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:

[I]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
Little Brother $2 $2 100,000 $200,000† $200,000†
Foreign deals $7,000 $7,000 17 $119,000† $119,000†
Film option $10,000 $25,000 1 $10,000 $25,000
Theatrical adaptation $2,500 $5,000 1 $2,500 $5,000
Audio adaptation $15,000 $50,000 1 $15,000 $50,000
Other books: Advance $20,000 $65,000 3 $60,000 $195,000
Other books: Royalties $2 $2 10,000 $20,000 $20,000
Guardian columns $100 $350 25 $2,500 $8,750
Totals $429,000 $622,750


  • 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.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.07.29 13:27. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

(Values you enter are stored and may be published)



None. I quit.

Copyright © 2004–2024