02 September 2010

Foreworld as Foretaste

I'm am currently staggering to the end of Neal Stephenson's The Confusion, loving every minute of this impossible, wandering, hyperbolic, anachronistic, shaggy-dog story. So I was naturally delighted to see that he (along with a band of fellow creators) is not only working on yet another huge, outrageously-ambitious epic, The Mongoliad, but one that pushes story-telling in new directions by using technology:

Our story unfolds in weekly installments over the course of a year. We've planned out a true epic—the last great epic of the middle ages, in fact--and written a fine chunk of the tale, but much depends on you. We’re hoping you’ll ultimately interact with our artists and writers and share in the story’s creation.

When we can, we'll include extra tidbits of art, video, music and history. Those extras will be made available to premium subscribers, an excellent value--less than the price of a hardback book for a year's worth of story and mixed-media entertainment. We’ll soon be taking subscriptions for app delivery to some of the most popular mobile devices and are working hard to add more.

The user-editable Foreworld 'Pedia is the ultimate repository of all information about our world. Some of it coincides with the world you know. Some does not. We welcome your additions.

I was particularly heartened to find the following intelligent approach to DRM - or lack of it:

We put in a lot of effort on an ongoing basis to ensure that the best value our fans can get out of our stuff is by participating interactively with us and each other, and enjoying our interwoven content in context, in the way it was meant to be enjoyed. So, we think that if people take our content without our permission, their experience will be suboptimal, and given our modest prices, we think most people will be happy to pay us, thereby enabling this experiment to keep evolving. That said, the bits that can be copied and pasted and put into a torrent are still going to be fun, and people are going to end up redistributing those bits without our permission and against our wishes. However, we still don't use DRM.

The reasoning is absolutely spot-on:

The biggest reason is that DRM is futile, and we don't like to waste our time doing things that aren't going to be effective, and which are just going to annoy our legit supporters. Our concentration is on providing great experiences and great customer service to our customers, and we trust that those people who really appreciate what we are doing will become our customers. Because it's part of our ethos to be constantly producing and expanding and improving our work, the pirated content people may find elsewhere online will be static and out-of-date copies; we think that when people find this stuff it may give them a taste of what the full experience is like; hopefully, that taste will be enough that they'll want more, and in seeking out more, will become happy (and paying) customers of ours. We like that.

That is, piracy isn't a real problem if you *out-innovate* the pirates, making your paid-for offering better than their free one. Indeed, if you do, pirated copies become like tasters, encouraging people to upgrade and pay for the full, latest version. Similarly, by the sound of it, part of the strength of this project will be the interweaving of other elements into the text - again, something that pirates can't offer.

But I think this is slightly off the mark:

However, we don't believe that pirates are doing us any favors, and our not using DRM is not an invitation to cadge our stuff. Because of the way intellectual property law in this country (and most other jurisdictions) works, we are obligated to defend our copyrights, trademarks, and other IP--otherwise we lose them: if we find piracy we will try to stop it; if we find unauthorized use of our IP at commercial scale and/or commercial intent, we will come after it with vigor, because we have to.

That may be true for trademarks, but not, I think, for copyright: it's not something you have to "defend". Still, quibbles, aside, I'm looking forward to seeing what Stephenson and his fellow creators get up to here. I also hope that this new Foreworld proves something of a foretaste of future extended novels - not least in terms of dropping DRM.

As for reading it, well, I have the small matter of The Baroque Cycle to finish first: I may be gone some time...

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Nick Barnes said...

Anathem is, I think, better than the Baroque Cycle.

Glyn Moody said...

@Nick: it's certainly better-constructed, although I thought the ending a bit of a let-down after the extraordinary pages that preceded it.

So far, my favourite Stephenson book is Cryptonomicon, which I found intellectual exhilarating and pretty much unputdownable. But even that fizzled out slightly in the final pages...