Publishing Asks Why It Is In a Rapidly Descending Handbasket

Yesterday I received a few solicitous inquiries from friends and/or fans asking if Wednesday’s massive publishing industry torpedoing (chronicled here by Andrew Wheeler) had somehow sucked me into its briny wake. The answer, in brief, is no. I’m fine, my books under contract are fine, and while I’m as concerned as anyone would be about their chosen industry going all explody around them, for various reasons I’m personally well-positioned to get through this stuff reasonably well. So: No worries here. I appreciate the concern.

That said, these are gruesome times for publishing, and a lot of folks are not as well-positioned as I am. Imprints have vaporized, layoffs have begun, and it’s better-than-even odds that a number of authors and books are going to get shaved off of publishing lists. 2009 is also likely to be a singularly lousy time to be an aspiring debut author, as publishing houses consolidate their lists and focus their resources on established avenues (i.e., spend their money on people who are already bestsellers) rather than seeking out new folks. Basically, life’s gonna suck in publishing for the next year or possibly two.

You ask: What can I do to help things suck less? Well, in a larger, overarching sense, there’s not much you can do — publishing isn’t the only industry that’s hurting at the moment, as you might be aware, should you keep track of the news. We’ve all got to get through this crap together. In the smaller, more immediate sense, however, there sure is something you can do: Buy some damn books.

Fortunately, this advice is well-timed: Books are inexpensive yet valued objects, which means that they make lovely gifts for whatever holiday festivities you subscribe to this time of year. Now is a fine time to introduce friends and loved ones to some of your favorite authors — and in doing so, you’re boosting that author’s sales, which will make his or her publisher marginally less liable to dump their shivering ass onto the street. You’re giving a gift a loved one will appreciate, you’re doing your favorite authors a favor, and you’re doing your part to keep editors and publishers from hurling themselves out of high-rise windows. Truly, everybody wins.

So, go: Make this a bookish holiday season. You know you want to anyway. I, my fellow authors and a grateful publishing industry thank you in advance for your cooperation, and for your seasonal purchases.

76 thoughts on “Publishing Asks Why It Is In a Rapidly Descending Handbasket

  1. I’m thinking Zoe’s Tale will make an excellent gift for my little teenish brother and am hoping to find a book just right for my driving-age teen sister. That, and the new Blake Shelton CD =)

    Books and music: gifts that never get old.

  2. Also, if you have no one to buy any books for, consider buying some books for those less fortunate. I did my enbookenating via Child’s Play this year, for the children’s hospital in New Orleans.

    Of course, I also bought them a nice Scrabble Jr. set, so they can experience the illicit joy of spelling out filthy words when the nurses aren’t looking. I’m not saying I’m a moral paragon or anything.

  3. John, Ghod only knows I’ve spent the last 7&#frac12; years online doing everything I can to spread the word about great F&SF books that people might like, and yet, even with 12,000 hits per day on average, I’ve always been a bit saddened by how few readers actually click through my Amazon links to buy books. Trying to get people out of their comfort zones to pick up something that might be a little new, a little different, is a well-nigh impossible task. And even when readers say they want something fresh and original, most of them don’t mean it, as they’ll turn up their noses at most anything you recommend them, no matter how enthusiastically, even if it’s just by an author they haven’t heard of. The sheer level of resistance most people have to new experiences is a real shame. It seems such an unfulfilling way to live.

  4. I have to say that I have very little sympathy for the publishing houses. Most of them seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to the digital age (for instance, selling books on the Kindle) and even when it comes to pricing — in some cases charging more for the electronic version of the book than for the paperback.

    Right now, my main reason for not buying a book is if it’s not on the Kindle. Yet I see many author’s backlists (for instance, L. E. Modesitt’s) on the Kindle store with holes in the series (e.g., books 1 and 3 available, but not book 2). What that tells me is that the publishers don’t have a coherent strategy, and don’t understand how the market works.

    As far as pricing goes, by over-pricing digital books, publishers are not doing themselves any favors. One reason I discovered Chris Moriarty’s and Richard Morgan’s books was because they were available in the Kindle store, and were cheap ($5.59 in the case of Moriarty’s) so I could buy their books with low risk. What happened was that as I discovered I liked those books, I bought later books by them — even at a higher price. My brother and a friend got hooked by those authors as a result as well, so those authors got 3 readers as a result of me being able to buy books cheaply!

    Tor’s doing very well in this regards, with Scalzi’s books all being available in digital formats, but they too seem to be waiting for Baen Books’ store to come on-line, which seems to be taking forever.

    Finally, DRM — I think by buying into DRM with digital books (and as a consumer, Kindle’s DRM is as user-friendly as they come, and I have no issue with it), publishers are potentially locking consumers into one digital device (at this point, it looks like it’s the Kindle), which will in time lead them into the same situation music labels got into with Apple’s iTunes — they will face less and less bargaining power as e-book devices drop in price to the point where the convenience of getting electronic books (along with their many other advantages, such as adjustable font size and light weight) means every avid reader will have one.

  5. I’m still not sure I get the appeal of the Kindle, unless it’s the latest incarnation of our culture’s obsession with gadgets. We got our PSP’s and our iPod Nanos and our Blackberrys and Boysenberrys and Dingleberrys, so now we gotta have our Kindles for reading purposes. As for me, hey, dead tree books don’t require batteries or chargers, and that = win.

    But having said that, I will say, if e-books are an emerging market, then the publishing industry is foolish to ignore it or to fail to develop a sensible business plan for pursuing it.

  6. I always figure that if I keep buying books faster than the parrot can shred them, I’m doing pretty well. And given said parrot, I think I’d better not buy a Kindle.

  7. I am just one consumer, but I tend to be a mid-range adopter of new technology (so I think I may be representative of a sizable chunk of market share). At this point, I’m to the stage of looking at whether of not books I want are available on Kindle. For me personally, I’m nearing the tipping point (influenced by whether or not I can download for Kindle when I am deployed in 2009). My opinion is that publishers who embrace Kindle will thrive in the next decade. Kindle may not be the ultimate format, but some form of download will be a substantial part of market share in the 2010′s.

  8. I’m buying books, I’m buying your books. The biggest problem I see is if I buy too many more books I’m going to have to get a new house, which is really not a good idea.

  9. Thomas,

    I have a Cybook (Kindle is not available outside the US) – same screen, different shell. I buy hundreds of books for it each year, almost no paper books. The appeal for me is

    no storage problems (I can’t fit any more paper books in my house, and I want to keep all the ones I have)

    Better availability- I don’t have to wait for the books to come out in local stores (if they ever do) – I can download in minutes instead.

    Better prices – local book prices are exorbitant – approx US$15-17 for paperback, double or more for hard cover. Buying from the US doesn’t help, now that shipping costs double the price of the books.

    Better reading experience. I find a e-ink screen as easy on my eyes as paper, I don’t have to turn the page, just touch a button, I can put the reader on any reasonably flat surface and read hands free without losing my page, and as soon as I finish one book, the next one is right there in the reader waiting for me.

    Disadvantages? – The reader costs (though it’s saved me money through cheaper books). I have to careful not to get it wet (don’t like my books getting wet either). And it’s no good for books with lots of images/photos.

  10. Zanzibar,

    You should be able to download for the Kindle while deployed, but not through the Kindle itself, the network it uses is US only. You’ll have to download to a computer and transfer to the Kindle by USB. And you can only buy Kindle books with a US based credit card, though that shouldn’t be a problem.

  11. So why doesn’t the publishing industry go to Washington and ask for a bailout? It seems to be all the rage with companies these days…

  12. Already bought three books for Christmas presents, and obviously, about 6 more for myself in the same shopping trips and one for my husband so he won’t grumble about all my new books. I will be asking for books for christmas too, I have a long list of “to be aquired” books including two of yours. This is where I spend my disposable income so i’m doing all I can.

  13. It’s not all bad news, however. Harper Collins are about to launch a new sf&f&h imprint called “Angry Robot” – the first titles appear in June, and there will be an extremely high percentage of new authors. Starting at 2 new titles a month, but plans to increase.

    I join their editorial team at the start of January, and they have some very interesting plans, uh… planned… :-)

  14. The publishers I’ve spoken to about the e-book thing are aware that they have to get more involved. They’re also aware that the pricing system is wrong. At the same time, they’re cautious of getting themselves into the same kind of mess which presently afflicts the film and music industries. They’ve assumed for a longish while that the book was immune to digitisation – mostly because digital paper seemed to be the equivalent of fusion power and was always five years in the future – but they’re catching up fast.

    Now that people are starting to be eager to read digitally, they need to be looking at paradigms – and there’s already been some rough-housing with Google over rights. It’s going to be hard, and I think a measure of caution probably isn’t inappropriate – however frustrating it may be. Better to wait a little longer for a system which will work, is scalable and fair-ish, rather than dive in nose first and get burned.

    On the nose, presumably.

    NH

  15. “I’m still not sure I get the appeal of the Kindle…”

    For me, the appeal of the Kindle was one word: now. It let me get a book and start reading it about a minute after I decided I wanted it. No traveling to the store, hoping what I was looking for was in stock. No ordering from a website and waiting a week. Now.

    Also, the prices were good.

  16. I love my ebook reader (Stanza on the iPod as you can’t get the Kindle here in Germany yet), and I’d like to buy more ebooks. It’s a distribution channel which (I think) would be a pretty good way for the publishers to make additional money …if many of these files wouldn’t cost me as much or more than the dead-tree versions.

    I mean, really, I like a good novel as much as the next guy, and I am definitely willing to spend money on them. Also, I don’t like hardcovers for the price tags (yes, I think $25 is a lot of money). So, one would think that a digital version would cost substantially less than the hardcover, but it’s not always the case.

    I have no problems with paying $7 or $8 for an ebook, but everything over $10 is highway thievery.

    Anyways, I believe the publishing industry is facing the same problems as the music industry — they’re shooting themselves in the foot because they are mostly ignoring the possibilities of using a good distribution channel.

  17. Being a semi-new adopter of technology (usually 2nd generation stuff, so the bugs are mostly worked out) I can honestly say I have no desire for a Kindle. There are numerous things I don’t like about the Kindle: no tactile feedback, the battery can die, I still can’t believe the screen is easy to read as a page, limited book choices, it’s breakable & expensive, I like my bookshelves, it isn’t sexy at all (it looks like a mini Tandy 1000), it doesn’t enable me to do anything new (buy a book in a minute or a 15 minute drive to the library/bookstore…I see no real benefit), I enjoy perusing bookstores (though most have no idea how to properly display books), you can’t mark it up like a book, you can’t loan it to a friend.

  18. I shop for books once a week. I buy 2-3 a month, maybe. I have the desire and the means to buy more, but I don’t. Mainly because I think the bulk of F&SF books suck.

    They suck not because they’re poorly written but because they don’t engage my interest. For example, I love Jim Butcher’s Dresden series. But if I want more urban fantasy I’m largely out of luck, unless I want porn or romance disguised as F&SF books (which I don’t).

    Thomas M. Wagner at 3: I agree that I don’t like being taken out of my “comfort zone”. I disagree that means I’m resistant to something “a little new, a little different”. I am completely open to reading both Tolkien and GRRM, by way of example. I love them both. But being open to new experiences does not mean I will read porn or romance disguised as F&SF books, or that I’ll swallow my resentment to authors shoving their social, economic, cultural views down my throat (getting “preachy”). I can resist both by simply not buying their books and I don’t.

  19. “2009 is also likely to be a singularly lousy time to be an aspiring debut author”

    KAHN!!!

    (damnit)

    Good thing I’ve got my backup day job of printing. Oh, wait…

    Good thing I’ve got my backup night job of local government. Oh, wait…

    damnit.

  20. Folks, electronic books — even ones read on the Kindle — are still such a small portion of sales that they are more or less equivalent to statistical noise in terms of the overall sales picture. If you own and use an eBook reader, you are not a “mid-range” tech user, you’re part of the cutting edge of reading technology.

    This may or may not change over time (I think it will change, but far more slowly than people seem to think), but right now eBooks, and their availability or not, have almost nothing to do with the current overall publishing picture. The fact that nearly this entire thread has been occupied with a discussion of eBooks merely shows that commenters here are technological outliers and/or really really really like to talk about their technology fetishes.

    Which is fine, said the guy with a new netbook and Blackberry Storm. Just remember to keep your technofetish in perspective.

  21. My fam always includes books on our wish lists, and this year I included a couple that I found through Big Ideas. Thinking about getting Little Brother for my 14-year-old nephews, but not sure if the “adult” (read: sex, not ideas) content may be appropriate….they haven’t indicated any interest in girls yet (or boys, for that matter) as far as I know.

  22. LOL at how fast this has developed into people giving their opinions on the Kindle.

    For my part, I’ll say that I’m currently short on cash, on the cusp of several huge (and likely money-sucking) changes, but looking eagerly forward to blowing the Amazon giftcard I’m due for Christmas on Kindle books.

    Also, before I started cutting back and leaving my Kindle at home so I couldn’t buy anything, I was averaging an easy $40 to $50/month on books, so I figure this year I’ve done my part for the book industry in a way that I haven’t usually. My buy-and-keep rate (as opposed to my buy-and-return rate) was and is way smaller for print books, too.

    To Thomas M. Wagner @ 3, I doubt you’re getting the full picture of who’s going on to buy after reading your recs. For me, recommended books are checked for a Kindle or Fictionwise version. Then they are sampled, and/or stuck in my wish list for a time when I can afford to blow more money by experimenting. Rarely do I immediately buy ANY book I read a recommendation about. I don’t know how many people’s buying habits look like mine, but do know that people might be more interested in collating recs now that times are hard and they can’t buy every book that catches their eye.

  23. The economic downturn made me look at where I was spending money. I quickly realized that out of all of the discretionary spending I was doing, I was getting the most value from books. For the $7.99 I was spending on a paperback novel, I was getting hours and hours of entertainment.

    I’m actually spending more money right now on books then I was when the economy was better. I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth with books.

  24. I am sorry to say, but starting with the spike in gas prices, I stopped buying books (of which I used to buy quite a number) and got myself a library card.

    Now that the original impetus is gone, the not buying books thing is still part of my budget, especially as Christmas approaches and the money is going usefully to my four children, 9 grandchildren, wife parents and siblings.

    My household income is well above average, but even so, it may be a while before I start buying books again.

    So I can see where the industry is having problems.

    One bright spot: I made a bet that Republicans would win the Presidency and gain seats in Congress (back before the economy tanked). The bet was a book for each.

    I lost both bets (obviously) and bought two books and send them to the winner.

    So there’s that….

  25. There’s a book blogger movement, initiated by My Friend Amy (who offers a button for it) called I’m buying books for the holidays. When I displayed the button and wrote about the books I’m buying as gifts (including Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World), one of my readers picked it up as a meme. All you have to do to join is talk about the books you’re giving as gifts.

  26. Actually, it’s probably not a bad time to be an aspiring debut novelist. It’s probably a much worse time to be someone with one or two novels in print, but with unimpressive sales. Publishers know that they need to keep acquiring new talent in order to get that next big sale, but an established midlister that has failed to break out one or two times in the past is often viewed as a poor risk. Overall, the situation in the publishing industry seems no worse than any other industry. Things are harsh all around. And just because they are laying people off does not mean they’re intending to publish fewer books. Companies rarely layoff employees with the intention of decreasing production. They do it intending to maintain production with less overhead. Whether they can actually do it…that’s another topic entirely. My husband’s company has been pursuing this strategy for years and it seems like an unmitigated disaster. It’s not as if it’s ever been easy to sell a novel, so not quitting the day job remains a viable option for current or aspiring novelists.

  27. My birthday was last week and by the end of the day I had acquired $75 in Amazon gift certs. By doing some shrewd shopping on books I have wanted and waited for I was able to get 10 books, free shipping and still have $4 left in the account. Granted, they were paperbacks, but still they were books. I have to say that World War Z by Max Brooks has been very good so far and I can’t wait to devour the other books I have bought.
    And yes, I even went out of my comfort zone on some because of suggestions from people.

  28. Piaw Na -

    Digital editions of books exist or don’t exist for many reasons. The primary reason you may be seeing holes in a series of digital editions is not that the publisher isn’t making them available but rather that the publisher doesn’t own the digital rights. Many authors choose not to sell their digital rights, thinking that they can do a better job of digital distribution themselves. Many older books have contracts that don’t include digital rights simply because at the time the contracts were drafted, digital rights weren’t a factor. And some contracts are perpetually in dispute because while they may state that the publisher owns “electronic rights”, unless the rights are “verbatim electronic” it can been seen to mean that the publisher only owns the rights to reproduce the book as an electronic game.

    Best,

    Colleen

  29. I like the Sony Reader much better than the Kindle, though I don’t have either. I do my ebook reading on a Palm T|X.

    Having said all that, I heartily second the Scalzi Solution[tm]. As a household we normally spend a minimum of $50 a month on books or ebooks, and average between one and two hundred dollars. We have a great deal of difficulty (my partner and I) walking into a bookstore and walking out without having spent $50 or more on books.

    Books are food for the mind, so we budget for mental groceries.

  30. To #24, Pegkitty
    I *highly* recommend Doctorow’s Little Brother for your 14-year-old. I bought it for my son (12) this year as a present for not losing his calculator (!) — I just casually pulled it off the shelf and asked if he was keen — and he was so enthralled, he started to read it while we were walking home.

  31. “Buy some damn books.”

    Scalzi wins my Favorite Person on the Interwebs Award for the day. Unfortunately, I don’t have a plaque or anything for you, not even a shiny banner. I should get on that.

    Random House started up the Books=Gifts website this year. If you haven’t seen it and you’re thinking about taking our host’s sage advice, it’s worth clicking over to. The really cool thing about it is, they’re not just promoting their own titles. The links and articles feature books from all different publishers. Hooray for one of the big guys sharing the love.

    Digital publishing is still very shiny and new. If publishers are being careful about it, understand that they’re trying to get it right. They’re trying to figure out DRM, pricing, rights, and a million other things you and I probably wouldn’t even think about that have to be sorted out first.

    One advantage dead-tree books (hee, Carlo) have – if you love a particular book, you can hand it to a friend and say “read this!” Unless you want to give up your Kindle – with your whole queue of New Stuff to Read saved inside – for a few days or weeks (or forever!), you really can’t do that with electronic readers.

  32. EVERY Christmas is a bookish Christmas for us… the family always asks “what do you want for Christmas?” and I always email them a link to my Amazon wish list. It’s 6 pages long, surely they can find something to give me :) On the giving side, my wife and I have already picked out 9 books for gifts, and I still have a couple more to purchase. So yeah, books for Christmas. The gifts that keep on giving. Read them, reread them, pass them to friends, donate them to libraries. Good stuff.

    Also, if you are addicted to the shiny tech like I am, my buddy just bought a Kindle. SERIOUS WANT. We were walking around the cube-farm and he bought and downloaded an ebook right in front of me. /drool Granted, the price tag is definitely something to consider, and I love the feel of a good book, but still… have you read Anathem? I think I sprained my hand holding that weighty tome!

    Anyway. Yes. Seconded. Thirded. Whatever: “Buy some damn books.”

    Indeed.

  33. I think that SF readers in general tend to be on the cutting edge of technology. The music industry tried to stop emusic and now finds Apple/Itunes in charge. If book publishers don’t embrace ebooks Amazon will do it for them.

  34. “I am sorry to say, but starting with the spike in gas prices, I stopped buying books (of which I used to buy quite a number) and got myself a library card.”

    You could always provide your library with suggestions on what they should acquire. They’ll probably be cutting back on their acquisitions, but a nudge in the right direction could encourage them to buy less rapidly-dated crap and more quality items.

  35. Over the last 18 months or so I’ve bought more hardback SF books than I have total in the previous 20 years, sign of getting back into the fan thing and wanting to support my favorite authors, and the ratio of new to used paperbacks has gone up, for the same reason. However, I work in the computer industry, and our bloodbath started awhile back; my current job goes away at the end of this month, so my book buying spree will have to slow down until I can find another job (not happening quickly). Add in the medical bills and the car I have to buy to replace the one that just got rear-ended, and the [REDACTED BY THE COMMITTEE TO ELIMINATE SELF-PITY].

    I’ve got to say, reading the news these days is like watching all the bobbing industries circling the drain. New froth added to the foam every day. Buying and reading books may be the best way to escape from the reality of the screams of the drowning executives, “My stock options for a rowboat!”

  36. John @ 23: I agree, and I am aware of being awesomely ahead of the curve.

    Still, I argue that embracing the possibilities of electronic delivery may result in more sales with less cost and higher margins.

    I might be wrong, of course. We’ve all witnessed how great the music industry is doing now that there is _one_ successful online store. Or was it two?

  37. I buy many books a year. Everybody on my Christmas list is getting books. Heck, we just bought our daughter the complete Tin-Tin collection for her birthday.

    But…I’m still waiting on my job review (was due in April). From what I’ve heard from those who have gotten one, we’re being told “You should be thankful you still have a job, peon!”

    Never mind the ongoing battle with NY State Treasury over the tax refund they still owe us on our 2007 taxes (“We’re reviewing the paperwork. Call us back in another 90 days.”).

    I’m cutting back. I’ve almost stopped buying paperbacks. I’ve cut way back on hardcovers–nobody new, just author’s I already know. The only consistent buying is via Baen’s Webscription service because they are DRM-free, multi-format, and at a relatively low price so that if I buy a new author and the book sucks, I haven’t lost that much

    So, I don’t think I’ll be doing much to bail out the publishing industry this year.

  38. I buy more books than my wife would strictly approve of, and am eyeing up Plastic Logic’s ebook reader when/if it becomes commercially viable. Something about the Kindle just doesn’t quite appeal to me.

    Also, I prefer dead-tree books to screen reading.

  39. Oh wow, I didn’t realize I started this firestorm when I went to bed. For the Kindle detractors, here’s why I love mine:

    It’s light. I carried it in my saddlebag on my bike ride across France (the Pyrenees and the Rhone Alps – http://piaw.blogspot.com/2008/09/tour-across-france-2008.html). Try that with 200 books.

    As a travel guide, it is as close to ideal as you can get. The search feature means that when I was in Paris and wanted to eat duck confit, I typed that into my Kindle and used it to find a restaurant that I wanted from the restaurant guide I bought 2 days before going there (http://piaw.blogspot.com/2008/07/review-hungry-for-paris.html). Yes, you can use google to find restaurants, but a restaurant guide is still the way to go for a foodie-oriented trip in Paris. In fact, I think the killer app for the Kindle will be travel guides — ask a backpacker whether he wants to carry 10 lonely planets or 1 kindle while hiking around Europe, and I know what the answer is. (Yes, I am aware that Lonely Planet, Fodor’s and Moon travel guides are all shooting themselves in the foot by not building Kindle editions of their books — if I was a publisher right now, I’d be building travel guides for the Kindle ASAP and corner the market on travel guides for the Kindle, since those laggards obviously don’t know how to serve the market)

    Book prices for new books for authors I like are priced right. Stross’ Saturn Children debuted at $9.99. So did Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale. I wouldn’t have considered paying hardcover prices for those books, but Amazon knows the important of long term market power (like Apple’s iTunes) over short term profits, so they’re eating the lower profit margins or even in some cases subsidizing the cost of such books to drive Kindle popularity. Consider that Fictionwise has to sell the same digital books (in a much less flexible DRM’d format — you can share Kindle books with up to 6 Kindles locked to one Amazon account, while Fictionwise’s formats lock you to one reader).

    Ebook sales are growing in triple-digit percentages this year, largely because of the Kindle. In an otherwise stagnant book market, this is an incredible opportunity. Yet every publisher is dragging their feet. As a result, the darknet sites for ebooks are becoming the way to get backlist books such as “The Last Unicorn”, for instance. Ignoring this market basically means the revenue opportunities go to the device seller rather than the publisher.

    The “alternative” readers such as the iPhone aren’t an issue. Try getting any of the above-mentioned books on Stanza or eReader. You can’t. We’re in the early adopter market right now, and those are avid readers, not folks who can be satisfied re-reading Pride and Prejudice and other out-of-copyright books. http://piaw.blogspot.com/2008/10/long-term-review-kindle.html

    In short, I’ve spent more money this year on books than the last 6 years combined, mostly because of the Kindle (I have no more space at home for books, and was traveling an insane amount this year). Ignoring this market (the Kindle is sold out through Christmas, despite the recession) is a sign of publisher brain-damage, but creates the opportunity for new forward thinking publishers to take their place.

  40. Can’t ever see buying a Kindle. The thing’s ungainly as hell — why on earth would I need a keyboard on an ebook reader?

    However, after seeing my father-in-law’s Kindle over Thanksgiving, I can enthusiastically testify to the almost indescribable crispness of the screen. It’s absurd. There’s no way to do it justice without seeing one in person, because any media where you see a picture of it is going to have a lower resolution than the Kindle’s screen itself.

    The downside: A surprising delay and flash when turning a page. Like, you’d want to hit the page turn button when you’re on the second-to-last line in order to keep reading smoothly. I found that odd, and for me probably insurmountable.

    But back to the topic at hand: “2009 is also likely to be a singularly lousy time to be an aspiring debut author”

    Razzle-frazzle stupid economy. But hey, at least this enforces the concept of writing a “practice novel,” as John has suggested often.

  41. Buy books, then donate to a library. (They may end up going into the local library book sale, but that’s still going to get them to people who will read them.)

  42. Joe Rybicki wrote: “The thing’s ungainly as hell — why on earth would I need a keyboard on an ebook reader?”

    Presumably it’s mostly there for entering search strings so you can find books to buy and download.

    I believe you can also enter notes on the books you read, though they aren’t displayed inline with the text.

    The Kindle also offers some web-browsing ability, though it seems rather ill-suited for the purpose, due to the refresh characteristics of the e-ink screen.

  43. This is where I feel guilty, because except at tax-season when I go completely book-wild, I usually only buy used books. This was not so much of a problem in years past, when used booksellers generally still sent a percentage on to the author, but I presume that sellers on Amazon and the like don’t do that — really, how could they? So, even though I am an avid book-buyer and -reader and -sharer, I’m not really contributing much. I wish I could, but it seems that book prices have steadily risen to the point where books (at least the ones I like) are no longer affordable to me in their pristine versions.

    I think I will allocate more of my Christmas funds to book-buying, though. If nothing else, it’ll piss off my in-laws.

  44. John, I saw on Locus’s list that you have a book called The God Engine coming out. Is that a SubPress novella? I remember hearing something about it, I think.

    Also, for those with teen children or siblings (hopefully no one here has teen parents), I would recommend Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (in addition to Zoe’s Tale).

    I got this book for my 16 year old brother and he stopped playing his XBOX 360 to read it.

    As a side note, the book may cause mistrust aimed towards anyone over 25.

  45. Until I can write permanent notes in the margins of an e-book, I’m stuck with the original version.
    “My name is Red, and I’m a compulsive anotater.”
    I also come from a family of compulsive book givers and buyers.

  46. Sorry, but in this economy I don’t find the nearly $30.00 cost for a hardcover book to be “inexpensive”. (Don’t get me started on the wait for TBP and then two to three years later for a MM paperback)

    I too have cut way, way down on my purchases of books (and comics which I have not bought in over a year and won’t be doing so with their price increase) and have a library in a neighboring county with an excellend SF and Fantasy selection.

    I have to admit, I do miss browsing in the bookstores and discovering a new “find” to take home and read. Such purchases just can’t be justified at this point.

  47. Matt, if you’re paying $30 for a hardcover it’s because you’re not doing a very good job of shopping. My latest hardcover can be gotten for anywhere between $16.50 and $24.95, depending on where you buy it, which is nowhere near $30. That’s in the same price range as a DVD, a couple of CDs, two tickets to the movie theater (plus popcorn, no drink), and cheaper than any concert ticket, monthly basic cable, or video game less than a year old.

    I hope if you’re finding hardcover books too expensive in this economy you’re extending the same judgment to other forms of entertainment which are more or less equally priced. Otherwise, it’s just you saying “I don’t want to buy hardcover books.” Which is fine, but don’t blame it on the economy.

  48. 57: Not the Kindle, but, there is an ebook reader that lets you annotate: the iLiad by iRex. Last I checked, it was also kind of expensive. However, it should allow you to make permanent notes in the margins of your ebook.

    (Hopefully, there’s also a way to dump that data out and do some handwriting recognition…)

  49. I like for my eBook reader to do double-duty as my PDA, so I was *thrilled* when Bookshelf came out for iPhone, giving my full access not just to the Baen Free Library but also my Webscriptions.

    That said, the longer I have the iPhone the angier I get with it’s frakkin’ lock-in. In fact, I’ve had to replace my Rage Inhibitor thrice now, and I fear I may simply cry “BOG SMASH!” and murtilize it soon.

  50. Books are, beside coffee, my largest discretionary spending item. Bar none.
    In fact, the espresso may get cut back in the interest of shedding debt. But the books are staying. Unfortunately, in winter the trip to Tattered Cover is a pain. Both Borders and B&N have been failing to get new works of interest. Too much dark romance, too little in the way of smaller authors.

    Personally, my love for the physical book is not going anywhere soon. Until my e-book reader can mimic the faintly musty, cigarette smoke layered smell of my favorite used bookstore from childhood.

    But I am of the rare breed who will enter a bookstore and refuse to leave without buying a book. This gives new authors a chance very frequently, if there is anything eye-catching. Read a chapter or two, buy the book. Once in a great while, my hunt is disappointed by long dry periods of no new authors.

    If new authors, or non-best sellers are going to be shorted in the near future, I detect an impending train of sorrow.
    Maybe authors will self-publish more, but its doubtful.

  51. I have to throw a quote here.

    Jeff Minter: “Given the state of technology available to use today, the best form of virtual reality is still a good book”.

    He’s a wierdo, but he’s right.

    Give virtual reality to your loved ones.

  52. A shameless plug from a bookseller:
    Don’t forget about your local independent bookstore when you’re shopping! Hopefully you have one near you where the staff know their stuff and can help with recommendations.
    Our store is actually doing well right now- we sell both used and new books. The new books are actually the part of our inventory that is blowing up sales. We also have a good Buy Local movement in our town.

  53. Having thought about this some more, I have a question: What would you recommend for someone who generally has $10 or less to spend on a book and no local bookstores? This has led to a lot of used-on-Amazon purchases lately ($3 books + $4 shipping = the sweet spot), but I’d like to make more of an effort to buy new if possible. So… is there an online retailer where I can generally get a wide range of new books in my budget? Is there a whole range of options I’m overlooking? If so, Christmas just got a whole lot more literate.

  54. Well, Stephen (11) and Johan (17) have given some really good reasons to like the Kindle (I can certainly sympathize with storage concerns — I’m just one of those bibliophile wierdos who doesn’t mind having a house stuffed full of books books BOOKS even if there’s little room to walk, and being child-free helps). Insta-downloads are a good selling point to people living far away from good libraries and brick-n-mortar bookstores, too.

    But Steve Moss (21) I think is making the kind of unfortunate assumptions that, ironically, lead people to be reluctant to get out of their comfort zones. Sure, there’s loads of “urban fantasy” and para-romance dreck out there (don’t I know it, as I get deluged with the shit monthly). But that stuff’s easy to avoid. Just don’t buy anything that has a tatted goth chick holding a sword silhouetted against a full moon on the cover.

    I simply don’t know why you assume everything else out there that you aren’t reading that isn’t urban-fantasy/pararomance is by default some preachy writer trying to shove a worldview down your throat. There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s just damn good entertainment that isn’t getting read, simply because the writer hasn’t achieved a high enough profile. Have you checked out Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Kay Kenyon, Chris Roberson, Scott Lynch, David Gemmell, Toby Buckell? I think you’ll find there are more just plain good yarns lurking outside your comfort zone than you realize, far more than the crap that’s keeping you in it.

  55. Okay, don’t know if anyone is still reading, but wanted to expand on the library thing. I am a lifelong library user, but it was only recently that I realized I wasn’t really getting the most out of it. A lot of writers are down on libraries because they feel that people should be buying books instead. But they don’t fully grok the library hold system. My local library buys 50-100 copies of popular new books–or whatever it takes to keep the hold list not much more than 2 months deep. That means that buy using your library and requesting books that you want, you are nudging them to buy books. I often see long hold lists for new books, along with a note saying that 40 more copies are on order. So, yes, DO use the library. I can’t afford to buy all the new hardcover books that I want, either, but if I read them at the library, then I am basically buying, say, 1/4 or 1/10 of the book, indirectly via my taxes. I think that’s a very decent arrangement. Then the books get sold in the used book shop and the money goes back into the library. Everybody wins. You can also get DVDs this way. In fact, the library seems to be the poor man’s Netflix in my area. You can get anything you want if you’re willing to wait a week or two, including music.

    Also, most people don’t know about interlibrary loan. If you have a small local library, you are probably entitled to borrow books from all over the state through the ILL system.

  56. Catherine @ 69 any idea if Sub. Press plans to come out w/ more affordable books? I loved the GRRM “ace double” – I Think many people would buy $20-25 limited edition hardcovers as gifts (I did – my Dad is an avid JacK Vance fan (as am I)) this year is a Subterranean Press christmas!

    by the was – John – does your offer to personalize books at your local boookseller include Sub. Press editions of your books?

  57. sorry – yes I know the Jack Vance Reader was more than $25, still a bargain at twice the price

  58. Thomas Wagner at 68: I have 5 of the 7 authors you recommend on my shelf. Assuming the kids go down on time, I intend to start Sanderson’s “Alcatarz and the Scrivener’s Bones” sometime this evening.

    I have long ago adopted as my first “hurdle” your recommendation to avoid the urban fantasy dreck that’s out there. If the cover features a woman holding a sword or gun, dressed in black leather or slinky dress, with either posterior or bussom prominent, I don’t even pick up the novel.

    I’ve added a second hurdle, which is a male model looking protagnist on the front cover. I sometimes will violate this rule based on word of mouth. For example, Webmage by McCullough and Levitt’s New Trick were pleasant surprises.

    As to the preachiness, I don’t mix apple and oranges. I my opinion the para romance problem (accounting for almost half the new F&SF in the shelves recently, if my informal eyeballing of the new releases is any indication) and the political/cultural subtext problems are different issues. For example, I can handle novels that are hard left, if they are subtle about it. For example, Morgan’s Altered Carbon was a good book. I was unsure if the political subtext Morgan was trying to support or preach was libertarian, anarchist or hard left. And I was happy with that uncertainty. By contrast, Morgan’s Market Forces was too blatantly anti-capitalist. I did not care for it. And I have not read the Steel Remains, largely as Morgan’s interviews seems to delight in insulting readers who wouldn’t normally care for reading a homosexual protaganist’s viewpoint. And despite my conservative-libertarian bent, I gave up in disgust Frankowski’s Two Space War as it was just too much.

    Regardless, I appreciate good writing. I despise romance, no matter how well written. I despise pontificating authors, which Morgan is becoming. I react by not buying their novels. A simple solution.

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