Electronic Editions, or, I Can’t Believe I’ve Not Put This Up Already

Because at this point I’m getting a couple of e-mails a day on the matter and need something to direct people to:

Yes, I have eBooks available: Old Man’s War, Ghost Brigades, The Android’s Dream and Zoe’s Tale are available on Amazon Kindle, and Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale are available in other formats as well, and you can buy them at places people buy electronic books. Agent to the Stars is available on this site in html format (although not in the most recent, copy-edited, cultural-references-updated version, which will be available in October in trade paperback).

No, I don’t know when the other novels will be available/will be available in a format other than Kindle/will be available in the format you’ve determined that you love the most and have vowed never to cheat on with any other electronic format. This is because it’s not up to me, it’s up to Tor (and my other publishers), and who knows when they will get around to doing any of this. They kind of do their own thing, you know? I’ve asked them if they might not consider getting the other books out in eBook format sooner rather than later, if only so I don’t have to keep answering e-mail on the subject. Sending me e-mail/comments on the subject does nothing, I’m sorry to say. Sending me repeated e-mails/comments on the subject will just annoy me. Send your e-mail to Tor. Tor loves to get e-mail.

No, you don’t have to send me a several-paragraph-long e-mail explaining why ebooks are good/why you only read in ebook format/how I’m losing millions of dollars or whatever by not having the books in an ebook format. Because I know/good for you/oh well. I find it vaguely amusing, since I’ve had a complete novel up on my site for nine years now, that people feel the need to try to convince me that having ebooks out there might be a good thing. I find it amusing like I find people trying to offer me advice on how I should change my published books to make them better amusing, which is to say it’s the sort of amused that is lucky I don’t have a chainsaw handy.

No, I don’t need a lecture on DRM’d eBook files. This is another one to send Tor’s way. I generally think DRM is useless, and my publishers know this is my opinion. But the number of people who complain about not having particular titles of mine as eBooks is larger than the number who complain about DRM on the eBooks of mine that are out there, and in both cases it’s not up to me at this point, and to a non-trivial extent, I just don’t fucking care. Yes, Cory Doctorow will excommunicate me for that statement, but you know, there are perfectly excellent non-DRM’d versions of my works available: They’re called books. Buy those and then scan them in, or whatever. I won’t tell.

And yes, I know I sound a little cranky. But look: Fact is, authors actually have very little to do with the distribution of their work once book contracts are signed. Indeed, that’s one of the major reasons we sign book contracts at all: so all the boring crap about the book business will be someone else’s problem, and we can focus on the only thing we’re actually good at, re: writing. I recognize that in some cases folks don’t know this, and think that that author is always in control of everything about the book, so this is me telling you: No, not really. I’m a bubble-burster, I know.

Edit: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, has further thoughts in the comment thread.

49 thoughts on “Electronic Editions, or, I Can’t Believe I’ve Not Put This Up Already

  1. Hey John, you know, maybe you’re a little over caffineeated today, just saying, you know.

    Larry

  2. Do your books come in scroll? I prefer to roll my reading across the floor or a large table. I’ll ask TOR.

  3. Scrolls aren’t very archivally permanent. Now your clay tablets pressed with cuneiform writing or better yet chiseled stone tablets? Need to survive power failures, flooding, fire, tornadoes, alien tomato invasions, etc.

    Re: Oh sure, but would it be a top-bottom scroll or left-right? — Oh geesh, do we have to relive the Scroll Format Wars all over again? DVD+/-RW and HD-DVD and Beta and tabloid-versus-above-the-fold were bad enough… (grin) Will humanity never learn?

    Dr. Phil

  4. I find this oddly amusing, as the way I found this site – and, by extension, first heard of one Mr. John Scalzi – was from Tor’s brief but sorely missed attempt to enter the unencrypted e-book market. When it was first announced, I searched around for more info on it, and found an article about it here.

    (It lasted somewhat less than a week before a suit at Tor’s parent company found out about it, screamed in horror, and demanded that it Stop Right Now. Fortunately, I had purchased a couple of the available books at the time, so I still have them.)

    For what it’s worth, the topic is extremely apropos from my perspective, as I finally got around to reading the copy of Old Man’s War that Tor made available in ebook format, and had been wondering if later books were available. And so not only has my question been answered – without me even having to ask it, the author must be psychic! – but I’m reminded to copy both Agent to the Stars and How I Proposed to my Wife onto my new iPhone. So – thank you, kind sir.

  5. Scroll? Tablet? Cuneiform! BAH! What ever happened to good old storytelling around the fire? You know, listening to the folk tell a story fifty times so you can tell it to the next generation yourself.

    BTW, I’m still at work. Don’t ask.

  6. ebooks? how primitive. When will your books be available for direct neural input?

    What? My eyes are directly connected to my brain and I can use them to scan… paper? hmmm…

  7. “You know, listening to the folk tell a story fifty times so you can tell it to the next generation yourself. ”

    Certain members of my extended family are hell bent on upholding that tradition, and if I ever hear the phrase ‘Did I ever tell you about the time –‘ again I will force ebook readers, scrolls and cuneiform tablets into the perpetrator … sideways.

  8. ‘Yes, Cory Doctorow will excommunicate me….’

    No, the preferred term of art is ‘unpublish.’

    And upon getting caught unpublishing, you silently put back content deleted by another party, instead of throwing a very public tantrum as during the SFWA debacle. This restoration of previously unpublished content is now known as ununpublishing. BB approves fully, by the way.

    ‘Buy those and then scan them in, or whatever. I won’t tell.’

    Not only that, but at least currently in the U.S., there is nothing you or the publisher can do to stop readers from enjoying their part of the copyright framework. But thanks for letting us know that you promise not to inform on readers doing something legal. Because these days, in the U.S., it is rare to see such a promise in writing.

  9. So… what soothes the savage Scalzi when folks are bugging him? My first guess was (too obvious?) … bacon. No, he’s weary of baconlinks. OMG BACON IN LINK FORM. Or is that called sausage? I’m easily distracted.

  10. Speaking of electronic editions…can we get more Scalzi Vidcasts?

    Video Scalzi killed the Podio Star?

    VidScalzio?

    Scalzvideo?

    Scalzivision, yeah, that’s the ticket!

  11. So a question on Tor. Do they require you to give them electronic rights as well? When they purchase the print rights?

    Just curious considering they seem to suck in the electronic distribution scheme of things. Either that or I am just spoiled by Baen.

    Because Next week David Weber’s next Tor book comes out and I know if there had been and eARC, I would have bought it.

    Book Addiction. Its a bad thing folks. Run Away!

  12. You want to start some shit among scroll partisans, wonder aloud if it’s better to have them delivered tied around the shaft of an arrow or to the leg of a falcon. Hilarity ensues.

  13. John,

    Does illegal file swapping of text files in the future concern you? The files sizes are small, so if a decent electronic device that can pleasantly display a text file comes along, it would be easy to swap novels.

  14. Kids these days! In my day, it was hieroglyphics! Carved on twenty ton limestone blocks! And we loved it!

    Now get off my lawn, you damn kids!

  15. John, you’re cute when you’re snarky.

    I’m somewhat surprised that someone would consider you behind the times so much that you need to be lectured on electronic formats. But I guess hubris and cluelessness often go hand in hand (or is that foot in mouth).

  16. Isn’t it amazing how it’s more fun to direct people to a link than just insert boilerplate? I moved half my sylllabus online solely so could I reply to questions it had already answered with a link instead of a copy and paste. Somehow, it’s better silent snark.

  17. Hey, my first comment, but I’ve read the Whatever going back a ways (admittedly, I found it 4 months ago and read the archives from ’05 forward, but I think it still counts).

    Anyway, how about laser-etched crystal editions? Then you can use different backlights and have the text and page glow in different colors to complement the mood of the book at that point. Fragile, granted, but clay tablets can’t take much abuse either.

  18. Ian M: this already happens. All the time. I suspect most of the people who really do want/need Scalzi ebooks bad enough already have them. I can say from experience that what probably drives folks to bother authors about this is a desire to pay the author, without cluttering up extremely limited living space with printed books they do not need, use, or want. That and an electronic version without OCR errors would be nice.

  19. I personally am considering giving up this site until your works are made available under the creative commons so that I can remix them. I really, *really* hate the color green, and refuse to read Old Man’s War again until I can make the characters purple.

  20. Your book is available here? WTC? (what the crap?) I have to wait a week of more on the library waiting list every time I want to reread that classic. I read about 15 novels a month I can afford to buy every one that I love. Maybe I need to become a web blogging sensation and have boxes of books sent to me for free…

  21. Yeah and it is also not you fault they haven’t released “The Last Colony” on Audible yet, still makes me grumpy. Now that the iPhone has an ebook reader I might start caring again bout ebook releases, but I get much more frustrated with large segments of wonderful writers being under/un-represented in the audiobook world.

  22. Typo cop: I don’t want to get into an i.e./e.g. discussion, but “re: writing” seems wrong unless I’m misunderstanding something about “in re.” This is what happens when you blog angry, John! (Feel free to delete this comment if you edit the post!)

  23. Audiobooks are hard to put together. I don’t know for an eBook.

    I do itch to ask a bunch of publishers “how hard is it really?” so I can readjust my expectations. I want Zoe’s Tale in my little Kindle as soon as release date comes. But I also want it to be nice and polished. I actually do spend more money on better “e”-editions of classics like Pride and Prejudice if it means that I get, for example, chapter breaks and a table of contents that really works.

  24. BTW, for people with Kindles:

    http://www.amazon.com/Old-Mans-War/dp/B000SEIK2S/
    http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Brigades-Sci-Essential-Book/dp/B000PC0ZWG/

    Kindlers can take the text of Agent to the Stars ( http://www.scalzi.com/agent/ ) as HTML and send it to YourKindleName@free.kindle.com to get an .azw format for free to upload via USB, or just YourKindleName@kindle.com to get it converted *and* whisper’d to your Kindle for 10 cents.

    While waiting for The Last Colony (let’s start up an email campaign to Tor! And maybe we’ll get Zoe’s Tale too! But what email should we use?) there’s a ton of stuff available. I am a picky reader and I have over 20 samples of SF stuff to try and then, most likely, buy.

  25. I am hoping that the new tor.com (coming July 20th) will be launching something similar to the baen.com webscriptions service which allows you to get their books in multiple non-drm ebook formats, including both new and old. I am a kindle owner, so the drm part really doesn’t bother me, but I would love to see The Last Colony or Zoe’s Tale either way in ebook format.

    Hopefully John’s rant will generate enough email’s to get this done either way.

  26. Re: clay vs stone tablets.

    Clay tablets won’t keep well in wet conditions such as exist in Ohio. Stone tablets will work until the next ice age grinds your work into rock dust. And that’s assuming that you go with granite, not cheap-ass limestone, which will disappear far sooner.

    However, please consider copper / bronze tablets for a true long-duration storage media. Use lasers to to etch your words microscopically onto stable copper. ‘New’ media (papyrus, paper, plastic, etc) all break down in the end. Copper can last tens of thousands of years.

    And yes, I just finished The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. An interesting exploration of how long human artifacts would last without humans around to maintain them.

  27. I don’t think I am asking too much that you look into having your books published in some sort of direct brain transfer format. If you can’t be bothered to make it easy to have your books projected straight into my brain then the heck with you, Mister.

  28. Ian @19. I own such a device already (the Sony Reader, not the Kindle) and I love it. I spend multiple hours a day reading books on it. And yes, there’s many sources for not so legal versions of just about any book you’d like (of varying quality, OCR that hasn’t been proofed sucks!)

    I don’t quite understand the problem with formats, generally speaking people with an ebook reader are going to be a tad more on the geeky side than your average citizen and shouldn’t have any trouble doing conversions. There’s lots of programs that will convert just about any format in which ebooks are available into just about any other format. Personally I usually buy in lit since Sony’s proprietary format tends to be more expensive. Just seems odd to me that that’d be something people would complain about!

  29. @Sunidesus #36 – The world turns.

    And anyways, while there are lots of converters out there, converters that produce quality conversions are something else.

    Removing hyperlinks in a technical reference book that, in real life, is 3 inches thick, is really not good. Destroying the typography of something that relies heavily on different fonts (example: Times New Roman for text, and monospaced fonts for code) is something converters do easily.

    Anyways, that’s why I try to buy in the formats that the publishers took care of. Because publishers are able to do that kind of stuff, and lots of people doing free conversions don’t.

  30. Electronic books just don’t appeal to me.
    You have the extra expense of buying something to read them on, not to mention the cost of batteries or charging the thing up before you can use it.
    Assuming you can find the book you want in the format the machine takes.
    Books to me are something you can hold in your hand.
    I still have the first Sci-Fi book I ever read and can look at my shelves and see books that mean something to me as reminders of places or people or things happening when I bought it or got it as a present.
    Maybe I am a little old fashioned but a memory card just doesn’t look or feel the same.
    Perhaps they have a place in some situations an e book could save a lot of weight in reference books for students or a Doctor for example .
    But for pleasure lets stick with something that works fine as it is.

  31. Tor.com (which launches tomorrow, noon EDT) is not going to be a digital publishing initiative like Baen’s extensive online e-text shop, much though we admire Baen’s site. Tor.com is something else. It will include a steady stream of free, original short fiction from major SF writers, available in a bunch of digital formats; indeed, the very first story is by John Scalzi. But Tor.com’s main purpose is news, discussion, and conversation; the free stories are there to provoke interesting conversations, just like everything else on the front page of the site.

    We will be getting back into business with the Baen e-text store; the delay is now on the Baen end, as they have technical issues to address before they can start selling a selection of Tor titles. We will also, in the fairly near future, be publishing more SF in more digital formats through other channels.

    We don’t generally have a high opinion of DRM. A lot of Tor books are in the Kindle program, but it’s Amazon that insists on DRM, not us.

    Our corporate people most closely involved with our various e-publishing initiatives are quite aware of the high level of interest in John Scalzi’s work, so more of it will probably be available in more formats pretty darn soon.

    As digital publishing becomes a more important part of the SF world, I imagine we’ll be talking about it on Tor.com, and we expect SF readers will have lots of opinions about what they want in electronic texts. I look forward to having those conversations.

  32. BTW, let me just add that I second John’s opinions, heartily.

    John is a professional writer; he writes to earn a living. (This goes for me, too.) Right now, we work on the basis that lots of folks give us a little money when they want to read some of our larger works. Rather than handling the accounting and distribution side of this ourselves, we go via publishers (like Tor) because (a) that’s where folks who buy books usually look for books to buy, and (b) we don’t want to mess around doing all the sales and marketing and warehouse admin ourselves — we want to spend our time writing. (We’re better at writing; they’re better at taking what we write and shoveling it into the supply chain.)

    Ebooks are, as it happens, still a very small part of the market. (Baen, with the best will in the world and doing their best to do everything the way their readers like it, still sell fewer ebooks than hardcovers — even though they’re typically a quarter the price or less.) So when it comes to negotiating a contract for a bundle of rights (such as paperback, hardcover, audio book, and all the other stuff publishers buy at the same time) we usually let them bundle ebooks in with the rest. Especially as some publishers are so scared of the evil internet cooties that they think are going to eat their lunch at some indeterminate time in the future that they make acquiring ebook rights a deal breaker.

    Folks who ask for DRM-free ebooks, or creative commons licensed free ebooks — well, they’re good things, and whenever we do lunch I bend my editors’ ears about it. But it’s not up to them; that kind of decision is made at a higher level. If their managers tell them that those things are non-negotiable, then making an issue of it in contract talks isn’t going to get me anything except a failed book deal (and a multi-year hole in my income stream). I’m not inclined to cut my own throat because of a matter of principle over a format that is worth, at best, a tenth of my income. (And if you feel inclined to criticise me for this, just tell me — have you ever quit your job over a matter of principle? One impacting about 5-10% of your work?)

  33. @Patrick Nielsen Hayden: We will be getting back into business with the Baen e-text store; the delay is now on the Baen end, as they have technical issues to address before they can start selling a selection of Tor titles. We will also, in the fairly near future, be publishing more SF in more digital formats through other channels.

    Can’t wait for it, specially if you’re going to sell the ebooks at ~6-10$. I live in Italy, and a new US hardcover costs A LOT! For example, I can’t get Weber’s By Schism Rent Asunder for less than 23.9€ including delivery: that’s 37.84$! if I buy it with some other books I can spread the cost, but I can’t always spend 50+ € in books, so I’m probably going to wait for the paperback.
    But I’d be happy to buy a cheaper ebook and then the paperback for my “collection,” as I usually do for Baen books.

    Without DRM, if possible, I’m a linux user.

  34. George @38: Oh don’t get me wrong, I still buy tons of “dead tree” books. The one’s that are on my Reader don’t really feel like I own them (even though I’ve purchased them) I like having the actual physical book. Actually just bought another giant bookshelf ‘cuz I’m out of shelf space! And honestly the battery thing isn’t an issue (at least with the Sony, I have no experience with the other options) I read a LOT and a charge typically lasts me at least a week. I transfer books to it more freqently than that and it charges really fast so when I transfer books it gets all charged up again. Works great.

    But a huge draw for me is that I don’t have to hold the book open, I like to knit while I’m reading and that’s really hard to do when at least one hand has to be holding the book!

    I’d really like publishers to do something like what’s starting to happen with DVD’s and that “digital copy” option. Some kind of code or something inside the book that lets a person also get the digital version of the book. Granted it’d have to be more complicated than that, otherwise people could just go browsing through the bookstore copying the codes out of the books they wanted!

  35. Jon @#33

    There have always been a FEW Tor books on Webscriptions as well (Presumably those author who reserved the electronic publishing rights). There are about 10 of them out there right now, mostly Charles Stross and Vernor Vinge.

    John: You may not have control over what Tor does with your books after you sign the contract, but you do have control over the contracts you sign and the rights you assign to the publisher in those contracts. I’m not saying you should go against your own interests just because a segment of your customers are anti-DRM evangelists, but I hope your reader’s comments at least give you and your agent something to think about for the next contract you have to negotiate.

  36. Bozo the Clone:

    As Patrick mentioned, Tor’s position on DRM is not too far off of mine; it’s their e-book partners who demand DRM. For me, it’s not a huge concern of mine, partly because I know that anyone who is truly enraged about DRM won’t buy an eBook anyway, or if they do, they’ll crack the DRM in short order. I’m not going to demand the eBooks be DRM-free in my next contract, but neither would I demand that they have to be DRM’d, either.

  37. Charles
    Oops, I should’ve read your comment before I replied to #33, since it answers a lot of what I was asking. On the other hand Tor seems to have been OK with publishing at least some of your work on Webscriptions. It seems like what the publishers are really afraid of is that they’ll lose the e-rights if something really takes off for them. So if they refuse to give up the e-rights, perhaps the way to negotiate the contract is that they are required to publish the work(s) in e-book format within x months of print publication, subject to either cash penalty payable to you or their loss of e-rights to the work. If a book isn’t a big seller, they aren’t losing much either way, and if it does generate respectable sales, they would want to have an eBook out (though probably with DRM).

    I would’ve thought that publishers would see eBooks as a way to pre-market work in a way that would give them better control over their print runs. So if an electronic ARC is a “big” seller (for an eBook), they can make arrangements for a larger print run. Overall, the established media companies are simply terrible at adapting to the opportunities and risks caused by the new distribution channels. With luck this is more a task of turning an oil tanker rather than reviving a petrified dinosaur.

  38. @45: I’ve tried for a reversion clause on ebook rights — not with Tor, with other publishers — and gotten nowhere. (To be fair, I wasn’t willing to threaten to use the nuclear option — walking out and finding another publisher — and maybe if I’d done that I’d have gotten somewhere. But that’s a gamble, and I don’t like gambling with my career …)

    I believe that most publishers have no idea how to use ebook rights effectively — or rather, individuals within the organizations know exactly what they need to do, but are blocked from acting on it because of corporate policy. A large chunk of the problem stems from the fact that publishers aren’t independent book publishers any more, for the most part; they’re components of media conglomerates that own magazines, newspapers, and even radio and TV stations. Corporate policy in such organizations isn’t tailored to the needs of any one division, and sometimes doesn’t make sense unless you view it in a wider context. (This is why Baen are able to do the right thing — Tor own a big stake in them, but AIUI they’re effectively a private company. So they can act independently without having to get prior approval from six layers of corporate bureaucracy who don’t understand how book publishing works because they’re actually focussed on movies or newspapers.)

  39. Regarding Tor books on Baen’s webscriptions site, I only see one book actually available for purchase.

    Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

    There a bunch of other Tor books listed, but you can’t buy them yet. I assume they were put up before the Secret Masters of Tor sent the word* down.

    *”No”

  40. Captain Button @48: A small number of Tor titles were on sale at Webscriptions for a short period of time a couple of years ago. They still show up, presumably to provide the expected service (access as long as Webscription is in business) to those lucky few who bought them then.

    Off Armageddon Reef is a special case, a one-off deal separate from the earlier aborted program.

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