It’s an important question, given that Doctorow has spent much of the last decade promoting the value of “purely non-economic, non-commercial activity,” up to and including this week’s review of Free (blog version), in which he faults the author for disregarding such activity.
In a comment on an unrelated topic (going off-topic is typical of the copyleftist species), Doctorow opens a window onto his own finances:
t’s pretty straightforward to make a guess at how much my writing income is: 100,000 copies of Little Brother in hardcover at $2 per in royalties; plus 17 foreign deals at about an average of $7,000; film option; theatrical adaptation; audio adaptation. 25 Guardian columns/year. Half a dozen short stories… two other books published in 2008 and another scheduled for 2009. Three novels and a short story collection prior to that.
No, I’m not going to tell you exactly what I earn.
No need. We’ll just do our own math. Just covering 2008 and 2009, we’ve got:
|Item||Low unit estimate||High unit estimate||Quantity||Low total estimate||High total estimate|
|Other books: Advance||$20,000||$65,000||3||$60,000||$195,000|
|Other books: Royalties||$2||$2||10,000||$20,000||$20,000|
- Figures for advance and royalties are certainly too low.
- Theatrical-adaptation figure is a guess, as this isn’t my field. The dollar value is clearly nonzero or Doctorow wouldn’t have mentioned it.
- Film-option figures are probably close to accurate; much depends on length of option and stature of author.
- “Audio adaptation” presumably means a commercial audiobook (not a LibriVox-style volunteer reading and not a book on tape or DAISY book for blind people).
- Daggered values are known accurate from source.
I would view these figures as accurate to one significant digit only, hence the low figure is probably $400,000 and the high figure $600,000. That’s over two years.
Hence it seems Cory Doctorow’s earnings solely from these sources are in the range of $200,000 to $300,000 a year.
- Doctorow may occasionally receive fees for speaking engagements.
- He certainly benefits from ad sales on Boing Boing, which, in 2005, was pulling in about a half-million Canadian a year. These revenues are difficult to estimate.
- Doctorow probably receives royalties from his other in-print books.
Nonetheless, these supplements probably do not alter the order of magnitude of his annual earnings.
Doctorow is a classic case of the power-law effect of Internet economics. He’s an outlier; he makes a great deal of money while a great many others make little or none.
I think there is something to be said for the caution that well-financed producers of cultural products are not necessarily acting in your best interests when they argue you should give your own cultural products away. Doctorow can afford to do that.