This Manuscript Hires People

Apropos to Charlie Stross’ piece today about what goes into making a book and why it’s not just as simple as tossing out a bare manuscript to whomever might be willing to buy it, I’d like to point out something that I think gets overlooked as a net benefit to books being made the way they currently get made, which is:

As an author, my manuscript makes jobs.

For example: When I turn in my manuscript, it’s taken up by an editor, who looks at it, gets it into commercial shape, and shepherds the manuscript through the book production process. That editor has a job because of what I wrote.

That manuscript is handed off to a copy-editor, who makes sure that my lack of attention in junior high composition class does not haunt the final book. That copy editor has a job because of what I wrote.

The editor talks to an art designer, who manages the process of giving the book a distinctive look. One thing the art designer does is assign a cover artist, who makes something to catch the potential book buyer’s eye from across a crowded bookstore. Then there’s the interior/page designer who makes the words on the page look like something other than a Word document. The art designer, cover artist and interior designer have jobs because of what I wrote.

All that done, off my book goes to marketing and publicity, who will do the job of letting other humans know my book is about to exist in the world, and that they should be excited about that fact (and they should!). The marketing person and the publicity person working on my book have jobs because of what I wrote.

And so does the person at the printer who actually prints the book. And so does the person at the warehouse who makes sure the book gets to the bookstore. And so does the person at the bookstore who sells the book to you.They have jobs because of what I wrote.

So, right off the top of my head, ten people who have jobs because I took it into my head to write a story. There are more I’m forgetting about or omitting for the moment, but these ten will do for the point I’m making. How do I feel about the fact they have jobs because of my work? I think it’s pretty damn awesome, to tell you the truth. Not only does my work feed, clothe and house me (and my family and pets), but it feeds, clothes and houses an exponential number of people as well (and their families and pets).

True, it’s not just my work that does that for them; they have jobs because of what other people wrote, too. But my own work has a direct and material contribution to their employment and well-being. And I like that, a lot. I like the idea of what I do being a cause for many different people, some of whom I will never meet, to have employment and productive lives.

And here’s the kicker: Not only do my words give all these people jobs, but under the current system, I don’t have to pay them anything. In fact, I actually get paid to do it! Getting paid for giving other people work — hey, that doesn’t suck.

Which is one of the other reasons when people declare how great it’ll be when there’s nothing between authors and readers I give them that cocked-head puppy dog look. What will be so great about not giving work to a whole bunch of people, all of whom can do their specific and essential book-creating job better than I could? Sure, I could hire them personally if I felt I needed to, but then I would have to pay them. As opposed to someone else paying them, and also paying me.

Bear in mind, of course, I’m saying all this as someone who has a) self-published, and b) has actually hired artists and editors to work on stuff for him, and may do so again in the future when the mood strikes him. I’m not anti-DIY. But I am pro creating jobs for other people, and pro doing it while getting paid myself. I mean, seriously: Job creation and personal profit! How much more rampagingly capitalistic can I get?

So, yes, just one more perspective for folks to consider when they’re talking about the future of books.

140 Comments on “This Manuscript Hires People”

  1. My father was a editor. My aunt is a copy editor. That’s two people in my family employed because of people like John Scalzi.

    It doesn’t suck at all. It rocks!

  2. I don’t think most people really want nothing between them and the author….even if they are currently nursing the notion. (Pick up a vanity press book, which cut out a number of those people, AND made the author do his own dirty work on pitching it to people AND made him pay for the privilege, and tell me if you want to read an entire library full of THAT. I know I don’t.)

    Anyways, as a wannabe author and as a graphic design monkey/illustrator, I have to say the current system looks far more attractive in terms of work I want do (that I am qualified to do: writing, illustrating, designing) and work I don’t want to do and probably shouldn’t since I’m not qualified for it (editing, marketing, distributing). I’d rather have time to do the stuff I’m good at and enjoy.

    BTW, that cocked-head puppy dog look is known as a Baroo. See here:

    and here:

  3. I can’t help but be reminded of Zorg’s little ‘destruction is useful’ speech from The Fifth Element. Only, you know, not being issued from the human avatar of pure evil.

    As far as I know.

  4. You have written several posts on this subject recently. Have you read many wild claims about the nirvana that will descend once publishing houses are abolished? I haven’t seen anything about it, but then you and I likely don’t read all the same things.

  5. PixelFish@3 – Thank You for the lovely funny! I thought John’s post was nice and prideful – in a good way – but ‘Baroo’ made my heart happy.

  6. Scalzi,

    However, because your making a book requires so many people, it also means that the book is necessarily going to be more expensive. After all, the jobs your book creates are based on the money that people will buy.

    So there’s a tension between wanting to pay as little as possible for a book while still rewarding and supporting all the people that made that book possible and will ensure that more books follow.

    The idea and potential popularity of e-books means that it is possible that we’ll think, “Well, obviously the writer should get paid, and the editor, and copy editor should get paid, and almost definitely the art design…but do we really need to support those people who print off the book? I’m just to read it off my iPad anyway…” Which is, I guess, what’s at the core of arguing that e-books should be cheaper than meatspace books.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I know this is complicated stuff. I want to support people, and I especially want to support people who create and enable the things that I love. But I also like having money to spend on other things that I love as well.

  7. Ok, how many other people out there started squinting and trying to read the manuscript in the picture?? C’mon, admit it, you know you tried!

    @pixelfish – awww, too cute! (though I usually refer to this as ‘the confused german shepherd’ look, so for me it’s the wrong breed :) )

  8. DIY works up to a point, but even with digital distribution there’s a point at which it stops scaling well. I have a lot of friends in webcomics and the ones who are doing the best business have essentially been “forced” to hire people to help get everything done that their mini-media-enterprise requires. One person can only ship so many books and t-shirts in a day or week, and word-of-mouth, while powerful, doesn’t obviate the need for smart and energetic marketing specialists. You can do all right for yourself as a sole-proprietor creator, but there’s a limit to how well that depends on your personal energy and drive.

    Not all creators have the entrepreneurial mojo to do all the other stuff on top of the actual creating part!

    It’s a nice angle to consider that creative people who create things wind up creating many, many jobs. I hadn’t thought of it from that angle before, even though I’m someone who makes a living (drawing, designing, painting) because creators do that. Cool.

  9. How is this related to the Amazon/Macmillan dustup? The assertion that the work to produce an ebook is near zero isn’t that it goes writer=computer=reader, but that the work is already done and paid for in the above process to produce the hardback and the ADDITIONAL cost of producing an ebook is near zero.

    At least, I haven’t seen the argument made that seems to be argued against here. But, sure do see lots of sturm and drang over something that Macmillan already admitted wasn’t over cost anyway, but that they simply want to charge more for ebooks, without regard for costs.

  10. Here’s what I think should become of books in the future: As with vinyls anymore and many DVDs, when you buy a book you should get a digital copy, something you can download onto a reader of your choice. This nonsense of only having one format or another is silly becuase when you purchase the title you own it for your personal use. If I want Amy Tan on my PC/reader and on my bookshelf I should get to for one purchase price. I want my cake and I want to eat it, too. I’m sure it’s more compicated but darn it, why does it have to be?

  11. “What will be so great about not giving work to a whole bunch of people, all of whom can do their specific and essential book-creating job better than I could?”

    Let’s not forget about all those lovely people out there on the Web who are absolutely *convinced* that all authors are capitalist pigs and are making *way* too much money off something that they are doing for *fun*, so why should they – the readers – *PAY* for this? No, it should be shared on the net for *free*! Because what you do for fun shouldn’t cost money, right?

  12. Stu:

    “However, because your making a book requires so many people, it also means that the book is necessarily going to be more expensive.”

    There’s no “necessarily” about that, actually. A book I put out myself on Lulu is going to cost more than the same book produced by a major publisher, primarily because the per-unit cost of production is substantially higher.

    Likewise, the people who seem to assume that the majority of the cost in a book is in its printing costs are incorrect, which is something that has been pointed out numerous times over the last several weeks.

    The problem is not that people making the books are expensive. The problem is that people don’t know much about the cost of production of books.


    I don’t own a printer. That’s the manuscript Tor printed out for the copy editor.


    It’s the manuscript for The Ghost Brigades.


    “But, sure do see lots of sturm and drang over something that Macmillan already admitted wasn’t over cost anyway, but that they simply want to charge more for ebooks, without regard for costs.”

    That’s a fairly inaccurate and stupid encapsulation of Macmillan’s position, Torgeaux, so please try not to do that again.

    Likewise, let’s not refight the Amazon/Macmillan dustup here again, otherwise I will be required to bring out the Mallet.

  13. @14, So the hardback should bear all of the costs of getting the book ready and the ebook should get a free ride? Um… why? Even presuming those costs of a quality conversion to a variety of ebook formats is free, the ebook should bear its share of all of the other costs. If not, why not?

    Note to @14 and others… the actual printing and shipping is about 10% of the cost of a book. So what you’re arguing is that if a paper book is $10 you should only have to pay $9. That seems a tiny difference.

  14. John, John…you forgot a big one.

    Lawyers also got paid because you wrote the manuscript. (And if people write bad ones, as opposed to your good ones, that employs even more lawyers…but we won’t go there.)

  15. Mr. Scalzi, it’s neither stupid nor inaccurate. I’ll leave to you whether I’m allowed to make the argument on your page.

    The publisher at Macmillan told the New York Times that readers were paying for content, not form, and that they were going to price them by that content (and by implication, release time), not relating to the format (in that context, hardcover versus ebook).

    Ebooks cost next to nothing to produce IF a paper edition is being produced in any event. That’s not really disputable, since the costs Mr. Stross enumerates up to printing are fixed costs that would not change if at the point of printing an electronic version is made instead.

  16. Torgeaux:

    “Mr. Scalzi, it’s neither stupid nor inaccurate.”

    It is both, in fact, and selectively choosing facts out of the overall issue to support your contention while ignoring others equally or more relevant doesn’t make your contention correct, or less tendentious.

    And no, as previously stated, I don’t want to have the argument here again.

  17. Yes, don’t forget the lawyers. I’m sure John doesn’t want to deal with all the legal fees when the lawyers for the dead author who wrote a self-published novel called “Super Awesome Green Soldiers of The Future” decide to sue him for plagiarism.

  18. Granted that the cost difference between producing paper book and an e-book is not very great, but to me as a consumer, the value of an e-book is much less, because (a) DRM yadda yadda yadda, and (b) either I have to read an e-book on a computer screen, which is not my preferred way to read a novel, or I have to drop three hundred bucks on specialized hardware.

    My preferred solution to this predicament is simply to keep buying paper books. I hope the authors (and the people they hire) don’t mind.

  19. Rick/NotRick: No, the costs shouldn’t be borne by anything, in particular. But you, and others, argue that the ONLY savings in an ebook is printing (and sometimes, grudgingly, shipping and warehousing). That’s not true. The ebook would only incur those production costs if they were not already being paid for.

    However, if each ebook purchase equals one less purchase of the hardcover THEN, the costs are exactly the same, minus shipping/printing/remaindering. But, that nexus is far from established, or even, frankly, argued.

  20. As a guy who loves physical books, I am eternally grateful for the team of people that make them happen. And, of course, I am indebted to people like our host here that give them so many excellent words to wrap up with that wonderful typesetting and binding.

  21. Speaking as one of those booksellers, THANK YOU. It’s so much easier to sell GOOD books than bad ones. Yours are definitely good books.

    Hey, PixelFish@3, my Jack Russell Terrier was ‘baroo’ing last night as our downstairs neighbor kid practised trombone inside his condo. Jackie even checked/sniffed the doorsill to make sure the kid wasn’t in distress. I was giggling so he figured out it was just Another Stupid Human Trick.

  22. Chelle @ 15

    That’s something I approve of, but I wonder how it would work. I know some RPG book companies have deals where they will throw in the PDF for free/cheap* with the paperback I order, but it’s because I’m buying directly from them — I did this with Spirit of the Century and was very happy. I’d also imagine Amazon and other online retailers could easily do so, because they sell both. It would be a lot harder for a brick and mortar store to do so. While I’ll order (or preorder) books I know I want online, I find it easier to browse for new authors/titles in a store where I can skim and such. I’m sure you could put together some kind of confirmation code, or offer to send in a receipt for an eBook, but it would add extra expense — how much would depend on how many people use it. As of now, most of your sales are in physical copies, so the ebooks would be bonuses.

    If in a decade, where most books are ebooks (and bought over the computer or through the ebook readers), then it would be easier to ask for an address to send a paper book for an additional fee.

    (As for me, I’d be more likely to use it for gaming manuals and other references than fiction books — having a searchable PDF that I can take out excerpts of plus something I can loan to friends or bring to the table is nice. An ereader for fiction might be in my future, but right now I prefer paperbacks.)

    * The PDF after all, takes a bit of formatting from the copy sent to the printer. I’ve even seen reference PDFs with indexes and chapter headings. I’d also imagine putting in the code to make something look nice on a Kindle or Nook or whatever at least requires a publishing grunt to find all the places the automated software did something awkward.

  23. Mr. Scalzi: No worries, your blog, your rules. It seemed that this was a place for this discussion, and I apologize that that is not the case.

  24. Seth Gordon:

    “the value of an e-book is much less, because (a) DRM yadda yadda yadda”

    Putting on my consumer hat, DRM is the primary reason I don’t have an ebook reader (I have incidental readers in the form of my computer and iPod Touch, but it’s not a primary purpose for either).


    Thank you, Torgeaux. I have no problem with the discussion of other various issues regarding ebooks, costs, etc, so feel free to talk about those.

  25. On a different note, I only buy the hardcover editions of Mr. Scalzi’s works, because I collect certain books, and his are among them. Autographed, when possible, such as thru Subterranean. In that vein, I’d like to see, as Chelle suggests, a standard practice of including an ebook edition with the purchase. I prefer to read e-editions, but some books I want to OWN, but I’m unlikely to buy it twice for that.

  26. Torgeaux:

    “I’d like to see, as Chelle suggests, a standard practice of including an ebook edition with the purchase.”

    Speaking as both an author and a consumer, I wouldn’t mind this either.

  27. The additional cost of producing an ebook from a PDF that goes to print is NOT near zero. Somebody needs to relay or import that thing out again in formats that will work on the devices available. A regular PDF will be nigh unreadable on my iPod Touch for example, because when you get the text zoomed into a size I can read, you can read about half a sentence. Every format change is probably going to require this, and you have to be sure in the meantime that you aren’t corrupting things, that all the pages made it through the import process, and so on. Granted, people aren’t generally worrying about orphans and widows in a format where people can resize the text, but there are other considerations to keep it from being just a crappy text file.

    Also, I think the ebook’s costs are also determined by the estimated sales figures the book needs to sell in general. If you release an ebook at the same time as the hardcover, you’re going to have to account for the sales that didn’t make it in hardcover because people bought the cheaper ebook. (If you were to say, well, the hard cover has the ESRP of 18 dollars, but it didn’t cost us much more to make the ebook so we’ll sell it for 5, then a lot of people who might have bought the hardcover may end up buying JUST the ebook, and the original estimates for pricing the book on estimated units sold may go out the window. If you were expecting 3000 hardcover copies to break even on the endeavour, and instead 1000 hard cover and 2000 ebook, you missed your estimate and somebody somewhere is going to be less likely to take your future books on. This is why publishers wanted windowing on the ebook formats, or so I gathered.)

  28. Your argument it seems is that we need to keep printing hard copies of books because that creates more jobs than digital copies.

    This sounds akin to saying that we should go back to farming with horses because that employed more people and kept small agriculture towns alive.

    I think we should keep printing hard copies of books…as long as people want to keep buying them. Personally, I’ve gone almost exclusively to digital copies of books because they’re convenient (always on my iPod or Kindle) and they’re cheaper (for now anyway). But I don’t begrudge people wanting their books in other mediums.

    Whatever happens, there are a couple of truths:

    1) People will always write books because…

    2) People will always want more stories

  29. Seth Gorden@24: In economic terms, the value of anything, including an eBook, is exactly what the consumer is willing to pay, and it is something that varies by customer. Saying that something has a particular intrinsic value because *you* value certain features (“DRM”, “computer screen”) is completely misguided in general economic terms. Other people value other features (“weight”, “size”) which may cause them to assign an entirely different value on the item.

    What the actual “right” price of an eBook is will be driven by the market, as sellers adjust the price to maximize profits, just like very other product.

  30. You correct. of course, but does that make it right? No one wants people to be jobless, but every industry goes through a stage where technology makes it easier, even necessary, to shrink the workforce.

    Your manuscript keeps people working, but that also inflates the price. When you consider the the average price of a hardcover is $27 (based on 2008 data) how much of that is related to all these people your manuscript employs. Granted, thanks to the likes of Amazon, B&N, and Wal-Mart none of us pay retail price for a book but again how much cheaper would they be if each manuscript didn’t employee so many people?

    Granted, this is just an average guy’s opinion. I have no idea how necessary these people are the making of a book or the cost to each book’s bottom line profitability, but it seems like fewer people having their hands in the process the better the profitability.

  31. I agree with Steve, and I’d add that going digital with publishing doesn’t necessarily mean those jobs will just disappear. They’ll just shift to other places in the economy.

  32. Copy editors, editors, art designers, etc will always be necessary to make good books. But how much of the money that goes to the publishers covers that, and how much covers the dead trees being shipped around the world?

    I honestly don’t know, but dead trees are heavy, so presumably that costs a reasonable amount. That’s the part of the publisher that will (soon, once e-readers improve a bit) no longer be needed, and the savings from which I would want to see realised in my book prices.

  33. Rob:

    “Your argument it seems is that we need to keep printing hard copies of books because that creates more jobs than digital copies.”

    I’m not aware of saying that, especially since most of the jobs I note are still required for digital editions. Nor is it axiomatic that digital copies produce fewer jobs; the distribution job removed by digital copies, for example, is balanced out by the job created for the IT person whose job it is to tend to the commerce server on which the electronic copy of my book is housed (note also that the IT person is not necessarily cheaper than the distribution person, so the vaunted “cost savings” people hope to realize knocking the physical distribution part out of the production chain may be illusory).

    So, no, that’s not my argument at all.

  34. John:

    “So, no, that’s not my argument at all.”

    Ah, fair enough. Perhaps I read your post too quickly and misunderstood your argument, though given a couple of the other comments here I’m not alone in that.

  35. Rob: I don’t think Scalzi is saying we’d be employing more people if we stuck to physical formats and eschewed the digital. It’s just that many of the people required to bring a book to either a physical or a digital form are invisible to the consumer. They know about the author, the editor, and maybe give a brief fleeting thought to the cover artist. That’s about it as far as they are concerned. He’s pointing out that this view is a limited one and the reality is that a number of jobs would be intact regardless of format.

  36. Colen: Numbers I’ve seen about the book’s physical costs range from 5%-10%. (I don’t know if that’s all the physical costs though–paper, bindery, warehousing, distribution are all related to the object being a physical one.)

  37. You should also remember all the hardworking shipping and warehouse workers involved in carting containers of dead trees halfway around the world.

    I live in New Zealand, and I’m thrilled to pay Amazon $10 USD for shipping that will arrive sometime in April. I could be even more thrilled, and have it arrive next week, and pay USD $36 for shipping.

    It doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm even a little bit to know that there’s billions of dollars spent creating some kind of digital network that could avoid all of that. I just like keeping people employed.

  38. As to books creating jobs, the one I constantly consider is the guy who does my audiobooks. I mean, it’s turned into an annual job for him, and the more books I write in the series, the longer he can count on adding to his own backlist. So, win/win.

  39. Becca Stareyes @28 — I can see it working rather well, though it might cost for the set-up depending how you did it. The easiest way for big stores would perhaps be that when you buy your hardcopy, they plug in your e-mail address (or if you’re a regular customer/member of a rewards program, your phone number or something) and the computer automatically e-mails you a link to download an electronic copy of your book.

    I could also see a kiosk system of some sort working–you take a book off the shelf that you like, walk over to a kiosk with your iPod/kindle/nook, and the computer arranges a download when you put your credit card in.

  40. The more of these people that get removed from the chain, the cheaper you can sell the book for, and thus the bigger the profit for you personally. This is the essence of rampaging capitalism. They don’t have to disappear, maybe they just need to do less of a job, so they can do their job for more books at a time.

    If you want to sell to me, you can remove or minimize a number of people in that list. I make myself easy to sell to, by having a high-tech gadget and low standards. In return, I expect people who sell to me to do so at a price that acknowledges the investment I have made and my willingness to read plain text with nothing beyond paragraph breaks.

    While you still need to market to me, this is easier than ever. I will read the title and author name of anything you can get in front of me. If you provide a one-paragraph intro, I will read that too. I do not visit physical book stores, I do not read or watch any physical media, I do not care about cover art, or DRM.

    The question is not really how you do things now – there’s no argument that you have a decent business model given the audience of today. But if I’m the picture of the audience of tomorrow, then the existing setup simply isn’t going to work.

    I don’t care about a lot of the work that is being done right now to produce a book and the content creators who recognize that will be able to sell far more and make more money, and they will crowd you out. I can read over 200 books a year, I will go with the market that can deliver that to me in the most efficient manner possible.

    Maybe I’ll just be weird in the future too, rather than the norm, but the people who are acting like it’s the future are the ones selling me books right now, and I can’t imagine myself going back to the clunky slow methods of today.

  41. Rob: actually, as I was arguing in an irrelevant matter, the costs of an ebook are identical to producing a regular book right up to printing versus producing the e-version. If the only version you’re making is the e-version, you have to incur the production costs of copywriting, editing, etc…in full. The loss of employment would be only in the printing/shipping/brick and mortaring.

    Someone posed the additional question of what if software could do it all? Edit/proof/copy work/art, etc… Then, I’d say the jobs it replaces have to go away, just as blacksmiths have similarly gone to niche work. I don’t see that happening, since most of that process is similarly creative in nature, though. Well, maybe catching Mr. Scalzi’s grammatical and spelling errors could be automated, but I’m not sure the rest is something that could be well captured by automation.

  42. Tor prints out hard copy for your copyeditor? Really? I’ve been editing electronically (development and copyediting) since 1998. I check my page proofs on PDFs, and so does the proofer. In fact, as far as I know, in my corner of the industry, the first dead-tree copy of any book is the one that comes from the printer.

  43. Okay, let’s put to bed this idea that the additional people who work on a book increase its price in some linear way. Even if an author could get all her editing, printing, marketing etc. done for free, it doesn’t follow that the price of her book will necessarily be lower. All it means for certain is that she will take more money home, because transaction costs have gone down. From there, she won’t necessarily make more money by reducing price to increase sales–at some point, there’s an equilibrium.

    Second (and here I take some issue with the lack of reciprocity expressed here, John) these people add value to bookselling business. Each one of them, in theory, earns more money than they are paid for the people with a residual interest in the property, i.e. the author and the publisher. In the case of most authors, that means they make it just barely profitable enough to be worth the author and publisher’s time and investment. So they employ authors as much as authors employ them.

    If anything, the investment of the publisher is the thing creating jobs for everybody involved. Authors generally either don’t have the capital or don’t want to bear the risk associated with the investment it takes to make a book profitable, so they sell equity in the book to publishers. That’s why publishers won’t be going away–entrepreneurs need venture capitalists.

  44. “The more of these people that get removed from the chain, the cheaper you can sell the book for, and thus the bigger the profit for you personally. This is the essence of rampaging capitalism. ”

    This is the WalMart theory of capitalism, that you reduce prices by reducing value faster. It’s only sustainable as long you deal in markets that are desperate, i.e. not free markets. Which is to say it’s no theory of capitalism at all.

    And to switch topics, I’d like to note that ebooks have the *added value* of not requiring additional shelving and floorspace for the shelving or effort to dispose of in lieu of shelving. They do require additional digital storage space, but how much does a residential square foot cost in terms of SD cards?

  45. Sorry for the multi-post, but I wanted to clarify that I know the job of publishers is more complex than just investing, as it also involves finding, negotiating with and supervising all the people involved in the process. Plus other stuff I’m probably overlooking.

  46. torgeaux @50: Regarding software replacing copy editors and such, I believe that to completely replace the humans involved, the software would have to pass the Turing test to the point that it is indistinguishable from a human of above average IQ. I don’t believe that such software exists yet, nor is it likely to in the near future (5-10 years).

    Spell checkers can help eliminate some of the more egregious spelling errors, but they do little to eliminate the misuse of, e.g., there/their/they’re. And even humans that can copy edit James Joyce are rare.

    Software excels when the rules it is asked to follow are logical and consistent. The English language is neither.

  47. @55 I agree. Look at Google who’s arguably created one of the finer “softwares” in terms of algorithmically examining an incredible amount of content available across the internet.

    Even Google’s systems have an incredibly hard time identifying intent. The danger in letting software edit is that software as of yet, can’t accurately take into account context and semantics.

    A Wired Magazine example (Latest issue I believe) had a good look at this. Something to the effect that software could interpret boiling and hot as the same thing and dogs and puppies as the similar things but would still think a hot dog is a boiled puppy.

    Until software can accurately and routinely interpret semantics, even then, it leaves to wonder if software can also edit rhythm and other literary elements as well as a human reader.

  48. hugh: Yeah. That was only a theoretical extension of the argument previously made, not a prediction or assertion.

  49. DPSquared:

    “So they employ authors as much as authors employ them.”

    I don’t know that I agree with this assertion 100%, actually. Everybody involved in the chain of production certainly makes the finished work better, and authors damn well better recognize that fact, but generally the instigating element is what the author brings to the party, i.e., the manuscript.

    Richard Clark:

    “The more of these people that get removed from the chain, the cheaper you can sell the book for, and thus the bigger the profit for you personally.”

    As noted earlier in the thread, the assertion that fewer people = cheaper product simply isn’t true. Nor is it evident in any sense that a cheaper product means a larger profit for me personally. Additionally, you are using your own anecdotal behaviors to comment generally on “the future of the market,” which does not necessarily track. Maybe you have “high tech and low standards,” as you put it, but it does not necessarily follow that others will have either or both.

  50. I am delighted that there are all sorts of people between me and my favorite authors when it comes to the books I read. Not that I wouldn’t like to rub elbows with my favorite authors; I’m sure they’re all as fabulous as Scalzi (or at least nearly so). But I’ve been a first reader on a couple of novella-length stories… and it was not an experience I’d care to repeat often and regularly. Sure the stories were really good, but I kept getting hung up on all the things those other people weren’t doing… typos, bizarrely structured sentences, weird formatting.

    I love to read. I read an average of three books a week… much more when I don’t have to go to that office job that I have. I read dead tree books and books on my Kindle. I love, love, LOVE books. To me, Heaven will be a library containing every book ever written. If I have to pay a little more for the books I read so that they are in the most readable format (and give people jobs!), I’m happy enough to do that.

    Frankly, I don’t understand the argument, “I don’t want to pay $XX.xx for my books.” Then don’t. Heck, sometimes I think books are priced insanely, too. So I go to the library and borrow them. Or request them from one of the book swapping sites that exist. Or look for a sale. Or wait until someone I know buys them, and borrow them.

    Now I’m off to read another five or six chapters before bed…

  51. “Additionally, you are using your own anecdotal behaviors to comment generally on “the future of the market,” which does not necessarily track. Maybe you have “high tech and low standards,” as you put it, but it does not necessarily follow that others will have either or both.”

    Absolutely. It’s not necessarily the case that they won’t either. What seems more reasonable is to say that the natural operation of the book market will work to remove unnecessary elements of the production process, as it trends from paper based to electronic forms.

    Unless you wish to argue that eBooks will never come to dominate the format, the obvious question is then: what actors are still adding value, and how much?

    I used my own anecdotal behaviours to demonstrate a scenario in which a number of the current actors, such as cover artists, no longer add any useful value to the format. As a result, they don’t influence the likelihood of sale and (in my scenario) inevitably they will be removed from the process.

    “high tech and low standards” may well not apply to everyone in the future, but I think it would be crazy to assume that “high tech” won’t, given how rapidly high tech becomes low tech.

  52. Let’s put something out on the table –

    The way described by Charlie and defended here by John is the “old way” – the way it’s been done for many decades by the dead trees print industry. It has arguably a lot of physical inefficiency (including pulped books) and process inefficiency (including 12 month lead times), and potentially excess costs. But it works – it’s gotten billions and billions of books in the hands of billions of readers. Companies doing it are as a rule profitable, authors get paid enough to (at least at the successful margin) keep writing, etc.

    Internet geeks and business process wonks look at the industry and go into varying ballistic trajectories, because that process has physical inefficiency and process inefficiency and potentially excess costs.

    It’s easy to poke small holes in the model – people do it all the time, and have since I started being an internet geek (before http) and being a business process geek (almost that long). But it’s not a small model – it’s a whole industry. If the answer to ebooks really is to functionally just remove all those layers in between, as soon as ebook vendors existed some marginally successful authors would have tried doing direct-to-consumer books (which was done), would have gotten significantly more money doing so (was not true, apparently), and the fad would have taken off. This did not happen, to date.

    There are industries for which variations on this theme, or other internet based structural changes, have happened. Travel agents -> online airline booking. Traveling encyclopedia salesman -> Wikipedia. We can all think of examples.

    The best indication that the book industry process chain introduces value – to authors, and ultimately to customers – is that it’s still here.

    Could a streamlined, faster, more electronic version of the process work more efficiently? Perhaps. Variations on that have been tried and haven’t flown that far yet.

    I suspect that ultimately the answer will be yes – but with something much more of a hybrid system, or something far wierder than is in use now. The simple answers are obviously too simple.

  53. Richard Clark:

    “‘high tech and low standards’ may well not apply to everyone in the future, but I think it would be crazy to assume that ‘high tech’ won’t, given how rapidly high tech becomes low tech.”

    As it happens I’m not personally convinced the physical book market is going away as rapidly as many people assume it will. Not this is not the same as saying I think the eBook market will not grow, possibly at a phenomenal rate. It is me saying I suspect both formats will coexist for a long time and perhaps permanently.

  54. To address things which I think add value, as opposed to just being part of the usual cycle:

    Clear value adds:

    1. Copyediting – I’ve seen first author drafts of some books, there’s a noticable difference after a round of other-reader copy edits.

    2. Marketing – I don’t have the time to page through all the new books showing up at bookstores. Usually I listen to friends who are more plugged in to the industry, blogs and websites, etc. Also, though, the things that marketing people do (including ARCs for reviewers, ads in magazines and books, etc) significantly help raise visibility of the good books. As a business-oriented techie, marketing and sales are necessary and entirely proper parts of the business.

    Possibly adding value:

    3. Cover art – Sometimes great, sometimes so so. Mostly great in the sense that it induces people to pull it off the shelf, as an adjunct form of marketing.

    4. Typography etc / internal design – I appreciate books that aren’t exactly Word templates, but I would generally be fine if publishers did a line-by-line or year-by-year standardized internal design set rather than trying to do that unit by unit. There are specifics to each book that may change, in terms of detail layout overrides and a bit of custom graphics you may want to put in, but I can read a Word template just fine, especially if you flip fonts a bit.

    Adding business process value / necessary for business operations:

    5. Main “editor” – someone needs to make the decision to publish, and what to publish, and to project manage it all. Elements of that can change in new models, but someone’s going to have to manage it all, whether that’s an editor or the author or someone else.

  55. Apropos of little and stating the obvious: sometimes people need to be yelled at, sometimes people need to be taught. Sometimes yelling enables one to accomplish the latter, sometimes it makes it impossible. I might be able to teach someone differential equations by standing over them with a big stick, but most people would prefer I didn’t.
    To paraphrase Neils Bohr (I think), making predictions is hard work, especially about the future.

  56. Useful and interesting!

    “Clear value adds:

    1. Copyediting ”


    “2. Marketing”

    Agreed, with the proviso that I think it can be done more efficiently than it is now.

    “Possibly adding value:

    3. Cover art”

    Currently, yes, later I think *some kind of art* may be a win, but I don’t think it’ll be “cover art”, and it may fold into Marketing. Cover art seems to be a bigger deal than it would be if it wasn’t the only way to grab someones attention in the face of a wall of books.

    “4. Typography etc / internal design”

    I don’t even notice this, to be honest. As long as I can read the words, I’m good. No value add for me.

    “5. Main “editor””

    Yes, again with the proviso that I believe their job should be a lot simpler than it is (not their fault!!). Existing structures seem to make a lot of work for this role.

  57. Speaking of manuscripts, I finished reading Zoe’s tale the other week. I admit to my eyes moistening multiple times. Bravo!

  58. “4. Typography etc / internal design”

    I don’t even notice this, to be honest. As long as I can read the words, I’m good. No value add for me.


    Ahem. The fact that you can read the words easily without eyestrain is part of the designer’s job. If you NOTICE it, they may not be doing their job. (Or you are a graphic designer and layout monkey.) The choice of font to facilitate reading; making sure that we don’t have egregious widows and orphans*; making sure list matter, footnotes**, letters, signs, notes, song lyrics, the occasional diagram and Tolkeinian epic poems are properly corralled; useful running headers and unobtrusive page counts–this is all the realm of the layout monkey. Oh, and the table of contents, appendices, colophons, and handy lists of engravings showing off “Frontispiece – Pip is introduced to Miss Havisham”. We figure all that stuff out too. (There are usually templates, but somebody has to figure out the gutters, particularly in fatter books.)

    The little flourishes like drop caps, glyphs for section breaks, and neat chapter headers–that may be all gravy, but it’s nice to give the poor layout artist something fun to do. (If they get to.)

    Note: I haven’t done print work for a few years, but really, insisting that typography and internal design doesn’t add much seems to be another case of worker-invisibility.

    *Widows and orphans – these are bits of text that when you first start layout, end up divorced from the body of text to which they belong due to unfortunate page breaks. The orphan can refer also to a single word on a single line.

    **See also Terry Pratchett.

  59. In my opinion, what will happen is that the mass market paperbacks will go away. The cost to physically print that version of the manuscript will continue to rise while the cost to deliver an eBook should stay fairly flat. Once simple eBook readers drop in price to ~$50 and have a high market penetration it will not be economical to do mass market paperback.

  60. Richard 65: “4. Typography etc / internal design”

    I don’t even notice this, to be honest. As long as I can read the words, I’m good. No value add for me.

    Not noticing it IS the value add. It’s not supposed to be noticed, because then it would get in the way of reading. If it were bad, or skipped, you WOULD notice it, and probably get a headache and stop reading the book.

  61. No worries. I think you summed it up from the reader’s perspective, whereas I wanted to cover the graphic designer’s work and goals. All the reader needs is: Hey, this flows well, I don’t even notice the act of reading, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks purty.

  62. Sorry, PixelFish, Xopher, I didn’t mean to imply these people are useless. Certainly I’m sure they do a very important job when we’re talking about a paper book, or something with pages or where there is font control.

    However in my case, when I say I don’t need them, the reason is because I read these books from an interface that only has one font and has no pages, only scroll. So widows, orphans, and typography aren’t there at all (or are simply present), and everything is in Times New Roman at one fixed point size. There’s no page numbers, footers etc that aren’t generated by the reading application.

    I have no trouble at all reading in this form, it does not diminish my enjoyment of the book at all (and in some cases I have read a book in both paper and ebook format). I admit, thus far none of them that I have noticed have attempted to convey musical notes or other complex symbols, nor have I read any Pratchett recently :)

  63. Richard, you may read in a form that is fontless and has no page numbers, etc., but that’s not true of all ebooks. For example, the books on the Kindle have all that.

  64. This is interesting, especially for a girl who isn’t in a position to use discretionary income for books from a retail bookstore. I been reading your books from the public library (please don’t hate me). So, I guess your ms and my readership help a library employee keep his or her job.

  65. Molly, why would he hate you for reading library books? Libraries buy those books, and if lots of patrons check them out, they buy more copies – and copies of the author’s other work. They recommend the author to their friends. They may, when they eventually have discretionary income, buy books in the future.

  66. “I’d like to see, as Chelle suggests, a standard practice of including an ebook edition with the purchase.”

    I would be very happy if this started happening. I am speaking only from my personal, uber-consumer viewpoint of course, but ever since I’ve had my iphone I have multiple times bought both the physical copy of a book and the ebook version so I could have it on my iphone. I know this seems a little ridiculous but being able to read during my downtime at work and while waiting in lines at lunch time and while on a crowded train etc. has been worth it for me, especially since the Kindle and Stanza apps are free.

    I mention this only because I am curious if there are enough people like me out there willing to shell out the extra money for the convenience of an e-copy while still relishing the comfort of a physical copy. And whether or not there are enough of us to make an impact on the market. This is something I haven’t seen discussed yet when it comes to e-publishing.

  67. John @58: Fair enough, but I don’t know if the “instigating element” is necessarily indicative of who keeps whom employed. A great manuscript is a great start, but it’s economically dead in the water without the people who make it salable. Again, I’d point to publishers as the real employers in all this, and as at least one of the instigating elements. If they didn’t invest in your manuscript, they’d invest in someone else’s, and everyone would keep their jobs but you (but the publisher would be poorer for the loss of you, as would we all!).

    Also, is the manuscript really the instigating element for the creation of books? Or is the pre-existing market for books the instigating element for the creation of manuscripts? Of the writers I know (or at least the ones I’m married to), nothing could stop them from writing, but if publishers had found a way to make twice as much money off 20,000-word epic poems, they’d try to write that instead. Most manuscripts are tailored to fit certain market constraints, so if publishers hadn’t found a way to make manuscripts fitting those constraints profitable, they probably wouldn’t get written.

  68. Chris: I tend to be the other way round currently–the physical copy is becoming my For Favourites and Best Beloved Books, and my Try It To See If I Like It format is starting to become the ebook category. This is largely because my apartment ran out of sane bookshelf space. (I could still get more bookshelves in but we start venturing into insane and untidy waters.)

  69. Xopher@76: An interesting question to ponder is whether the characteristics of the Kindle that make layout efforts important for books published on it are ones that eBooks will retain when they are mature, or are they momentary accidents? So often the first uses of new technology mainly mimic what they are replacing. Only later do they find their true forms, discarding aspects that are merely holdovers from the previous technology, and adding things that the new technology makes possible. It takes time to learn the best way to use new technology.

    I truly don’t know whether all those facets of layout are critical elements that will persist in the mature version of eBooks. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. And maybe eBooks are, themselves, just one step on the way to something else that will obsolete eBooks.

    On the other hand, eBooks might be a fad that, while not fading away completely, settles into some niche applications, while traditional hardback/paperback publishing continues on indefinitely for everything not in those niches. It is way too early to tell.

    My point of view on the larger questions about cost of production, what books should cost, etc. is that, ultimately, readers value fiction (in whatever form it may come to be) and will find ways to pay all the costs involved in producing that fiction and delivering it to them. I don’t claim to know how it will all shake out, but I’m certain that it *will* shake out. Things could get a bit rough on some or all people in the business during the transition, which is unfortunate.

    I suppose all the energy dumped into discussion about the matter just possibly might turn up some ideas that will help ease the transition, so maybe they are worth having, though they don’t interest me very much.

  70. There is a sideline discussion on crowdsourcing on

    I just thought to mention it here since similar issues have been discussed here a lot, and this blog post was/is simultaneously on the issue. Besides, I noticed that John Scalzi and Eric S. Raymond know (of) each other, at least through Penguicon

    Commenter Roger Phillips had this to say

    >> Just as a multitude of bloggers and podcasters are currently replacing old print media and radio, TV and a bunch of other fields are about to be crowdsourced.

    > “Crowdsourcing” is not going to replace traditional TV series’ any time soon. What’s more likely is that traditional TV will simply be distributed via the Internet. This is just more of the ludicrous anti-expertise nonsense that’s floating around, where the uninformed feel entitled to spread their ignorant opinions.

    and esr himself had this to say

    >> This is just more of the ludicrous anti-expertise nonsense that’s floating around, where the uninformed feel entitled to spread their ignorant opinions.

    > I’m an expert, and I will take the side of the “anti-experts” against snotty elitism like this. Every. Single. Time.

    I’m sad that esr feels this way. I think that this blog post of yours makes excellent arguments in favour of the “snotty elitists”. Well, you write here of books but I think it is the same for TV series and movies. You sure know about them too. I think the world of music is a bit different, not much but a bit nowadays.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but as I gather the main points against crowdsourcing are

    a) logistics, the sheer time and resources consuming (non-)organizable mass of it

    b) money, there simply isn’t that much of a reason to do something that time and resources consuming without money

    c) quality (and exposure), most of the stuff made by crowdsourcing is not that good; I think it is evident in the fact that people in e.g. the Internet message boards hardly ever discuss crowdsourced stuff, for that fact alone it might not even exist

    Sure, there is some counter evidence but I think the main points still stand.

  71. PixelFish@3: “Pick up a vanity press book” isn’t really a fair test, because at the moment the vanity presses only publish stuff by people who either can’t persuade a standard publisher their stuff is worthwhile, or who didn’t do the research.

    Come the glorious self-publishing revolution, all the good stuff will be in the same pile as the dross, and the consumer merely has to identify which is which. This is great if (a) you have lots of free time and (b) you really appreciate stuff that most people aren’t interested in. The free time can be swapped for paying your own personal researcher.

    But if you actually want to browse mainstream books with eyecatching covers in a store and read blurbs the PR people have put on the back and know that, for example, the genre label almost certainly matches your expectations unless the blurb says “genre redefining”, the current model works pretty well.

    (There’s room for both – if people who want to publish books of poetry that only their ten closest friends will ever read can do so, that’s a good thing, so long the person being paid to print it is honest about what’s going to happen.)

  72. It’s Adam Smith, isn’t it? Division of labour. You write. Somebody else edits. Somebody else again arranges the words on a page, physical or virtual.

    And we get more John Scalzi goodness because you concentrate on the part of the process that you’re good at.

    Yes, you could hire specialists yourself, effectively becoming a publisher. And every minute you spend being a publisher is time you’re not being a writer.

    You might end up with the same amount of money in your pocket. I might pay the same for the book I buy. Trouble is, there are fewer John Scalzi books.

    I don’t think that can be called a win.

  73. Note that I could have made a snide comment about encouraging John Norman to take up self-publishing.

    On stone tablets.

    With a trained woodpecker.

    But it’s easier just not to buy his books.

  74. Horse-and-cart cabs created jobs for both man and beast, yet we don’t use them much any more. Sending people down mineshafts instead of having machines do the mining created lots of jobs, but I don’t yearn back for the days of pickaxed coal.

    OK, those are fairly flawed analogies and you’ll have no trouble picking them apart. So I’ll try for another one: Microsoft, Sun, Apple employ tons of people to create computer operating systems. And yet, a little hobby project by some Finn, which has always been free to use and distribute, created something at least equally as good, something that would have cost a company over a billion dollars to create (if you believe the University of Oviedo), and therefore cost consumers several times as much if distributed under the traditional model. And guess what, it created jobs, a lot of them.

    Again, the analogy isn’t perfect, there are enough differences between software and art to make it impossible to translate the creation model one-to-one. But what I’m getting at is that the creation of jobs in a given process is not a particularly good yardstick to measure it by. Create something that interests people and jobs will follow. John, I reckon you to be a fairly self-reflective fellow, but your recent posts on book publishing do contain hints of a rant, along the lines of “things are fine as they are, TANSTAAFL”. Don’t you think your considerable intellect and rhetoric skill would be better employed in search of a better model, rather than defense of the old?

  75. What if my manuscript is so perfect that I don’t need an editor or copy-editor? Can’t I simply leave a reply on Whatever with a connecting website to said book, and wait for some agent or editor (maybe even the publishing house as well; think Oz), to descend from the heavens and carry me to my first New York book signing? With a perfect manuscript, can’t it really be this easy, from zero to a hundred miles an hour in the blink of an angel’s eye? I’d like to believe that there are such writers in the world, though Scalzi is probably right. If Moses wrote the Ten Commandments in the twenty-first century, he would signed with some publishing house in New York, and God would have laid waste to readers the world round, or, if we caught God on a good day, . . .

  76. In the . . . past ten years, there have been over 7,000,000,000 copywriting errors committed on Whatever, 517 errors from the host himself. That’s more errors than souls in your neck of the woods.

  77. I am not sure marketing does alot for most books. Most people find out about new books by going to the bookstore and seeing the new books at the front. Yes I know this is paid placement, but it is not really advertising. The #1 thing that gets me to open a book is the cover and the title. That gets me to look at the back of the book and from there I look closer.

    Other people may find them by top lists on booksellers (Barnes and Noble has the best lists for finding books) or on people’s blogs, etc… That is more viral marketing.

    A small number of very famous authors get marketing, but most of you don’t get much.

    I have been reading Michael Stackpole’s blog alot lately. He takes the opposite view from you. You both make very interesting points. I do disagree with you in saying that you don’t pay your editors. You absolutely DO pay them. You make less money in royalties. That is you paying them. You are not paying them up front.

    I think there is room for some self publishing in the industry and of some high quality books. I also think the best selling authors have the most to gain from publishing. Stephen King has so much money he can easily afford to pay editors, designers, etc… up front. Then he can sell his book for $14/copy like everyone else and keep more of the money.

    Very good blog post. See I can make a good reply without asking a question so don’t bite my head off.

  78. As far as the physical book market going away… that won’t happen until there is an electronic device that looks and feels just like a physical book. We are a long way from that.

    The physical book market will be around for atleast 30 years.

  79. Wow, clearly creating and keeping jobs. Compared to the failure that is Obama and his policies that supposedly create jobs you are ahead of the game!

  80. I read all this about eBooks, and threads in other places about how hard & effortful it is to manage computers in large settings like businesses (hint: very), and am reminded of Clarke’s third law of prediction:

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    And am wondering if there’s a corollary that can be derived for book publishing, like:

    Any sufficiently detailed or advanced process is indistinguishable from magic. Magic is invisible, and therefore simple and easy.

    (Also, HTML coding rocks – yay blockquote.)

  81. Guess @ #92 –

    He [Stackpole] takes the opposite view from you. You both make very interesting points. I do disagree with you in saying that you don’t pay your editors. You absolutely DO pay them. You make less money in royalties.

    While I like Stackpole’s work, he’s wrong there. The one taking the actual financial risk is *not* the author. It’s the publisher. If the publisher makes a bad bet, and the novel tanks, they loose money. If they publisher makes a slightly less worse bet and the novel only makes back what was spent on it, that’s *still* a bad thing because that money was taken out of circulation and didn’t earn a profit. An author has to earn a certain amount before it’s a good bet for the publisher. They’re the ones who take the risk. The author is paid the contracted amount (once the book is published) no matter what.

    The publisher fronts the money for *everything*. So when they say that the book needs editors, jacket designers, a cover artist, a layout person, etc. they know what they’re talking about. Because if it could be done without those steps and still be a salable product that would make back enough money for them to justify that investment, they’d already be doing it.

    Stackpole (as you present him at least) is coming back to the old, and false idea that he gets less money overall because the book is touched by so many people. It’s not true. The fact that he gets any money at all is because they book is touched by just enough people, who’re usually underpaid and still working in publishing. It’s not a high glamor job.

    If he wanted to release the novel on his own, he’d be taking that gamble without the support structure of a publisher. Given how ebooks sell, it’s unlikely he’d make as much as he would just selling a regular book, and self publishing by POD is not going to help either. Bookstores don’t stock those books, nor do libraries.

    . Stephen King has so much money he can easily afford to pay editors, designers, etc… up front. Then he can sell his book for $14/copy like everyone else and keep more of the money.

    Why would he *want* to? It’s taking on a second job. That shit takes massive amounts of time away from his writing career.

    No. You know what a real online ebook company looks like? It looks like Carina Press, which is an arm of Harlequin. They pay (as far as I know) royalties only, and handle the actual work of making a book. If you want a real ebook publisher, that’s the best deal you’ll get these days if you’re a beginning author.

  82. FreeBookAndPonies:

    “Don’t you think your considerable intellect and rhetoric skill would be better employed in search of a better model, rather than defense of the old?”

    Leaving aside that I naturally feel I’m a better judge of what’s the proper use of my own brain than a random, anonymous commenter on my site, thank you very much, I think my rhetorical skills in this case are working just fine pointing out that people make poor arguments against the current model, based largely on ignorance both of the publishing model that they criticize and on bad assumptions regarding what work many if not most authors would prefer to be doing.

    “But what I’m getting at is that the creation of jobs in a given process is not a particularly good yardstick to measure it by.”

    Well, no. It’s a yardstick you apparently don’t care for, which is a different thing altogether.


    “I do disagree with you in saying that you don’t pay your editors. You absolutely DO pay them. You make less money in royalties. That is you paying them. You are not paying them up front.”

    Well, no. I don’t necessarily make less in royalties because I have an editor; if I have a good editor, It’s quite possible I’ll make more in royalties because her editing makes for a better (which in this case may be read “more commercially accessible”) reading experience. Beyond this, the most critical aspect of whether I make less or more in royalties is not an editor, or any other person in the process, it’s my agent, who negotiates on my behalf with the publisher. And of course, beyond this there’s the practical issue that it’s the publisher who pays both the author and the editor, and the amount a publisher pays each is essentially decoupled.

    “See I can make a good reply without asking a question so don’t bite my head off.”

    I don’t mind the occasional question. But it’s good not to have every post come in that form, yes.

    Josh Jasper:

    Fixed that for you.

  83. Scalzi stated:

    “(note also that the IT person is not necessarily cheaper than the distribution person, so the vaunted “cost savings” people hope to realize knocking the physical distribution part out of the production chain may be illusory).”

    The difference is that the IT person(s) would require virtually zero supplies once it was set up. Plus, I highly doubt the computer servers or renting a piece of a cloud would be as costly as building and maintaining a printing plant.

    To back this up take a look at the linked article below. Basically, the NYT could save hundreds of millions by giving all subscribers a free Kindle and canceling all physical printing.

    Obviously, newspapers are a little different than book publishers, but if cheap crappy newspaper paper is expensive then quality paper and binding is probably comparable. As someone who has a business background, though not a publisher background, I fail to see how there can’t be some serious savings (printing, shipping, etc.) with e-books. Of couse, you would have to be 100% e-book to really see these savings.

    The move is envitable. I do think it will be slower than the music industry, but it will still happen.

    This will also make it easier to start a quality publishing company, which creates more competition. This is the real reason music companies hate mp3s.

  84. Hmmm – every buggy whip in the hands of a buggy driver and every slide rule in the hands of a propeller headed geek created jobs too. Just saying…

  85. Chad:

    “The difference is that the IT person(s) would require virtually zero supplies once it was set up.”

    Ow. This assumption made Coke Zero shoot up into my sinus cavity. You do need to tell me where to locate these infinitely reliable, never-need-to-be-upgraded servers, and their ancillary infinitely reliable, never-need-to-be-upgraded support hardware and software, because I think I could do well reselling them.

    “Plus, I highly doubt the computer servers or renting a piece of a cloud would be as costly as building and maintaining a printing plant.”

    Leaving aside the fact that many publishers hire third-party printers rather than invest their own capital into a printing press, meaning “the cost of building and maintaining a printing plant” is often not a direct cost issue for the publisher, you base this set of assumptions on what, exactly?

    “As someone who has a business background, though not a publisher background”

    Well, see. This is like someone saying “as someone who works selling medical supplies, but who is not a doctor,” and then offering an opinion on medical procedures. You’re free to offer the opinion, but the people who do know medicine are likely not to agree, for a number of reasons.


    “I have nothing useful to add to the conversation, nor do I want to read any of the comment thread to see what anyone else has said, but I want to pretend I have something insightful to say, so here’s a pointless observation about buggy whips. I’m just saying.”

  86. Back during the dot-com boom, people threw around analogies about buggy whips and slide rules to explain why the rules of economics and retail had changed. We all know how well that turned out.

  87. @mythago – Haven’t you noticed that the “buggy whip” people making this argument on the top level are the exact same morons who brought us the dot com crash in the first place?

  88. Oh, there you go being one of those snooty elitists who’s trying to crush the creative spark of bright new authors. Cuz yer jealous.

  89. One point about self publishing. I think the ebook whackos want people to self publish so they can get cheaper books.

    If I was to self publish, it would be either

    1. I didn’t have a publisher
    2. I wanted to make more money by charging higher royalties. I checked the market for the book and I figured if I contracted out the editing, design, etc… I would sell enough copies to make more money than using a publisher.

    In either case, I see no incentive to lower the price of my book. My costs go down, but my risk and up front costs go up (I have to pay editors out of my own pocket), so I would want to make more money than if I used a publisher.

    Eliminating the middle man does not always mean lower prices for consumers and if I did lower my price, I would not lower it to the point where I removed all the cost savings from the middle men. I would strategically lower it a little bit to increase sales.

    That being said if the typically hardcover book sells in volume for $14, would cutting that to $10 make someone want to buy my book? If my book sold well, why would Barnes and Noble take $4 off the end of the price and if they did do people REALLY pick hardcover books to save $4 over the Stephen King book sitting next to it or do they buy it because they want to read it.

    I don’t see a reason for self-publishers to lower the price of their product at all. Their risk and cost up front is much higher.

  90. Guess:

    As a point of trivia, if you’re self-publishing, you wouldn’t be paying yourself a royalty, since a royalty is a payment based on a license, and most people short of a complicated self-incorporation scheme don’t license their own work to themselves.

    This doesn’t affect your larger point, but it’s worth clarifying terms.

  91. @chad:

    “The difference is that the IT person(s) would require virtually zero supplies once it was set up. Plus, I highly doubt the computer servers or renting a piece of a cloud would be as costly as building and maintaining a printing plant.”

    This is the typically half correct response you get from non-techies. I own my own small software company. Yes the IT person has costs. Let me take this in detail.

    1. “cloud”. That is buzzword garbage. There is no cloud. Your buying space on someone else’s server. It is not that cheap and it is not magic.
    A high end SAN(which is what you need for a cloud) generally runs $1 million BEFORE you put any storage in it, or rent space in a secure data center (redundant power supplies, safe place, security, cooling), or electricity. You are not going to put your cheap $50 hard drives from Best Buy in your SAN. You are going to use high end Fibre Disks (they are faster and have less errors). These are generally around $1500 EACH for a 1.5 TB disk (I don’t think the 2 TB Fibre are out yes). YES THEY ARE THAT EXPENSIVE.

    Why do you need the higher end disks?
    1. Much faster
    2. Fail less often. No your personal hard drive does not fail alot, but you need 100s or 1000s of disks in a cloud. Odds are some will fail every day.
    3. you also need redundancy on your disks, so you actually lose 1/3 of the storage area for redundancy (google RAID 5). So if you lose 1 of your disks you don’t lose your system and have to restore from backup.
    4. you need extra space for lots of stuff including backups (you backup to disk first and then to tape, because tape is slow and the 3 dimensional holographic drives are $15,000 each so no one uses them yet).

    Google low end SAN. A cheap low end san is $50,000. That is from a small company selling cheap SANs.

    Yes GOOGLE uses low end disks, but a few things about google

    1. they know what they are doing
    2. they know what they are doing
    3. they are selling technology. A publisher is selling books. you are not going to pay $150,000+ for really top IT people to do this for you. And yes that is what the top people at Google make (many make over $200k)
    btw, outsourcing to India is not as cheap and simple as people think.
    4. They are massive in size. So they have an economy in scale. When you are dealing with petabytes and this is your business you can invest in the super low end.

    This IT person costs nothing is over simplified. If you want to start a web based company in your basement, there are ways to do it cheap, but there are alot of complexities when you get to publishing and downloads.

    Can it be done affordable? Of course, but it is not that simple. BTW, all “IT” people are not alike. There are different skill sets.

  92. @John: Fair. I typed it quick. I meant the money that you earn. So if you wholesale your book for $14, you make the whole $14 instead of the $2.50 you get from your publisher. The concept is similiar.

    btw, if you have an S Corporation, for tax purposes you probably want to pay yourself a royalty. Lowers your self employment tax. Yeah it is legal.

  93. @ Scalzi and Guess

    Yes, I know it’s not zero cost for IT and the stuff all need to be upgraded…and cloud is just another name for servers. Next time I will write a 50 page dissertation so no one is confused.

    My point is the cost of the IT stuff would be significantly cheaper than printing.

    Quote from the article about printing newspapers:

    “After multiplying the quarterly costs by four and subtracting that $200 million out, a rough estimate for the Times’s delivery costs would be $644 million per year.

    The Kindle retails for $359. In a recent open letter, Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis wrote: “We have 830,000 loyal readers who have subscribed to The New York Times for more than two years.” Multiply those numbers together and you get $297 million — a little less than half as much as $644 million.

    And here’s the thing: a source with knowledge of the real numbers tells us we’re so low in our estimate of the Times’s printing costs that we’re not even in the ballpark.”

    If this article is accurate then you would have to assume the real printing costs for the NYT are north of $800 million per year. This means you two are suggesting it would cost over $800 million for the NYT to replace their printing with IT. Really? This isn’t $50 hard drive money Guess.

    This isn’t counting that the NYTs probably already has a decent protion of the IT covered because they have such a big online presence.

    Also, one would assume, since they have already produced e-books, the publishers have already either invested in their own equipment or farmed it out. Either way it doesn’t seem to be an incredible cost overhead burden for them (to clarify I realize it does eat into their bottom line and isn’t free).

    “This is like someone saying “as someone who works selling medical supplies, but who is not a doctor,” and then offering an opinion on medical procedures. You’re free to offer the opinion, but the people who do know medicine are likely not to agree, for a number of reasons.”

    It’s not at all…not even close. Business professionals get paid really good money to give advice to businesses they have no experience working in all the time. I guess all the McKinsey, Baen, Boston Consluting, Booz Allen Hamiltion, etc. consultants that make hundreds of dollars an hour don’t exist.

  94. Chad:

    “Next time I will write a 50 page dissertation so no one is confused.”

    How about the next time you actually try to know what you’re talking about before you talk about it — like, say, for example, how book publishing and distribution is not actually anything like newspaper publishing and distribution — because those of us who do actually know what we’re talking about really would appreciate it.

    “I guess all the McKinsey, Baen, Boston Consulting, Booz Allen Hamiltion, etc. consultants that make hundreds of dollars an hour don’t exist.”

    And if any of them start telling a doctor how to operate on a patient, you can imagine how the doctor will respond to them, too.

    Beyond this, the fact that other people earn lots of money as consultants doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about in this particular case, and the implication that you as someone “with a business background” should be listened to because other people make hundreds of dollars an hour as consultants is not all that impressive to this particular corporate consultant who earned hundreds of dollars an hour consulting for US Trust, Oppenheimer Funds, Network Solutions, America Online, Zagat and others.

  95. @#87: Not to get into OS flame wars here, but the number of people using said free hobby operating system in its natural state is tiny compared to the number of people who use one of those commercial operating systems that have had billions of dollars spent on them. And the areas where said free hobby operating system has actually had success among the vast crowd of ordinary people – as opposed to tech enthusiasts – are the ones where a commercial company has taken the free core and spent, y’know, time and money making a polished product out of it that will be suitable for people outside of the tech hobbyist crowd. (Does anyone argue that TiVo didn’t add a huge amount of value on top of the Linux core, for example?)

    There’s actually a pretty good analogy to fanfic, I think. Lots of people write fanfic as a hobby, and it’ll find some readership among the fanbase of its source story – but very little of it is worth reading outside of its source fandom. To actually get something that most people enjoy reading… you do exactly what this post (and Charlie Stross’ posts) talk about – have a commercial company spend the money to produce a polished product.

  96. If you know so much give me real numbers and not just words. I’m extrapolating off the numbers I have, which are newspaper numbers (which I clearly stated in my first comment weren’t the exact same as publishing).

    My point isn’t that newspapers are the exact same as publishers, but if a newspaper company could give $400 e-reader away and still cut printing costs it’s not out of line to assume a publisher, who is not giving a $400 e-reader away, could see some nice cost savings if they didn’t have to print.

    If I had publishing numbers at hand I would have used those. I would gladly change my opinion if anyone can show me how much more the IT costs than the paper printing.

  97. Awesome choice of the NY Times there. They’re experiencing a decrease in revenue due to the web presence not making enough money to make up for the drop in paid subscribers. Plenty of papers have actually gone out of business because of this, which results in a lack of professional journalism worldwide.

    But who needs real news? We’ve got blogs. They can just re-blog and re-tweet … oh wait, once there’s no more journalism other than celebrity coverage, that’s all we’ll have for them to retweet. But whatever. It’s free, and that’s what counts, right? Sure, it’s significantly cheaper than publishing. It’s also significantly less profitable.

    I know, let’s wave our hands and make buggy whip comparisons and tell people the market will correct, and make snide comments about how the news, publishing and other industries are dinosaurs and deserve to become extinct to make room for the next wave of idiot dot com vaporware salesmen.

  98. Chad:

    “If I had publishing numbers at hand I would have used those.”

    The implication here is that incorrect and irrelevant information is sufficient to express an opinion on a subject if one cannot be bothered to seek out information that is in fact relevant to the discussion. Which is an interesting way of looking at things.

    “If you know so much give me real numbers and not just words.”

    You know, Chad, I didn’t do other people’s homework when I was in school, so I’m not entirely sure why I should do your homework for you now. Surely your business background includes the ability to do research, right? If it makes you feel more business-y, think of it as “due diligence.” Have fun!

  99. Look at the number of jobs spawned by a book about a kid called Harry Potter. The power of an idea is unbelievable.

  100. Chad, the article on the NYT is over a year old.

    Assume just for a moment that the NYT is a rational business interested in maximizing profit. There is some evidence to suggest this is true. Assume also that they have seen the article.

    If the idea made anywhere near as much sense as the people who wrote the article suggest, would you not expect to see the NYT doing something about it, particularly as the cost of ereaders has been coming down?

    Since the NYT has not made any significant moves in that direction, what might we guess about the practicality and analysis offered in the article? Could it be that the writers of the article are ignoring a great deal of complexity in their analysis? Could that also be true of many people who claim that ebooks dramatically drive down book costs?

  101. It is interesting how many books get published by pure chance. The Harry Potter series one example. My own experience doesn’t match up to that story but I was turned down by Yale Press because (true story) I did not have a PHD in History and here I was writing a history of medicine. It didn’t matter that there was no similar book published since the 1950s. Anyway, I self published and hired those copy editors and printers myself. Now, I have had the small pleasure of seeing the universities that turned the book down, adopt it as a textbook. Also, it has sold more copies than it would have if published by am university press, or so I have been told.


    Don’t post too loud, or the State will start sharpening its knives and preparing to tax you more.. Wherever there’s productivity and job creation, there’s the State looking for its kilogram of flesh..

  103. I agree with the other commenters: Stephen King (or JK Rowling or James Patterson) should self-publish. And rather than coordinate all the steps themselves, they should:

    — hire an editor to review the manuscript and manage the production of the book. After the Wall Street collapse, I’m sure there are a few out there hunting for jobs. Then the editor could use her contacts to:

    — hire a copy editor to review the manuscript

    — hire a book designer

    — contract with an enthusiastic sales person

    — hire someone able to manage the printing and distribution

    — contract with a publicist

    — contract with an art designer to hire an artist and create a cover.

    And so on until Ms. Rowling’s book hit the shelves. What a great idea!

    Of course, while Ms. Rowling was working on her next book, the editor and her team would be looking for a new job. It’s funny, but the number of authors able to pay so many professionals is pretty small, but maybe if they–oh, I don’t know–found a wonderful book by a writer who wasn’t rich…

  104. #114: Before Chad leaps back in to start rationalizing his choice of comparitives, let’s note the fact that the business models for newspapers and most newstand magazines are completely different from that of book publishing, not just “not the exact same.” They’re not even close.

    Book publishers are selling content. Newspapers/magazines are mostly in the business of selling advertising, not content. They use the content to gain the circulation and target demographics to justify their ad rates, but their primary income stream is advertising. Switching over to e-readers without some new ad-forcing model that didn’t turn off readers entirely would not be of much help to them.

    Epic fail on that particular choice of comparitives as well.

  105. Scalzi said:
    “my work . . . feeds, clothes and houses an exponential number of people”

    I think it feeds, clothes, and houses a geometric number of people.

  106. Hi John,

    Let me be honest. I haven’t bought ANY of your books. But I have read most of them. Yeah, you can guess how.

    Its not because of a principle or anything, but simply because a) I have bot actually seen anything of yours in a bookstore here, and b) because books are very expensive here.

    After reading this, I feel even worse for simply downloading what I want to read. But seriously, as the years have progressed, I’ve had my promotions and whatnot, and pretty soon I’ll be able to support all my favorites as they’d like to be. Yes, John, I’m gonna buy you’re collective works as soon as I can afford it.

    To spare you the trouble of tracing me, I’ll tell you this much. In Africa, a softcover, or paperback, costs R150 at least. Its approx US$20. Which around here is about half a month worth of groceries. Its a lot when your total salary is about US$ 1000 after tax.

    But you did find a fan, even if I ‘infringed.’ Most of my first books, I had to buy from a second-hand store. Per paperback, I had to pay about US$2. I was quite a lot when I was 10. Several months of saving! But I still have my copy of Dune I bought then.

    I found Agent to the Stars about 2 years ago. Free. And I’d compare you writing to Herbert and Adams.

    I had to have more, and so I had to download.

    Yes. I’m a freeloading fan. But you’ll get your dues. I’m trying to save up to see in I can make WorldCon this year, and maybe meet all the people from whom I’ve enjoyed so much, but haven’t given back to yet.

    I followed the ebook pricing saga of Amazon and Macmillan, and I agree that Amazon’s policy did harm authors. But I also know that books are WAY more expensive here than movies, and ebooks could be the answer to that here in the third world.

    OK, I’ve been way too honest now. But I’ve been lurking here for months/years, and now that I feel a bit guilty, maybe I need to rationalize.

    Anyway, all my greeting to Ghalaghghee.


  107. 1 John employs 10 more people.


    1 raised to the X power = 10; X must be infinite. That doesn’t work so well.


    1 times X = 10; X = 10. That works better.

    Of course, you could be employing an linear number of people:

    1 + X = 10; X = 9.

    But strictly speaking, all of these terms refer better to rates than they do to a comparison of two numbers.

  108. me – I want QUALITY in what I read- I like professional typeset/copy edited/ readable books. I know that’s part of what I am paying for and I am ok with that. In addition (since I like what I like ) I know that paying the artist is part of what I am paying for – so I am ok with that also. I am aware that 1st run hardcover books cost $20+ and sometimes I pay that – because that is what I like/how I like it. sometimes I may buy a limited edition signed by the author in limited edition slipcase super dreadnaught delexe copy because the BOOK is a work or ART.

    it pisses me off when people whine about how ‘electronic’ versions of art should cost much less because the ‘incrimental’ cost is near zero –

    to the whiners out there:
    bullshit – you are paying someone else to entertain you. They are professionals (authors) and deserve to be paid. Authors have other professionals (publishers, editors etc.) that are essencial in getting the work in your hands so that you may be entertained. They also deserve to be paid – without them the book would NOT be as good as it is and you would not get as much enjoyment out of the book. It does not matter if you are reading the 1st copy of a book or the 1,000,000th copy/ecopy – you need to PAY for your entertainment. Do you think that watching a movie should be free/nearly free just because the studio already made back it’s investment? or that it’s not in its initial release weekend?

    a paperback cost (retail) >$10 – a hardcover maybe $25 an ebook now between $5-15 – suck it up – a book provides you with HOURS of entertainment at a cost less that a typical movie ticket

    and unlike movies – if you cannot afford/don’t want to pay for a particular book – there are these things called libraries where you can borrow almost any book in existance – and the cost is included in you local town/school’s overhead .

  109. my rant abouve is aimed at persons in the USA- my amero-centrism is showing…. for those that don’t have access to public libraries – I pity you

  110. Chad:

    Of course you will, because you’re ignorant on the topic, you clearly don’t want to be bothered to do the actual work involved to gather accurate information and are miffed others won’t do it for you, and you apparently have a hard time picturing a scenario in which your “business background” fails you in the eyes of people with actual knowledge of an industry you know nothing about.

    But if it makes you feel happy to be wrong, well, you know. Wallow in it, Chad.

  111. John, it’s just dawned on me that what we have here – and elsewhere at places like Making Light and Charlie Stross’ blog – is a bunch of pretty entrepreneurial creators trying to explain to enthusiastic, often libertarian utopians that they failed to learn the lesson about indispensable people that Heinlein taught in “The Roads Must Roll”. E-book-favoring anti-publisher agitation is this cycle’s version of Functionalism.

  112. @131 Re: Chad

    Speaking as a student of mathematics, I’d rather take Ser Scalzi’s experience and direct knowledge of the publishing industry over weak numbers. Weak numbers are, from a data standpoint, worthless.

  113. Chad seems to be falling prey to the Internet view of arguments, which is that if I say a thing is so, it’s so unless you all offer empirical evidence showing I am wrong; I have no actual burden of proving that I’m right.

  114. John:

    You’re being far too modest, and have no reason to be. If that manuscript is as good as the other books I’ve brought multiple copies of from my local indie bookseller, you’ve also helped keep some very nice people off the welfare rolls and a damn fine store out of the clammy hands of receivers. (Unless Tor has outsourced its distribution to magic elves, I’m sure there plenty of folks on the distribution end of things who are making a living off your work too.)

  115. @131

    Chad: More often than not, it’s better not to poke a guy in the eye before you ask him for a favor.

    I’m not a professional writer or in the publishing industry, but I’m very interested in the topic of the economics of electronic publishing and e-books. I also have a business background (and have also worked both in a print shop and in server rooms). In the past, I have been guilty of the same kind of trap-flapping you’re doing here as well. What I’ve found is that when you actually ask the men and women who feed and clothe and house their families by writing, they all come back with a very similar story to the one Mr. Scalzi is telling you.

    Seriously, Chad, look around the Internet. John is more embracing of the new technologies than just about any other “mainstream” author you can find. He’s doing e-books. He’s done self-publishing. He knows marketing, because he gets hired to write marketing materials. He runs this very popular blog and uses it to promote his stuff. He’s already doing all the things that everyone says you can do to bypass the status quo of the publishing industry, and he’s here telling you what all that translates to in reality. Why would you assume he doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

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