The Electronic Publishing Bingo Card

Because someone had to do it, and why not me.

For those of you unfamiliar with the “Bingo Card” concept, basically, if you see one or more of your favorite arguments for how ZOMG EPUBBING WILL CHANGE THE WORLD FOR EVAR on the bingo card, you can be assured that your argument is not, in fact, anywhere as good (or original) as you might think it is. You might wish to cultivate new ones, or at least learn why your favorite argument isn’t always super-mega-ultra-convincing to those of us who have to think about this stuff as it regards our professional lives.

For those who will inevitably be new to the site, and may spittle-fling because they are e-pub partisans, be aware the author of this bingo card is not hostile to electronic publishing, since among other things he was one of the early examples of successful electronic self-publishing, as well as an example of migrating self-published work into the conventionally published realm, and still self-publishes electronically when the mood strikes him. He does occasionally get tired of hearing the same e-publishing arguments, some a decade old now, presented as This Year’s Model. Dudes, sorry. Trade them in.

242 thoughts on “The Electronic Publishing Bingo Card

  1. After you’ve spent $5.99 on your coffee, there’s nothing left for the ebook, don’tcha know?

    Oops. Your card is already full. ;-)

  2. May I submit that the first entry under ‘O’ should be:

    [Half of your announced price] is the right price.

  3. I see these things and laugh. Then again, I’m one of those people who saw eBooks as a supplement to paper books and buy all formats.

  4. I’ve been buying a lot of independently published ebooks lately primarily because they are not automatically priced at $9.99 (or more) by the publisher. I absolutely refuse to buy a large publishing house ebook if I can get the mass market paperback or even the trade paperback for less than the cost of the ebook.

    There is one big hole in the Cat Valente argument. People will listen to music over and over again whereas most people do not read the same novel over and over again. Putting a $15.99 album on the same level as a book really ignores the value of the album.

  5. I’m guilty of at least half of these. Some more:

    “Focus on building a Platform.” (whatever that means)
    “Apps are more [insert ANY adjective here] than ePub”
    “Apple [will/won't] hold onto their lead for long! Better [ignore/be ready for] Android Tablets”
    “Tech companies don’t get the publishing industry.” and “The publishing industry doesn’t get tech.”
    “The only budgets for book apps is in the marketing department”
    “[insert insulting development budget] should be more than enough to develop our [insert bloated book app here]”
    “Offshore development, keep ‘creative’ local” (because, you know, developers aren’t ‘creative’)

  6. I particularly adore “stop being greedy and also where’s my sequel.”

    Is there a snappier response than “Pay my mortgage or STFU?”

  7. stoneymonster@#5 – Yeah, it’s been interesting to read about the vanity production company that made “Friday” for internet consumption. Sounds awfully familiar.

  8. I’m not sure how to minimise it for a bingo card, but my objection is:

    I don’t need any special equipment to read a book, to read an ebook I need to shell out about £100 upfront, plus cost of the novels. They better come at one hell of a discount to make up for that initial outlaw.

  9. I’m so glad you have put this up. Now I can just link to it whenever I get drawn into the same tired arguments about this stuff.

  10. Perhaps “Cory Doctorow Says …” should also be on there as a square as I see his name come up a lot in these discussions as well (usually in the “you should give it away for free because …” )

  11. Unfortunately, spot on. I find a lot of these arguments cropping up in anti-DRM forums. I despise DRM, but that’s a publishing industry issue right now, just as it was for digital music a decade ago. Presence or absence of DRM doesn’t affect my desire to reward authors (and all the people involved in the publication of a book) for providing me with entertainment. I want to give you my money! Just please stop telling me I can’t read a book from Bookstore X on my device from Ereader Y. It makes me sad.

  12. I’ve said a bunch of them, and still believe a number of them, but this isn’t really the place for that argument. I will say that books fall into a few categories for me. One is books that I want in hardback, because I the rest of the series in hardback, so I don’t want to break up the series across formats. Those I’ve usually preordered on amazon, and they show up automagically at my door. That’s probably on average one a month. Those are the only physical format books I’m buying any more. The second category is books I want to read, but the publisher has priced above the price point I’ll pay for electronic format (about $10 max). Those I look for another option, say, an audible audiobook, since an audible credit is about $10. If that’s not available I’ll wait, and maybe read it when the price goes down later, if something makes me remember it. Third category is books priced right, that I want to read specifically. Those get insta-purchased, go on the kindle, and I’ll get to them at some point. The fourth category is, “books to fill in the rest of the time when the first three categories are empty”. I’m constantly adding to and reading from this pile, and it stays at around 150 books or so at all times. In the last year or so I’ve become extremely price-conscious for the books I’m adding to this pile, but recently a huge chunk of these have been 99 cent kindle specials. And some of those haven’t been good, but the majority of them have been at least as good as the average random thriller I used to pick up at airport newsstands.

    I’m probably atypical for readers in general, but I bet I’m fairly typical for the guys who buy a hundred or more books a year.

  13. I don’t mind paying for ebooks, BUT if you don’t live in the US or the UK it is nearly impossible to buy them. See email below:

    “Dear Customer,

    We see from our records that you have previously purchased an eBook from Waterstones.com whilst having a registered address outside of the UK and Ireland.

    We regret that as of 20th October 2010, we are no longer able to sell eBooks to customers placing an order from anywhere outside of the UK and Ireland. We have had to take this action to comply with the legal demands of publishers regarding the territories into which we can sell eBooks.
    Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience that this may cause.
    Please note: Your previously purchased eBooks are not affected by this and will still be available in your ‘Digital order history’ in your online account.

    Kind regards,

    Waterstones.com Customer Service”

    There’s only ONE bookshop I found that still sells to customers outside UK/US, but it doesn’t have nearly all titles. And believe me I HAVE searched.
    And I think it’s completely ridiculous because if I want to order a old fashioned paperback there’s no problem at all.
    So if you really want to do something about this, talk to the publishers!

  14. Love it! Just what I’ve done in past 24 hours germane to this:

    (1) Wrote, then expanded to MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES: PRIME NUMBERS
    by
    Jonathan Vos Post, former Adjunct Professor of Mathematics at Woodbury University
    Partial Draft 2.0 of 20 March 2011
    Approximately 5,800 words in 22 pages
    For R-Laurraine Tutihasi’s fanzine, Feline Mewsings

    Her fine Zine is available as PDF, for those who want to google for past issues and my columns “Jonathan’s Science Corner”

    (2) Emails back and forth to the Assistant Principal who hired me for my more-than-full-time Day Job, which I’ve done for 5 weeks, teaching Algebra and remedial math to inpoverished Mexican-American middle school students. I linked to some Science Fiction and Fantasy of mine, asking permission to fold it into the curriculum.

    (3) Used a purportedly secure “EasyChair” web-based system to create official Short Reviews, assigned to me by Program Chair Hiroki Sayama, of six abstracts submitted to ICCS-8. I never saw anything on paper. There will be a hardcopy Proceedings of the best papers delivered, but most readers will see only the online abstracts, and then online papers.

    Buzzwords from the abstracts: Aggregation, Interdependence, Organizations, Systems of Nash Equilibria, Black Swans, Butterflies and Swallowtails, Psychological Thermodynamics, Fractal and Affine Analysis, Social Complexity and Multidisciplinary Team Building, Uptick Rule and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. I don’t get paid for this, but what mental stimulation! What fascinating authors!

    (4) Worked on @#$%^%$#@ reformatting of my overdue paper for the special Sir Roger Penrose issue “Consciousness in the Universe” of the controversial on-line journal Cosmology.

    (5) Incorporate suggestions from crowd-sourced facebook readers of my 4th genre novel serialized therein, the Biotechnothriller Alzheimer’s war (current draft is 91.0, 15 March 2011, 562 pages of story, 144,350 words of story, with new 2,600 word Ch. 94. “Off-boresight Targeting Capacity”, of 634 pages total; 179,800 words including references and appendices). My online readers have significantly influenced plot and characters with their feeback. A tiny excerpt:

    94. Off-boresight Targeting Capacity

    At the same time as the Hummingbirds fluttered from the Reagan towards Shanghai, U.S. Cyber Command launched an attack on the Shanghai Smart Power Grid. The Chinese Cyber Command immediately engaged the invisible battle of electrical impulses.

    Both academic studies and real-world incidents from the 1960s through the 20-teens demonstrated the inability of the power grid to ensure a reliable service in the presence of network failures and possibly malignant actions. First, consider the complexity of mere failures.

    9 November 1965 was a cold evening, with power for heating, lighting and cooking already pushing the electrical system to near its peak capacity. Days before the blackout, human error set the chain of events in motion. Maintenance personnel incorrectly set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the Niagara generating station Sir Adam Beck Station No. 2 in Queenston, Ontario. The safety relay, which is set to trip if the current exceeds the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low, and the transmission lines heading into Southern Ontario were heavily loaded.
    The inevitable happened. On New York City station WABC, Dan Ingram was doing a music radio show. He commented that the music sounded slow. The music playback equipment used motors that got their speed timing from the frequency of the powerline, normally 60 Hertz….

  15. Steven @ #23: Baen is probably the best current argument for a hybrid arrangement: If you have a traditional publisher that “gets” e-Publishing and has a successful e-pub arm, you get the best of both worlds: Logistics and editorial support, DRM-free (or even reasonable DRM for publishers that can’t stomach the perceived risk), plus an easy migration path to print if your work is successful enough that a print edition looks profitable — see, for example the “Grantville Gazette” series*. Other publishers have dipped into the Webscriptions distribution site too, but it’s mostly a Baen project.

    * – admittedly, the GG has a bit of an unfair head-start in sales because of its ties to the 1632-verse, but it only really started getting print publication well after the ePublication was successful. The only barrier to using a similar model for promoting other ePublished works to print status is sales, not the business model.

  16. Not a luddite, but just simply love my books – real books. I love the smell, the feel, the heft, the look, I love all of it. I’m not hostile to epub by any means, it’s just not my preferred method of getting my reading material (says the woman who just got her copy of “The God Engines”…) Perhaps I’m an island of one, but it seems to me that several of the squares are flawed if I’m not.

  17. As an expat executive from the digital side of the newspaper industry, I find it very interesting how similar the debate of e-publishing is – and (similarly) how much emotion and hyperbole there is on all sides. The disruptive economics of the Web devastated newspapers – but even the most digitally aggressive companies derive less than 25% of revenues from interactive; the lion’s share continues to come from print. The Web created an explosion in readership and opened the gates to more voices – rather than the heroically edited Letters to the Editor, which was once your only chance to get ink – but sales have simply not kept pace. The financial cuts have been nothing short of tragic to newsrooms, which have been gutted. Tragic because the newsroom is the only sustainable business at a newspaper – not printing, truck driving, HR, finance or even sales. I hope the book-publishing world, in reaction to similar disruptive pressures, does not starve its golden egg producers – its talent – to sustain a business model under attack. Or join Bon Jovi in blaming all woe on Steve Jobs.

  18. E-pub will not replace traditional books. I wonder if others feel the market is abounding with e-publishers and e-writers. I have worked with two good editors on my initial stories. I’d like to be in print as well as satisfied with the electronic world.

  19. “He does occasionally get tired of hearing the same e-publishing arguments, some a decade old now, presented as This Year’s Model.”

    I suspect that some of them are still being presented as this year’s model because they’re as true now as they were a decade ago, only moreso, since the epublishing snowball is steadily rolling into an avalanche.

  20. LOL, just went another ten rounds about this on SFFWorld. I also see Nick Mamatas’ point about the market and prices, but then that’s what I’ve been trying to say too — that prices will go down as contracts and rights are worked out, delivery technology improves and volume of sales rises, as is perfectly normal in the business and tech worlds. Paperbacks were cheap because they sold in massive quantities. Mass market paperbacks have gone up the most in price because the wholesale market collapsed in the 1990’s and the volume of sales went down. There’s no reason that the price of e-books can’t vary, in the same way that skirts made of the same material and made in China will vary by brand and retailer. The insistence that all books immediately drop to an artificially lowered price point is fruitless; it’s not going to happen.

    But what saddens me most is that at a time when authors should be able to celebrate the large expansion of the market that e-books affords them, they are instead faced with a large Web backlash that no one should feel that they should ever be paid for creating written stories, and that backlash is coming from the well-heeled, the ones who can even contemplate e-books in the first place. Instead of just complaining about the prices of e-books — which anyone has a right to do — many are actively trying to harm authors for saying that they want to be paid.

  21. “People will listen to music over and over again whereas most people do not read the same novel over and over again.”

    Some of us actually read novels several times, because we enjoy them. A novel that’s not worth reading more than once isn’t one I’m likely to buy in any form.

  22. I don’t know if “I refuse to rent books” belongs on the card, but that’s the only “get off my lawn” I’m still harboring about e-publishing.

    I’m fine with paying a little more for an ebook than I’d pay for the print book. Carrying my ereader is much more convenient than lugging a TPB (or a hardcover, ugh) around in my purse. Paper is heavier, more environmentally destructive, and it can’t be grepped, read it in the dark, or backed up off-site to preserve it in case of loss. I also get that with ebooks sold on the agency model while print books aren’t, the publisher may end up seeing less for the ebook even if I spent more on it–they can’t control the bookstore choosing to cut their share or take a loss on a print title.

    So if an ebook seller is willing to sell me a digital copy of a book, that digital copy is more valuable to me than a paperback would be, and I’m willing to pay a bit more for it. If, on the other hand, they are actually trying to rent me a copy of the book, complete with DRM and EULAs–well, then they better be offering me a rental price.

  23. P.J. Evans:

    Agreed. I don’t know who this “most people” Mr. Rosenthal refers to is, because most people I’ve even known reread quite a bit.

    Ben Trafford:

    I agree some of them are even more egregiously tiresome than they were a decade ago; however, if it takes something a decade to “snowball,” they’re doing the snowball wrong.

  24. Ah, John. Being able to condesnse stuff to concise and funny lines shows why you are the writer and I’m not. I’m not paying for that though :o)

  25. I’m curious how funny most of us will think this is in 10 years time. Sure, most of those are easy shots, like all cliche’s and stereotypes, but just like those, there’s also a lot of truth mixed in. I’m with Annalee Rockwood @34 and have been saying it for some time: I also refuse to rent books. Other than texts and reference works, ALL the books I buy are eventually given away (along with some of the textbooks and reference works).

  26. John Scalzi: They were indeed doing the snowball wrong. We saw, essentially, three waves of epublishing in the last decade — the Nuvomedia/Softbook era, the Sony Reader era, and then the most recent era with Kindle et. al.

    Nothing truly significant has changed on the technology side in the last decade. Oh, the reading devices have gotten a bit nicer to use, but no significant functionality has been added. So, the question becomes: who was doing the snowball wrong and what’s changed?

    That question is why I think discussion of some of the points you’ve listed is still relevant. I’m sure there’s a lot of cluelessness in these debates, but I’m willing to bet good money that the determination of who is clueless is very dependent on who you’re talking with. I know a lot of smart people on all sides of the debate who consider the smart people on the other side to be clueless.

    Maybe the talking points aren’t that tired, after all.

  27. I’ve listened to both sides of this argument for a couple of years now. I think a lot of people assume that everybody can afford books, even the e-books… Not so.

    When I was younger, I couldn’t afford to buy paper books and e-books were non-existent. My source for reading was the library.

    As I got older and got better jobs, I could afford to buy books I liked. So my collection of paper books grew.

    Then e-books came around. The prices were usually cheaper than the hard-back books. I got a Kindle for Christmas one year. I bought books for that for a couple of years.

    Now the economy is kicking my ass and money is very short.

    Back to the library.

    Point is this: I’ll support my favorite authors when I can by buying their books. When I’m broke, like now, the library is my best friend.

    It all comes full circle.

  28. Ben Trafford:

    No, actually, they really are that tired, and the amount of guileless fervor with which someone clings to them generally tells me quite a lot about the cluelessness of the person espousing them.

    Conversely, in my experience, which is not trivial, people who are actually engaged in the field in a serious way (on any side of the discussion) are asking more questions and experimenting rather gnawing over these tediously reheated positions.

  29. I’m also a perpetual re-reader! I read my favourite books sometimes dozens of times, and usually listen to them in audiobook format as well – something about having someone else read the book out loud makes me pick up on things that I’ve glossed over previously.

    And this post has reminded me that I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the formatting and editing in the Old Man’s War series on the Kindle. I love my Kindle and I find I get through a lot more reading since I bought it, but the one annoying thing about it is that many publishers don’t seem to apply the same attention to detail with their ebooks as they do their printed books – paragraphs are squishy, lines wrap wrongly, and weird typos pop up. Tor, however, did a really excellent job with all of the OMW novels, which I find myself constantly using as examples of how to do ebooks correctly. Seriously, they’re better than all 358 other Kindle books that I own!

    Making a good ebook, like anything, does take a tremendous eye for detail along with heaps of skill and money and time. Done correctly, I’m quite willing to pay for the product of all that work.

  30. John Scalzi: Okay, I can agree with that — but isn’t it fair to say that some of the more interesting questions in the field start from the tedious reheated positions you list? For example:

    “Printing is the most costly part of publishing.” No, it’s probably not…at least, not directly. Then what is? It’s rather difficult to get accurate information out of legacy publishers on this topic, but it’s a discussion worth having, because it can allow people to create more successful business models by cutting down their expenses.

    Or:

    “Eliminate the middleman!” Well, obviously, the middleman is there for a reason. But is the middleman necessary in every case? And if not, then when and why not?

    What I’m trying to say is that it’s very fashionable for people in the publishing industry to crap all over these “tired reheated positions,” but the fact remains is that they’re the simplistic beginnings of much more fruitful discussions. The industry may want to take advantage of new ways of approaching things, which are often brought by newcomers. Maybe scaring off or indirectly insulting new, naive, but well-meaning participants in the conversation isn’t the best way to go about it.

    Or maybe I’m just taking your gag far too seriously, and should shut up. :)

  31. E-publication has revolutionized my actual behavior as a professional Scientist and Mathematician. Let me explain, with an example from the past hour.

    Since I posted my comment #25, the miracle of online collaborationware resulted in this most recent of my 2852 contributions to The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS). It was just approved and published by an editor: “Arises in a Diophantine problem with one prime, two squares of primes and s powers of two.”
    https://oeis.org/A187549

    Note that this came from my reading an online paper by Alessandro Languasco, and Valentina Settimi, “On a Diophantine problem with one prime, two squares of primes and s powers of two.” arXiv:1103.1985 Mar 10, 2011.

    It had a couple of constants in it that had never been cited in The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. So I entered a properly formatted proposal to the foundation-owned wiki. There were comments back and forth, some negative, some grudging, resulting in the eventual keyword “less” which means “editors have found this less interesting, but not so hideous as to demand rejection.”

    Examples:
    Joerg Arndt: Is this constant really important enough to be included in the OEIS?
    Jonathan Vos Post: It is from a current paper in the literature. Isn’t that a purpose of the OEIS? You can judge for yourself the importance of the paper, but only by following the hotlink to the index page, and downloading the PDF. Shouldn’t OEIS users have that choice?
    R. J. Mathar: It’s a typical intermediate hybrid number that arises in some proof (that will elaborate in time) of something which I am not daring to give a proper name.

    Then one of the Assistant Editors, R. J. Mathar, theoretically subordinate to god-emperor Dr. Neil J. A. Sloane (NJAS), accepted and published it online. I have never met f2f with Alessandro Languasco, Valentina Settimi, R. J. Mathar, nor Dr. Neil J. A. Sloane.

    Some tenuous connection exists to the old world of bleached pressed wood and cloth fibers. NJAS had a printed edition of OEIS, hardly feasible now that it exceeds 180,000 web pages. NJAS edited a book which contains the collected papers of Claude Elwood Shannon, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.

    He is the creator of modern information theory, and an early and important contributor to the theory of computing. His pioneering work on computer chess and on “mice” that learn the path through a maze are among the earliest contributions to the field of artificial intelligence.

    This book contains all his published work and the majority of his unpublished work (much of formerly classified as secret but now unclassified), together with notes and comments on the papers, two biographical articles (one can be seen here) and a complete publication list.
    http://www2.research.att.com/~njas/doc/shannon.html

    R. J. Mathar had a conventionally (and e-published) Math paper expanding for 20+ pages on a single line of mine, in an OEIS comment, which proved to be they key to unlocking some rather difficult calculations. It’s rather technical, but for the record:

    “Hardy-Littlewood Constants Embedded into Infinite
    Products over All Positive Integers”
    arXiv:0903.2514v1 [math.NT]
    Authors: Richard J. Mathar
    [first paragraph cites equation discovered by Jonathan Vos Post]
    (Submitted on 13 Mar 2009)
    Abstract: A group of infinite products over
    low-order rational polynomials evaluated at the sequence of
    prime numbers is loosely called the Hardy-Littlewood constants. In this
    manuscript we look at them as factors embedded in a super-product over
    primes, semiprimes, 3-almost primes etc. Numerical tables are derived by
    transformation into series over k-almost prime zeta functions.
    Alternative product representations in a basis of k-almost prime products
    associated with Euler’s formula for the Riemann zeta function are also pointed out.

    Any questions?

  32. Ben Trafford:

    “Or maybe I’m just taking your gag far too seriously, and should shut up. :)”

    That never happens on the internet!

    I agree some of these are (or were at one time, depending) perfectly reasonable starting points for a larger, more comprehensive discussion. If they are the totality of one’s argument, however — and for some people they (or slight variations thereof) still appear to be — then one has work to do.

  33. Related to this, I found this interview about ebook pricing really interesting: Does Low-Balling Attract the Wrong Kind of Reader?

    The title is provocative, but the interview and the comments that follow are thought-provoking and worth reading for people interested in the debate (it’s from a self-publishing standpoint, meaning the author actually has a say in how her books are priced).

  34. Ben,
    “Then what is (more costly than printing)?” Um, editing, acquisition, marketing, pretty much everything else (at least for hard backed first editions). The problem is, depending on the print run, the difference in the cost structures of hard cover/trade/mass market, and other variables with each book, the percentages change. In general, for a decent sized print run of hard bound books, the actual print costs range from $1 – $2 (some more, some less) per piece (with all the sunk costs of printing amortized across the run). In some case, the royalty is more than the print costs. But then again, you need to factor in a number of other costs (returns, spoilage, etc) which again adds to the variability. all of this is why you won’t see cut and dry numbers. The industry and it’s sales model is very complex.

    “But is the middleman necessary in every case?” As I learn more about the industry and the changes in the distribution models (the middle men), at least for speculative fiction I think I can’t make a correlation between reduced sales and reduced middle men (that is, overall sales were higher when there were more middle men in the distribution cycle, the rise of the big box, chain single sourcing, and the expansion of “areas of responsibility” of the distributors from half city to multiple states have pretty much driven sales down, or at least the curves of both over time match).

  35. My wife and I love our e-readers. I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even look at the price of books she gets (though there were the couple instances of “I have the physical book from the library, but I don’t want to turn on the light and it’s ONLY 5.99!” that I had to convince her not to buy). When you purchase an ebook, you’re paying not only for the story, but for the convenience of being able to carry it easily. Hell, I’ve read entire novels on the free ereaders on my cell phone, which would blow away the “but I paid $X for my ereader already!” argument if it made any sense in the first place (unless you bought your phone primarily as a reading device, which would be odd) – what’s more convenient than being able to carry around your library in your pocket? And why wouldn’t you be willing to pay for that convenience?

    Maybe I’m being simple-minded, here, but I can’t grasp how people think there’s a reason for 99-cent novels aside from A) they’re crap, or B) “I waaaaant it”

  36. Wow, I didn’t realize that a ten year old position is automatically invalid.

    I guess I’m going to have to trade in a LOT of my views.

  37. I love books. I really do. I have many shelves full of them, and I have packed them up into many boxes and hauled them up the stairs into many new places over the years.

    You know what else I love? Having an entire bookstore that fits into my pocket. Being able, upon finishing a book, to immediately purchase and start reading another book by that author. Or any other.

    Hundreds of thousands of books, on my person, at all times.

    I love that.

    I’m also a writer. My first novel will be coming out in September, so I’ll get to see what it’s like to navigate the increasingly choppy waters of the publishing sea from that perspective.

    Finally: I’m also part of a fledgling publishing company. I create the actual e-book files, as well as design and lay out the print on demand editions. In addition to that, I’m responsible for the e-commerce portion of the venture and some of the marketing.

    Which means that I’m involved in the publishing industry as a consumer, an artist, and a producer. I’m looking forward to seeing how–and whether–I’ll manage to balance out all of those differing perspectives.

    It’s going to be a fun ride!

  38. @Beau: Dunno, I think it’s going to get pretty affordable pretty fast. I read recently that 7″ android tablets cost $10 US over in Hong Kong – so the floor for selling tablet PCs is really low. I mean, it’s possible to envision a scenario where a retailer starts offering a free ereader with a $50 purchase of books. Plus you can read on most of the phones out there today, and ipods – that’s a pretty broad market of folks who already have ebook capable stuff. As for libraries, there’s already a (fast growing) number of e-libraries where you borrow ebooks over the internet. I think it’ll work out.

    I don’t think there’s anything ironic about Doctorow linking to this. The “junk slogan” stuff about epublishing irritates people working in that venue in a serious manner probably about as much as the same sort of random junk about traditional publishing irritates serious traditional publishing writers. I mean, you could fill a whole card there, too. ;)

    There’s stupid, bad slogans everywhere. ;) I don’t think any group is free of its wingnut collection. I think the bottom line is, your success or failure depends on you, your willingness to work, and to keep working at your craft until you reach your goals. Method of reaching an audience matters a lot less than effort put in.

  39. Oh, and John – you should have left a word misspelled in the “Spellcheck is really advanced these days” block. I mean, really. Would have been classic. ;)

  40. I thought it was 1,000 true fans.
    Willing to spend 100 dollars a year.
    Giving you a 100,000 dollar annual income.

    As for print, I wonder if tech will ever get to teh point
    where reading someting on paper will be like
    listening to a vinyl record. Something only done by the
    die hards who swear the experience is better than
    cyberjacking a book.

  41. #49: “When you purchase an ebook, you’re paying not only for the story, but for the convenience of being able to carry it easily.” — Exactly. You’ll never get them to admit it though. They’ll just whine that they can’t resell it like print books and it could disappear any second, blah blah, and ignore the continual stream of other disposable, temporary products they buy all the time because it’s convenient.

    #57:”As for print, I wonder if tech will ever get to teh point where reading someting on paper will be like listening to a vinyl record.” — Not while 80% of the U.S. population can’t even afford to get on the Internet regularly, much less buy e-books. And it’s looking like that number may go up. And we aren’t replacing those fossil fuels to provide the electricity anytime soon, looks like. So maybe some time far in the future. In the meantime, all you need for print is two rocks, one with a pointy end, or a stick and an ink substitute. You cannot have a bright shiny all electronic future with masses of poor people. But they’ll still tell stories and listen to them. Or burn them for warmth in trash cans.

  42. @ #33 P.J. Evans

    Absolutely spot on, my friend. I have books in my collection that rocked my world when I was a teenager. Now 52, I still pull them out for a fine ride down memory lane. You just can’t beat a good story!

  43. When the price of an ebook, which is much cheaper to produce than physical books, is less than the wholesale price of the paperback version, I’ll consider ebooks. Until then I will continue to hold the opinion that the publishers are a bunch of greedy bastards who think people who read can’t do math.

    P.S. That lower price for the ebook better not include a lower royalty for the author. See previous comment about greed.

  44. I think the future of books and authors are about to bounce wildly all over the place for the next couple of years. My preferred way of reading is now my Kindle or iPad (something I never thought possible two years ago). It doesn’t mean print is going away. In the meantime there is going to be a lot of testing the waters. Some of that is going to piss people off and some won’t.

    I know the pricing is an issue but for me the pricing has always been about, “what will the consumer pay?” There are a lot of people out there I won’t pay over $10 for an ebook. Having said that when John’s Fuzzy novel comes out I will be reading it ASAP no matter what they charge to put it on my Kindle. That means that book’s value is higher. For a publisher to charge less is ridiculous.

  45. @ Brett H: You mean I have to buy a damn mobile phone as well now, jeez the costs just keep rising don’t they. Silliness aside I genuinely do not own a mobile phone, just a plain old landline (which is occasionally plugged in to allow me to call out). I find actual paper books surprisingly portable too, certainly they take far more banging about in my bag than an ereader would (I’d be forever sacred of having it stolen if I turned my back too).

    I still do not see the advantages of spending £100 or more on a piece of tech to let me pay £10-20 to do read something I could still just pay the £10-20 only for. I’m not seeing the financial saving here. I am in fact seeing a financial cost. Plus I have books that are 10, 20, 25, years old and more. If I buy a piece of tech for reading books on, is it going to last that long (is the “it doesn’t last” on the list yet?)? I suspect not.

  46. @64: It *is* a cost. It’s a cost of convenience, which many people in the US pay (see also: disposable diapers EVERYDAMNWHERE GAH I’M PART OF THE PROBLEM). Paper books are certainly portable, and every plane ride I’ve been on I’ve had at least two or three paperbacks with me… but my trip next month I’ll have only my e-reader in its cushy case (made myself, even), because I’ll have more books to choose from, AND I’ll be able to work on crosswords or play Sudoku without a pencil. Long plane rides can require a variety of distractions, and long plane rides with 2-year-olds require distractions that don’t need a bookmark :)

    There are advantages to paper books, including that you don’t need technology to read them. Which is why the traditional publishing industry isn’t going anywhere quickly. For that matter, I quite enjoy reading paper books on my couch, moreso than e-books, but e-readers have paper books beat hands down for convenience, and for some of us that convenience is worth the money. (Here is where I admit that the e-readers we have were gifts – I likely would have gone for a less expensive model rather than spend $250 or whatever apiece on these, because while I like my conveniences, I don’t like them *that* much)

  47. People were talking about Amanda Hocking and actually existing ninety-nine cent ebooks and successful outliers a decade ago? Rilly?

  48. And it’s a plain fact that ebooks are cheaper to make than paper books, because printing costs is not the only difference between the two. (I make paper books for a living at my day job, and have made ebooks for fun and extracurricular profit.)

  49. Ceri @47 links to an interesting post, where the author says that she just isn’t interested in the kind of readers she’d get if she priced at 99 cents, she wants readers who are ‘invested’ in her work. And that’s fair enough. Now judging her books by the cover posted [grin], they don’t really look like the kind of thing I’d buy anyways. But say instead she wrote libertarian-right-wing mil-SF where UN bureaucrats are the root of all evil, guns are good, and bigger guns are even better, the kind of thing that I’d normally give a lark, I still wouldn’t buy her stuff. Because she doesn’t want me to. And when an author makes that clear, I respect that and refrain from giving them any more of my money (Laurell K. Hamilton I’m talking to you).

  50. I just thought of another expense. batteries. I’m making the dangerous assumption you need to charge the things like a laptop or a mobile phone and you can’t ready when the power is gone, so how much charge do the batteries carry? What is the lifespan of those batteries, ISTR friends with mobile phones and laptops getting bugged by battery life falling sharply after even a couple of years. How much does it cost to replace the batteries? So, there is the recurrent cost of the electric to keep charging them, the risk of the battery running out at an inconvenient time, and the eventual failure of the battery to maintain a charge.

    I’m just seeing expense and inconvenience all around.

  51. May I have a new card and some popcorn, please, Mr. Scalzi?

    I think I’m just going to dig my hands and heels in and see where this ride takes me ‘cuz this e-book thing has me frankly confuzzled.

  52. Nick Mamatas:

    “People were talking about Amanda Hocking and actually existing ninety-nine cent ebooks and successful outliers a decade ago? Rilly?”

    Nick, I know you’ve been having an exciting day arguing on the Internet about this topic, but there’s a reason I used the word “some” up there in the entry.

    And re: 99 cent e-books, since I originally released Agent to the Stars with a suggested donation of $1 back in ’99, and it was of some discussion at the time, sure, that discussion has been being had for some time. I’m not personally horribly opposed to people trying a 99 price point if they want to, and some people might find that price point congenial, although I think the argument that it’s some sort of natural or inevitable sale price for every book is fairly silly.

    I do note that the publisher you work for does not have electronic versions of at least some of their titles available. Do you believe that if they do make electronic versions available, they will want to settle on the 99 cent price point?

    “And it’s a plain fact that ebooks are cheaper to make than paper books”

    Nope. It might be more expensive to make a well-constructed ebook out of book for which a publisher did not originally have electronic rights than it would be to run off another 10k copies, because of the additional investment in transforming the book into electronic formats, as an example. All costs count toward production.

    I think the question of which is cheaper to be made is quickly becoming irrelevant in any case, since all the production costs are now in the process of being subsumed into a single production cycle by a number of publishers (at least in the case of the initial print iteration and the electronic version together; there will be additional print costs with a switch to another print format).

  53. Since my comment #45, I wrote a 2,750 word fantasy short story, triggered by Robert Lloyd, Television Critic, L.A. Times’s story: “As the sitcom turns” in today’s paper, Calendar section, p.D16, which I felt was one of the most brilliant and insightful things I’ve read in ages. Ironically, I read it in hardcopy, though I could have seen it at
    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/tv/la-ca-critics-notebook-20110320,0,6562927.story
    Critic’s Notebook: As the sitcom turns…
    Like some form of comedic Darwinism, the basic premise that launched a TV series often is nowhere to be found a season or two down the line as the show morphs into whatever it might need to be to survive and flourish.

    I emailed the story to some friends and family, and posted it on my Facebook Wall.

    I hope for it to appear in hardcopy in a SFWA Major Market.

    So, though E-publication has revolutionized my actual behavior as a professional Scientist and Mathematician, I still am addicted to the smell of paper pulp and glue, from my vanished youth.

    Opening half-page (when double-spaced):

    Sitcom Hell and Social Darwinism
    By
    Jonathan Vos Post

    Draft 1.0 of 20 March 2011
    10 pp., 2,750 words

    My fatal error was in thinking that the sitcoms on which I grew up, and those to which I retreated from my day job, were a viable source of tactics and strategies for my survival in the early 21st century.

    “The kinfolk said, Jed move away from there” –so I had the cheapest possible rented room in Beverly Hills, technically a garage behind a 1-story wreck owned by a Japanese gardener who toiled 16 hours a day on the lawns of wealthy neighbors.

    “Five passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour” — so my day job was now as a tour-guide’s assistant on the S. S. Minnow, out of Huntington Beach. The original S. S. Minnow was a fictional charter boat on the hit 1960s television sitcom Gilligan’s Island. The one on which I extemporized through a speaker and hissy sound system was a visibly similar copy, whose owner won it in some complicated lawsuit between the Network and someone who built this on spec as the S. S. Minnow II, a putative successor boat purchased by the Skipper from insurance money for the first in the 1978 made-for-TV movie Rescue From Gilligan’s Island.

  54. Yes the arguments have been around for 10 years but 10 years ago we didn’t have the kind of market penetration that the Kindle, Nook and iPad have now. Those have to be difference makers in price points no?

    Also the iPad provides ruthless competition for your novel because if it’s slightly boring I’ll just go over to watching some downloadable 80s sitcoms on netflix.

  55. Roland Martinez:

    “Also the iPad provides ruthless competition for your novel because if it’s slightly boring I’ll just go over to watching some downloadable 80s sitcoms on netflix.”

    And people couldn’t have put down a bad book to watch TV before?

    I think for the next card I’m going to have to remember to put “But it’s different NOW” in one of the squares. Because the publishing industry has never undergone massive upheaval in market and distribution before, ever, apparently.

    Update to add: Sorry, meant also to add re: Kindle, Nook, iPad, pricing was very much at the heart of the the showdown between Macmillan and Amazon last year, namely who got to dictate it. In that case it’s worth noting that the manifest game-changer there was Apple introducing the iPad and iBookstore and allowing publishers greater flexibility in setting prices than Amazon was willing to provide — which meant the possibility of at least initial higher price points (so as not to undercut hardcover sales). It’s not a given that technology will always (at least initially) lead to lower price points, or that lower prices are always inherently an advantage.

  56. I’d like to send a link of this article to Smart Bitches Trashy Books, but they’d be all over me like a duck on a june bug, and I already served as whipping boy (insert ‘june bug’ here if you need to) for them twice this week. Besides, I am not very good at it. I tried to put a link to my blog on facebook and embarrassed myself somewhat. Y’think you could send one to them? And did I mention I am addicted to mixed metaphor?

  57. The Prediction Fallacy: predict your opponent’s argument in a humorous manner, and the audience will assume that argument is wrong, even if it is right. Hat tip for a great new lens for looking at just about any big controversy.

  58. I think “most people” might be a bit of a stretch, but considering that I listen to music 40 hours a week between work or home it’s much easier to justify $10-15 for an album online than it is for $20 for a hardback that I may only read once depending on how good it is.

    That being said, the best books are worth that much or more. It’s just that the marginal books are less valuable than even marginal music.

  59. Hocking *and* Konrath, but not Baen? You’re slipping. Baen is the first answer to “but we can’t let the public get used to $10 ebooks; that’s too cheap. These things have real production costs, you know.”

    And anecdotal unverified stats are hardly unique to the e-publishing side of the debate. How many billions of dollars of profits have been lost to torrenting?

    I find myself happy that I don’t regularly use enough of these to make a bingo. While I think Konrath has some terrific points, I can see that invoking his name has become a buzzword rather than a discussion point, and I should find some other way to bring up those points.

  60. Crypticmirror, the batteries on my Kindle last about a week. It charges over a micro-USB port (like many mobile phones). Since the display isn’t backlit, it doesn’t use a lot of power. If the battery runs out, then you can’t read. I only got my Kindle in December (as a wedding gift), so I don’t know how much it costs to replace the battery.

    For whatever its worth, I think the Kindle is a much better way to read books on the plane than carrying around paperbacks. The Kindle is thinner, lighter, and saves your place. The only disadvantage is that you can’t read during take-off and landing when electronic devices have to be turned off.

    I think ebooks are still a luxury item at this point. That’s why I find the whole argument that ebooks “should” cost less to be silly. Nobody needs ebooks. It’s not like health care, food, or education where your well-being and future is seriously threatened if the price is too high. I would agree, access to books is important, and we should make sure books aren’t inaccessible to people who can’t afford them–that’s why we have public libraries. (Incidentally, if you only read your books once, why aren’t you getting them from a library?)

  61. Elfwreck:

    “Hocking *and* Konrath, but not Baen? You’re slipping.”

    Alternately Baen, which has just been trudging along doing what it’s doing, is not nearly sexy enough in how they do their online thing to be a common Internet talking point.

  62. but there’s a reason I used the word “some” up there in the entry.

    If there is, I have no idea what it could be. Ten years ago, when I was covering the then-nascent ebook/POD industries for Silicon Alley Reporter, and was talking to everyone from CEOs down to kooky cyber-artists for the gig, and was freelancing for Soft Skull and having sales meetings with PGW about ebooks, I heard precisely zero of the arguments you listed this evening. I picked a few of the more obvious boners in my last comment, but if you want me to retype the entire Bingo card and staple “Rilly?” onto it, I will, because I love you.

    I do remember a couple of variations that were common—but all were less ridiculous than your Bingofications: In X Years Y Percent Will Be Digital, with Y always being less than 100 and most often less than 20 percent. Took ten years, but that one actually came true. (Most of the folks back then were thinking X=5 rather than X=10, and had Y at 10 percent).

    Nope.

    Wrong. The answer is actually yes—like I said, I do the former for the living, the latter for kicks. Production costs are lower for ebooks across several lines.

    1. Cover art costs are lower—since cover art is less important when it comes to ebook sales, it doesn’t make much sense to spend a couple grand on original art for a cover. (It may or may not make much sense to spend that money on a print book, partially thanks to people who collect cover art, partially because one of the parties one hopes to impress with high-cost cover art are chain buyers, who are superfluous in the case of the ebook original.)

    2. Most costs associated with digital prepress are eliminated in ebook production. The analogous costs of file conversion to ePub, Mobi, etc. are actually lower than the two or three rounds of prepress I pay for with print books. (And God forbid I upload a book twice because of some systemic error I have an in-house designer fix instead of the prepress guys!)

    I’ve already managed to carve $2000 off my P/L.

    That’s just production. Now on to overhead:

    3. Inventory costs and taxes on inventory are eliminated. (Server and bandwidth costs are lower and continue to decline significantly every year on a per-file or per-unit-of-info basis. That’s not going to happen either with warehouse costs or taxes.) So we can remove the majority of those costs.

    4. Costs associated with marketing and the like are lower since virtual shelf space is essentially infinite. A significant fraction of marketing expenditure are spent on retail accounts, to convince them to a) make a buy at all, b) make a large buy, and c) do associated in-store promotions and the like. I keep only the fraction of marketing that is aimed at individual consumers, and tada, my margins improve again!

    5. My 2.5 person mail room now only needs one person if I’m not taking in boxes and boxes of comp copies, shipping paper copies to reviewers, and even mailing actual oil paintings back and forth! (Though I do love oil painted covers—see The Book of Heroes). The money I spend on my FedEx and UPS accounts also shrink significantly. (Have I mentioned that one of my designers, to whom I ship and receive 11×17 page proofs overnight to make production deadlines, is moving from Michigan to Bosnia next month?)

    I could go on, but ultimately I’ve found that unless I sit down with someone with an actual P&L sheet and go over it line by line, few people believe me. I’d be happy to do that when we next meet in person, John. In the end, too many commercial publishers have an unexamined “overhead” line and decide that ebooks must be expensive rather than actually going over the real costs.

  63. There are already more free ebooks than anyone could ever read in a lifetime. And I mean my lifetime, where one reads 500+ books a year, year in and year out.

    And there are already more 99 cent ebooks than anyone could ever read in a lifetime.

    So if Mr. Rosenthal only wants to buy ebooks that cost 99 cents or less, he’s already free to do that. The rest of us can charge what we think the market will bear. The part where Person X says “Hey, author, your book should be available for 99 cents” is not part of a free market.

  64. The part where Person X says “Hey, author, your book should be available for 99 cents” is not part of a free market.

    Sure it is. The part where people are magically forced to meet Person X’s demands isn’t.

  65. I think e-books and print books will co-exist the same way CDs, Vinyl, and MP3s have managed to, and that everyone has their preferences, and that’s okay. I don’t think the market will always serve everyone’s preferences. Really we’re in a great golden age where print books and eBooks still cost somewhere in the same neighborhood.

    Personally, I prefer things digital, unless there’s some emotional significance. If a writer signs and gives me a copy of his book, that means a great deal to me, and I cherish that book. If I buy it off the shelf, I sell it or give it away when I’m done with it.

    There’s a great debate going on as to why we can’t do that with our digital goods, too.

  66. We sell Mere Tragedies for 2.50 because we think the market can bear it, because we’re sure that makes it accessible to literally every person alive, and because we’re confident that volume will compensate. And it is.

    http://frsh.in/hpc

    If you’re interested.

  67. Nick Mamatas: You’re also missing perhaps the biggest difference between print and ebooks, one which I’m surprised more people don’t harp on — no returns. This is massive, but as Mr. Scalzi points out, it’s not an upfront cost, so people rarely think of it.

    Steve Buchheit: I was actually posing those questions as examples of things you could be asking, not looking for answers. That said, I find your numbers for print costs about half of what I’ve researched, though my numbers include storage, shipping, etc. — everything solely associated with hardcopy books.

    As for why I don’t see cut and dried numbers, it has less to do with the alleged complexity of the publishing industry (and honestly, “the publishing industry is so complex that no mere novice could comprehend it!” ought to be tacked onto the bingo card up there) than with publishers being loathe to disclose their numbers for various reasons that have to do with maintaining their bottom line against all comers.

    On another note:

    I’ve spent a goodly chunk of the last three months doing market research with consumers of ebooks, and the only place I hear people arguing vehemently for the 99 cent price point is on the web. Every (and I mean, every, without exception) street-level consumer I’ve talked to thinks $2.99 – $4.99 is a great price point, and often, that 99 cents is a good price point for a short story.

    As far as I can tell, this “all books should be 99 cents” thing is a product of talking heads on the web, not regular people who buy books.

  68. @Ben Trafford: who returns books? Unless we’re talking textbooks, that seems almost like sacrilege to me. Just saying. I don’t think I’ve ever done that.

  69. PHM@89, I think what he means is the bookstores returning unsold books to the publisher/distributor. I forget the percentage that that happens, but it’s fairly large. It is one of the reasons the publishing industry is ‘complex’, because they’ve let themselves get locked into a model where sales aren’t sales, really, but are more or less on consignment.

  70. Nick Mamatas:

    “If there is, I have no idea what it could be.”

    And? You appear to be making two assumptions here, one of which is that all the examples date back a decade — they don’t, hence the word some — and also apparently that if you did not hear about the discussion at the time, it didn’t exist, or at least was not a conversation of any importance. Surprise! Ten years ago I was a published author and a print and online columnist talking to my publishers — both print and online — about some (not all) of this stuff, and I also had a nice consulting business making corporate lawyer rates advising clients about aspects of online publishing, clients which included Media One, Road Runner and AOL. If it makes you feel better, I didn’t hear anything about you or any of your conversations back then either.

    “Wrong. The answer is actually yes”

    Wrong. The answer is actually not really, or more accurately, it depends on the actual book project under discussion, and the choices one makes in terms of production. You’re not the only one who knows about production costs, Nick, and I note in your cost listings the things you’re not putting in on the other side, like the increased costs of IT both in manpower and in hardware and software, just to name an obvious one. You and I have no disagreement that a lot of overhead in large publishers quite possibly goes unexamined, but there’s the flip side of that, which is that small presses and those who work in them may have trouble appreciating the costs of scale. That said, even small presses may find certain electronic-only projects to be not cheap, depending on the nature of the project, and the investment required to realize it fully.

    You also make some assumptions I disagree with; for example, that art costs are lower — either for covers, which you mention specifically, or for interior art, which you don’t consider, but I do. A substantial number of e-readers have the capability for color and animation, so the assumption that eye-catching covers are going away is not in evidence (indeed I can think of at least one electronic-only book publication for which the cover art was essential, and well-compensated for).

    Along that line, one of the major selling points of the Color Nook are the animated children’s books that have been produced for the platform; you can suggest to me that this makes the book cheaper to produce, but I sort of doubt it. Now that books have the capability for animated art and other interactive elements, you will likely see those incorporated into texts more frequently. This will not be cheap (it probably already isn’t cheap), so once again, your flat declarative statement as to the inherent inexpensiveness of ebook production relative to print is almost certainly not always correct now, and almost certain not to be always correct in the future.

    I grant that perhaps you can bang them out cheaply on your own, but once again, your experience is not the entirety of the publishing world.

    Mind you, again, in many ways this issue is academic, because now that publishers routinely take both print and electronic rights, the production for both versions of the book are likely subsumed into a single bucket in terms of investment/profit. So the electronic sales will pay for print book warehousing and the print sales will pay for IT, etc. Both the electronic and print sales of Fuzzy Nation will go to pay down the same advance — so certainly from my point of view it’s all the same.

  71. #85: So again, Nick, as Scalzi asked, is the print publisher you work for going to put its print titles into e-book formats and price each of them at 99 cents a piece? I mean, you can show them the P&L’s. As you note, publishers have overhead. So we’re going to have 99 cent titles from people doing it “for kicks” or to pump their old backlists possibly, and what’s coming from publishers, large and small, will drop over time as sales increase, but is unlikely to be 99 cents. You doing it for kicks work for free. Publishers, even smaller ones, have to hire people to do it, or companies to do it and people to work with those companies. Even when you cut it down to the bone and make your employees do two or three jobs at once, there’s going to be overtime and cost. They could do what Amazon does and not edit, not promo, etc., just be an electronic printer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They can lay people off and get down to a skeleton crew. They can not worry about typos or glitches. They can make authors do all the work. Is that part of the plan for your print publisher with e-books? (I’m actually sincerely curious.)

    Because what individuals do is not the entire industry because the market is just too large. Certainly, individuals should not be ignored. (Amanda Hocking is sweet and smart and good for her.) But they aren’t ever the whole piece. And companies, large and small, have to pay people to produce things and market things, even things as simple as e-books, as you know. Even Amazon, wiling to lose money on each e-book sale to establish the Kindle, backed away from 99 cents for e-books and went with 9.99 instead and had to hire a bunch of people to deal with the new Kindle operations. And even though mass market paperbacks are cheap, portable and disposable, people buy hardcovers and trade paperbacks and limited editions. They did so even when paperbacks cost 5 cents. And paperbacks could cost less because the volume of sales has been so large that it does cover basic costs. E-books aren’t there yet, though they are closing fast. Publishing will change with e-books, but what does that mean for your print publisher? It’s not necessarily going to mean that the wealthiest 20% of the population with their e-readers gets 99 cent books and get all their textbooks cheap while the rest of the populace has to pay more for print editions. The price point is going to vary and whether a book is a new release or an old one is going to still be a factor.

  72. Sorry, I cross posted, missing Scalzi’s latest. You can just answer him if you want, though I am really curious to hear about how smaller presses are dealing with e-book production, marketing, accounting, etc.

    On returns, which is the consignment model, there are many disadvantages and problems with it, though booksellers want it. However, there is an advantage to it — you get upfront money from the booksellers previous to the returns for the copies, and you can use that money to cover costs of other books until you have to deal with the returns, such as advances to authors and promotions. You can bank it and get interest on it as well. With e-books, there’s no up-front money to float everything. You have to wait for the sales to come in, and e-book sales are simply not large enough yet, nor are the accounting and payment procedures effective and quick enough yet to deal with the new business models. If Amazon decides to hold off on paying the publisher the e-book revenues for a month, that can have a substantial effect.

  73. The issue with Nick’s argument is that it assumes an ebook-only model. If a publisher is doing some print books and some ebooks, they still have to make an upfront investment in eye-catching, wholesale- and retail-buyer-pleasing cover art, inventory costs, shelf space costs, and all the other stuff Nick so blithely ruled off the P&L. And that publisher is going to continue to try to spread that investment out over all copies, including the ebook copies, so the differential isn’t going to be as large as Nick’s scenario suggests.

    The differential between a print copy and an electronic copy of a title should certainly reflect the per-copy savings in cost between making the electronic version available and printing, shipping, and warehousing the print copy But it’s not going to reflect a differential in upfront costs like cover design and layout and so forth, nor does making an electronic version of a title available magically reduce overall corporate overhead.

  74. one of which is that all the examples date back a decade

    No, the exact opposite—my point is that I think zero of those Bingo squares date back a decade as regard ebooks. Some are impossible to date back that far (Hocking, Konrath, outliers, torrenting) of course, and the others just unlikely, mainly because they are straw versions of what people actually said. (Well, I suppose your clients could have been especially insane in private, but a tiny bit more sensible in public.) One of the things that makes, say, the RaceFail Bingo cards funny is that they use actual quotes and close paraphrases from ridiculous people. Your bingo card doesn’t do that.

    I note in your cost listings the things you’re not putting in on the other side, like the increased costs of IT both in manpower and in hardware and software, just to name an obvious one.

    Well no, those costs wouldn’t necessarily increase. It doesn’t take more IT costs for a firm already doing print publishing in 2011 to commence doing e-publishing in 2011. Hell, the company I worked for cut costs significantly in all departments while launching ebooks and an iPad app for its comics. By costs, of course, I mean the measurable stuff one would put on a P&L, either on a per-book basis or as part of the overhead costs.

    Sure, someone can spend a ton of extra money doing anything. I can buy cocaine for authors, commission and reject five hundred covers and pay 100 percent kill-fees for all of them, I can hire all my nephews to do the job of one person, I can buy a building on Columbus Circle at the height of a real estate bubble, but that doesn’t mean that ebooks are more expensive, or as expensive, to produce as paper books. That means that I don’t know how to handle money and thus spent more to produce them. “[T]he choices one makes in terms of production costs” are the sort of thing the market either encourages or punishes, in the same way hiring seventy-five people with tablespoons to dig a septic tank is a great way to get knocked out of the septic-tank-digging business when a competitor buys a backhoe for “too much money.”

    The example of animated children books is also inapt—the question is the price of ebooks and why they should or should not cost much less (and how much less!) than the same books in various print formats. Unless you have some print books that have the illustrations running and dancing around the page when you touch them, you’re pointing to a new and different kind of product. Movies aren’t books either.

  75. Kat @93—no, they likely won’t, not in the short term. Over the long-term, yes, I imagine that they will, and that other publishers will start lowering their ebook prices for exactly the reasons I and others have laid out. Corporate logic and rational actions are often two different things after all, especially when a firm is a conglomerate. But if they don’t lower the prices, I anticipate the company (and others in the same boat) will suffer for it.

    Julia @94—the claim made most often is that ebooks cost the same as print books to produce, minus printing and inventory costs. That’s not necessarily true, whether the book is an e-version of an existing title or a book with no prior paper publication. If I amortize my eye-catching cover over three formats (cloth, trade paper, and mass market) then three years later add a fourth format it’s an accounting procedure to amortize costs across all four formats, but in practice that cover was paid for years ago. If it’s an ebook original, then it’s even cheaper. The problem for publishers now is that in the ebook sector publishers are competing against ebook originals and the response to price pressure so far has been “Well, we ain’t gonna!” My bet is that they are too gonna if they want to keep the lights on, and that they can do so more easily than many people insist they can. And if they don’t, well, lots of companies go bankrupt. We’ve already seen that.

  76. Nick Mamatas:

    “No, the exact opposite—my point is that I think zero of those Bingo squares date back a decade as regard ebooks.”

    And yet some of them do! Because, once again, Nick, just because you weren’t there for it didn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    “One of the things that makes, say, the RaceFail Bingo cards funny is that they use actual quotes and close paraphrases from ridiculous people. Your bingo card doesn’t do that.”

    Sure it does. I’m not sure where you’ve been that you haven’t heard or seen someone talk about how, say, one particular price was the perfect price for e-books — I believe there may have been a small row between Amazon and Macmillan on a matter close to that very subject, in fact — but I sure have; I’ve seen it happen here. Quotes I’m using are paraphrased (mostly) or quoted from statements I’ve seen here, from Metafilter, from various LiveJournals and blogs, etc. Am I also crafting the paraphrases for humorous effect? Why yes, I am.

    “Hell, the company I worked for cut costs significantly in all departments while launching ebooks and an iPad app for its comics.”

    Well, yes, they did. However, I’m not sure that’s a shining example upon which to make your case.

    “The example of animated children books is also inapt”

    No, really, it’s not, although I certainly understand why you would want to argue it to be so, and I can appreciate the attempt to move the goalposts after you had so boldly placed them into ground which is now shifting under you. Arguing that e-books are only really e-books if they conform to particular set of criteria which you are making up on the spot, after you’ve been contradicted, is not a good way to argue. Nor for that matter is the question currently under discussion the price of ebooks; you got into that discussion on a different Web site entirely. The question under discussion here, now, is your assertion that “it’s a plain fact that ebooks are cheaper to make than paper books.” It’s not actually a plain fact, as evidenced by your need to make a late declaration as regards the definition of what an ebook should be, in order to shore up your argument.

  77. @92: Even when you cut it down to the bone and make your employees do two or three jobs at once, there’s going to be overtime and cost. They could do what Amazon does and not edit, not promo, etc., just be an electronic printer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They can lay people off and get down to a skeleton crew. They can not worry about typos or glitches. They can make authors do all the work. Is that part of the plan for your print publisher with e-books? (I’m actually sincerely curious.)

    Not a lot of overtime pay in publishing, and wages in publishing are already low. And of course, significant lay-offs and dependence on freelancers instead of employees and driving down payments for those freelancers is already happening and has been for a long time. Editorial work and copy-editing is increasingly haphazard in New York—less so for my company thanks to an incredible commitment to kaizen, which just means that I work harder. So what you’re basically asking me if publishers would do what they’ve been doing. My answer: they certainly will. They must.

    My authors are in Japan, so we don’t get a lot of work out of them at all. But of course authors are already being told to do more and more. Heck, even my friend who got all the perks one could expect for a debut novelist—the Thursday and Sunday reviews in The New York Times, the profile in the Wall Street Journal, the write-up in The New Yorker, co-op buys to the chains, you name it, ended up doing a lot of his own scutwork for his debut.

    Personally, I’d prefer that real-estate overhead and top salaries be cut then employees, but strangely, the people to make those decisions have an interest in the real estate and their own salaries. I’m thrilled that my next novel is coming out from a publisher based in Portland, OR. The savings have already been (partially) passed on to me.

  78. @ 91:
    Ebook cover art is important, but if there’s no print book (or it’s being produced separately for licensing reasons), the cover art can be a lot cheaper. Ebook covers can be 400×600 pixels, or 800×1200 pixels if a laptop/desktop version is desired. A high-res print-ready version is unnecessary. The art doesn’t have to allow for raised letters on the title. It can’t have metallic or holographic elements. (It could potentially have animated elements instead; I suppose those are comparable to books with mirrors on the covers. But I don’t know of any ebooks with animated covers; they might be considered a waste since most ebook readers can’t display them properly.)

    An ebook can still have stunning cover art, and crucial & detailed interior art–and be cheaper than the pbook’s art requirements. There’s no need for poster-sized artwork, designed to be shrunk to 10″x15″ to wrap around the hardcover. There are no (good) landscape-format ebook covers. An excellent, eye-catching, kick-ass ebook cover has to look good at 200 pixels wide on the ebook sales site–and there’s no need for it to look good at a size bigger than a postcard on a 300dpi screen. The internal art can be as detailed as necessary (although I don’t know if the mobi format now works on larger artwork; it didn’t used to allow images over a certain size), but needs to be designed to be usable on a 6″ screen–or a mobile phone. It’s not “cutting corners” to eschew paying for details that the vast majority of your customers will never notice, and the rest won’t notice missing.

  79. And some of them do!

    Really?

    I’m not sure where you’ve been that you haven’t heard or seen someone talk about how, say, one particular price was the perfect price for e-books — I believe there may have been a small row between Amazon and Macmillan on a subject very close to that very subject

    Well, if you want to call an attempt to put a cap of $9.99 on Kindle book prices “very close” to “one particular price that was the perfect price” then I’m sure you won’t mind if I simply say: “No, really, it’s not, although I certainly understand why you would want to argue it to be so, and I can appreciate the attempt to move the goalposts after you had so boldly placed them into ground which is shifting under you.” Because a range of eight dollars for one major e-tailer really isn’t the same as one perfect price, at all.

    Metafilter, from various LiveJournals and blogs, etc.

    So…not from AOL, Roadrunner, MediaOne, etc. ten years ago? Tell you what: would you please identify of the Bingo arguments you heard from your corporate clients—or anyone—ten years ago.

    However, I’m not sure that’s a shining example upon which to make your case.

    Given the radical decrease in the number of meetings I had to attend and the increase in my ability to get things done without checking with three different people or filling out forms to get permission to speak to someone first—that’s not even a joke or hyperbole!—since those cuts, I’m sure it is.

    Arguing that e-books are only really e-books if they conform to particular set of criteria which are making up on the spot is not a good way to argue.

    Yeah, I totally made up the idea that people think e-versions of books already in print should be significantly cheaper than print copies—or things even capable of being printed—right this very second. It certainly wasn’t mentioned anywhere before now in any discussion of ebook pricing, not ever ever. I have no idea why “Printing is the most costly part of publishing” would manage to end up on the Bingo card since I made! it! up! on! the! spot! hours after you made the card, but like the blog says right up top, “Whatever.”

  80. I’ve been using a Kindle now for around a year, and it’s great, particularly for travel as everyone has noted. I’ve also bought a number of .99 self-published books during that time frame. You know what? Every single one of them (barring one or two that were the 1st books in series clearly meant to be loss leaders) would have benefited from the services of a real publisher. Even the good ones could have been far better, and the bad ones are just embarassing.

  81. Animated children’s books are a valid point of “ebooks with real costs to produce”–but they need to be compared to specialized print children’s books, not genre novels. How do the costs relate to printed children’s books with cutout sections, with velvet fur on the animals, with pop-ups or sliding-wheel books? They should be compared to interactive books, not readable-text-only books. What’s the minimum print run on those to recoup costs & start making a profit; compare that to the production cost/minimum sales numbers of the animated ebook.

    Obviously, not every pbook is more expensive to produce than every ebook. But within each genre, it sure looks like the the pbook production costs at least as much, and sometimes considerably more, than the ebook.

    For novels and mass-market nonfiction–which is what most of us think of when “books” are being discussed–ebook production is so much cheaper it’s laughable. The only cases where there are any notable ebook production expenses (instead of “all books have this,” like editing & proofreading), are cases where the publisher has failed to establish a workflow that’s ready for them. Producing ebooks in half a dozen formats should be an automated process resulting from a single accurate markup. Learning to do that markup can cost–but publishers get no credit for having failed to do so years ago and splitting the cost across their entire production line.

  82. I can’t say I agree with the base complaint that ebooks are too expensive – possibly because in Australia a standard paperback edition cost at least $22 and often up to $40 if the author has a following. So an ebook for $10 or less is excellent value – that said I only have one for travelling convenience and so I can read in big print if I don’t feel like wearing my glasses,(damn old age), oh and because at 410 bucks Ican take a flyer on a novel that might be complete dreck and not care. (delete from device!)

    Mind you I’d happily pay even more per book if amazon would actually allow me to buy their entire ebook list rather than the limited version open to me as an Australian.

    Sod the price argument, eventually the market will settle on a price that maximises volume, purely because it is in their own best interest. I just want the publishers to sort out their international wrangling so that everyone has equal access to the same titles, and the authors therby get maximum return for their efforts.

  83. Matt @#96: Yes, but in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse, you can’t tear the pages out of your Kindle and soak them in pitch to make a torch to fight off the zombie hordes. So paper books have that going for them.

  84. Tell you what: would you please identify of the Bingo arguments you heard from your corporate clients—or anyone—ten years ago.

    To be fair, the arguments “in [x] years, everything will be digital” and “something something fat cats something something” were both common online 10 years ago, in pretty much every discussion board that talked about the future of any of the entertainment or information industries. And “eliminate the middleman!” has been bouncing around since the daisy-wheel printer. (And before that, in some variation or other, probably since the Gutenberg bible.) But those weren’t ebook cliches back then; they were the standard “indie business rules!” arguments that get brought into every discussion based on industry changes.

  85. The arguments people are making about the benefits of using a legacy publisher are certainly relevant. Here’s something to consider:

    Let’s say I hire an editor, a digital typesetter, and a cover artist for my novel. I could easily get both of those for under $3500. Now let’s say I hire a marketing firm to run a campaign for my book — that can run me anywhere from $2500 (hiring an individual publicist on contract) to $20k (hiring an actual marketing firm). Let’s say I spend $10k on all of the above.

    If I release said professionally crafted and marketed novel as an ebook through one of the 70% royalty markets, at $3 a pop, I need to sell just 5000 copies or so to break even. There are a large number of self-published authors selling 5000+ copies a month on Amazon alone. And what do most of them have in common? Professional quality.

    I’m not pulling these numbers out of thin air — I’ve actually contacted professionals and asked them what they’d charge for these services.

    I seriously doubt a legacy publisher spends as little as what I’ve quote above on these services, simply because they have to support the infrastructure of being a publisher and support their stock of books that didn’t do as well as expected and pay for printing, storing, etc. (directly or indirectly via the distributor) and so forth. Even if they only produced an electronic copy, they have to support a relatively unwieldy bureaucracy in order to make it happen.

    Why am I bringing this up?

    Simply to make this point: people keep bringing up how ebooks they’re buying would benefit from a “real publisher,” and that’s a misnomer. The ebooks they’re buying would benefit from a series of professional services that can be housed under one roof at a traditional publisher, but can also be acquired elsewhere at a significantly lower cost, and offer the epublishing author a significantly higher cut of the revenue.

    Something to consider, anyhow.

  86. Elfwreck:

    Eh. One, if you’re talking about a major publisher (and many smaller ones), there will be a print version, so you’re making a large assumption. Also, a lot of what you’re describing is the mechanical process of putting the cover on the book, not the production of the cover art itself. You also appear to be making the assumption that art that is effective on smaller screens will be inherently cheaper, which is not an assumption I would make — good clean small-scale design is requires no less talent; just a different talent. Finally, I’m not a 100% with the assumption that every reproduction of a cover is going to be at 200 pixels wide — lots of book-related sites show off cover art larger than that, including this one when I post Big Idea pieces. And yes, there’s often a lot of discussion about the quality of the art on the cover. So I have to say I disagree.

    Nick Mamatas:

    “Really?”

    Yes. Next.

    “Tell you what: would you please identify of the Bingo arguments you heard from your corporate clients—or anyone—ten years ago.”

    Sure, Nick, as soon as you tell me when Hiakasoru intends to release its books as 99 cent electronic editions. Because don’t think I didn’t notice you not quite getting around to that one. I mean, since we’re sharing corporate communications, here.

    “Yeah, I totally made up the idea that people think e-versions of books already in print should be significantly cheaper than print copies—or things even capable of being printed—right this very second.”

    Hey, Nick! That thing you do where you try to change the subject when you get called on making a poor argument? Yeah, this is that again. And, well. Nice try, but no.

    Inasmuch as it doesn’t appear either of us is going to get much out of continuing a conversation with each other on this subject besides petty snarking, I think it we’re done with each other in this thread. But do feel free to chat with others, politely.

  87. Elfwreck:

    “Animated children’s books are a valid point of ‘ebooks with real costs to produce’–but they need to be compared to specialized print children’s books, not genre novels.”

    I’m not aware of saying the discussion was confined to one particular genre, actually. We’re having a discussion of ebooks as a class, with occasional forays into electronic publishing in general.

    Ben Trafford:

    “I seriously doubt a legacy publisher spends as little as what I’ve quote above on these services”

    Eh. It means you’re starting your project $10k in a hole, as opposed to having received an advance and having to bear none of the production costs yourself. What that comes down to in many ways — assuming you have the choice of going with a publisher — is deciding whether you can do a better job promoting yourself and your work to recoup your financial investment better than you could have with another publisher doing all the financial heavy lifting.

  88. It means you’re starting your project $10k in a hole, as opposed to having received an advance and having to bear none of the production costs yourself. What that comes down to in many ways — assuming you have the choice of going with a publisher — is deciding whether you can do a better job promoting yourself and your work to recoup your financial investment better than you could have with another publisher doing all the financial heavy lifting.

    Hm. For me, there’s a certain psychic cost when you put up your own money to do this. It’s by no means insurmountable, but, for me, that DOES get in the way of doing better or more creative work—and it’s not negligible.

    Some people can put up with it, but many others won’t.

  89. Nothing truly significant has changed on the technology side in the last decade. Oh, the reading devices have gotten a bit nicer to use, but no significant functionality has been added.

    Um… sorry, I have to call this a highly geek-centric or ebook-enthusiast-centric view. There was indeed one huge, huge technological change – the ease in getting material onto your e-reader. Enthusiasts and geeks were happy to open a web browser, dig through Project Gutenberg (and later Peanut Press, Baen, etc.), navigate the formats to find one that would read on your hardware (or convert it with something like Plucker or iSilo in the early Gutenberg days), download it, hook the reader up to your computer, and copy it over. (Good luck if you were out on a trip and away from a convenient computer – funny, how that’s where a lot of reading gets done.) Ordinary readers weren’t willing to do that, for some reason.

    The successful members of the new generation of e-readers make acquiring content something almost anyone can easily do from the reader itself, just about anywhere; at most you need a wifi hotspot. This was backed up by online catalogs that were extensive and included huge numbers of bestsellers and mass-market books, not just out-of-copyright freebees and niche titles. That is a Really Big Deal. Last I saw, all of the bumper crop of me-too e-ink readers that came out last year were abject failures, and I gather Sony still isn’t doing that well with its Reader series; the only reason I think they’re still around is because they’re backed up by a huge consumer electronics conglomerate.

  90. Sure, Nick, as soon as you tell me when Haikasoru intends to release its books as 99 cent electronic editions.

    I actually addressed this in #97. If you want a more concise version: “They’re not, which is unfortunate.” (Though we did a freebie! Surely could make a similar answer as to my question. “B3″ or whatever, without saying whether it was AOL or Roadrunner etc. Since you won’t and only now claim some sort of corporate privilege for conversations that took place a decade ago…well, I’m fine with letting my “Really?” stand.

    As far as the supposed poverty of my arguments, if you wish to pretend that the broad context in which the question of ebook pricing is debated isn’t the perceived connection to the price of print books, hey, it’s your blog. If you want to stick with a claim that ebooks can be very expensive if publishers choose to spend more money on them because, uhm, because they can!…well, sure, go right ahead. And if you want to argue that ebooks are expensive because starting a couple of months ago a tiny handful of them have had motion pictures embedded within their code, that’s cool too. They’ll make great Bingo squares for 2020. We should bring this show on the road to CapClave though!

  91. Elfwreck:

    “To be fair, the arguments ‘in [x] years, everything will be digital’ and ‘something something fat cats something something’ were both common online 10 years ago, in pretty much every discussion board that talked about the future of any of the entertainment or information industries.”

    Hell, we were talking about both at AOL when I started there as an employee in 1996 (I became a consultant for the company later). Among the things we discussed was serializing novels on the site; we did some initial spitballing on authors, among them Orson Scott Card, who as it happened was already on AOL with a forum and even offered up an early version of “Children of the Mind” for people to read. Not much came of it at the time, because we weren’t 100% sure how to make money off it. I did a humor area instead, and then eventually AOL solved the problem (or so it thought) by eating TimeWarner. But certainly the idea of everything being digital was something we lobbed around fifteen years ago. It’s closer now, but still not there.

    Nick Mamatas:

    You spoke one comment too soon, as you can see (I did miss your response earlier to the question, sorry). The “In [x] years everything will be digital” was also a featured shibboleth at Road Runner. I created and ran a video game review site for them from 1998 – 2001 along with other consulting work, and during that time we also had serious discussions about a serialized novel, but this time I was the possible author; I gave them Agent as a sample and used its (relative) success as an example of how digital delivery of novels could work.

    “As far as the supposed poverty of my arguments”

    I never said they were bad arguments, just not the one you came through the door with. That one you argued poorly, I’m afraid. But I love you anyway, man. You know I do.

  92. John Scalzi: Agreed! (Well, except for the idea of promoting yourself — if you’re spending something like $7k on a publicist as part of that $10k, they sure as heck better be promoting you!)

    So, here’s the kicker — what happens when those independent, agile, and cheap professionals start offering their services to authors in exchange for a cut of the profits, with something like a ceiling to the maximum profitability?

    Let me posit a scenario:

    I write my novel and price it at $3 as an ebook. The editor gets 35% of the cover price, to a maximum of $5000 (his bonus for taking the risk). The typesetter I decide just to pay straight out at $200 or so for a nice conversion (incidentally, the going rate in at least conversion shop). The cover artist I snap up at a steal out of DeviantArt and tell him he’ll get paid a maximum of $1000 out of 15% of my book’s cover price. The bookstore still gets its 30%, leaving me with only 20% for a little while.

    At around 2225 sales, the cover artist is paid off; I’ve made $1335. At 4765 sales, the editor is paid (handsomely!); I’ve now made $4000. At 10,000 sales, I’ve made $15k, with no one but the bookseller taking a cut of my profits.

    So what might we see? A future in which independent professionals are taking the same sort of gamble that legacy publishers take today, but without the need to worry about infrastructural costs or the gamble of “how many of these do I print, knowing the booksellers can return them and screw me?”

    A future in which an author with a bit of starting capital or a moderately successful career under his belt can afford to front these costs in advance, and have his royalties unencumbered down the line.

    The biggest problem I see with this approach is that it does nothing to deal with the issue of the slush pile — however, I don’t think that problem can go away. Some think that decentralizing these services from the legacy publishers will serve to defuse the slush piles among indie professionals, but my guess is that what we’ll see is the indies refusing to review simultaneous submissions, and even then, getting spammed with manuscripts.

    Travis Butler: You’re totally right, but I don’t view this as a technological change. The technology to get your stuff on the machines existed back then (the SoftBook hooked directly to the net) — it just wasn’t wifi because there really was no wifi to speak of. So, yes, in that regard (and it’s not a small one), the technology has changed.

    But the other points you raise up (large catalogs of books, for example), aren’t technological hurdles that have been overcome, they’re almost entirely corporate.

    Also, yes: the Sony Reader is floptastic. Sony really made a mess of that.

  93. FWIW, the expense for adding an ebook to a traditional publishing lineup should exist, but be fairly nominal compared to already existing expenses. Based on some estimates done by myself and a couple of acquaintances who actually work at publishing companies, you (should) need to add about one employee (at a cost of something like $100k after you include benefits and such) per (roughly!) 400 books per year your company puts out. That’s based on actual time required to convert, check conversions, fix errors, and upload the books. If your employee is spending a lot of random time in meetings, surfing the internet, attending conferences, or whatever, scale that up accordingly. ;) Those numbers are also based on either novels or simple nonfiction books without large numbers of complex elements. Again, books more complex than a novel or a “Chicken Soup” type nonfiction book take longer, and therefore require more man hours.

    So yeah, that’s an additional cost of about $250 per title. Let’s assume slow staff, lots of meetings, etc. and double it – you’re still at $500 additional cost per title. Now, based on posts by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith (who together actually, you know, OWNED what was at the time one of the larger SF&fantasy publishers), even that higher figure is somewhere around a quarter of a percent of what’s spent on production, printing, and marketing for most books. So yeah, it’s an expense – but on the scale publishers operate, it is a nearly microscopic expense.

    Or should be, anyway. What folks in the industry have been telling me is that bad workflows (or lack of real workflows) are forcing ebook exports loaded with errors (often exported from an InDesign file, which is a notoriously tough export for ebook formats), and then they have to go in and manually fix all the problems, invariably missing a bunch (which is why you see odd spaces, indents, hyphens in silly places, and other poor-formatting errors in many NYC produced ebooks right now). Once they get their process down better, I think the costs for them will drop by orders of magnitude. Most of their cost issues seem to be caused by poor workflow process, making jobs that would take me a few hours eat up dozens of man hours for them.

  94. Ben @107: Let’s say I hire an editor, a digital typesetter, and a cover artist for my novel.

    Here’s the fundamental problem with that. Either you pay your editor to tell you the truth, or you don’t. More often than not, the truth is going to be, “Throw this book out. Spend five years reading every book you can get your hands on, critically and with an eye toward their construction. Then write another book. That second might be good enough to edit. Call me in 2017.”

    If you hire an editor simply to “polish” the book rather than telling you the truth, well, you can’t polish a turd. The turds that have succeeded as inexpensive ebooks are similar to the cheap paperback stroke books of an earlier era; they scratch a particular itch. A fair number of them are fanfiction of one series or other with the serial numbers filed off, or are at least so obviously within one genre or another than the reader can fill in the blanks that were formerly filled in by the writer. Self-published ebooks are often terrible in ways that commercially published books are not, and it’s generally the ones that are terrible in the appropriate commercial way that take off.

  95. I note with some amusement that a lot of people are unwittingly echoing the “everything will be digital” square. I think Penny Arcade addressed that a while ago.

  96. Nick Mamatas: I’m going to have to cry bullshit on this one.

    Legacy publishers sell the myth that they are the arbiters of quality, and if it weren’t for them, we’d be flooded with crap. Walked into a bookstore lately? We’re already flooded with crap. We’re flooded with crap with bylines like “Just like Harry Potter!” and “If you like John Scalzi, you’ll love this!” And why? Because pale copies of good authors sell. Publishers aren’t out there looking to acquire quality; they want to find an author who will sell, and those are two very different things.

    If publishers were so good at picking quality, why do we regularly hear the story of “I tried to sell this story for years and years, and got told it was no good, and then finally, a publisher picked me up?”

    Self-published books are not, by definition, bad. We need to let that myth go. It’s not helpful.

    Incidentally: I actually asked the indie editors I’ve spoken to about how they’d handle telling a paying client that their book was crap. They unanimously said something along the lines of, “I have to. If I didn’t, no one would want to work with me, because I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

  97. The argument “In [X] years everything will be digital” is only an argument worthy of Bingo if X is a small number—say, ten—and “everything” is taken to mean, “Absolutely every thought and ah-choo in all the world, and all the legacy stuff will be destroyed by a gigantic plague of doooom” as opposed to, you know, “a whole lotta stuff worth selling that’ll impact every part of life under late capitalism for people in the US.” But I do appreciate the answer, and snigger once again at AOL. Even the CEO of XLibris wasn’t that silly.

  98. Nick Mamatas:

    Oh, dude. AOL was very serious about the everything digital thing. We had five year plans and everything. Unfortunately, we also had reorganizations every six months, after which new five year plans would have to be formulated. Lather, rinse, repeat. I really liked working at AOL (well, except for the last couple of months, when everything went to hell), but it brought new levels to the concept of “dysfunctional,” and this is coming from a guy who had previously been in newspapers.

  99. So, here’s the kicker — what happens when those independent, agile, and cheap professionals start offering their services to authors in exchange for a cut of the profits, with something like a ceiling to the maximum profitability?

    In other words, instead of eliminating the issue of money-up-front, you’re just spreading it out and shifting it down the line a little. Or do you somehow think that these ‘independent, agile and cheap professionals’ don’t have daily living expenses the way authors do, and wouldn’t have the same trouble of putting up their services without getting eating money to live on until the sure-to-come-really! profits start rolling in?

    You’re also missing or misunderstanding the whole issue of risk management that publishers provide. A publisher can afford to take lots of risks on books because they have many books in the pipeline at any given time, and the loss from any one failing – or even a group of them failing – isn’t much on that scale. These ‘independent, agile and cheap professionals’ can’t operate on that scale, and the failure of any one project would have a much greater impact on their income; how many of them would be willing to gamble their livelihood on a percentage of the profits?

    I’d bet that the main ones willing to gamble like that are the starving ones that can’t or won’t get payment-up-front commissions; and quite aside from wondering how good their work is if they can’t get regular paying commissions, I have a real ethical problem with trying to build financial success on the backs of people who are in that kind of financial shape. The whole startup ‘pay employees peanuts with the promise of big profits down the line’ thing really screwed a lot of good tech people in the dot-bomb era, and I don’t see this as any better.

  100. You had to post this AFTER Lunacon wrapped up? Timing fail, thanks.

    That said, you need squares for the Luddite Fetishists(*):

    books don’t break if they fall in the tub or you throw them against the wall
    you don’t need electricity to read a book

    *: The Luddite Fetishists are those whose complaints focus on the physical attributes of books that aren’t mappable to ebooks, and who refuse to recognize that most readers have a spectrum of purchasing habits that range from ‘check it out from the library’ to ‘wait on line to buy the hardback at midnight on release day,’ and that ebooks fall somwhere in the middle of that spectrum.

  101. Ben @ 120: Nick Mamatas: I’m going to have to cry bullshit on this one.

    But it’s true. Part of how I know is that I’ve read a ton of slush in my life. The rest of how I know is because I’ve been the editor hired by aspiring writers who looked to either get published or who planned to self-publish. And I’m the honest one.

    Publishers aren’t out there looking to acquire quality; they want to find an author who will sell, and those are two very different things.

    Yes, but embedded in what sells is some baseline of quality. There’s plenty of awful shit on the shelves, but the stuff that doesn’t make it is often much worse.

    Incidentally: I actually asked the indie editors I’ve spoken to about how they’d handle telling a paying client that their book was crap. They unanimously said something along the lines of, “I have to. If I didn’t, no one would want to work with me, because I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

    I’m sure they did. They want your business after all. You should have asked some of their clients if they were told, “Throw this out. Read more books. Start over after several years of close reading.”

    “I tried to sell this story for years and years, and got told it was no good, and then finally, a publisher picked me up?”

    Generally, I’d say we hear this story because people get very offended by form rejections, which can mean that a manuscript wasn’t worth reading through, or it can mean any one of a dozen other things.

  102. Hmm, I see I managed to mess up the thread in 125, which is what happens to me after 11PM. Please mentally put the “Yes, but embedded…” line directly under very different things.

  103. bkd69:

    You know, and this is sort of aside everything, but I really kind of hate the “books survive a tub” thing, because unless you get them in the first half second, what happens is the book “survives” as this mutant wrinkled thing that will smell like fungus in a week. What you should be reading in the tub is your shampoo bottles, not books. I feel somewhat strongly about this.

    Nick Mamatas:

    Fixed that for you.

    And now I’m off to bed, because it’s 2am here. Play nice with each other while I’m passed out.

  104. Ben @120: Problems with self-publishing existing way before POD and e-books. Of course it’s not true that self-publishing always means bad. But it’s also true that traditional publishing has a lot of mechanisms intended to weed out poor quality and to fix problems that the author may not have caught.

    bkd69 @124: I’m trying to fathom why the physical differences between a hardcopy and an e-copy of a book are irrelevant. Isn’t that one of the things people who prefer e-books rhapsodize about? Or are they, too, merely some kind of fetishist?

  105. Travis Butler: I rather suspect that the service professionals involved with publishing will end up having careers that look a lot like authors’ do now (e.g. keep your day job until you’ve built up enough royalty/commission revenue to go it on your own) or will band together in firms that spread the risk around. Such firms would lose a lot of the overhead of legacy publishers, because they wouldn’t need things like, say, a centralized office. Or secretaries or janitors or…well, you probably see my point.

    And publishers obviously can’t afford to take risks on books. After all, aren’t we consistently told how awful their profits are, and how little money they make? Obviously, they have to bet on as sure a thing as they can find. The only risk being mitigated by the publishers is the risk to the people they employ. The author isn’t taking any risk, and wouldn’t be, in the scenario I’m proposing, unless they decided to pay upfront for their own production and marketing costs. And aren’t they doing some of that now? Or is John Scalzi’s site paid for by his publisher? Is he being paid by the word for replying to all of us (i.e. engaging the fan community)? For going to book signings and conventions?

    The cover artists and editors I’ve spoken to have indicated that, generally, they could complete a given book’s worth of work inside of a work week, perhaps two. That means they can crank out 25 books a year (assuming two weeks of vacation). Are all 25 of those going to be failures? Let’s say ten of then succeed, at $5000 per book. That’s less than half. Or let’s say 5 of them succeed, at $10k per book. By my calculations, that’s a book that sells around 10k copies in a year. That’s not a bad revenue stream.

    Yes, it’s a different model than exists now, and yes, it has more risk. This happens when industries get shaken up. New models of risk prevention will spring into being, as they always have.

    Nick Mamatas; Actually, no, they didn’t want my business. They were responding to market research questionnaires. And I did speak to some of their clients as well. According to my notes, about a quarter of them reported that their editor initially told them to bugger off and do exactly as you suggest in order to learn their craft. In fact, they went a step further in a few cases, and pointed them to courses, conventions and support groups.

    Guess how rabidly loyal their clients were after they came back from said education? :)

    Generally, I’d say we hear this story because people get very offended by form rejections, which can mean that a manuscript wasn’t worth reading through, or it can mean any one of a dozen other things.

    “It took a year for my new agent, Christopher, to find a publisher. Lots of them turned it down.” – JK Rowling

    “So I kept writing books, and I kept getting promptly rejected.” – Amanda Hocking

    “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” – Commentary from one of the twenty publishers who rejected “Lord of the Flies.”

    In other words: O RLY?

  106. mythago @128:
    It’s irrelevant because ebooks and ereaders have shown themselves to be a viable market segment, and much as ebooks have failed to hardcopy books vanish and disappear, the boycotting by the Luddite Fetishists has likewise failed to prevent the ebook market from finding a firm foundation, and won’t be able to stuff that particular djinn back into the lamp.

    And yes, there are fetishists on the pro-tech side, too. It’s fetishization when it becomes the One True Way to buy/read books, and failing to recognize that it’s simply yet another buying decision, along the lines of deciding between hardback, trade paper, or mass market paper, or buying used, borrowing, or buying at midnight on release day.

  107. According to my notes, about a quarter of them reported that their editor initially told them to bugger off

    That’s not what I suggested an honest editor would do. Initially, one looks at the ms and reads it, makes suggestions, and then explains that even with the suggestions and the edits—which are basically educational—it’s still not anywhere near publishable.

    “It took a year for my new agent, Christopher, to find a publisher. Lots of them turned it down.” – JK Rowling

    “So I kept writing books, and I kept getting promptly rejected.” – Amanda Hocking

    “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” – Commentary from one of the twenty publishers who rejected “Lord of the Flies.”

    In other words: O RLY?

    Given that two of the three examples you gave here make no comment along the lines of “I tried to sell this story for years and years, and got told it was no good”, and the third example is both over fifty years old and actually came from a reader at Faber, which actually was the original publisher of the book—thus that’s not an excerpt from a rejection letter but a minority report—YA RLY.

  108. love it, thanks! running out of room for hardcopy books but until publishers get their e-acts together and get past the arguments and barriers, i hesitate to invest in an electronic library

  109. Nick Mamatas: In regards to “I tried to sell this story for years and years, and got told it was no good,” here:

    30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely) by publishers

    Once again — O RLY?

    And yes, you didn’t suggest the editor told them to bugger off. I was paraphrasing in the spirit of brevity. There are a lot of authors who may never produce a workable manuscript. However, I’m disinclined to swallow the oft-repeated tale that it takes years and years and years for people to become skilled writers. I don’t believe it takes that long to become good (not great, not perfect, just good) at any skill.

    The class of writer you’re talking about, the ones who write utter tripe and are convinced it’s gold? Those people are the same ones who think they don’t need an editor, and that the publishing world and their audience somehow owe them something. Those people are unlikely to ever act in any sort of professional fashion — why would we assume they’re going to hire and listen to an indie editor?

    Yes, there will always be people who write garbage. That neither confirms that publishers are the arbiters of quality nor that there are a lot of fine books that are getting rejected for no good reason. I frequently shudder to think about how many books are slipping through the cracks because authors are getting tired of banging their heads against the closed gates of the publishing world. I know that I’ve read at least half-dozen books that deserve to have a larger audience, but will never get published because the authors simply gave up.

  110. John @ 127: I really haven’t heard the argument that “books don’t break if they fall in the tub” (they do become for the most part unreadable)—just that the consequences are much smaller. Drop a paperback in the tub, and you’ve ruined something that will cost $6.99-$14.99 to replace; drop a Kindle or a Nook in the tub and it will cost at least $139 to replace (much more if it’s an iPad).

    I do agree with you that, paper or electronic, you really shouldn’t be reading novels in the tub. Though I did hear someone suggest this weekend at Millenicon panel on e-readers that you can read your Kindle/Nook/whatever in the tub by placing it in a Zip-loc bag, something you can’t do with a paperback.. Personally, I think this dude spends way too much time in the tub. ;-)

  111. Really, aren’t these arguments beside the point? No one should deny that publishing is undergoing a sea-change similar to that of the music industry, to wit: content is moving into digital format and consumption, delivery, distribution, and pricing will have to change accordingly, which will lead to new business models for distributors and content providers alike. The tree book is, if not an Edison disk, at least a CD; costly and inefficient to manufacture and distribute and a waste of valuable resources.

    So will we all be reading “texts” on our retinal-implant pico-Kindles in a few years? No. The book is extremely user-friendly, much-beloved, and will have a long, long legacy. But the world ain’t moving in its direction any more, it’s CLEARLY moving away, and traditional publishing outlets will have to embrace the change or go the way of Borders, Blockbuster, and Tower Records.

    And the barrier to entry for new writers will continue to fall, which will, yeah, create a ton of noise in the beginning, but also give rise to a new wave of Amanda Hockings and who knows who else? She may be an outlier, but she’s also a bellwether.

    It’s a revolution folks, and YOU ARE THERE.

  112. Hal Jay Greene:

    “It’s a revolution folks, and YOU ARE THERE.”

    It’s always a revolution somewhere, though, isn’t it. Just because you’re going through a revolution doesn’t mean you have to be fatuous about it. Hence the bingo card.

  113. As long as the “hardcover” versions of e-books remain priced below printed hardcovers I have no problem with e-book pricing. I understand the market need for the hardcover versions to be priced higher than the “paperpack” version, but you are not getting any extra quality like you do when you purchase a printed hardcover.

  114. Not just the tub. Have a book in your bag and get caught in a heavy rainstorm and you’ve lost a book. have an e-reader and…yeah. Put an e-reader in your pocket, and yes while it will contain more than one book I find an ordinary paperback more than lasts a day, and you’ve put a nice shiny target (which is generally larger than a standard paperback too) in your pocket for the thieves to lift. When was the last time you saw someone casing a bus-stop and deciding “oh she is reading a book, I’ll mug her for that, it has great resale value”? Now try that with an e-reader.

    Books, more durable, more convenient, and less likely to make you a target for crime and violence. Of course I just have a fetish for luddites or something, apparently.

    Plus I just cannot get over the upfront barrier cost of having to buy an e-reader. I would have to save up for best part of a year to buy one, and then once I’ve bought one another month to afford something to read on it (although the 99p stories could fix that, if only they put the Scalzi, Pratchett, Aaronovitch, etc level authors on the 99p list). Or I could just buy a book each month and have something to read and not bother with the saving. Maybe if they sold e-readers with 10-20 free books of your choice by way of compen for not buying books for the months it took to save up for, that would help offset the costs. I’d still refuse to pay more than a fiver absolute dead-tops, heck I shop around vigorously for paper books to get them at of below that price (I’ve never paid more than a tenner even for a first day hardback release of a bestselling author). So with all the fuss e-readers are going heap upon me (bookmark feature, that means I have to read a manual, never had to read a manual to tell me how to read a book and they come with bookmark features called bookmarks. Well, technically they bits of paper I’ve jammed in to act as bookmarks because I’m not paying for a slip of something I can scrounge for free), there better be a good financial incentive to switch.

  115. I also get tired of hearing the same old e-publishing arguments, some a decade old now — that don’t take into account the fact that it’s not the dawn of e-books anymore. In the end it doesn’t matter, I’ll try Smashwords for free, and if I don’t like it I’ll try some other way the next time. Hyper-focusing on one path to readers over another for emotional reasons and shutting oneself off to the possibilities of either path is a matter of personal preference — don’t cheer on the downfall or weaknesses of either side unless you, like John, are willing to try both.

  116. For the updated bingo card:

    John Locke!

    (He’s outselling both Konrath and Hocking. I think he is spoken of less because he has had less publicity, yet sells more books.)

    TK Kenyon

  117. I’ve never really been one to argue with a publishers right to price its products as it wants to…
    And I am aware that there’s more to to costs of books than just paper and ink…

    However, I have noted some seemingly suspicious behavior lately.
    Whether it is because of the upcoming HBO miniseries, or George RR Martins announcement of an “Official” publication date for the next book in the series… the E-book pricing of “The Song of Ice and Fire” series on amazon recently jumped from $5 per book (which I thought was awesome at the time, even though I already own them in paperback) to $8.99 each…
    So why the sudden bump in prices?
    Is it an “updated” eBook form the one available 3 months ago?? New e-cover art and stuff?? I have no idea.
    It just feels like the exact same product at a higher price because they expect a surge in sales… and doesn’t that seem a little greedy?

    -KiddRodelo

  118. TK Kenyon:

    And rightly so, because “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” is gripping, gripping stuff!

    What?

    KiddRodelo:

    “It just feels like the exact same product at a higher price because they expect a surge in sales… and doesn’t that seem a little greedy?”

    Well, what it is, is basic economics regarding supply and demand. “Greedy” would have been pricing them at $20. I also suspect the pricing does in fact mirror prices for new printed editions of the book, to be released in anticipation of the new series as well as the new novel later in the year.

  119. Hysterical – I’m sending this to all my friends in the industry. But what I don’t understand is why some of the comments are sooo serious.

    Lighten up people! Nobody’s trying to cure cancer here. We’re just trying to sell some portable entertainment…

  120. Travis Butler @123: You are absolutely correct. As a freelancer, I’ve been fighting this for over 25 years. Potential clients want me to take a huge risk in return for promised big money down the road. Guess what? I can count the times that’s worked out on less than one hand. The pitch is usually something along the lines of the client buttering me up with sweet words about how my skills combined with their financial and organizational acumen will pay off BIG. I just need to be patient. The problem is, the mortgage company, the electric company, my ISP, and a host of other concerns are not patient. And how do I really know how sales are going? How do I know the person paying me a cut isn’t doing “Hollywood” style accounting?

    Let’s say I’m writing my Great American Novel in a coffee shop. Further, let’s say I tell the barista that I’ll pay for all the coffee and pastries I consume over the months out of the profits when I put the novel up on Amazon and I make thousands a month. I would very likely get laughed out of the coffee shop, and rightly so.

    I call this “I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday Syndrome.” The thing is, Tuesday rarely, if ever, comes.

  121. Crypticmirror #140: Don’t buy an ebook reader. Your phone, your computer, some tablet device you may already own. The barrier to entry is only if you desire the top end reader experience, so to speak. Much like buying a hardcover versus a paperback.

    But, as a whole, the bingo card is nothing more than a humorous strawman, but a strawman none the less. The guy who sells will price what he thinks the market will bear, which is our system. Arguments that things “ought” to cost one amount or another are interesting, but academic. The funny thing is, it’s the publisher’s “side” that seems to be doing that the most, though.

  122. re: ebooks in the tub
    A gallon-sized ziploc is my favorite ereader accessory. I can read ebooks in the tub a lot more easily than I can read books with pages that take two hands to turn.

    re: digital slushpile
    In every corner of the market, this is big, and going to get bigger. Anyone who thinks “there’s crap on the shelves right now” has never spent real time looking at Smashwords. The crap on the shelves at least capitalizes the first letter of each sentence, and doesn’t change POV multiple times in a paragraph.

    I can imagine several ways to get around this, from companies that sort incoming manuscripts to send to editors for a fee (authors don’t have a lot of money to throw around, but a $20 fee for consideration would cut out the worst of the egotistical junk), to reviewing clubs paid by their customers, not the authors, to find things those readers want to buy. The point is, every aspect of value that traditional publishers offer could be split into independent businesses, and probably will. No system for this has to become dominant enough to “replace” the current publishing industry for them to be successful & viable.

    End result:
    I get access to more books I’d like than traditional publishers are going to offer me. I get access to cheap books that pay royalties or commissions, instead of cheap books at used bookstores and yard sales that don’t pay royalties. Before I got an ebook reader, I was down to reading one or two books a year; now I’m reading one or two a week. My kids are reading about half what they read on computer screens or a Kindle; I expect the screen content to increase over time, ‘cos the house is already overpacked with books; if they want new stuff, it’s mostly going to have to be digital.

    Publishers who want their books to be part of that collection can figure out how to offer them to me on my terms. While I’m interested in (fascinated by) the industry debates, I don’t see them as important to me in the ways they should be important to authors & publishers. I’m not lacking for great reading material, and won’t run out in my lifetime, even if the current situation doesn’t change.

  123. Ben @133:

    30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely) by publishers.

    Do you actually read what you link to? I mean, at all? Of the thirty examples there, all of six, and that’s at the outside, can be considered rejections in which the author is told that their work was no good. And that’s stretching back to Rudyard Kipling’s nineteenth century newspaper rejections and Proust in 1912 to get to six! The other twenty-four entries either just explain that the book was rejected a number of times, or that the publisher didn’t think the book would sell (different from not being any good) or was not sufficiently interesting for them, or that the book was morally repulsive or irresponsible on some level—that’s all rather aside from quality, especially in the cases of Nabokov and Lawrence, whose books in point were heavily sexual. I guarantee you that the rejection letters Nabokov and Lawrence received for Lolita and Lady Chatterly’s Lover were not “You’re no good” rejection letters.

    What you don’t get is that a popular book depends at least partially on some enthusiasm from the editor and publisher—if a publisher thinks that “negative utopias” “don’t sell” then for that publisher they likely won’t. There’s nothing in Rowling that destined her work to become as popular as it was. Had she gotten some other deal, she might be some fairly obscure midlist author now. On the flipside, there are plenty of books who have gotten the big push and then failed anyway. Nobody is saying that publishers can always make a hit or can tell what will be a hit, but they are okay at playing to their own strengths. Suggesting that, say, Little, Brown was stupid for not publishing Harry Potter is rather ridiculous—especially since they got Twilight a few years later. Twilight wouldn’t have made a great Scholastic title, but did make a great Little, Brown one.

    However, I’m disinclined to swallow the oft-repeated tale that it takes years and years and years for people to become skilled writers.

    But it does. Talk to some skilled writers and they’ll tell you how long it took. (Also, hint: skilled writers don’t need to hire editors on their own before submitting or publishing their own work.)

  124. However, I’m disinclined to swallow the oft-repeated tale that it takes years and years and years for people to become skilled writers.

    That’s like saying you’re disinclined to swallow the oft repeated tale that it Ames years and years for people to become major league baseball players.

  125. bkd69 @130: I’m genuinely not following the way that you’re jumping around. What does focusing on the physical differences between e-books and hardcopies have to do with anyone claiming that e-books are a valid market segment – a denial which, by the way, requires ignoring actual e-book sales and is thus less “Luddite” than “denying facts”? Nobody, as far as I can tell, is claiming that e-books are “invalid” or will go away, whatever they feel about personally using them. (By way of comparison, Apple has a minority share of the computer market and still will despite the iPad, but their computers are very much a valid market segment.)

    So I’m not sure why “you don’t need electricity to read a hardcopy book” makes me a Luddite Fetishist, with capitals and everything. It’s a fact about the characteristics of the two mediums, just as “I can carry my library in my pocket” is a fact about the characteristics of e-books vs. paper books, and may, for a particular person, be a perfectly valid reason to decide that for them an e-reader would be a suboptimal choice. You seem to be making the logical error of assuming that because zealots say [thing], anybody who says [thing] is a zealot. And that’s when you start edging toward the FUTURE IS NOW, GIVE UP YOUR DEAD TREEZ bingo square.

  126. Kevin @154: Not “a writer”, but (at least according to your link) an established writer of best-sellers who was able to command a rare-as-hen’s-teeth $500K advance and who’s had “six-figure and seven-figure deals” for previous books. Which makes his blog conversation about how publishing is dead and paper books are going the way of the buggy whip unintentionally hilarious.

  127. Elfwreck #150

    re: digital slushpile
    In every corner of the market, this is big, and going to get bigger. Anyone who thinks “there’s crap on the shelves right now” has never spent real time looking at Smashwords. The crap on the shelves at least capitalizes the first letter of each sentence, and doesn’t change POV multiple times in a paragraph.

    This. What’s happening is that the slush pile is being outsourced to the customers, and as an added bonus, we get to pay for the privilege of reading it!

  128. When was the last time you saw someone casing a bus-stop and deciding “oh she is reading a book, I’ll mug her for that, it has great resale value”? Now try that with an e-reader.

    E-reader? What self respecting thief is going to snag an e-reader when you have an iPhone in your pocket?

  129. as a consumer and industry outsider this discussion is interesting – I see parallels to music MP3 discussions over the years. I think few people belive that the reading experience is BETTER than a “real” book – but many believe it is “good enough” and, like w/ MP3’s are willing to sacrifice some of the quality to get portability. As a consumer I have a physical book library of several hundred titles, many of which have something special about them (signed by the author, leatherbound, 1st editions, sentimental value etc.) many of these print editions are not (or were not at the time) available as ebooks (for example Rick Steves’ travel books JUST became available in electronic form in the last few weeks). About a year ago I bought a portable e-reader and have accumulated about 100-125 titles – many for Baen’s free library and Project Gutenberg – I’ve purchased about 20 titles (average about $10/title).

    my $.02:
    Pros:
    Lots of out of print treasures to be found online free/nearly free

    I can carry MANY titles with me and switch between them as the mood strikes me ( I read about 2 -3 hours a day)

    Instant Gratification – I can aquire ebooks on impulse without going to a bookstore/waiting for Amazon to deliver

    Cons:

    portability/ transerability of ebooks, I have a Sony reader – some titles not available on Sony Library, but are on Amazon/B&N – it is complicated/difficult to get titles from other pay sites and import them into by reader – also I am not confident that I can easily transfer the eboks I own to another reader if I decide to upgrade later (Say to a Nook Color)

    Some books I want are not available as ebooks in a form/from a place I can use – WHY would Sony sell “Ragamuffin” but NOT “Sly Mongoose” ?

    NOISE – there are a bunch of CRAP ebooks out there, fraudulent reprints of wikipedia articles presented as original material, titles lifted from Project Gutenberg and sold on Amazon, titles that are poorly edited, not formatted for e-readers, full of typos, titles mis-representing content (IMHO Amazon, B&N, Sony, other e-book portals are doing a poor job of self regulating)– so far almost all of the crap has the patina of self published/indie producers – I have no problem paying $5-10 for an e-book, I have a BIG problem paying $.099 for CRAP

    Cost – many ebooks (IMHO) are overpriced – if a print copy is available for significantly less – I find myself waiting for to price to come down or buying a used hardcover– here is where I believe authors/publishers are missinng the boat – we consumers SEE what new hardcovers/paperbacks/ebook/used hardcopy cost – often on the same page from the same source- why would I pay $15 for an ebook if the hard copy paperback is $7?

    the “experience” I’ve tried multiple devices – none are as pleasant and a ‘real’ well produced hardcover (I guess I’m a fetishist in this regard)

    What’s missing – more out of print/back catalog ebooks – competitivly priced – I’d love to get my hands of several hard to find titles that now are only available as used books (In principle I don’t have a problem buying used books – but if I can get the titles I want AND the author gets paid – that’s a win/win, no?)

  130. What I really don’t understand about the entire whole grail of E-Pub is this: In the time it takes you to handle all of the publishing BS yourself (especially if you are learning “on the job”), you could probably have gotten a start on another novel, which if it’s any good would be worth a heck of alot more than the profit share you make off of eliminating the publisher. The other huge issue, although it’s probably a bigger deal in STM publishing where I worked, is the fact that if you want to have a good quality work, you are going to need an editor. And that editor will need to be paid whether you are publishing online or in deadwood.

    People who are gung-ho about self publishing, online or not, need to go back to basic economics here. Publishing companies make huge amounts of money, but it’s not because they are making a large profit margin. It’s because they are making a small margin off of millions of people who buy their stuff, and physical printing is probably the smallest cost component. The idea that you too can make tons of money just by printing yourself is ignoring the fact that publishers have economies of scale that basically cancel this out. It takes them less time and they get better deals on what they need than any individual could get.

    And I also don’t get how people are using Borders as an example of why ePub is failing. Borders went under because: 1) Amazon ate their lunch and 2) They messed up their purchasing/distribution infrastructure to the point where if a store ran out of a hot title, it would take them weeks to get new copies out there at which point they’d lose the sale (see: http://www.quora.com/Borders-Books/Why-is-Barnes-and-Noble-performing-well-as-a-business-while-Borders-has-filed-for-bankruptcy/answer/Mark-Evans-9 ). Neither of these reasons have to do with ePub, which would probably affect Amazon and B&N just as much.

    The bottom line is that, as cool as it is to have self publishing or ePub out there, the idea that this will mean the death of publishing companies is silly. You might as well be making the case that, just because solar power is small and cheap enough that we can all (theoretically) put one on our house, this means all electric companies are going to be obsolete in the not too distant future.

  131. Kevin @154: Not “a writer”, but (at least according to your link) an established writer of best-sellers who was able to command a rare-as-hen’s-teeth $500K advance and who’s had “six-figure and seven-figure deals” for previous books.

    Interestingly, according to Bookscan Eisler’s numbers are very good, but they’re around the same as John Scalzi’s actually. Was he really getting seven-figure deals previously? If so, it must have been for every possible subright, at the very least. Or, in the great publishing tradition, the advance figures were hyped for the media, but not actually, you know, true. I wonder if that 500K offer was actually his highest ever and his publisher was going to make one last Dan Brownesque push for him, but he decided to do it himself instead. Well, we’ll see what happens with him!

  132. As someone who has had to spend a fair amount of time soaking in a tub for medical purposes, I have learned that the key to reading while in the tub is to pick paperbacks (preferably used ones if that makes you feel better about the dropping risk, not that I’ve ever actually dropped one) that you can turn with one hand, and also to keep a hand towel next to the tub that covers the book as you’re getting into the tub (in case of splashing) that you can then use to dry off your hands before picking up the book. Or you could just listen to a podcast or audiobook, but that requires speakers, and if it’s boring you can’t easily change what you’re listening to, provided you put it far enough away to avoid splashing. So I am pro-tub reading, especially if the doctor insists you soak at least twice a day, because that gets boring fast. I’d try an e-reader, but my devices at this point are my phone and my ipod, neither of which will work through a bag (I think).

    To wander somewhere a bit closer to topic:
    My one e-reader complaint, which I don’t think has been brought up yet, is that I find the page turning annoying/slow. My only real exposures to this are my mom’s kindle and the ibook app on my ipod, but as a fairly fast reader, I find being slowed down by more-frequent page turns annoying. I assume new models will only get faster, so eventually this will be a non-issue, but for me now it’s another thing keeping me from getting a dedicated e-reader, with the other one being cost (poor college student).

  133. @MyName160:
    Like I pointed out earlier, you’re really looking at only a few hours per book to do the conversion, once you know how. Yes, learning how takes some time. I could point you at two short books which once read would give you the information you need for conversions (OK, why not? My advice would be to read the free Smashwords formatting guide, on Smashwords, and Derek Canyon’s “Format Your Ebook for Kindle in One Hour” available on Amazon. Zoe Winters’s “Smart Self Publishing” is a good overall look at things, too – together, I’d rate those as pretty near a complete basic education package.).

    Anyway, you read those books – takes you a few hours. You test out a short story or two, get the feel for the process. Once you’re on your third or fourth conversion, a novel should take you a few hours to convert and upload to all sites. There’s more involved, of course (editing, artwork, etc.), but all told – the time put in is going to more than pay itself back by getting an extra 52.5% of the ebook’s cover price per sale, I think. On a $6 book, that’s an extra $3 or so in royalties per book. It doesn’t take a lot of sales to equal the few hours you put in.

    I’m not advocating 99 cent books, not saying print is dead, not saying trad pub is toast or any of that BS. But what I *think* is going on now is that there is a very legitimate *choice* at this point. Do you want the chain bookstore distro and advance and solid editing that a trad pub is giving you? Or do you want the freedom and control of self publishing, plus the much higher royalty rate per sale? Do you want to mix it up, selling one book a year to trad pub and another three self pub?

    There’s a lot of options. They’re all good. Do a solid business analysis of your costs and benefits, and figure out which way you want to go. I think the best advice any writer could follow right now is “stay alert and stay flexible”.

  134. No one can afford to pay over 1.00 for an e-book because they spent 189.00 on the Kindle or 100.00 on the Nook. I buy hardbacks at thrift shops for 2.00 and after reading them resell them for more than I paid.

  135. Leslie – I’m glad that works for you – of course you realize that Kindle/Nook have free apps for your PC, also that someone paid more than $1.00 for that hardcover you purchased 2nd hand. I wouldn’t expect e-books to be drastically cheaper than new hardcopies anytime in in the near future. NOw, given that many authors/ publishers have many books that are out of print – making those available for $1.00 or so make a lot of sense to me (after all the author/publisher get $0.00 when a book is sold used)

  136. Skip @68 (sorry, I’m late getting back to this) I get something different out of that article than you do. I don’t think she’s saying she doesn’t want your money, or that there’s anything wrong with any one individual who pays 99 cents for a novel. What she IS saying is that when she had her novels priced at 99 cents, she got a lot more complaints from (a subset of) people who bought them that the books should have been free – that the price point attracted a subset of people who were more likely to complain that it still wasn’t cheap enough, or that there should have been more value for their dollar, whereas she didn’t get the same complaints when her books were priced at $2.99 and $4.95 (the higher prices being better for her financially in the long term as well.) She felt that when her novels were selling for less, they were valued less by the people who were buying them.

    I thought it was an interesting point, from someone who’s actually sold at that price. I also liked the point in the comments (From someone in PR, I believe) that the 99-cent price point is best left as a promotional exercise, not a long-term sales strategy.

  137. I do think the availability of e-publishing (and also print on demand services) could lead to a proliferation of smaller, leaner publishers focused on client service (where the authors are the clients). I’m sure most authors understand that a good editor adds value to their work, and most also probably don’t have the time or the inclination to handle the nuts and bolts of dealing with web sites, e-commerce and promotional events.

    The main advantage that big, traditional publishers have is economies of scale, and I think that technology is gradually eroding the advantages provided by economies of scale.

  138. My favorite isn’t really up there.

    I own lots of books. Really. Thousands. I re-read them frequently. I read hundreds of books a year. And I’d gladly pay something to have them all available electronically. Just not more than I originally paid for the bound paper version. If Amazon (or whoever) would sell me a combo of real paper book and e-book for some nominal (i.e. not 2.5X) mark-up over the paper cost I’d habitually buy my books that way. But they don’t.* So I don’t.

    *except for Baen.

  139. As a nook convert, I don’t see physical books going away…but I see them diminishing over time. Not to the level of LP records, perhaps, but certainly far less than we have now. The fact is that we piss away a lot of natural resources to feed our paper habits…and while there are some clear conveniences to the printed page, the advantages of the ebook reader to the printed copy are as the iPod to the Walkman. Interestingly, my wife (who gave me my nook as a gift) would not take a nook as a gift herself. We returned it as she was, in her words, ‘not ready, yet’ to move to ebooks. But I think it’s more a question of when, not if.

    I’ve been alternating between printed and ebooks as need be, but surprisingly, I’m finding myself more annoyed with printed copies, now. While reading “The Water Room”, I got food on it accidentally (the same food left no mark on the ebook reader). I also didn’t like the soft-cover printing form, which flapped around a lot, got bent and creased very easily. Someone gave us ‘Under the Dome’ for free….but I bought an ebook version, as I didn’t want to lug around a 900 page hard-bound book. As I was unboxing a lot of my old paperbacks recently, I realized that they’d all gone yellow over time. Not nearly as permanent as some books, regrettably.

    Do I no longer crave books? Quite the opposite. But now I prefer big coffee-table books for some things, hardcovers or paperbacks for others and ebooks for most. And the convenience of just buying a book whenever I want and having it RIGHT THEN? That’s a Big Deal, IMHO. And judging by the number of nook/kindle owners in my office and on my daily commuter train*, ebooks are here to stay.

    * – Not to mention sales: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/11/ebook-sales-headed-for-1-billion.html

  140. Nick Mamatas: “Over the long-term, yes, I imagine that they will, and that other publishers will start lowering their ebook prices for exactly the reasons I and others have laid out. Corporate logic and rational actions are often two different things after all, especially when a firm is a conglomerate. But if they don’t lower the prices, I anticipate the company (and others in the same boat) will suffer for it.”

    So you’re expecting to get fired in a few years then? Do you have a back-up plan? I’m aware that publishing folk don’t get overtime pay, but tech people hired for e-book services can charge it. I also am very familiar with the lets fire people below the top and make the remaining staff do the work of four approach of the last thirty years. It’s why editors in the bigger companies have little time to actually edit. It’s ineffective, but it also doesn’t necessarily lead to lower book prices. It simply improves the stock price of the publishers in the short term, making the shareholders happy.

    On self-publishing: Self-publishing is great but it has more requirements. It requires authors to fulfill a multitude of jobs as a publisher, from tech services to copyediting to getting vendors audited to make sure they’re paying you all your owed. An analogy: it is simple and usually cheaper for me to make, prep and cook all my own food. And yet, I still buy tortellini and falafel and my husband buys microwave quesadillas because it takes less time, effort, etc. for some meals. We pay for the cost of others to make the food for us to save our own effort.

    Amanda Hocking went into a financial arrangement with Amazon, and then others. She could have just sold stuff herself (though she would have to pay a server, PayPal, etc.) but she instead partnered with an electronic printing business to produce her products. It was faster, less effort, less time, more expertise and access to the market to do it that way. She decided she needed more help with developing her stories so she hired a freelance editor — less effort, more expertise. She did her own covers, but when she could, because she had funds, she hired an artist to do the covers — less time, less effort, more expertise. When a Hungarian publisher approached her about a reprint, she could have told them that she would do it herself in Hungary. Instead, she sought out a literary agent to negotiate a contract with the publisher and to make other deals with actual publishers, including potentially the U.S. ones and also film, etc. — less time, less effort, more expertise. She has said that she really wants to be able to hand off more of the business stuff so that she has more time for writing — she wants to be less a publisher and more an author. Unlike 80% of the authors out there, she has sold enough copies that writing and publishing have become her day job. But even with that freedom, she wants more time to write. Many, many authors, both published and self-published, are not selling enough copies to quit their day jobs. They barely have time to write and then attempt to promote, much less do all the other jobs of a publisher. They don’t have the money, nor will they likely have the money in the near future to pay a bevy of people to help them make it faster. That’s always the nature of the sales pyramid, no matter what type of book it is or how it’s published — self-published, small press, medium press, large press — a small group doing very well at the top, a larger middle group doing okay and a huge group at the bottom not making very much at all. E-books have not changed this.

    Publishers have a number of functions. Their chief one is to invest in selected authors in terms of advances if possible, production, distribution, money collection, legal assistance, various levels of marketing. When you self-publish, you do most of the work, pay for all the costs and take all the risks. When you partner with a publisher, you do less of the work, they pay for most of the costs, they take most of the risk and have better access, and you split the profits if any. Neither approach is wrong and neither are going away because they are different options for authors.

    I can’t see the majority of e-books getting down to 99 cents and I don’t think they’ll need to. iTunes aren’t songs, they’re musical apps, and they sell millions and billions of them along with the rest of the app market. But e-books don’t and will not sell anywhere near the same levels, even if they were 99 cents (even if they were all free,) and so I don’t see electronics companies like Apple and Sony being okay with a 99 cents price point for them, and if they aren’t okay with it, it isn’t going to happen. Books, in all their formats, will remain a small, slow-growing, steady market and it can survive on that. That’s why a small press in Oregon can exist to do Mamatas’ book. And the large book publishers will remain because no other industries really want to deal with finding and partnering with authors for a low-paying, small market that’s only sexy when they make a film out of a novel.

  141. @ Kevin O. McLaughlin Thanks for the link to the between Konrath and Eisler. That was orders of magnitude more informative than the bingo card.

  142. So you’re expecting to get fired in a few years then? Do you have a back-up plan?

    “Fired”? No, but maybe the job will last and maybe it won’t. I never stopped freelancing and publishing my own stuff on the side. Or, who knows—I may be the one left standing since I have several sets of skills I can bring to the job. (Remember, I already do the other stuff that you, for reasons that escape me, think cost a lot of overtime pay and horrifying costs.) At any rate, anyone who doesn’t have a back-up plan, and who believes in lifetime employment at a single firm, is under a tragic delusion.

    It’s a sucker bet to maintain current profits (or lack thereof) by destroying future gains. The Big Six, who are a quasi-cartel currently seeking to maintain a cost-plus pricing model aren’t doing well because they’re too busy with business as usual, rather than looking toward future gains in the e-sector. Publishers who provide inexpensive books that people want and are easy to get will gain, those that don’t won’t. We learned this fifty years ago with the paperback revolution. Whether any particular stakeholder gets hurt is, ultimately, their own problem. I don’t sob for the corner record store either.

  143. Publishers have a number of functions. Their chief one is to invest in selected authors in terms of advances if possible, production, distribution, money collection, legal assistance, various levels of marketing. When you self-publish, you do most of the work, pay for all the costs and take all the risks.

    True, until a couple of years ago. Now electronic distribution (and money collection) is a turnkey operation, and that, and unit price is easy to set at a competitive level. Those were really the two advantages of commercial publishing and now they are gone. Production mark-ups for ebooks are not difficult, and not as expensive as they are for p-books. Outside of placement in a catalog and forty-five seconds at the sales conference to the trade (for which ebooks are an irrelevancy—few people head to a store to buy an ebook), most books get very little marketing. Legal assistance is almost a joke; virtually every contract I’ve ever seen involves the author indemnifying the publisher against legal damages and, increasingly, legal costs.

    What you don’t get is that the various costs you associate with self-publishing have already come down, significantly, and much faster than the associated costs for commercial publishing have, and those savings are being passed on to the consumer. The generalized response seems to be, “Yes, but if publishers lower the prices too much, they won’t make money!” Indeed, but if they don’t lower prices, they also won’t make money. So the job is to find a way to either get their costs down, or provide a real service—specifically the service of saving time for readers by providing a better curatorial function than they currently do. The Big Six are neither a natural formation, nor an inevitable one. The job losses, profit dives, ridiculous expenditures…those didn’t happen despite best practices in the Big Six, those are the practices that formed the Big Six from their constituent imprints over the past thirty years. We’ll see some of those firms crumble, and with luck back into smaller, more agile publishers. My “small press” in Portland paid me more than Tor did, and has gotten more pre-orders for my book with them than Tor did, and has no plans to release a seemingly identical competing title on the same day as mine as Tor did. They didn’t do it because I’m just that awesome, they did it because they can, and because they aren’t so large that irrational decisions seem rational.

  144. So, can I make some predictions here? Nothing new in any sense, but collected here for your consideration:

    1. Kindles (and their equivalents) will soon be buttonless (touchscreen) and waterproof. You’ll be able to read them while scuba diving, if you are so inclined.

    2. They will be free or close to it. They are the razors; texts are the blades. Not only that, but you’ll be living in a world of ubiquitous internet anyway, so you’ll have access to all your reading material everywhere all the time. See this video.

    3. Bookstores are dinosaurs. Sorry. I love them too, but I still buy most of my books online. Say goodbye to them because you’ll miss them when they’re gone. But still…they’re goners.

    4. POD books are equal in quality to any paperback, and there is no cost of inventory and zero returns. Bye bye hardcovers, except to die-hard collectors and fetishists like me.

    Once 1-4 come to pass, what will traditional publishers have to offer? Branding? They already throw much of the burden of publicity back on the author anyway, and yeah, they have good editors, but there are a lot of good editors out there. You can’t throw a rock without hitting an out-of-work senior editor nowadays.

    Finally, simple math. E-book sales are trending upwards. Not so tree books. Where do you think this is going, folks?

  145. Nick Mamatas at 151: You’re splitting hairs at the frickin’ molecular level. Nabokov’s rejection letter, for example, was pretty clearly a rejection based on the merit of his work. No, they didn’t say, “you have no skill as a writer,” they said, “damn, this content has no merit.” At the end of the day, the difference to the writer is…what, exactly? Rejection is rejection, and “it’s not right for us” in all its flavors has next to nothing to do with whether or not a work can find an audience.

    Your argument is highly slanted from the self-justifying viewpoint of a legacy publisher, which isn’t to say it’s unfair. Sure, legacy publishers only have so much bandwidth, and a massive slushpile, and a specified focus, etc. etc. etc. None of those qualities are virtues, and they’re becoming less relevant every day. That’s my entire point. I’m not saying publishers are evil or incompetent or out to get authors — I’m saying that, for the most part, they’re an impersonal business entity that makes decisions tinged on how tired/overworked/etc. any given slush reader or editor is that day.

    As for the years and years and years it supposedly takes to become a good writer, see my response below.

    Gwangung at 152: Most professional sports figures peak at…what? 22, 23? And yes, they’ve had a lifetime of earlier training to hone themselves. Who is to say a writer of the same age hasn’t? Your analogy is a good one, and pretty much proves my point. It doesn’t take years and years to hone the toolset of a writer — it takes a few years to put it all together, but the basic tools are developed earlier in disparate settings.

    And yes, to both Nick and Gwangung, I have asked professional, published writers about this.

  146. In addition to what CrypticMirror says (at #14), when I travel, I notice that everyone who’s got an electronic device (ex. e-reader) is told to TURN IT OFF for the ascending and descending portions of the flight. Whereas I get to continue reading my paperback book.

    I’ve also already lost count of how many people I know who went on vacation and, after a day, their e-reader malfunctioned. Whereas my paperback books rarely malfunction when I am Very Far From Anywhere.

    Besides all that, I’m a compulsive book buyer and, after a book-a-lanche nearly took my life in November, I reorganized everything here and realized, GOOD GOOD MAN! I’ve got about 300 books in my home that I’ve bought but haven’t yet read—and that’s after I culled the impulse buys I’ve decided I don’t really, really WANT to read.

    Ergo, new house rule: No more books enter until I read the ones I’ve got.

    Okay, so far, admittedly, that hasn’t quite worked out. (No plan is perfect.) But there’s no way I’m buying an e-reader while all the unread books around here are STARING AT ME.

  147. In the comments, John, you noted one of my very favorites: “But it’s different NOW”

    I’ve been hearing this steadily since about 6 months after I amde my first-ever book sale in spring 1988. Yes, by fall of 1988, people who hadn’t yet sold a book were telling me that breaking in “now” was different than it had been back when -I- was breaking in (a whole 6 months earlier), and so I Just Didn’t Understand.

    And I’ve been hearing it ever since.

  148. @Hal #177:
    One quick bit about your predictions… POD is actually not (yet, anyway) equal to offset printing in quality. The better POD machines only produce 1200 DPI work (and I think LSI and Createspace are still only doing 600 DPI even for covers. Whereas offset press frequently operates at around twice that resolution. Not a big deal for a paperback book. Potentially noticeable when you’re doing a gorgeous tabletop book with tons of photos or art, though.

    That said, LSI (Lightning Source, the Ingram’s POD arm) does do POD hardcover. ;) So no reason for hardcover to go away. They don’t even cost that much more than trade paperback POD, so you might see folks offering the TPB for $11.99 and the hardcover for $14.99, or something like that – the idea being to sell hardcovers as an optional format to read in, rather than a premium product to get to read a book sooner (as is done today).

  149. @Nick: I don’t know about the veracity of Eisler’s numbers. I was, for the purposes of my post, noting that HE claims to be a guy who regularly gets book deals much more lucrative therm the $500K he walked away from. Which is not quite the “even half a million is not enough to stop the e-book tide!” suggested by the previous poster.

    @Hal: people were predicting the death of all kinds of brick-and-mortar stores and claiming Everything Will Be Digital back in what, 2000?

    If it was feasible and profitable to make devices waterproof instead of letting aftermarketers develop niche-market cases, we’d already have waterproof iPhones. That we don’t suggests this is not a feature people really want or pay for.

    Re where is this going, to a greater share of the market for e-books, but hardly the death of print. You know what Twain said about extrapolation.

  150. Nick Mamatas at 151: You’re splitting hairs at the frickin’ molecular level. Nabokov’s rejection letter, for example, was pretty clearly a rejection based on the merit of his work. No, they didn’t say, “you have no skill as a writer,” they said, “damn, this content has no merit.”

    No it didn’t. Nabokov had already published two novels in English, and his short fiction appeared in The New Yorker. He was well-known enough as a man of letters for colleges to create positions just for him to occupy. That rejection letter for Lolita is expressing moral outrage, which is immensely different than claiming, as you had, that Nabokov was told he was no good. What, in that case, would a freelance editor have done? Told Nabokov to take out the pedophilia to make the book “better”? Madness.

  151. @Mythago. Oh, I’m not forecasting the death of print. Far from it. And you may be right about the waterproofing thing, that’s just a personal guess. I think water damage will soon be a thing of the past, but that’s just my take on where the technology is headed.

    My point was about distribution. True, I can’t get into Barnes & Noble or Powell’s (or Wal-Mart or Costco) on my own, but I think they will be gone soon, anyway. People HAVE been forecasting the death of bricks and mortar for a long time, but you know what? It’s happening.

    So where is the value add for traditional publishing? They do less and less marketing and development as it is (unless you are James Patterson) and I can put the exact same e-book on Amazon and print the exact same POD book as them. True, I can’t stamp my own imprimatur on it, but did you ever buy a book because it was published by Simon and Shuster?

    I don’t think it will happen overnight, it may still be a decade away, but I think the handwriting is on the wall (your cliché here). It’s not that you should eschew a traditional publishing deal if you can get it (I sure wouldn’t) but if you can’t, then, nowadays, you have a lot of good alternatives, and they are getting better all the time.

    Just a few years ago you were totally screwed.

  152. Gwangung at 152: Most professional sports figures peak at…what? 22, 23?

    The offensive peak for baseball players is 27-32.

    And yes, they’ve had a lifetime of earlier training to hone themselves. Who is to say a writer of the same age hasn’t? Your analogy is a good one, and pretty much proves my point.

    Um, no. Not unless you complete distort the message and substitute your own facts for it.

  153. the claim made most often is that ebooks cost the same as print books to produce, minus printing and inventory costs

    I doubt that that claim is ever made by people who have actually worked in publishing. However, the claim that ebooks cost nothing to produce is also made quite frequently, again by people who have never worked in publishing.

    That’s not necessarily true, whether the book is an e-version of an existing title or a book with no prior paper publication. If I amortize my eye-catching cover over three formats (cloth, trade paper, and mass market) then three years later add a fourth format it’s an accounting procedure to amortize costs across all four formats, but in practice that cover was paid for years ago.

    That’s not just an “accounting procedure,” though, as you know—that’s a central part of the business model, just as it was when paperbacks were a new technology. Maybe it needs not to be a central part of publishing’s business model going forward, but that’s where things are at the moment.

    So the ebook version of, say, George R.R. Martin’s next book doesn’t cost the publisher nothing for cover design, or for text layout, or for whatever other bells and whistles in the way of internal art, maps, decorative cuts, you name it were commissioned for the print version, because the ebook includes all of that stuff. Which cost money.

    Similarly, the ebook version of the book you commissioned painted-in-oils cover art for will benefit from said jazzy cover art (and more strength to your arm in commissioning it!) so it makes sense for the price to reflect that investment, not just the couple of hours it took for someone to convert the text files to epub.

  154. @Hal: no, it’s not really happening. As her had pointed out before, the corner bookshop is far from the only source of books – do you think WalMart is going to stop selling books because of Amazon? Brick and mortars aren’t going to die because of e-books, any more than Safeway vanished because farmer’s markets and victory gardens proliferated.

    The razor/blades analogy is also poor; if it were true we’d have $5 iPods. And yet, we don’t. Nor will we have free Kindles. People will pay for them, and they cost more to make than razors. It’s also a bad idea to rely on blade sales when people can get free or cheap blades elsewhere.

    Ten years ago people were predicting that all shopping would be online. It’s silly to look at stores that have failed from mismanagement or bad business models to hit that bingo square.

  155. “The razor/blades analogy is also poor; if it were true we’d have $5 iPods. And yet, we don’t.”

    On the other hand, we do have free smartphones, on exactly that principle. I don’t think this is a stretch.

  156. Nick Mamatas: “Remember, I already do the other stuff that you, for reasons that escape me, think cost a lot of overtime pay and horrifying costs.)”

    Well no, that’s not what I think. But not everybody has your skill set, dude, including at the small press level, and tech firms and consultants who get contracted may charge overtime. When the staff, even a skeleton staff, isn’t there, they have to be hired and the tech industry from which some of them need to be hired or contracted does not operate like the publishing industry. It may be that people with your skill set will replace editors who are good editors too but don’t have your IT skills.

    “Publishers who provide inexpensive books that people want and are easy to get will gain, those that don’t won’t. We learned this fifty years ago with the paperback revolution.”

    Well no, we didn’t exactly. We had an enormous expansion of the industry with the main income coming from mass market paperbacks and that’s still the case today. But the expansion of the paperbacks also expanded the market for hardcovers and then trade paperbacks because it made the general populace more aware of books as a product. And in the 1990’s, the wholesale market collapsed and shrunk and the number of print vendors dropped dramatically. Paperback took a hit, the industry became more dependent on bookstores and the big bookstore vendors particularly and hardcover sales became more important. Your publisher does not rely on mass market only, nor is it likely your Oregon small press does. Mass market is still the bigger sale item, but even though it’s cheaper, print books are sold in fewer places than they were fifty years ago, so availability is an issue and the cheaper version does not wipe out the market for other versions. Some hardcover presses went under long ago, but so did mass market paperback houses and many publishers survived publishing a mix. And availability is an issue for e-books. It’s increased availability beyond print books in some ways that will become more important in a few years, but at the same time, a huge chunk of the population can’t access them as easily as they can cheap or free print books. You need an e-reader of some sort. And you need cooperation and favorable dictates from the electronic companies, who are the ones who are running this show, not publishers.

    “Those were really the two advantages of commercial publishing and now they are gone.”

    Then why did you contract with the publisher in Oregon? Or Tor for that matter? Why not just do it yourself? Again, you’re looking at this from the perspective of a computer skilled and industry savvy person willing to do all the work if it seems expedient. For many authors, partnering with a publisher, even if that publisher does little special in terms of marketing, is a better deal and more effective use of their time than doing it all by themselves as one author, at least part of the time if not all of the time. As for indemnities, yeah, but publishers know they’re the ones getting sued as they have the money and they don’t usually pursue authors into debtors prison over the rare court case. But the legal advice I was referring to is to try and vet the book before publication, like when your Oregon publisher checks anything fishy about your ms. with the lawyer they hired to draw up your contract.

    “few people head to a store to buy an ebook”

    Yeah, I wouldn’t count on that staying like that in the future. They’re wiggling it to make it easier and easier for people to do in stores and bookstores, and people do like to physically shop.Some independent bookstores are getting new life offering books, coffee, pastries, e-book ordering, mail ordering, other products, services, events, etc., as community destination spots. We’ll be going into stores to buy e-books and goodies for our e-book reading devices, just like my daughter constantly trying to drag me into the Apple store and our phone server store.

    “What you don’t get is that the various costs you associate with self-publishing have already come down, significantly, and much faster than the associated costs for commercial publishing have, and those savings are being passed on to the consumer.”

    I’m actually totally aware of that. And a lot of authors are still going to want to work with publishers. And people go where the authors they want or want to try are, whether it’s from a publisher or a self-published book. They don’t buy books entirely based on price. And the sales pyramid will remain for self-published books, regardless of the pricing.

    “The Big Six are neither a natural formation, nor an inevitable one.”

    I never argued that they were. I said that publishers would continue to exist, in response to those on the thread who said they would die off completely, not that the Big Six specifically would live forever. However, I don’t see the Big Six being split up that much for awhile, for a variety of reasons. They may shrink, but I don’t think most will break up. Rupert Murdoch owns half the English speaking media and is about to get more of it, so I don’t see him breaking up HarperCollins significantly. And the trend in other industries is not towards smaller, agile companies but towards getting bigger and more international, especially in electronics. That being said, I think small presses will benefit tremendously from the e-book market over time, but I’m not sure they’ll do it at 99 cents.

    Ben Trafford: “I’m saying that, for the most part, they’re an impersonal business entity that makes decisions tinged on how tired/overworked/etc. any given slush reader or editor is that day.”

    That’s a Hollywood fantasy version of publishing, not reality. Book publishing is far more idiosyncratic than the picture you keep trying to paint. As Margaret Atwood recently said: “Sure, people sit there putting words on the page, and some of them make a lot of money for their publishers and others create huge losses because the publishers placed their bets wrong. When people say publishing is a business – actually it’s not quite a business. It’s part gambling and part arts and crafts, with a business component. It’s not like any other business, and that’s why when standard businessmen go into publishing and think, “Right, I’m going to clean this up, rationalize it and make it work like a real business,” two years later you find they’re bald because they’ve torn out all their hair. And then you say to them, “It’s not like selling beer. It’s not like selling a case of this and a case of that and doing a campaign that works for all of the beer.” You’re selling one book – not even one author any more. Those days are gone, when you sold, let’s say, “Graham Greene” almost like a brand. You’re selling one book, and each copy of that book has to be bought by one reader and each reading of that book is by one unique individual. It’s very specific.” Even with non-fiction, which is far more marketing oriented, you have similar issues. And fiction is still largely by word of mouth, not marketing. That’s a main reason why publishers don’t do a lot of marketing. (The other being they haven’t a lot of cash, are cheap with it and not strategic.)

    Hal Jay Green2. “Bookstores are dinosaurs. Sorry. I love them too, but I still buy most of my books online. Say goodbye to them because you’ll miss them when they’re gone. But still…they’re goners.”

    Um, no. See above. Lots of people still won’t buy anything online. And lots of people love going into bookstores. It’s a number that probably would not impress you. But it’s enough in book publishing, which works on little numbers, not big ones.

    “4. POD books are equal in quality to any paperback, and there is no cost of inventory and zero returns. Bye bye hardcovers, except to die-hard collectors and fetishists like me.”

    They’ve been saying that POD was going to do stuff like this for thirty years. POD got eclipsed by e-books in the oughts. It will, I think, have a key role to play in the industry but that it hasn’t caught fire yet doesn’t make its prospects for being a giant factor look good. And people like hardcovers. Again, not a number that will impress you, but for book publishing, it’s enough.

    “E-book sales are trending upwards. Not so tree books.”

    Tree books had the usual amount of growth in 2010, showing some recovery from the recession. It’s not out of the woods yet, but it seems like the expanding e-book market may have helped the sales of print books. Again, the percentage of growth in publishing is not a number that would impress anyone in almost any other industry, but it works for the small market of book publishing.

  157. @Shmuel: Those are subsidized smartphones, not free ones. That is why you have that whole “with 2-year contract” asterisk on the pricing. It’s as if you bought a cheap razor but if you decide to grow a beard instead, you owe Gillette hundreds of dollars.

    And, again, we don’t have free e-readers. If the razor/blades business model worked everywhere, then why isn’t Amazon selling $5 Kindles? Presumably, because they can’t afford to, and/or the people who buy Kindles are also people who will have lots of money left over for e-books.

  158. This is awesome. My Phd thesis, completed in 1999 (degree from McGill granted in 2000) was on fiction writers who put their stories on the World Wide Web; I can attest that many of these arguments were around that long ago!

    Two things that came out of that research might be relevant here. I have to admit that my original assumption was that people were publishing on the Internet because they couldn’t get published in print (a bias that seems unfortunate considering I started publishing my own fiction on the Internet in 2002). In fact, this was not the case: over 70 per cent of my respondents had been published in print; they saw publishing as one more way to build an audience. (But, here, building an audience is different than what you might expect: most of them had been published in literary journals or zines with circulations in the low 100s, if that. If 100 or 200 people read their work online, it would effectively double their readership. Yay! Because nobody makes money writing solely for literary journals, I think most of their expectations were more realistic about what they could achieve online than people who flocked to online publishing first.)

    The other point is that most of my respondents had no idea who their online readership was – or if they even had one. There was a lot of disillusionment about the possibility of developing a readership online – and, remember, this was over a decade ago. I suspect that, as new groups of people are drawn to publish on the Internet with the same old arguments, there will be new waves of disappointment.

    My feeling is that a very small number of artists will develop their audience online. But, they will do it the way artists always have: with ass-kicking hard work, relentless self-promotion and a ton of luck.

  159. Kat Goodwin at 191: This is yet another version of the old “our industry is so complex that it can’t possibly be understood” line that every industry falls back on when pressed.

    I get that there are complexities in publishing; there are complexities in every market. But as I’ve said elsewhere, I’d be stunned if the upper management of the big six publishers would agree that they are not a business, at the end of the day.

    Just because there are deviations from the norm I stated doesn’t mean it isn’t the norm.

    Nick Mamatas at 184: You’re jumping all over the place to avoid addressing the meat of my argument, and that’s this: a lot of good work gets rejected by publishers. And it gets rejected because of the way the publishing industry is setup. I’m not saying this setup is bad or somehow evil; it is what it needs to be, given the strictures of legacy publishing.

    What I am also stating is that self-publishing is not somehow lesser or evil, as you seem to be insinuating. The legacy publishing industry is not the arbiter of quality — the audience is.

  160. John, as a student currently writing a dissertation on epublishing, using a sociology/cultural studies theoretical framework, I thank you wholeheartedly for this piece. And, indeed, for creating a platform for this wonderfully elucidating discussion. Some of the resulting comments, in addition to your bingo card, are perfectly illustrative of the base assumptions I proposed would exist when I began my research. Pierre Bourdieu would be grinning from ear to ear.

  161. John: Of course there is a church, how could they not make ready for the mightiness that is you?

    We have Coke Zero, though, for when you fall off the wagon.

    Take that, old church.

  162. The rumor mill is circulating the idea that Amazon will issue free Kindles to all Prime subscribers, possibly this year. The CEO of Amazon refused to deny the rumor, acting all coy instead when asked. If it was a false rumor, it would be to their benefit to deny it (since some people will certainly hold off buying one now, if they think they can get it for free later…). Not saying it’s true, mind you – it IS still just a rumor, and it’s been going around for six months or so already. But it would be to Amazon’s advantage to do so.

    Prime costs $75, and in return customers get free shipping on books and various other things sold directly by Amazon. Buy twenty books in a year, and you’ve broken even on the shipping deal (it’s actually a bit better than that, because the free version is the more expensive 2 day shipping, instead of the five day regular $4 shipping). So – if Prime customers who were given a Kindle bought enough books to save Amazon shipping equal to the Amazon cost of a Kindle, they would break even. Better than break even – because they’d have that much more dominance of the ebook market.

    It’s worth noting that an acquaintance of mine was in Hong Kong recently, where there were Android tablets (LCD screens, not eink) selling for $10 US. I’m not sure how an eInk device’s cost compares to a touch-screen LCD, but I’d bet it’s not a lot more, if any more. That means the actual cost to make those devices is low. REALLY low. Single digit dollars sort of low. Now, there’s still shipping (they’re all made in China), import tariffs, etc. But even with all that, I think the cost is somewhere in the realm of $50 or less per ereader unit. And that cost (like the cost of almost all technology) will continue to drop as years go by.

    $50 cost means that a Prime reader needs to buy thirteen ebooks instead of print books in the course of a year for Amazon to break even on giving them a Kindle. Incidentally, most folks I know who start using Kindles end up reading most of their books on the device in short order. I think it’s very possible that the math will work out to Prime costing less for Amazon if bundled with a free Kindle than it does without the free Kindle.

    Another point – those $10 tablets? They mean that we’re almost certainly going to see free tablets with a 2-year 3G internet deal. If not this year, certainly early next year. Just like cell phones, they’ll make the money by selling the internet connection, and use the device to get you sucked in. Why not? The devices are dirt cheap anyway. Oh, there’ll be high end devices that cost $400-600 that they offer for a couple hundred bucks, just like there are high end cell phones offered the same way. But there will also be companies that jump on the $100-200 Android tablets and give ‘em away with a contract. Bet on it.

  163. I don’t get it, a bunch of these are true. You’re supposed to put a bunch of “sarcastic” arguments here, not correct ones. I don’t think you understand how the bingo card meme works.

  164. Pete:

    There’s someone upthread who is complained about this bingo card because it’s supposed to be true statements, not sarcastic ones, i.e., he came to the opposite conclusion regarding the card than you did. I’ll let you two fight it out; I don’t think I need to be involved.

  165. I was thinking about this whole e-pub thing and the debate going round this thread as to what the e-pub market is and what it will be. And I couldn’t sort out what was rubbing me the wrong way about it.

    Then I remembered a comment by some nutjob somewhere on the internet a few years ago (highly paid nutjob though) who said something to the effect that we didn’t need government regulations on markets to prevent a crash because we know how and why crashes happen and now we can predict them. He said it was just like chemistry, mix this with that and get something else.

    Several folks pointed out to this nutjob that economies crash, in part, becaue of fear and panic. And economies do that because economies are made up of people, and people can be about as predictable as quantum mechanics, which is to say not at all.

    So, whether e-pub is the wave of the new future or not isn’t really something that can be predictable. From what I gather, it seems like one can say given the current situation that e-pub isn’t all its biggest cheerleaders say it is cracked up to be. But that doesn’t mean that something unpredictable won’t happen and make e-pub the new sliced bread.

    Given what we know, e-pub has a ways to go, because e-pub isn’t cutting it right now. That’s the way it is now, that’s what we know.

    Anything beyond that is arguing what it could be, but what people are saying it could be all rely on something unpredictable happening to change the world of publishing from what we know to something we do not now know.

    People saying e-pub could turn into the next great thing are technically correct.

    But practically speaking, doesn’t that boil down to trying to predict something happening based on something else that is totally unpredictable?

    The guy way back when who wrote the story of Icarus might have been predicting that man could someday fly. But predicting it isn’t the same as being a couple of bicycle mechanics who actually made it happen.

    Yes, e-pub could be a huge thing. But functionally speaking, making that prediction occurs to me like writing the story of Icarus. It’s a nice story. But it isn’t aeronautical design.

    Someone needs to create that unpredictable bit of economics that changes the game and suddenly makes ebooks the currnt big thing. Until that happens, aren’t we a bit like the ancient greeks talking about the story of Icarus?

    In that light, everything in the bingo card occurs to me like saying to use wax and bird feathers to explain how to fly. None of these bingo card things are that missing bit that would turn e-pub into the big thing. If they were, it would already have happened. Right?

    Like “publicity? just go viral!” obviously isn’t all that’s needed. If it was, paper books would be relics of the past already. Some of the things on the bingo list might be neccesary, but it doesn’t seem like the list is sufficient.

    I dunno. Just trying to wrap my head around it all. Don’t mind me…

  166. Julia: Maybe it needs not to be a central part of publishing’s business model going forward, but that’s where things are at the moment.

    Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? “it is because it is!” isn’t an argument. It’s especially not an argument when Big Bookstore Chain #1 is on its last legs and #2 isn’t looking so hot either. Accounting procedures can give a false picture as often as they give a true one. If New York wants to stick with false ones, they’ll suffer for it.

    Kat: When the staff, even a skeleton staff, isn’t there, they have to be hired and the tech industry from which some of them need to be hired or contracted does not operate like the publishing industry.

    And yet, as the person who is both actually doing it and actually contracting freelancers when need be, your vision of the costs (overtime! the tech industry!) don’t match up to my authentic lived experience. But heck, maybe people are hiring people for five times the amount they need to—that’s not an example of the publishing industry working, it’s an example of it failing.

    We had an enormous expansion of the industry with the main income coming from mass market paperbacks and that’s still the case today.

    Cite?

    Then why did you contract with the publisher in Oregon? Or Tor for that matter?

    Both cases were a) collaborations and b) doing it myself would have interfered with my day-job’s contract. Other than that, no reason at all.

    like when your Oregon publisher checks anything fishy about your ms. with the lawyer they hired to draw up your contract

    It is HILARIOUS that you think that’s what happened.

    Yeah, I wouldn’t count on [people not going to stores to buy ebooks] staying like that in the future.

    I would. Mall kiosks, maybe. And perhaps in the most indirect of ways—browsing in a store and then buying on one’s smartphone in a way that doesn’t actually cut the store in at all (in the same way I can order a pizza while standing in a bookstore using a phone).

    And the trend in other industries is not towards smaller, agile companies but towards getting bigger and more international, especially in electronics.

    The other industries that are getting larger and more international aren’t facing significant in-roads from people—including significant authors—doing it themselves.

    Ben 194: You’re jumping all over the place to avoid addressing the meat of my argument, and that’s this: a lot of good work gets rejected by publishers.

    Every one of those pieces of good work you point to as proof of your claim actually was published. Your actual claim was that publishers can’t tell good from bad, and tell plenty of good writers that their stuff is bad, which is why hiring a freelancer would work just fine. That is not the case. Publishers reject work for all sorts of reasons, including their individual passion for the work, folk beliefs about what sells, budgetary issues, a focus on certain types of book, etc.

  167. Someone needs to create that unpredictable bit of economics that changes the game and suddenly makes ebooks the currnt big thing. Until that happens, aren’t we a bit like the ancient greeks talking about the story of Icarus?

    Well, no, because ebooks are already the current big thing.

    http://www.mediabistro.com/ebooknewser/hatchette-now-reporting-ebooks-as-23-of-us-market_b7833

    People are talking about writers making hundreds of thousands via self-published ebooks, or high-midlist/low-bestseller authors leaving their publishers to self-publish electronically in the present tense. People are also talking about a significant high-growth curve for commercially produced ebooks in the present tense. It’s like Icarus only if you just saw a winged Greek zoom overhead.

  168. @Greg 201
    I understand wanting to be conservative… But I think you can set your mind at ease here. Ebooks *have* finally come around. I don’t believe (most more rational folks I know don’t believe) that paper books are on the way out anytime soon, but ebooks are swelling to a very large minority position. AAP is already reporting about 10% or so, which is only taken from stats given by the 14 largest publishers – who are not necessarily as dominant in ebook sales as they are in print. In fact, based on Amazon’s released sales ratios (from January: 115 ebooks ::100 paperbacks :: 38 hardcovers), and the generally held idea that Amazon represents about 70-75% of the ebook market, and an overall Amazon consumer book market share of about 25% (based on 2010 census dept data – reportedly closing on 30% now, but use the documented figure) then Amazon sales *alone* equal 45% of Amazon book sales, or 11.25%. Even if Amazon is 75% of the market, that means ebooks actually held a 15% stake in consumer book sales in January.

    So either Amazon is incorrectly reporting figures (not impossible) or the AAP’s top 14 publishers are no longer really indicative of the market (also not impossible).

    Either way – 10% is a threefold increase from the year before, 15% a five fold increase. And the general trend seems to predict ebooks hitting 25%, *minimum*, of consumer books by the end of 2011. Free ereaders or free-with-contract tablets, when they happen, are only going to speed the cycle along.

    This isn’t a maybe thing anymore. It’s not a “someday” thing. ‘Indie’ vs ‘legacy’ publishing aside, ebooks are going to be an increasingly major player in the next few years. Bank on it.

  169. This is kind of fun, which is not my usual experience with these e-book conversations.

    Ben Trafford: “This is yet another version of the old “our industry is so complex that it can’t possibly be understood” line that every industry falls back on when pressed.”

    I never said publishing was complicated. I indicated that it was idiosyncratic and exasperating. Also sometimes commercial but when it comes to fiction, stuck with how readers buy books. Also that it is not like a Hollywood movie. You can understand it perfectly fine; you just have a romantic view of it that doesn’t really match how books are acquired, and this seems necessary for you in order to self-publish your work, when actually it isn’t necessary at all. Self publishing is something you can do, so do it. You don’t have to pretend that publishers are like movie studios to self-publish. It just isn’t very productive. If you’re willing and able to do all the work, you can self-publish your stuff cheaper than a publisher can, even though the rates you get charged for services may be more than publishers get charged due to volume. And you may sell or you may not. A book published with a publisher may sell or it may not.

    “Just because there are deviations from the norm I stated doesn’t mean it isn’t the norm.”

    Just because you stated that it’s a norm doesn’t mean that it’s a norm. Also, it’s kind of weird that Mamatas self-publishes and is not presenting self-publishing as necessarily lesser and you keep claiming that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying that real editorial help that is effective tends to improve books whether they are self-published or published.

    Nick Mamatas: “that’s not an example of the publishing industry working, it’s an example of it failing.”

    I didn’t say it wasn’t. The market is in transition, development and contract negotiation. Things are going to be stupid for a bit. Publishers did not have the capacities to easily do e-book editions for a retail market. Your publisher is not yet doing it. But it will. This is the warm up stage, but it’s moving fast. And the warm up stage has start up costs.

    “We had an enormous expansion of the industry with the main income coming from mass market paperbacks and that’s still the case today.

    Cite?”

    I was agreeing with you that the paperback inroads of fifty years ago effected and grew the industry and you want me to cite your own argument? I’m confused. I guess I could go dredge up the 2010 sales figures for mass market paperback versus hardcover, but I don’t see why, given that we both agree that many more mass market paperbacks are sold than hardcovers.

    “b) doing it myself would have interfered with my day-job’s contract”

    Yeah, that, exactly. Interfere with job contract requirements or simply interfere with the day job. Many authors are going to prefer to work with publishers for one reason or another. They may go for small presses or attempt to get larger ones interested. They may publish on their home turf or go for presses in other countries. There’s no iron-clad one path. Or do you agree with Ben Trafford that all publishers will die off and authors’ only choice will be to self-publish and do it all themselves?

    “It is HILARIOUS that you think that’s what happened.”

    I don’t think that’s what happened in your case. It’s a small press, so it’s highly unlikely that they would have bothered, especially if it was fiction. If they had legal qualms about what you were offering, more likely they wouldn’t have bought it at all. So I guess I shouldn’t have even mentioned your book when I was talking about legal vetting, as that was confusing. :)

    “I would. Mall kiosks, maybe.”

    I have less certainty of this than you.

    “The other industries that are getting larger and more international aren’t facing significant in-roads from people—including significant authors—doing it themselves.”

    I’m not sure it is significant yet. But I also don’t see it as a competition between publishing and self-publishing. All of it just expands the market for books. Books are not bought solely because of price. I do think some of what’s going on in self-publishing gives authors more leverage to negotiate better deals with publishers about e-books and that will change things. I think we’re going to also see a lot of neat invention from self-published authors about doing things that will send ripples throughout the industry.

    Greg: “e-pub has a ways to go, because e-pub isn’t cutting it right now.”

    Actually, it’s doing beautifully. Might lose some momentum if all the tablet computers tank, but the tipping point has already occurred.

  170. Well, except I sort of got the impression that the point of the bingo card is that e-books are being pitched as about to completely redefine publishing to be an author-direct-to-reader model. Eliminate the middle man. Photoshop a cover. replace the marketing department with viral something. Replace the publisher with spell check.

    I don’t think that has happened yet, has it?

    I’m not saying this is impossible. More like this sounds a bit like Free software way, way, way back in its early days. Granted, a couple decades later, we’re running Ubuntu fairly commonly. And I’m not recommending Open Office to my non-geek friends. But back then, part of the prediction of Free software was they would eventually put Microsoft out of business. Maybe they will eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    That’s sort of what I was trying to point to when I said “e-pub isn’t all its biggest cheerleaders say it is cracked up to be”. I don’t think e-pub is where its biggest cheerleaders say it is. And if that continues, I think what will eventually hapen is an identity crisis will sort most of it out.

    Free Software went through an identity crisis. It became known as “Open Software” and “putting microsoft out of business” was dropped in exchange for “getting corporations to use Open Software”. There used to be all sorts of “this is how you will be able to make money developing Free Software” ideas and predictions, and a bunch of those aren’t mentioned anymore.

  171. And I’m not recommending Open Office to my non-geek friends.

    GAR!

    And I’m now recommending Open Office to my non-geek friends.

  172. Kevin @197: As somebody with Amazon Prime, I sure wouldn’t kick a free Kindle out of bed for eating crackers, but there’s no reason for Amazon to send me one, even to sell me e-books.

    First, of course, is that I can buy e-books from Amazon without ever buying a Kindle. That’s because Amazon has made it easy for me to do so, with a free Kindle e-reading app on just about every major device platform. Including $10 Android-based tablets from Hong Kong. By offering a free app, Amazon can sell me books without making me jump the hurdle of buying their proprietary gizmo first – or at all. So they don’t need to take the hit for buying me a Kindle.

    And of course buying me a Kindle might only make sense if I would never buy a Kindle, or any Kindle-readable e-books, without their generosity. If I’m somebody who a) is willing to spend money on Amazon Prime and b) would be willing to buy a boatload of e-books, then it’s a pretty safe bet that if I wanted a Kindle I’d buy one myself. They’re not that much to somebody who is willing to spend $79 a year to minimize delayed gratification on getting books. (And of course Amazon is not taking a loss on Amazon Prime, either; it encourages me to buy more things than I otherwise would, because OMG two-day shipping and I need to get my money’s worth, right?)

    Regarding the cost of e-readers, it’s not really sensible to compare a $10 no-name LCD Android-based e-reader to the Kindle, which is sold by somebody who will provide support, refund your money if it breaks and also uses e-ink. That’d be like saying since I can buy a generic MP3 player for $10, clearly the real cost of an iPod is close to that and in the near future we can expect $20 iPods. I’d think that if Apple needed to give away iPods to get people to buy songs off iTunes they would, and the fact that they don’t says the razorblade model doesn’t map.

    As for the rumor, why shouldn’t they be coy about it? The worst that can happen is that more people pick up Amazon Prime, and they get more attention paid to the Kindle. It’s unlikely that they’d want to cater to the tiny segment of “people who pay for Amazon Prime, but haven’t bought a Kindle and won’t because of the price, yet if they DID have a Kindle device, would dump so much money on e-books as to make it pay off handsomely.” Plus, why make your early adopters angry?

    BTW, it bears repeating that those “free” devices ARE NOT FREE. If you are locked into a two-year contract with penalties for leaving, that is a cost. It is not at all as if Amazon said “Here is a device, we really hope you will use it to give us more money, but you don’t have to.”

  173. Question: Do most big publishing houses still maintain New York as their US headquarters/center of operations? I wonder, as it was an example of failure to adapt by the industry I saw elsewhere. Given that there is almost no need to have your offices in any particular geographic location, having it in a location with much higher location costs seems to be a bad business idea. But, while I can see where the offices tend to be located, it’s difficult to see if that’s where the bulk of their office spaces/personnel are located. So, true/false, the US publishing industry is still located primarily in New York City?

  174. Since you are President, let me be very clear that I expect you to add a Bingo session to the Nebula Weekend schedule. And I hereby commit to take at least — at least!! — three cards.

    Also, will filling the position of Official Bingo Caller require further revision to the by-laws?

  175. Maureen Johnson sent me…..Ok #61 Matt.Said how I feel…Written in Blood…..And Its Great That now we Have a New Friday Night Game to Play in VT….Thank you Mr.Scalzi…

  176. #209: “So, true/false, the US publishing industry is still located primarily in New York City?”

    The big assed side of U.S. publishing is still located primarily in New York because it somewhat needed to be. The rest of publishing is scattered across the country. The digital revolution — which is much bigger than e-books — really kicked into high gear in the oughts and the viable retail e-book is maybe five, six years old, so the shifts are slow. But as Mamatas pointed out, rents are still high in NYC, and publishing is more and more international, so New York may or may not remain the nucleus of major publishers.

    Interestingly, I learned that Netflix has bought an original t.v. series and will be seeking more original content. This is part of a tech shift, long predicted but not without issues, that is way bigger than and involves e-books. E-books is really just a small part of the whole.

  177. Kat Goodwin #214. Thanks. Why is there any purpose to remaining in NYC? Given the cost it seems counter intuitive to remain there. Is there still a business model wherein that location brings something other than cachet?

  178. Okay, this is creeping me out. The only other writer’s blog I read with any regularity (davidhewson.com) and he’s suddenly linking to Scalzi . . .

  179. “Print runs are more expensive than epub” — they can be.

    The thing is that you can model the cost of a print run as a +nb where a is all of the initial outlays and b is all the per-unit costs, with n being the number of units printed.

    Now, the value of b in an electronic distribution is trivial. Data storage and transfer capability is ubiquitous and cheap. And so the cost is just a, since n times zero is just zero.

    Now, a could in theory be higher in an electronic distribution, but a sufficiently high value of n would eventually make up the difference.

    The problem is that you have a business model based on charging for a service that costs next to nothing. That the customer might, by preference, perform themselves (precisely because it’s trivial) but is not permitted to because of a state-enforced monopoly on said service.That grates on some consumers, and understandably so, but it’s currently the most popular way for the folks who entertain us (really excepting only television, which relies on an advertising-based model) to be rewarded for their work.

    And the challenge from the other side is coming up with a working business model somehow *not* based on preserving and exploiting a distribution monopoly.

    So it’s not that they’re greedy. It’s more that they (so far) aren’t smart enough to solve that problem. Fair enough: Neither am I.

  180. So it’s not that they’re greedy. It’s more that they (so far) aren’t smart enough to solve that problem. Fair enough: Neither am I.

    Heh. I think this is the fairest statement of the problem.

    And when someone IS smart enough to solve the problem, there’ll be myriads thinking, “I SHOULD HAVD DONE THAT!”

  181. #216: “Why is there any purpose to remaining in NYC? Given the cost it seems counter intuitive to remain there. Is there still a business model wherein that location brings something other than cachet?”

    Well everybody’s there already, so that’s not a compelling reason to move out. The big publishers are owned by media conglomerates like News Corp, etc., who have skyscrapers full of offices in New York, some of them buildings they own which is valuable real estate, and they want to keep the publishers in some of those buildings. It’s not necessary, but it’s the choice they’ve made. Publishing does not have tons of money to move workers from one locale to another, although that’s not necessarily a deterrent either. Call it inertia. They don’t have to not be in New York to find books, publish them and ship them anymore than they have to be in New York to do so. It’s where they’ve been centered so far.

  182. Ben Trafford:“I seriously doubt a legacy publisher spends as little as what I’ve quote above on these services”

    John Scalzi: Eh. It means you’re starting your project $10k in a hole, as opposed to having received an advance and having to bear none of the production costs yourself.

    it’s even worse than that. A publisher has thousands of manuscripts to choose from, to pick one that they think will be a commercial success. You the author, have one: the book you just wrote. That puts you at a big disadvantage.

    If a publisher has already rejected your manuscript, it might – just might be because it’s not commercially viable.

    This brave new world of self-publishing has just made it a whole lot easier for thousands of writers to blow lots of money, spinning the blockbuster roulette wheel.

  183. @Richard Rosenthal

    Define people? I don’t consider a book worth buying unless I’ll want to reread it at least every three years, preferably every one. I don’t have a large book-buying budget and I devour books at a rate of three to ten a week. If I’m doing research, up that to thirty.

    I’m people.

  184. Greg @206: “e-books are being pitched as about to completely redefine publishing to be an author-direct-to-reader model. Eliminate the middle man. Photoshop a cover. replace the marketing department with viral something. Replace the publisher with spell check.”

    That’s exactly what’s happening, though. Go look at the Amazon best seller lists for many of the niche genres and you’ll see books that came to market exactly that way. There are plenty of frustrated writers who are repeating this mantra in so many iterations that it could probably be its own BINGO card. “We can edit each other” would be one square. Unfortunately “I heard about a guy who got rejected 250 times and then he tweeted his novel and sold a million copies for free so self-publish and keep all the money yourself” won’t fit.

  185. ” replace the marketing department with viral something.”

    Oh, I missed that.

    Whether it’s a publisher or it’s “viral”, it’s still marketing. And marketing is HARD. You get out of it what you put into it; you put out a half-assed “viral” effort and you get half-assed results. There’s no magic forumula–somebody has got to work their butts off to get the book out there, and you’re going to pay for it, either in cash up front or time and effort.

  186. I am not advocating that the bingo squares are true. i’m saying they reminded me of Free Software talking points way, way back when.

    And while we now have Ubuntu that pretty much self-installs and just works and more importantly can print, you don’t hear people saying some of the things that used to be said about Free Software.

    “Free Software will put Evil Microsoft out of business” being one that comes to mind.

    I think when ebooks find their place, that some of these bingo card statements will similarly fade from use. The fact that people still say them sort of makes me think that maybe ebooks haven’t found their place yet.

  187. John, if you could please create a “Traditional publishing bingo card”, I would be totally satisfied. It’s not as if their side’s arguments were any fresher than last year’s news …

  188. if you could please create a “Traditional publishing bingo card”,

    Saying how the world works before the singularity, well, we know what pre-singularity world looks like, don’t we? We’re living in it.

    It ‘s folks predicting what the world will look like after the singularity that is the problem. Hm. Googling around, I can’t find a “singularity bingo card”, but there really ought to be one.

    certainly, one could probably find anecdotes where someoen says the equivalent of Gates’s “no one will ever need more than 640k of memory”, but it has to be a talking point to be on a bingo card. Otherwise you cant fill the square and you never get five in a row, and you never “win”.

    I’m not in a lot of publishing-versus-epublishing conversations, but I can’t think of any lame traditional publishing arguments that keep coming up like whack a mole.
    Fee software saying “put Microsoft out of business” was lame. and a lot of people invoked it. “Elimnate the midleman” is lame because it doesn’t explain how to replace all the jobs that the middle man used to do before you eliminated him. And it sort of implies (and plugs into) the even more lame argument that the middleman doesn’t do anything other than skim money. And act as an unfair gatekeeper who won’t publish such and such’s really great manuscript cause they just don’t get great art.

    If a traditional publisher says “Who is going to edit your book?” that isn’t a bingo talking point. That’s a legitimate question. Are you going to pay someone to be your editor? That violates Yog’s Law and is currently a popular scam used by scammers to separate desperate unpublished authors from their money. Traditional publishing resolves the problem thusly: They only take on books they think can make money and provide their services for a share of the sales. They don’t charge authors any money up front. They usually provide an advance and eat that advance if they are wrong about the book being profitable.

    I have no idea how epub solves that problem.

    If the solution ends up creating a haven for scammers, and is indistinguishable from scammers, then how does an unpublished author know they’re not being scammed? By the time they know, their money is gone and will never be seen again.

  189. I think he meant a traditional publishing Bingo card of what publishing people are saying about e-publishing, such as “we have to protect against piracy!” and so forth. But really, the industry isn’t very focused on piracy. And some of what goes on that people don’t like comes from the vendors like Amazon, not the publishers. So it would be a controversial Bingo card.

    Greg: “If the solution ends up creating a haven for scammers, and is indistinguishable from scammers, then how does an unpublished author know they’re not being scammed? By the time they know, their money is gone and will never be seen again.”

    Speaking as someone who worked as a free-lance editor and had authors pay me to edit for them and did not scam them, I think I can safely say that it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are legitimate free-lance editors whom you can hire — and some of them have joined to form companies as someone was suggesting earlier. They also work with publishers sometimes, particularly small presses who need extra editors. I did that a few times. And a lot of their work is with authors who are being published by publishers, but need more in depth editing assistance. The business is primarily referrals from previous author clients, so usually, if you are hiring on that basis, you know you’re not being scammed. But then there are scammers and con-artists who have run editing scams or agent-editor scams and certainly the Web makes their attempts easier. So that is a danger that self-publishing authors face that publishers don’t. But it is also a danger that authors seeking to get published face, because they are often, if they can swing the fee, looking for editing help to strengthen their product in the market. So that is something that authors — as people in any business endeavor have to do — have to look out for and try to avoid being cheated.

    It’s really not a war between self-publishing and publishing. Authors are not under oppressive yokes that need to be thrown off just because now people may be willing to buy e-books in sufficient numbers, though they do need to rework a lot of publishing license contracts to deal with new business factors. It’s not a Singularity situation. What has happened is a media battle where companies touting self-publishing services have painted publishers as black villains to drum up business and publishing people accused of doing nothing for their pay have been interviewed and felt the need to point out that they do actually work very hard and provide useful services. There are no guarantees in fiction, whether you go it alone or get a publisher to invest in you, and there’s no barrier of doom if you self-publish, though there may be less visibility if you don’t get word of mouth. If self-published authors keep coming in to the market and trying to bully customers, ranting about a conspiracy to keep them from selling, they’re going to find that it doesn’t help them very much in fiction publishing. Readers care about your story and whether they want to read/buy it, not whether you are also the publisher or not.

  190. Thomas (and Greg): see the link in comment #161. Or right here: I’ve made one. I will readily admit that it deals with hackneyed arguments across several (albeit related) issues, but I don’t think it’s any less valid than John’s.

  191. shmuel,

    b1: What’s that have to do with epub? (wthtdwepub?)
    i1: is that a common talking point? (itactp?)
    n1: Well, what ARE you going to do about it? And editing? Etc?
    g1: meh
    o1: wthtdwepub?
    b2: Nothing? Strawman? (your interpretation is not a bingo space) (yiinabs)
    i2: itactp?
    n2: wthtdwepub?
    g2: Nobody? strawman? yiinabs
    o2: meh
    b3: Copyright law, not traditional publishers (clntp)
    i3: clntp
    n3: wthtdwepub? itactp? clntp?
    g3: what?
    o3: wthtdwepub? itactp?
    b4: wthtdwepub? itactp?
    n4: wthtdwepub? itactp?
    g4: strawman (yiinabs)
    o4:
    b5: itactp?
    i5: itactp? yiinabs
    n5: how DO you pay for editing?
    g5: itactp? wthtdwepub? clntp.
    o5: meh

    O4 seems like the only square that might be a verbatim quotation of what lots of people might commonly say, isn’t a strawman, and has something to do with epub versus taking issue with copyright law or some other issue.

    Going through John’s list, I haven’t heard all of those squares myself, but I have heard a lot of them.

  192. Greg:

    wthtdwepub and clntp: You may be considering the matter too narrowly. I granted in #231 that there are several issues involved in my card… on the other hand, they’re closely (and necessarily) intertwined issues.
    itactp: Yes. Yes, they are.
    yiinabs, meh: I followed the model given.

    But mostly I’m with our host at #199. Over the past couple days, I’ve been amusedly noticing some of the same squares (or the entire approach) getting singled out on one website as being totally irrelevant, and singled out on another as being totally apt. Your mileage may vary.

  193. Okay, I have to ask (and had to come find this from the Tumblr where I saw this just to ask): Did you intentionally misspell “everything?”

  194. OMG, it’s like you’re on the Kindleboards. (And no, I didn’t have the guts to say that when someone on the Kindleboards linked this page. hahaha)

  195. Sparked by the whole “people don’t re-read!” thing, there is a rather unscientific straw poll over at my blog. So far the majority DO re-read. I find myself in the strange minority. >_<

  196. @Agnes

    While these days you can generally buy paperbacks (or DVDs) across national borders, it wasn’t always thus – i can clearly remember paperbacks as recently as the lat 1960s (possibly the ’70s) with lists of books you could order from the publisher, some of them marked “No orders from Canada or Great Britain for copyright reasons” or similar…

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