Monetize Your Typos

Portrait by Joi Ito (, licensed CC-BY

Doctorow: Make money with typos

A while back, I lamented how social media seem to lead inevitably to the decline of editing and proofreading. I was given new hope this weekend, though, while listening to Leo Laporte’s podcast “This Week in Tech.” Towards the end, guest Cory Doctorow, the science fiction writer and Boing-Boing co-publisher, mentioned a publishing project that involved, among other things, offering readers incentives to alert him to typos.

Doctorow’s project, which he’s been documenting in his Publishers Weekly column, is a self-published short story collection called With a Little Help. His “freemium” model includes free e-books and audiobooks, donations, a print-on-demand (POD) paperback, a premium hardcover edition, advertisements, and a commission fee for a new short story.

Since this is a self-published project, Doctorow wants to keep expenses to a minimum, and that means no outlay for proofreading or copyediting. As he points out, the stories were all copyedited and proofread for their original publication in magazines, and his mother, a “king-hell proofer,” will help out. But the POD model offers a third option:

“Now, lots of people have used POD as a way of avoiding a lot of sunk costs in publishing ventures. But I want to see how far I can push it. With my previous books, my readers have sent in typos as they discovered them and I’ve fixed the electronic texts immediately, storing up lists of changes for my publisher to incorporate in future printings. But POD means that I can fix typos as soon as they’re reported, and what’s more, I can add an acknowledgment to the reader who caught it on the page where the correction appears, as a footnote. I have a feeling that readers will happily buy a second copy of the book in order to have a printing in which their name appears.”

As Doctorow put it on TWiT, he’s “monetized typos.”

The result is more likely to be a revenue trickle than a stream, and, if you took it seriously, it would give authors an incentive to include typos, or at least not to look for them too strenuously.

But the more meaningful exchange here is the payment Doctorow offers to his readers. By naming them in footnotes, he is rewarding them for finding errors.

Though it wouldn’t work in many forms of social media, this seems like a good tool for bloggers to employ. Of course, it requires the blogger to care enough to offer such an incentive. That comes naturally to a serious writer like Doctorow, but maybe not to the average blogger. It also requires a thick skin, something many writers manifestly lack.

So, in the spirit of Doctorow’s experimentation, I hereby offer a mention in my blog and a tweet to anyone who finds a typo or other error in my posts. If you’re a blogger, why not do the same?