The Story of Shooting War

December 13th, 2007 by Larry Smith


Does giving away your content free—online or elsewhere—discourage readers or listeners or any sort of content consumer from plunking down their hard-earned dough for the work later? It’s an ongoing conversation we have with publishers whose works we want to excerpt on Memoirville: If you give us 2,000 words from a book rather than the 600 words, will that make readers more or less excited to buy the book later? Invoking, among other examples, The Wilco Effect, I always argue that it’s in everyone’s best interest to give as much away as you can.

When SMITH Mag first serialized Shooting War in 2006, Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman had every intention of turning the material into a book at a later date. At the same time, we believed the 11 chapters we posted were substantial—not the entire book, but quite a bit of it. Then what happened? A community of rabid readers found Shooting War, contributed thoughtful and intense comments and at times even shaped the story as it unfolded, told everyone they knew about it, and could not wait for a hardcover Shooting War book to glisten on their coffee tables. If we had just popped a few chapters on the site with a big ugly note announcing, “Want more? Then buy our book, Pally,” I strongly doubt we would have attracted the passionate community of readers, bloggers, and indeed future book buyers that we did, and did so organically. Once the publishing world got interested in Shooting War, the authors added much more new material—more than 100 pages—than even they first imagined they would in book form. Everybody wins.

With that preamble, I direct you to a huge piece from The New York Times’ Motoko Rich, Crossover Dreams: Turning Free Web Work Into Real Book Sales. In it, Rich discusses different web-to-print models, including how SMITH brought Shooting War to its first group of passionate readers, and now Grand Central Publishing is bringing the story to your bookshelf. I’ve watched Lappé and Goldman pour their lives into their creation for the past 18 months. When I first clicked on the link to the story and saw one of my all-time favorite panels from Shooting War on the Times’ site, my heart skipped a beat. When I walked down to my local bodega and handed a guy a buck and a quarter for the pulpy version of the Newspaper of Record, it skipped two more.

Believe the hype.

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