nice spanking new hardback. You want that to happen. You really want that to happen a lot, because you'll make more in profit on each of the nice spanking new hardbacks than you will on the paperbacks (or, probably, on anything else in the shop).

I don't believe that anybody out there who can afford a copy of American Gods is going to not buy it (or another of my books) because it's available out there on line for nothing. (Not at this point, anyway.) I think it's a lot more likely that some of the people who read it will find an author they like, and buy more books. Which is good news for people who run bookshops.

(Remember: one in four adults read no books last year. Among those who said they had read books, the median figure — with half reading more, half fewer — was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger. Which means you need to find ways to get young readers to read books. And means that if someone likes American Gods and goes out and buys my entire backlist from you, that's more books than most Americans read in a year.)

I think it's very likely that someone who reads American Gods online and likes it may decide, come the 30th of September, to go out to your shop or somewhere else like it and plonk down their $17.99 for The Graveyard Book in hardcover.

I don't see it as taking money from the pockets of booksellers.

(To steal a metaphor from Cory Doctorow, it's dandelion seeds rather than mammals. A mammal produces a few offspring that take a lot of resources. A dandelion produces an awful lot of seeds because the cost in resources to the dandelion is small, but those that sprout, sprout.)

Then again, I do not always understand the ways of booksellers.

Old Harbor Books looks marvellous -- -- and looks like somewhere that's involved in creating readers and a reading community. My local bookshop (now deceased) was physically arranged so that finding a book and then buying it was harder than walking around around the shop and going back out again; the bookseller mostly sat at the cash register in the middle of the shop playing online chess, and he tended to be unhelpful, vaguely grumpy and to treat people who wanted to buy things as nuisances (he was nice to me, because I was me, but still); he didn't stock paperback bestsellers because "people could always go to Wal-Mart for those" and when the she shop closed its doors the final time they put up a note on the door saying that it was that had driven them out of business, when it manifestly wasn't -- it seemed to me that they didn't work to entice people into the bookshop (which is what those paperback bestsellers were for), and didn't give them a pleasant experience when they were there...

But I digress...

Anyway (it probably bears reiterating) this is an experiment. Harper Collins are going to be looking at the figures over the next month and longer. If sales of American Gods crash in bookshops -- or if sales of all my other books crash -- they won't be doing it again. If American Gods sells more, if my other titles sell more, on actual Bookscan sales, then I think we'll all agree that you and your fellow booksellers will be selling more books, and will thus have nothing to worry about.

Remember, publishers aren't making their money from free downloads or from free online books. Like you (and like me), they make their money from books sold.

What we all want to do is sell more books. To readers, to non-readers, to people who thought they didn't like that sort of thing.

Also, there are also a lot of posts coming in like this:

No question - just wanted to let you know, after getting your "American Gods" online for free and reading about 200 pages, I had to go out and buy the book. Great read!

which may make you feel a little better....

From the 5th of March 2008 Very Small Footnote to Free:

Free books. I started thinking about times we've used this principle in paper books -- using the free thing to spread the author or the idea, and, if you ignore the five fingered discount (remember, in the UK you can add Terry Pratchett to the "four authors who are flying off the shelves and don't forget the graphic novels" list) then you still have things like Free Comic Book Day. And before there was ever Free Comic Book Day, there was Sandman 8.

It was 1989. I wrote Sandman #8, Mike Dringenberg drew it, and the editorial and marketing departments at DC Comics got enthusiastic about it. I went out and got three pages of quotes from fantasy and horror authors about Sandman, wrote a "The Story So Far". DC Comics overprinted Sandman #8 and sent each retailer an extra 25% above what they'd ordered, for free, and told them that they could do whatever they wanted with them.

Some stores simply sold them.

The smart stores gave them away. Some of the smart stores even went back to DC and asked for more. The stores that gave them away were the stores who, a year or so later, found it very easy to sell Sandman trade paperbacks to their customers. And then to sell Sandman hardcovers. And some of them are now selling the Absolute Sandmans.

(And a few people have written to let me know that ABSOLUTE SANDMAN Volume 3 is now up at Amazon, with the extra 5% discount for pre-ordering it bringing it to 42% off.)

Anyway. There weren't any grumbles that we were somehow devaluing other comics, or that this was Marxism in action, or that this was going to put comics retailers out of business or anything like that. It was about expanding the readership, about convincing people that it was safe to try something new.

(I just called Brian Hibbs at Comix Experience who put labels with his store's name and address on his free comics and then left them at barbers' shops and on buses and anywhere else he could, bookcrossing style -- he said he passed out about 400 copies of Sandman 8 and got 100 readers back, who bought every copy of Sandman, and the collected editions, and some of those people are buying Absolute Sandmans from him now -- and then he pointed out that it wasn't just Sandman that those people bought, but lots of them discovered comics and bought everything...)

The results of putting AMERICAN GODS up here for free that month came in in August. Sales of my titles -- all my titles -- in Independent Bookshops went up significantly while we had American Gods up here for free. We sold more copies of American Gods. And we sold more copies of everything else. And then, when we took AMERICAN GODS down, they dropped again, to pre-free book levels.


And if you've made it through the blog so far, I should mention that I decided that I should keep getting fitter and healthier, so I tried out the new Wii Yoga and Pilates, and really liked it. (I'd done the Yoga exercises on the Wii Fit, but they didn't actually ever feel like Going To Yoga With Amanda Palmer. And this one more or less does. "Did you sweat?" Amanda asked suspiciously, when I told her about it on the phone, and I told her that, Yes, I sweated.)

And I am now, much of the time, jogging, in snowboots, through the snow with the dogs instead of walking. They love it, and I'm starting to enjoy it too.

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