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Increase Your Market with a Creative Commons License

by Josh Smith

As authors, word of mouth is the one thing we strive for when trying to sell a book, whether fiction or non. The power of word of mouth far surpasses even the best of marketing schemes. But how can you, as an author, increase your word of mouth? One way some authors are considering is through the use of the Creative Commons in releasing e-books and other materials.

What is the Creative Commons?

The Creative Commons is a set of licenses and contracts that you can apply to your work to grant the public certain rights while retaining other rights for yourself. The most basic and restrictive license for the Creative Commons allows free distribution of your work provided it is not at all modified, is not used commercially, and the license is kept completely intact. One well publicized use of the Creative Commons was by author and journalist Cory Doctorow for his first book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. It worked so well for him he continued using it for two more books.

Another well publicized release of free ebooks is via the Baen Free Library, created by Baen Books, a publisher of science fiction. Baen generally releases previous installments of a series to coincide with the release of a new book, which typically increases sales for the new book and for the backlist. To quote the Baen Free Library website: "Don't bother robbing me, twit. I will cheerfully put up the stuff for free myself. Because I am quite confident that any 'losses' I sustain will be more than made up for by the expansion in the size of my audience."

Won't I lose sales?

In the past there was much talk among authors about the possibility of having work pirated, or even changed, if you released it as an e-book. E-book piracy was rampant in certain online circles and still is to some extent. However, with the Creative Commons, you take what could have been a risk and turn it into potential profit. Many consumers like to sample before they buy, and you're providing this service directly to them on your terms. While releasing your book on your website, you can link to Amazon or mention its availability in bookstores. Anyone trying to pirate your work would be wasting their time as it is freely available on your own website. Even negative reviews that are so often found on can begin to work in your favor.

For example, the following negative review was posted on Amazon in reference to Cory Doctorow's book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." It appears in Doctorow's public domain speech, "Ebooks - neither E nor Books:"

"I am really not sure what kind of drugs critics are smoking, or what kind of payola may be involved. But regardless of what Entertainment Weekly says, whatever this newspaper or that magazine says, you shouldn't waste your money. Download it for free from Corey's (sic) site, read the first page, and look away in disgust -- this book is for people who think Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code is great writing."

Now, at first this review might sound harsh; however, there is one essential point to be made here: It encourages the reader to download the book from the author's site and read it. The availability of the book for download enables readers to make up their own minds. The old adage -- any publicity is good publicity -- can be especially true with Creative Commons-released ebooks.

What about nonfiction?

The Creative Commons can increase the size of your audience and help get your work better exposed, but for nonfiction authors there is a specific license that can be helpful to you. The "Developing Nations" license allows people within developing nations to use your material as you specify, while developed nations have to follow your normal license.

For informational or reference material, it can be a godsend to developing nations due to the lack of availability of materials. The international prices for most nonfiction works are usually similar to American prices (if not higher), which is often too much for inhabitants of developing nations to pay. Making your material available through Creative Commons may not only could it get you good press for the benevolence factor, but if you provide developing nations the right to modify your text, you may even get a full scale translation done at no cost and thus have the potential to expand your audience even wider.

Potential Problems

Although ebooks and the Creative Commons are a great medium for increasing the size of your market, they're not for everyone. Here are a few factors you may want to take into consideration before deciding whether or not to make your work available via the Creative Commons:

  • Utility: Is your work a reference manual that people will want to refer to continually to or use on the go? Or is it a one-time read that teaches someone C++ or some other skill? Is it a large novel or a shorter work? Many people prefer to read their fiction in relaxed environments, such as by the pool, beach or in the bath, and in this case an e-book may be a great tool for giving your potential readers a sample of your larger work.

  • Scalability: Is your work easily turned into an ebook? Is it image-intensive, requiring more bandwidth on your part? Are the images required? After all, you're free to omit certain things from your e-book in order to make the paper book more desireable.

  • Target Market: Will creating an e-book benefit your target market? If you're writing a book on how to learn to use a computer, or are writing for older readers who might have trouble dealing with computers, an e-book may be inappropriate. However, if you're trying to reach college students, an e-book can be a great way to do it.

So you know about the Creative Commons, the ways it can help you, and you decide it's the right solution for you. What do you do next? Head over to the Creative Commons website, click on text and choose a license that fits you. There are many to choose from and you can tailor them to your specifications.

If you're a bit apprehensive about releasing your work to the public, then you can sit on it and publish it the standard way, but keep the Creative Commons on the backburner. It is a risk, but without risk there is no reward.

More Information:

Creative Commons

Creative Commons - full license text

Creative Commons Replacing Copyright?

Copyright © 2005 by Josh Smith
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Josh Smith is a freelance marketing consultant specializing in non-traditional marketing campaigns. He's available at for all your marketing inquiries.

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