John Scalzi Answers Mail, Generically
Because a number of e-mails I’ve gotten in the last week are similar to other e-mails I’ve gotten this week from other people, rather than respond to them privately with more or less the same responses, I’ll go ahead and answer them generically.
Why haven’t you been talking about [insert particular political thing here]?/You should talk about [insert political thing here].
The answer to why I haven’t been talking about it, whatever it is, politically speaking, is that a) I was recently busy commenting on the Amazon/Macmillan thing, which took up a fair amount of my brain, b) I did several days of travel, which keeps me out of the loop with the news, and c) at the moment I’m not hugely engaged in the day-to-day political scene because I personally have other things to think about, including stuff that doesn’t get put into the blog. It’s been an extraordinarily busy few weeks for me, actually. So short of a coup, at the moment what’s going on in Washington hasn’t been grabbing my interest. Don’t worry, I’m sure eventually I’ll come around to it again.
Have you seen [insert late-breaking commentary regarding Amazon/Macmillan kerfuffle]? It shows why Amazon won/why Macmillan won that fight.
Yes, I’ve probably seen it; no, I don’t suspect it does in fact show how one or the other the two companies won. In a very narrow sense Macmillan “won” this particular corporate negotiation because it appears to have gotten Amazon to accept a distribution model Macmillan prefers; likewise in a very narrow sense Amazon “lost” a PR battle because its PR strategy was to say or do nothing, which allowed others to define Amazon’s position. But the implications of the negotiation are far-reaching rather than truly lending themselves to an immediate “win”/”lose” formulation, and in both cases life goes on and both companies will adjust their strategies to incorporate the results. Now that the drama is done I sort of strongly suspect that in another week even the people most engaged in the Amazon/Macmillan thing will move on, just like we’ve all moved on from the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno thing. Doesn’t the Conan/Leno fight seem so long ago now? Yes, exactly.
However, in the immediate aftermath of the A/M kerfuffle, I got a lot of these e-mails:
Just to let you know, I won’t buy one of your eBooks unless it’s at [insert desired price here] or less.
My response to this one has been pretty consistent: So don’t buy my eBooks until they are at a price you desire. That makes perfect sense to me, and I suspect my publishers will eventually pick up on that message as well, which, frankly, would suit me just fine. And for most eBook owners, that’s as far as the conversation goes or needs to go. They have legitimate concerns about book costs and I want to assure them that I’m fine with them buying my work electronically at the right price for them. I think everyone comes away happy with that sort of exchange.
That said, there’s a rather smaller percentage of eBook owners who attempt to use that statement as a threat; i.e., I won’t buy your books unless you jump through this particular hoop so you better jump through that hoop if you don’t want to be poor. To which my response is: Dude, fuck off, already. I know how many eBooks I sell, both as a raw number and as a percentage of my overall sales, and I can say this with some authority: I won’t much miss your ass, and at the moment, neither would most authors. Even Amazon knows this: There was a reason Amazon delisted Macmillan’s paper books as well as its electronic books — it knew perfectly well which of the two was going to hurt Macmillan (and tangentially, its authors) more.
I think inside the eBook tunnel it’s hard to remember that these really are the early days of this manner of distribution. A lot of things militant early adopters apparently thought were settled (such as the ideal price for an eBook) are still well in play, as we have just seen. The folks thinking that the eBook market as it is now is as it should/must/will be in the future are like Internet folks in 1994 unilaterally deciding that the online world was going to be USENET and gopher servers forever, because really, what else was there. Surprise! There was more. There will be more in the eBook market, too.
I offer up a rather substantial amount of work online, for free, and have done so for over a decade, and otherwise have a history of being quite friendly to the concept of electronic distribution of my work. So I feel entitled to be less than impressed with that (thankfully small) percentage of eBook fans who believe that their purchase of an electronic reader makes them an instant expert on the market segment, or obliges me or any author to put their desires and demands ahead of everyone else’s, and who presume to lecture me on either or both. Yes, Mr. Techy McLecturepants, I get that having an expensive, shiny gadget makes you feel entitled. But this is not my problem, and if you try to make it my problem, I’m likely to be rude to you.
How’s the SFWA election coming along?
It’s proceeding with a genuine minimum of drama, actually. Which is boring for you, the outside observer, but for which I think I, the other candidates and most of SFWA’s membership are grateful for.
Why were you in LA? Huh? Huh? Huh?
I was in LA because a year ago I got bounced off a flight and got a free round trip out of it that was going to expire, so it seemed like a good time to go out there and eat Double-Doubles. Oh, and to take some meetings with my film agent and my non-fiction agent, both of whom are located there. Be aware that “take some meetings” sounds rather more mysterious and exciting than it was. Sorry to disappoint. I’m secretly boring. Don’t tell.
While I was there I also saw some friends, because as most of you know I grew up in LA. One highlight was having lunch with my friend Kyle, who was my best friend in second grade and who I had not seen since then. 30 years is a lot to catch up with, so it was a long lunch. And I’m delighted to say that even after a 30-year hiatus, the friendship is still there. Seriously, how cool is that.
And that’s all the generic e-mail responses I have for you today.