Quick Takes on Two Things of Passing Literary Interest

As they have been of interest to folks:

The YAGay Thing: Which is, briefly, two authors shopping a YA novel were offered a deal by and agent if they swapped the sexuality of a character from gay to straight; they refused and wrote about it here. My particular take on it is that the authors did the right thing by saying “thanks, no,” and that in general there should be gay characters in YA because a) surprise, there are gay folks everywhere and b) in my opinion as a father, there’s not a damn thing wrong with my child encountering gay folks in her literature, because see point a).

As a writer I include gay/bi characters in my books and stories because, again, see a), and at no point have I gotten any push back about it either from my agent or from my editors, or from any of my publishers. I got the tiniest bit of push back from some readers about “An Election,” whose main character was gay and same-sex married, but my opinion about that was, they’ll just have to live with it.

But then again, I haven’t written any YA, other than Zoe’s Tale (which, from a publishing and marketing point of view is something of a special case). I’m pretty sure if I was writing YA, that I wouldn’t have a problem with adding a gay character into the mix if I thought the story needed it; I’m also pretty sure that if I got push back at any point about it, I’d tell them they’d just have to live with it, too. But I also recognize I have some weight to throw around at this point.

The Amazon Rental Thing: Amazon is apparently floating the idea of a Netflix-like book rental scheme for its Amazon Prime customers, in which (the article suggests, as a rumor) those Prime customers might be able to rent a certain number of older book titles per month.

I know nothing about this other than this very sketchy report, but as an author I’m not especially in love with the idea in principle. One, as a practical matter, readers interested in renting books (including, increasingly, e-books) can do it through their local libraries, and I would much rather have such a “rental” scheme go through that channel than through Amazon. Two, as an author, I’m not sure how cutting the legs off my backlist titles at the behest of a retailer (of all people) benefits me in the long run; Amazon would have to make a very solid argument that authors would not be financially hurt by the scheme, and I doubt they could make it.

Three, even if Amazon convinced publishers to do this, which seems doubtful, I am skeptical that publishers typically own the rights for such a rental endeavor in any event, which puts the ball back into the author’s court. In which case see point two. I suspect even the authors high on the idea of cheap e-books would take pause at the idea of free rentals, without a very clear and immediately profitable mechanism for getting authors paid.

My suspicion is that this was tossed out there by Amazon as a trial balloon, to see what the immediate reaction would be. My reaction: Yeah, thanks, but no. I see how it’s good for Amazon, and for its Prime customers (of which, I note, I am one). I don’t at all see how it’s good for me, my publishers, or the publishing industry.

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

139 replies on “Quick Takes on Two Things of Passing Literary Interest”

I don’t know the details of the plan. Does Amazon plan to compensate the authors or publishers? If so, it seems like it may be a good deal.

With a paperback book I can often find a used copy on Amazon for $5 (including shipping), in which case the author gets nothing. This is a better deal for me the customer because I can turn around and resell the used book for $1 or give it to Goodwill and feel good about myself.

With a $7 Kindle e-book I can read the book but I cannot resell it. So I have paid $2 more. In fact, $3 more.

If there is profit sharing from Amazon to the publishers/authors then it seems that encouraging those people who would otherwise buy a used paperback or go to a library gets you something from nothing, instead of just nothing.

O’Reilly books, a publisher of technical manuals, has a Safari program which sounds very similar to this Amazon plan, where the user gets to keep 5-10 books on his “book shelf”, and can swap them out for other books as needed. Maybe that program would make a good model for Amazon’s.

I am saddened, but not surprised by the Agents reactions. I know you are a fan of Agents, but I think their job is not a morallistic one so much as a business one. They see having a gay character as a severe liability because, unfortunately, it probably is. I’m not saying that the Agents were correct, I just think they are not the problem so much as a symptom of the larger problem.

I applaud the Author’s because I think they do have a moralistic responsibility to their story and their characters, and I very much hope their work gets published. It would be even nicer if the Streisand Effect kicks in and the negative reaction of their characters spurns greater awareness and sales than would have otherwise been the case if the characters were straight.

My reaction as a reader is “Dear God, NO!!!!” We have libraries for books of passing interest, but just enforcing “rentals” makes DRM mandatory and would entrench that (crap) in our eBooks forever. It’s bad enough right now that I have to jailbreak what I buy in order to own it properly.

NO NO, NO * 10**3

Can’t comment on the Kindle Rent-For-A-Fee thing right now.

Too busy downloading another ebook I’m borrowing from the library, for free, to my NookColor.

(Need it now ’cause I’m sure I’m going to finish the hardcopy of Kevin Hearne’s “Hammered” I checked out from the library about halfway through my evening commute home.)

About gay characters… I recently read The Android’s Dream.
I suppose some might consider the following to be SPOILERY…
Was it just me, or did you completely avoid using any pronouns or articles when referring to Sam that would definitely identify his/her gender? If so, I thought it was an interesting choice. As I read it, Sam was a man, and I think that having gay characters is an important part of promoting societal acceptance, but I think it could be read either way unless I missed something.

Libraries are arguably not good for authors or publishers or the publishing industry either. Unless you want to restrict libraries to free-ebooks only while allowing them for-pay paper books, something like this will have to end up being adopted.

Thanks, John. I (obviously) hadn’t seen that. About halfway through reading it, I started thinking about the things that aren’t specified about characters and thinking about how we assume things like Harry’s color, as you pointed out at the end, and how often those things don’t matter. When I was reading the book, I tried thinking of Sam as both male and female, but I hadn’t gotten as far as intersex.
…but now I need to know what Jane Sagan thinks about Ancient Sparta.

Netflix didn’t have any noticeable affect on DVD sales that I’ve ever been aware of, neither did services such as Rhapsody or Spotify. I can rent these same CDs and DVDs at my local library too. What Netlix does provide is a way for me to legally and easily view lots of content – its easier, in fact, than pirating. Which is _huge_.

Yes, there needs to be more details. But ultimately, my local library doesn’t carry all the books I potentially want to check out, nor have the funds to purchase lots of licenses for popular books which ends up in a large waiting list. Personal experience here: if I’m looking to “rent” it, lack of copies at the local library don’t send me to a store… it has me forget the book existed.

The publishing industry needs to enter the digital age: right now its repeating the exact same early failures of the music/movie industry.

PJ@8 I dislike having to disillusion you, but libraries are, overall much good for authors and publishers, and are of immense benefit to society as a whole.

1. You don’t need to have a copy of references on *everything* on your shelves for occasional use. Like everything else, online references have both advantages and drawbacks, not least of which is web pages can (and do) disappear from time to time. Paper endures.

2. Eric Flint pointed out years ago that the true enemy of authors and other creative people is obscurity. Piracy isn’t even a blip on the radar by comparison. I can state as fact that I discovered Heinlein and Anderson via library books as a child, and being able to “test drive” Flint, Bujold, Oltion and Ringo via library as an adult brought them firmly to my attention.

Disclaimer: I’m all-ebook all-the-time, and have been for years, but I put my money where my mouth is by buying every new book in treeware that Baen brings out and donating them to the circulating collection of the Berkeley Public Library in order to attract new addic… er… fans. :)

I’ve done likewise for Cory Doctorow, who releases his books in electronic form for free.

It seems to work.


“Netflix didn’t have any noticeable affect on DVD sales that I’ve ever been aware of.”

Hollywood in turmoil as DVD sales drop and downloads steal the show

DVD sales have indeed been in decline for years, as have, of course CD and other physical media sales. Electronic sales in those media have increased but have not closed the gap.

You not paying attention is not the same as a thing not happening.

With books, digital sales are healthy now and the question for publishers is why they would want to possibly jeopardize electronic sales momentum with a rental scheme.

PJ @ 8:

Libraries are *excellent* for authors, et al. They’re institutions dedicated to providing free samples of an addictive substance, often to children.

Seriously, the short-term loss of income to authors et al due to the existence of libraries is undoubtedly far outweighed by the long-term gain in income. Anecdotal evidence for what it’s worth: if it hadn’t been for the library in my school and the public library in my town, it is unlikely in the extreme that I would have grown up to spend approximately umpity thousands of dollars on books once I got to the point where I could afford them. And the books I borrowed weren’t lost sales, because I wouldn’t have been able to buy them anyway. To the small extent that I still use libraries, it’s still for books that I wouldn’t buy anyway.

Libraries play a big role in supporting a culture of reading, which publishers — obviously — benefit from.

Maybe I’m being too chatty today, but I had another thought about assuming things about characters that ultimately don’t matter.
You can make an assumption about a character’s gender or color, and when you examine the assumption, it really doesn’t make a difference if you look at it another way, but I have an image in my head of one of the characters in The Android’s Dream that absolutely can’t be any other way: Takk looks like Gossamer.

I was actually thinking recently, after playing around with Spotify, why there wasn’t such a thing for books. I have no idea if I’m a typical book buyer or not – I read somewhere between 1 and 2 books a week, but get the vast majority of those from the library. However, I’d pay significantly more to have pretty much any book, on demand, electronically, than I currently spend buying new books.

But on the other hand, it’s middle-class people like me, with time and leisure to spend, that volunteer at libraries, donate money, and generally keep them funded and vibrant. And one of the reasons I’m such a heavy reader is that back when my allowance was $1 a week, free libraries were pretty much the only entertainment outside the house I could afford (my parents believed in teaching the value of money by keeping it scarce for their children). It also helped that the library was also the only destination within walking distance of my house.

So while I’d love me a Spotify for Books, and think that there is probably an economic model there that could involve reasonable compensation for authors, I’d hate to see it come at the expense of closing off another part of the public sphere to the poor, or the young and temporarily poor.

From the YAgay thing pointed to, I found this interesting:

… simply saying “we appreciate diversity” could mean anything. (In fact, the agent who asked us to make our gay character straight had made such mentions.)

Makes me wonder what the agent means by “diversity”.

(Echos of Blues Brothers: “We got both kinds of music here. We got country *and* western!”)

Good for those two authors. The first thing I thought of when I read about this was Heinlein. When he was shopping Rocketship Galileo (I think it was), he told his agent that the Jewish character stayed. Period. Changing that was a dealbreaker. Today, it’s hard for us to even imagine that a publisher might have a problem with a Jewish kid being a character in a YA novel. Fifty years from now, people will look at this with the same puzzlement.

I wonder if Amazon’s book rental plan is intended as a reply to the complaint that the Kindle can’t be used to borrow ebooks from libraries (because libraries all seem to use the epub format rather than Amazon’s proprietary format). If so, then I’m afraid that they are basically trying to push libraries aside.

Personally, I’d prefer it if Amazon just sucked it up and upgraded the Kindle software so that they could read epub files. But evidently Amazon doesn’t see it that way.

“I would much rather have such a “rental” scheme go through that channel than through Amazon”

From my perspective, to do business with Amazon I need a credit card, but to do business with my local library I need a note from my mother despite the fact that she’s been dead for over 30 years. I would rather have a scheme with the entity that I can actually do business with.

“the idea of free rentals”

I note that you start talking about rentals, but then you switch in the third paragraph to talking about free rentals. These are not entirely equivalent.

That said, as a reader I this doesn’t appeal a lot to me personally since a) I don’t read that fast any more that I am going through large quantities that I only read once like I used to, and b) I don’t find outright purchase costs to be a strong factor in what I do read. I note that for things where I do engage in a rental model, or at least a non-purchase model, for music b still applies but I also buy a bunch of music as well, while for movies b isn’t as strong. It might be more interesting if I was more motivated to look up references in non-fiction works.

Still not seeing it Scalzi. Too many variables in that equation. DVDs bounced back post poor release schedules and DVDs have been on a downturn since before Netflix, due to piracy among other things. There are two options:
1. Easy paid access – via something like Amazon is suggesting
2. Easy free access – via piracy as witnessed duing the music industry woes

The latter path nets you no money. The first at least nets you _something_.

The key note of that article is “consumers are changing how they want to consume”. The publishing industry wants to dictate the old archaic way, which will only lead to #2. I want to own, own, only a handful of books, dvds, and music within any given year. I want to be able to legally and efficiently rent the rest. I have Netflix for movies, and Spotify for music: I need my legal option for books.

There’s evidence the existence of Spotify reduced overall piracy in the EU because it’s finally convenient for people to get it legally. The claim, of course, is on as much shaky ground as yours for claiming Netflix reduced DVD sales, due to the vast number of variables.

@Geoffrey Kidd:

DRM for rentals and DRM on purchased goods are two very, very different beasts. I rent, knowing it will go away. DRM is the instrument of that going away. I don’t want such an instrument on my purchased good.

I just read your older post about Sam. When I read it I I pictured Sam as being male and never even noticed that the text did not support it one way or the other. I was also surprised that you have gay characters in all your books. I had to think to remember back to them and then I remembered. I have told you before that i enjoy how you create your characters and I think this is a testament to that. Your characters have so much depth that being gay is just one of a myriad of aspects about them. Well done :-)


“Still not seeing it Scalzi.”

As you apparently have already established a personal view of how these things should be, and don’t see why actual data would get in the way of that, this doesn’t surprise me. I will note that your assertion that DVD sales were declining before Netflix is erroneous, however, as Netflix existed prior to 2007. Please make more careful arguments. In any event, we’re back to “just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

“I need my legal option for books.”

Well, no, you want a legal option for books, which is an entirely differently thing. And there is one: Go to the library. If the book’s not there, that’s what interlibrary loan is for. Ask a librarian, they’re there to assist you. The argument isn’t whether a rental scheme for books should exist; it already does. The argument is whether Amazon should be doing it, and absent additional information, my opinion on that is: I’d rather people went to the library, and since it’s my intellectual property, it’s my choice to make.

Otherwise, they can buy the book, and all the data I have personally and seen as someone inside the industry suggests there’s an audience there, and that the system that exists addresses it. As I’ve noted before, the film and music industry experiences with the digital realm are not 1:1 correspondent to the publishing industry experience.

I reserve the right to make up my mind if Amazon’s scheme pours money on me, but inasmuch as Netflix currently is in a fight with movie companies and cable stations about what’s just and equitable compensation, I suspect that Amazon’s definition of equitable compensation and mine will be at variance.

@Bearpaw: i said ‘arguably’ because personally I agree with you, but the point is that those same arguments can be made for the library-ization of ebooks.

I work for a large metropolitan public library. We offer ebooks and digital audiobooks for circulation. They are relatively new services, and they still have kinks that need to be worked out. But they are also growing services due to how much our customers continue to embrace them. These digital services are very much part of our future plans, as we expand the collection and the technology improves it should eventually be very accessible to just about everyone. And you don’t have to pay whatever Amazon is going to charge for Amazon Prime membership.

That said, I can see some value in the Amazon plan, as long as it provides compensation to the authors of the books. Not every library system in the country is as fortunate as mine right now. The economic realities probably won’t let most small libraries embrace digital downloading for years if ever.

I do also think Amazon needs to accept that some Kindle owners would like to use what their local libraries may offer for free. But if this plan becomes reality, I can’t see them ever unlocking the Kindle to other formats. Heck they didn’t even want to allow sharing between Kindles, of the titles that Barnes and Noble allowed sharing of from day one of the Nook.

One last thing,

#19 unless your local library operates with some seriously archaic practices, all you need is a photo ID showing you live in the community it represents.

Netflix existed on a much smaller scale in 2007 (that was the year they hit their billionth delivered DVD), and I’ve looked briefly for streaming in 2007 and came up with nothing so far (on a tablet at work). I’m not sure where the 2007 argument come into anything either.


Yes, Netflix and Cable companies and Media companies are jockeying for how much they should each pay and get. Thats a moot argument. That jockeying _always_ takes place. Its called negotiation. Mad Men just scored about 1mill. per episode. For a short time frame on Netflix for crying out loud.

I am reminded constantly by these fears of how the VHS tape was going to destroy Theaters and how Rental Stores were going to destroy tape purchases.

If you can tell me how a library requests an digital libarary loan from another library I’d be all for it. The problem being, such a service doesn’t exist.

While I agree with you on the point that there are too few details for anyone to agree, a digital rental service is the future. Its just a matter of negotiation.

I’m having a hard time getting into a decent righteous indignation over the YA gay characters solely on the article to which you linked.

The plural of “anecdote” is “anecdotes”, not “data”. If they had numbers showing that YA novels with gay characters are rejected at a higher rate than regular YA novels, then they would have something. If they told us what percentage of agents requested that their gay character was removed or rewritten, then we would have a frame of reference. If you are going to claim there is a systemic problem, give us more than one example.

Also, the article is about the agent, and not publishers and editors. If they were to claim that Scholastic is refusing novels with gay characters, then I would be more concerned.

Couldn’t the authors just self-publish? (That is a non-rhetorical question) They’ve certainly have gotten enough publicity for the book to sell a healthy number of books. They could just turn around and say “See, there’s a market for this after all.”

There just seems to be more to this story than this one article is telling.

#26 I can give you a reason. You already pay for the materials your local library offers. Materials budgets come almost entirely from tax money. Library services are dictated by customer demand, because we give our communities what they want to pay for, and as I said before you don’t have to pay any premium fee on top of what the libray has already paid to offer the material.
The only exception to this, at my library is our DVD collection. We charge a dollar a day for new release feature films to offset the cost of how many copies we buy. Eventually these become no checkout fee, like all nonfiction, childrens and TV show DVDs.

This is the first I’ve heard of the YA incident and I’m sick to hear it. YA fiction with gay characters and stories have been doing very well the last few years, with a number of bestsellers, most notably Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green, and in fantasy, the House of Night vampire series by P.C. and Kristen Cast. So the agent is actually saying don’t capitalize on a trend in the market, which is not a particularly bright agent, to say the least. I have over the last three years or so been hearing issue after issue about institutionalized racism in YA — for marketing rationales that presume that teens and their parents are wildly bigoted — from white-washed covers on down to shutting non-white authors out, which has been heartbreaking as children’s/YA used to be such great pioneers in supporting diversity with full support and efforts from teachers and school libraries. Part of it may be the increased interest of Hollywood in YA for film and t.v. Television for young people has had an increase in diversity, even changing white characters from books adapted to other ethnicities, but film sadly hasn’t had a lot. However, most of it seems to be the booksellers, who mainly rely on anecdotal folk wisdom. Nearly half the younger generations in the big U.S. market are non-white and that number will be increasing over the next few decades to two thirds, and the international audience is growing as well. Doing this sort of thing is cutting off the audience for YA fiction, not growing it.

But it had seemed that the situation for gay characters and fiction in YA was improving. The reaction, though, to a novel in which only one main character was gay and not all of them white seems to indicate that some publishing folk are ignoring logical readings of the market in favor of their own prejudices about what’s a “safe” bet, undermining what has been the most successful segment of fiction publishing in the last decade. Keep it up and publishing and bookselling are going to kill off their few golden gooses — YA, fantasy, etc.

On the rental e-book thing, it’s not the renting that’s the issue; it’s how the rental agreement would be handled. How will Amazon pay authors and publishers for monthly rental fee renting, as opposed to individual title renting? Or for that matter, how will they pay for individual title renting? Book prices and splits on e-book sales are still in flux and being worked out, so adding rentals to the pile is naturally going to be of concern, especially as Amazon isn’t known for making thoughtful, we’re all in this together plans but instead charges ahead, grabbing all the money to establish a beachhead and then lets the negotiations ensue. Nor does its bookkeeping and tracking particularly inspire confidence right now — it’s looking like both vendors like Amazon and publishers are doing a lousy job of keeping track of e-book sales regarding author royalties.

And right now, video rental streaming is in flux. Netflix had to raise its prices and curtail its services. The telecommunication companies that serve the Web are baying for their blood and money as they are using up huge amounts of bandwidth the companies want to charge for, and there are signs that Netflix may be just a passing way station as the satellite and cable companies get their own streaming going more efficiently between their web serving and television arms. So Netflix isn’t a great model for how to do rental e-books any more than iTunes was a great model for how to sell e-books. It’s different products and different companies providing content and equipment, different factors.

When satellite radio came out, everyone predicted that it would wipe out broadcasting radio in a short span of years. Not only didn’t that happen, but satellite radio companies ended up in dire straits. Both broadcast and satellite are finding ways to make it work, but not in the ways that people thought were going to happen. So it’s not a simple, easy to predict situation, and the trend toward not paying the content creator is a very big issue for authors, especially when it’s big companies that control whole swaths of the market who don’t want to pay. That people would like stuff for free is a given that everyone is well aware of.

Chris Sears, self-publishing isn’t a practical way to get a book into the hands of a lot of readers, for reasons extensively discussed elsewhere. Among them is the fact that no brick-and-mortar bookstore stocks self-published books.

When I first heard about the Amazon rental proposal, my immediate response was: “Please! Rent textbooks!” I suspect that that isn’t what Amazon has in mind, and that what they do have in mind wouldn’t help the problem, but given the current prices of college texts, more of them should be available for rental. I’m teaching one course right now for which the book bill is in the $250-$300 range. One book for the course is approximately $160, discounted and used, and that’s pretty standard for the texts available for this particular course. The rental e-version (the publisher offers one, which is one of the reasons I picked this text) is $140 for three months. Say what?

And my course isn’t the most expensive out there, by any means. Libraries, especially public libraries, can’t and shouldn’t be expected to help students struggling with textbook bills–and I don’t think that telling publishers they ought to lower their prices will help much, either; the publishers know what the potential market is for each book, and I’m willing to believe that they are reasonably honest about pricing (most of them). I also do the best I can personally to order books that keep the bill for each course down. But. Still. If any online entity came up with a viable way to allow for relatively inexpensive rentals of textbooks, I think I’d be tempted to propose sainthood for everyone who worked there . . .

Matthew at 19: “From my perspective, to do business with Amazon I need a credit card, but to do business with my local library I need a note from my mother despite the fact that she’s been dead for over 30 years.”

If this is a joke, I admit I don’t get it. If you’re serious, either you’re mistaken or the person you talked to is.

Chris at 29:

All things considered in this culture, you’d have to prove to me that there *isn’t* a systemic issue in publishing regarding non-straight characters. Why would the publishing industry be an exception?

Before I forget (again): Congratulations to the two authors in the linked post! I already read the work of one of them (Sherwood Smith) and I’m going to be actively looking for this novel in the future.

Our library uses the Overdrive software, which supports almost every e-reader with the exception of Kindle (that proprietary software thing). Overdrive is presently in negotiations with Amazon to allow Kindles to access Overdrive for library download purposes. This will benefit our public, many of whom own Kindles and are disappointed when they discover it doesn’t play well with our e-book software.

The main killer about textbooks is that, unless they are for a subject which is in constant flux, like programming or physics, often there is minimal new information added with each new edition. The cost for value equation is skewed, especially since most students buy a textbook for 1 quarter or semester, then sell it back for half price at most. Ohm’s Law hasn’t changed since it was first codified, but we’re still paying for it like new. Most students would adore the chance to rent a textbook for a semester for a suitably low e-price.

An eBook rental program could make sense if restricted to older titles (or whatever the publisher/author want) with a price attractive enough to drive up sales. I’d love to re-read some of the early Discworld books, or Guy Gavriel Kay, or Dave Duncan, but I just don’t want to purchase books I’ve already read but no longer own. But a rental price of $4 or $5 would be pretty tempting. If Amazon also limited the books available and/or promoted them, that might also drive up sales for authors of older or out-of-print books.

I have actually rented movies on Amazon that I like enough to then buy. But if the movie is available on Netflix streaming, I don’t buy it. Why would I? I can watch it repeatedly at anytime for no additional cost.

A one time payment fee, seems hard to payout fairly to authors. How do you give an equitable amount of money to Steven King vs Kevin Hearne. Clearly King’s books will be pulled far more often and represent a bigger chunk of business. At least, so we suppose. But Hearne could end up having a run away best seller than outstrips King in a particular year. How does that show up unless each book is rented (paid for) separately, given the fixed pool of money that a one time payment generates? I don’t see a book rental program being fair under a “one fee for all privileges” plan like Prime or Netflix.

Whether renting is a profitable enterprise for author/publishers under a pay per rental program, I don’t know. But I would assume its not as profitable as only offering buying options. I would probably rent a book for a new author rather than buy it. I would buy a book from author I already liked. But that really hits new author hard. Assume most people don’t re-read books and will never buy when a rental options is available, then renting will probably will disaffect established authors as well. It seems unlikely that a rental scheme will generate a significant amount of new customers. People are readers or they are not.

If you cannot afford to buy – you go to the library. I doubt that many library patrons will choose to pay rental for what they can get for free. So most rental would be in lieu of buying. Essentially I think we are looking at a loss for Scalzi and friends if any kind of large rental program is instituted.

I’d already read the article about Sam when I read The Android’s Dream, so I was reading it with that question in mind.

Sam is male, based on the scene where they go through the men’s bathroom to get to the underground lair. In my experience, a female who enters a men’s bathroom will either go “Ew!” or go “Hey, a men’s bathroom that isn’t disgusting!” One way or the other, there *will* be a reaction.

(Okay, I’m probably about to get disagreement from other females. But seriously, this REALLY struck me.)

I have very fond memories of my public library, I read pretty much the entire science fiction section of the three nearest bracnhes by the time I was 18.

That being said,. supported antiquated business models should not be the number one priority for our society, delivering the greatest benefit to the most people should be

A large house full of dead trees taking up valuable downtown real estate does not really make a lot of sense anymore

Letting people check out eReaders, that I could see.

As far publishing goes, as It is difficult to find a business model and supply chain more antiquated then publishing.

I still remain surprised that the publishing industry has adopted the telephone and that they use those new fangled electric illuminants.

That being said, authors should get paid.

The best way to get paid, rather then get stolen from, is to get with the times rather then fighting against them…

I noticed that Sam wasn’t identified as to gender, and I was delighted (especially since you did it so well that I felt like I had figured out something cool and secret).

I mostly thought of Sam as male, just because I wanted to. But sometimes s/he morphed into a drummer I used to know by that name (female).

#40 Unholy guy where do I begin?

I find this type of argument very annoying. Declaring things antiquated and asserting that everyone shares your prefrences is shortsighted at best.
The publishing industry is evolving. Hey look ebooks. Yeah they aren’t perfect yet. But, here’s the thing. People still buy physical books. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be published anymore.

Let’s talk libraries shall we. You assert that a library is an antiquated business model that doesn’t provide benefits to the greatest number of people.
I will use my library’s services as an example.
Books – Pretty much anything that is of even slight interest to a great number of people is available at my library. Fiction, non fiction, children’s, YA, juvenile. Physical, audio, digital (limited)
Music – We also offer a huge collection of popular music for people to check out
Movies – All feature films, lots of children’s and non fiction, and a large and rapidly growing selection of TV series
Public computers – Large banks of computers are available everyday for anyone to come in and use as long as they need to, depending on demand, and then you just have to take turns if the demand is overwhelming. Not just two or three of them either. More like 20-50 depending on the branch.

Now please tell me how none of these things, which are available to any resident of my county and even my state, are not of value to a great many people. Because the people of my county and state certainly think they are.

Unholyguy @40: Just like we don’t have any brick and mortar stores anymore, because that’s an antiquated business model, and even grocery stores have switched to an entirely e-based delivery mode. Oh, wait.

As for the Amazon thing, I like the idea. Particularly for older books. PLaces like Half Price Books are great for older books and you can buy things for half price or less and yes I understand the author gets nothing from that either. But as I consumer, I dont care. I am buying a old and used product.
Now, as far as ebooks go, it is a real bummer to have to spend $7.99 to buy an ebook that is 15-20 years old and not even in print anymore. There needs to be a viable solution there for this type of sutation. Right now the only solution that some might take is simple piracy.

TheMadLibrarian@36: My students wish they’d get half the cover price back for used textbooks! If they go to the college bookstore, they get 10-20% of cover, and that’s assuming that the book is in good condition AND has already been ordered for an upcoming course. Some of them are experimenting with selling books on eBay or to Halfprice Books; that may help the used book market in the future. But not yet.

My current new textbook is the first new version of this book issued in 16 years and it has been substantially rewritten for this third edition. However, the price went up from $120 (for a printing of a 14-year-old book that had original been priced at about $80 for the second edition) to $180. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to have to tell my students how much they are going to have to pay, but there isn’t an alternative book out there. I really do think that a rental plan would make a lot of sense. If something like that comes out of Amazon’s shenanigans, I’ll be thrilled–but I kind of doubt that it will.

Firstly libraries are not about what you like or don’t like

They are about what is the most effective way to spend taxpayer dollars.

Also I’m not saying that libraries should not exist, just that the storage of physical books is antiquated. Libraries serve other purposes besides storage of physical books.. We could get the same benefit with a much smaller footprint if you switch everything to digital though. Some of the stuff they do could be converted to web only for sure (like borrowing books and music)

As far as the publishing industry “evolving” I think that is an accurate description because that is about as fast as they are moving. The only reason the whole tottering edifice survives is that they are protected behind mountains of legislation.

We could get the same benefit with a much smaller footprint if you switch everything to digital though.

Until universal broadband access is in place, possibly until it’s guaranteed by the Constitution (as it is on Beta Colony), this simply will not do. To suggest that it will shows a profound lack of understanding of what public libraries are for.

Kevin @26 – I know you’re asking Mr. Scalzi, but my take on why I vastly prefer the concept of a library over the concept of an online retailer for loans and whatnot, despite adoring my e-reader beyond what I thought was possible, is that a library contains librarians. Librarians are awesome and massively underappreciated as a species. Not only do they know how to find out pretty much anything (I’ve been grateful to reference librarians since I was old enough to have to write any kind of research paper, which was at the age of about seven), but they also run various programs and recommend things. I discovered Arthur C. Clarke thanks to a librarian. I’d probably have run across him sooner or later regardless, but I wouldn’t have had the joy of reading Dolphin Island at the age of eight.

It’s also easier to browse in a library. Online retailers are great, but you have to go in with an idea of what you’re looking for.

*gets off of her soapbox*

Regarding the actual business practice, if it gives some sort of money to the people involved in making the book, that’s good. I do share the DRM concerns that someone else brought up, though. If I buy a book, I want to own it until I don’t want to own it anymore, not “until I’ve dropped my laptop”. I tend to buy my books through kobo at the moment; I’m not sure if they have a limit on how many times I can download a book from them, or how many machines I can download it onto, but if they do, that concerns me.

Unholyguy, you need a computer or some other form of reader. With physical books you need nothing except a source of light (and daylight will do).

Are you really unaware that there are still people in this country who don’t have these kinds of electronic devices? Are you really unaware that there are people in this country too poor to have refrigerators, let alone computers? A public library that’s of no use to the extremely poor is insufficient in anything resembling a just society.

Also, kids get computer-grounded all the time. Without physical books they’re kept from reading too, which few parents would want.

No, it’s just a bad idea. Find a way to save money that doesn’t completely subvert the purpose of the institution.

The storage of physical books is antiquated.
What exactly are you basing this on? The current movement toward more and more people reading ebooks? The ebook industry is still very much in it’s infancy, as far as widespread adoption is concerned. Yes they’ve been around a long time, but it’s been less than five years since they’ve started going mainstream.

The most effective use of taxpayer dollars is to give them what they want from their library. Yes, we do a hell of a lot more things than I mentioned before, but I didn’t then nor do I now feel like writing a novella length piece on the value of a library. We give our customers what they want. Door count, Circulation Statistics, surveys, and other methods used to track the use of our available resources determine where we direct our budget.
Things like this do not change overnight. Every year we reevaluate the direction we should be going. I think I can understand what you are trying to say, and the things you are mentioning are coming eventually. But there is 10 – 30 years from now, and there is now.

I’m basing it on the fact that I have more ebooks at home on my computer then the San Francisco public library has physical books in it’s main downtown branch

The ROI arguments are not clear cut so much as absolutely staggering, assuming that the goal of a library is to let people read stuff for free

Nothing stopping us from putting the entire library of congress in the hands of every man women and child in the country, other then legalities.

Consider to buy everyone a kindle in the US is $30 billion (assuming $99/kindle)

We spent $12 billion /year in libraries

Consider that kindles have 3 year depreciation means amortized cost of a Kindle is $10Billion / year

Now if you had eReaders at your library it’s doubtful you would actually need 300 million of them, since most people do not have books checked out constantly (most never even use a library)

Only thing standing in the way is price of eReaders which is dropping dramatically year over year

Again, not saying you don’t need a physical nexus, you do.

Technology is kind cool cool like that

If you cannot afford to buy – you go to the library.

Over many years of book buying, I have learned that I can’t own it all. Libraries, particularly interlibrary loan functions, have let me read many more books than I have shelf space for.

@45 — I would be happy to pay $7.99 for a 15-20 year old book that’s not in print any more. I would be thrilled to pay $7.99 for a 15-20 year old book that’s not in print any more, always assuming that it’s the book that I want to read at the moment. The biggest problem with epublishing right now (well, for me as a reader/buyer) is that most older books are not available electronically and probably never will be available electronically, whether because of the cost of conversion or because of rights issues.

Piracy is never a viable solution.

I also don’t think a rental program is a viable solution, at least unless it’s folded in to something like an Amazon Prime membership — given the relatively low cost of books and the limited number of books an average person will read in a month, it’s hard to imagine a standalone price point either per title or per month that would allow one to consume substantially more books for substantially less than it would cost to just buy them outright.

Google has a project to scan all the legacy books, they could probably get caught up in a few years but they are being somewhat hobbled by legalities

They think there are 129,864,880 books, they plan to have them all done by the end of 2020

There are no technical limitations to any of this, it’s all legalities

We live in the world we choose for ourselves

“Legalities” being a rather handwavy shorthand for “the rights of creators to have some say over whether their work is whored out for the sole benefit of for-profit corporations”.

If your only nod to the existence of the people who actually, like, write the stuff is that they are antiquated fools creating speedbumps on the Road to Profit – whoops, Progress – then you should spend less time huffing the air at Silicon Valley conference rooms and more time educating yourself as to why authors might have an issue with this. (Protip: the answer is not “blah blah buggywhip blah e-future blah blah WOO SHINY”.)

but to avoid going down a rathole on the stupidity of the current mess that is IP law, it seems like regardless of how that is solved there should be a tiered level of access, a differentiation between lifetime rights (owning) and time bounded rights (renting/borrowing). The platform should not figure in (physical or ebook) since the value derived is the same. That second tier is going to run smack into the way libraries think of the world for sure.

To get back to the YA/gay thing: I would certainly hope that *gasp* having a gay character (or characters) in a YA novel wouldn’t be seen as a “dealbraker” by most agents/publishers. Teenagers need to feel secure in their gender identity/ies. It’s bad enough when a child’s own parents threaten disownment or worse. But at least most children (those who’ve discovered the joys of reading, anyway) have the option of escaping into a fictional world where they have at least one protagonist they can identify with. When a tween/teen is just starting to realize that their feelings towards members of their own gender are considered “wrong” or “immoral” by society at large, where are they supposed to go to escape? What good does it do a teenage girl when the only YA romance novels she can find are about boy/girl romance? What good does it do a teenage boy when all his friends guffaw about beating up some homo outside the local gay bar, and he doesn’t have the courage to stand up for himself because he can’t even find a fictional role model to point to and say “I want to be like him. I *am* like him!”

While there are some current YA books where the protagonists are gay, I want to see more. I would like to see more quality books written and published with that as at least a significant contribution to the story. It doesn’t have to be the main point, but a well handled subplot would be most welcome.

One thing I’ve noticed about YA books and homosexuality is that gay characters are allowed if the book is about the (w)angst of being gay. Gay books about gayness are fine because they are “message” books, all shiny and socially conscious. However If you want a character in a YA (and far too many adult novels too) to be gay, but that’s just what the character is as part of their character (IYSWIM?) and it be incidental to the story, then it doesn’t happen. Because gay people have to be all about their gayness, and misery, and confusion, get the idea. They can’t slay vampires, inspect the spooky house, or ride rocket sleds. That isn’t allowed, those sort of wholesome adventures are for heterosexual (and usually white) kids.

unholyguy @63-64: What rathole? We’re talking about copyright (rather than trademark or patent law, which are also part of “IP law”): creators own the rights to their work, with a few exceptions carved out for things like work-for-hire, fair use and parody. Creators can sell all or some of the rights to that work. If a work has not gone back into the public domain, somebody wanting to sell the work needs permission from the creator, or whoever now owns the rights to the creation. Seriously, how hard to work out is that?

The “publishing industry” you claim to hate includes Amazon and Google. Their goal is to maximize value to their shareholders. That’s why they exist. Not to spread knowledge throughout the world, not to make sure that the poor have free access to knowledge, not to put every work into the public domain out of the goodness of their hearts.

WRT Zoe’s Tale/The Last Colony it actually makes sense to lack much in the way of gay people — equal rights are all well and great, but if you’re selecting the core population for a new colony then you’re going to prefer people that are likely to actually procreate.


Actually there’s a fairly prominent lesbian character in The Last Colony. Nor in my universe are the first wave of colonists generally intended to be the “seed stock” for the colony; their job is to build the infrastructure for the next, larger wave of immigrants which arrives a few years down the road (and in TLC/ZT there are further political goals even to that). So, no, that’s not how my particular universe works.

Yes, Rens, mythago is right. If the primary purpose of the colony is to procreate, what the hell do you need men for? In fact, robots and birthlabs are enough. (We’re not talking about the OMW universe here, per John 72).

You’ve fallen into the common but IMO grotesque idea that everyone must procreate. It’s bizarre, because it’s never been true in any human society; there have always been people who had no children, though attitudes toward those people have varied.

And in an environment where there are space colonies to begin with, why in the wide universe would you assume that heterosexuals still have a monopoly on reproduction? That’s not even true today. And if (as in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe) women have been freed by technology from the burden of gestation (as a requirement for reproduction; it remains as an option), why would the sexual orientation of the colonists make any difference at all to their reproductive capability?

copyright has consitutional grounding in the US. The constitution grants congress the power to promote the progress of arts and science. How? by letting authors have exclusive rights to their writings. none can use the authors works without their permission.

Which then solves the problem of how can someone make money directly from their works. without copyright, works themselves could only be used as a loss leader, stuff the author gives away for free in hopes of getting people to pay for something. the napster argument for music at one point was ‘give the music for free and sell tickets to concerts’. but it doesnt work so well in reality just yet.

so I suport the idea of copyright.

much of the court debates on copyright have been around defining where the exact boundaries are around what the copyright holder has exclusive control over and what they dont, and also, how long they need to control it.

the betamax decision said that owners cant control their works to the extent of preventing people from recording and replaying a TV show for their own personal viewing. This is a more famous example of fair use. fair use being a concept that says ‘yeah copyright owners have exclusive rights to their works, but not all rights, only some rights’. other rights that authors dont control due to fair use consideration include criticism(I can quote someone elses book without their permission to criticize that book) and I can use someone else’s book’s characters and world to parody that book. (do not attempt this at home. adult supervision required.)

but standard economic transactions like selling, renting, leasing, downloading, and such, most generally fall under the set of rights the owner does in fact have exclusive control over. it is what copyright is all about. you get a coy of my book only if you pay me money.

there are *some* limits to that. for example, musicians have tried to argue that used CDs were theft. authors have tried to argue that used bookstores are theft. various owners have tried to prevent access to their works via libraries.

but this seems to be a straightforward economic transaction. buying and renting are what copyright is all about. and it would seem that amazon has overstepped their bounds.

copyright is indeed a complex topic and there are gigantic battles debated for, literally, centuries, such as ‘how LONG should copyright terms be?’, but this seems to be a fairly straightforward issue already covered by the heart of the law.

I once read an essay somewhere which argued very convincingly that, if artificial insemination is sufficiently reliable, gay people would actually the best group to send as t6he first wave of space colonists – because if resources are limited, as they inevitably will be in the early years of such a colony, there would be lower chances of reproduction happening accidentally whilst still allowing stable families to form.

Some other sticky wickets with copyright

– The mechanics of enforcement. It’s a technically impossible task to enforce copyright of books.
– Internationalization given that anything that ends up on the internet is effective international and that each country has it’s own set of laws dealing with copyright. If I get someone to buy a book in Slovenia and then email it to me is that an import?
– What constituents “buying a book” in the digital age? Currently if you buy a physical book you have a right to distribute that book without license holders consent, however this is not true for buying a digital book. What exactly has someone purchased from the license holder?

The whole system holds up rather well with physical objects but there are a host of problems with digital ones

As far as the publishing industry goes, Charlie Stross has an excellent series on it over at this blog

I love my nook. I also love physical books. This is not mutually exclusive. I do not see, however, how Amazon’s plan would be advantageous to most authors. It sounds advantageous to AMAZON, but that’s it. Old books devalue even LESS than old movies or TV shows. The idea that old books are less valuable only has relevancy if that book or author has fallen out of popularity. S.S. Van Dine was once one of the biggest authors in America. 12 movies based around his novels, radio shows, movie shorts…the works. Today,barely anyone knows his most famous character, let alone him. But Dashiel Hammet? Another story. Even had the same actor to portray HIS character who was similar to Van Dine’s.

Unholyguy seems to think the publishing industry is some horrible impediment to getting books into the hands of the masses, as opposed to the primary agents doing so. I’m guessing he think marketing is unnecessary, editors easily replaced by a family member proofreader and production teams need only be one IT guy. He also seems to think that printed books are a waste of time, effort and money and that ebooks have advantages over them in every fashion. While they clearly excel at some things, they fall short in others. Hurricane Irene reminded of one, when all the books on my shelves experienced 100% uptime, while all the books on my nook suddenly disappeared when the nook ran out of power during the lengthy outage following the storm. Libraries provide a lot more services than just housing books, of course: mine has internet services, DVDs, video games, Blurays, CDs, audiobooks, eBooks, classes, free meeting spaces and many more public services. (In fact, for my friends who are currently feeling the economic pinch, the free wifi at the local library is their only way to access the Internet, currently). They loan books in physical, audio and ebook formats: but in a constrained way. I didn’t want to wait behind 12 people to read A Dance with Dragons, so I bought it (and wanted a copy for my wife and I to read again and again).

Copyright is a difficult concept that isn’t some simple equation, IMHO. And yes, I think that a creators family should be able to inherit rights to their work. I think there should be a finite limit to that, but I wholeheartedly support folks like the families of Jack Kirby, Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel getting restitution for decades of poor treatment of their creator fathers (who wanted that money in part to support those very families when they were alive). I think it’s a far more complicated situation than some think and i think Amazon’s ‘rent’ idea, if it truly is legitimate, will end up being Netflix’s streaming service. It will be of great benefit to authors on the margins and of far less value to the bigger names. Stephen King won’t have much interest in the service unless it provides him with good incentives (speaking as someone who just paid $2 for his latest short story on my nook), for example. I’d wager a lot of the Kindle’s netflix-ish offerings would be of the ‘direct-to-video’ quality level.

WizarD@80: “Copyright is a difficult concept that isn’t some simple equation, IMHO.”

It is a simple concept. It is a bounty, a reward offered up front for something desired but not yet done. Some bounties are very specific. See England’s specific reward with specific monetary amount for whoever solved the longitude problem. copyright is more general. and rather than paying some dollars per word, it gives authors exclusive rights and from those rights can sell the work at a monoploy, which then means the public decides if the work is any good and worth money or not.

it is a bounty, which is definitely not a difficult or complex concept. and the only question at that conceptual level then becomes how high to set the bounty. And like any other bounty offered by the government and therefore paid for by the people is ‘ as low as possible, but high enough to get the job done’

Simple concepts are sometimes hard to implement. The devil is often in the details. Especially when you are trying to do something technically impossible like enforce book copyrights.

I can in theory believe that drinking alcohol is wrong and should be illegal (which is a simple concept) , and I can make an incredible mess trying to implement it.

@80 yes I do believe the physical book publishing industry is a horrible impediment to getting books into the hands of the masses

We keep focusing on “authors should be paid” which i think we all agree on, however the concept of public domain is a joke these days and the implementations of “paying” authors end up seriously hobbling the useful of the electronic media.

That does not mean it serves no useful function whatsoever (editing is useful), just that the method it serves it’s useful functions is hideously outdated and inefficient.

For physical books, my belief is that there is very little point to them right now and even less so in the future. The Irene point is true but how often are you really deprived of electricity for extended periods of time? Do you have any other examples, maybe some that occur more frequently then every fifty year? (-:

I think of physical books as collectibles right now. Some people prefer them for sentimental reasons or because that is what they are used to. Kind of like typewriters.

Greg@81: So, your thesis that Copyright isn’t a complicated issue in the world of instant electronic reproduction, lossless copying and global communication is to quote a speech from 1841 made my a government minister? Mcauley makes some points that clearly illustrate that copyright is more complicated now. His speeches assume, for example, that people’s lives are short; that it would be impossible for a creators immediate family to maintain control of a copyright because…well, he seems to be making the case that they’d have to sell it to smarter or better people. I’m sure Christopher Tolkien would find that pretty insulting.

Most of the stuff he says makes great sense, at least in the context of the times. But nowhere in there do I find it a simple matter. If anything, the fact that he had to return multiple times to argue the topic of copyright before Parliament argues otherwise.

I dont know why enforcing book copyright is ‘impossible’. There seems to be some history to it. It isnt enforcable *perfectly*, which doesnt mean copyright doesnt yet solve the problem.

laws against drunk driving arent perfect. plenty of drunks drive around without getting arrested because they just got lucky and didnt get in an accident that night. but laws against drunk driving has made a positive impact on drunk driving as a problem. there may be other ways to solve drunk driving, just like there are other ways to solve some problems that copyright tries to solve (for example free software), but I wouldnt support taking the law away just yet.

most importantly, the existence of essentially free copy/distribute channels (internet, cable tv, what have you) does not mean creating the works is suddenly free too.

free distribution channels means the economics has shifted, for example ebooks. but technology like the nook and wireless internet does not sit down and write the next great american novel. and copyright at its core is encouraging people to do just that.

“Do you have any other examples, maybe some that occur more frequently then every fifty year?”

Curious. I’d like to know where you live that you never seen a power-outage or a hurricane in fifty years.

Regardless, John has already asked we not derail the thread any further, so I’ll leave it at that. If John starts a discussion about that topic, we can go further into then.

It has to be a power outage that last more then a day or even a week to drain a kindle
Your nook burns battery much faster i think
Also, are you making an argument for keeping a few physical books around as backup?

There is no thread to derail anymore, though john can always come mallet me if he thinks I am out of line..

But still, to get the last word in..

Imagine a world where

– Any work in the public domain is available for instant download free of charge, ad supported
– The entire system of publishing; editing, proofing, marketing and distributing a book take about half the man hours and a tenth the fossil fuels it currently takes. And doesn’t kill trees or poison rivers
– Books cost half what they do now, but authors make twice what they do now, per book
– Libraries and schools provided free eReaders to anyone that wants one, check it out as long as you want
– Library everyone urban at least lives within an easy walk of a library branch
– Librarians are more in the business of helping you find things and use tools rather then planning and handling physical inventory
– Your local library branch had access to everything ever published, on demand, instantly, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee that was far less then you would pay to buy the book
– You could loan an ebook by emailing it, the same way you loan a physical book by handing it to someone
– Working with a publishing house is a choice, not a necessity
– Publishing houses could take far more risks then they do today about what they support
– Anyone could sponsor or fund a book

wizarddru, no that isnt my thesis, but that speech is available on the internet more than a hundred years later because it is invariably quoted when a discussion tothe heart of copyright comes up.

a *bounty* is an exceedingly simple concept and you have yet to disprove that. what you did was switch from concept to *implementation*, but since I myself believe that implemntation is complicated, I wont continue chasing your moving goalpost.

as for those heirs you keep saying must inherit works from their father or mother, what is that but emotional pleading?

Mark Twain wrote most of his works when copyright terms were only 42 years long. if that is long enough, if that bounty is *high* enough, how do you justify paying more bounty than neccessay other than “think of the (authors) children!” ?

if Twain found enough incentive in a 42 copyright term to write so many novels that turned into American classics, and made a good deal of money from them, why does it need to be longer?

The thing that makes it hard to enforce copyright of books is that we have not figured out a way to copyright light waves

You have to be able to see it, to read it

If you can see it, you can take a picture of it

Once you have a picture of it, that picture can either be stored/read as-is or converted to a text file via OCR.

OCR is very much out in the wild now, no way to put it back in the box.


Oh fuck no. I found adds in my books before back in the 90’s, if they make a come back, I swear I am going to give up reading. Nothing pulls me faster out of a story than a frigging addvertisment.

“And now redirect your attention to something totally unrelated”

NONONONONO. I HAVE given up tv and most dvd’s because of adds and use internet only with addblock. Adds are horrible, invasive things – Money can be earned, but adds claim attention and time to deal with them and THAT’re limited resources.

UnholyGuy @94: Whatever you are thinking, the folks putting ads in the books are thinking of making money. If putting ads in the books themselves creates more revenue than not doing so, that’s what will happen.

I’m not sure why you keep talking about the problem of enforcing copyright. We’re not talking about some dude OCR’ing a book and posting it to Usenet, but about a multinational company that sells books (among other goods) profiting by selling things they do not have the right to sell. Can you prevent Random Internet Dude from scanning OMW and posting it to his blog? Probably not. Can you do something about Google deciding “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission!” and using your book to sell online ads? Why, yes. They have these things called “lawyers”, see.

Imagine a world where… The entire system of publishing; editing, proofing, marketing and distributing a book take about half the man hours and a tenth the fossil fuels it currently takes.

yeah, but that’s not the world we live in.

What you are talking about is the world that is next door to the world that says publishers exist to act as snobbish gatekeepers to the printed medium and reject good books simply because it makes them feel better. And when we finally get POD, then we can finally kick out “the man”. That world doesn’t exist either, btw.

the entire number of manhours needed to take a book from an idea in someone’s head to number one seller on the new york times best seller list is mind boggling huge, and more importantly, the percentage of all those manhours that was burned up by copy and distribution was much less than half fo it.

so the invention fo the internet doesn’t make that chunk of labor just dissappear.

“the entire number of manhours needed to take a book from an idea in someone’s head to number one seller on the new york times best seller list is mind boggling huge, and more importantly, the percentage of all those manhours that was burned up by copy and distribution was much less than half fo it.”

Greg, look closely at this picture

I rest my case

maybe “half” is overly optimistic. I have no idea how much time is spent writing vs the rest of the publishing chain vs loading books on trucks, driving trucks, taking the books off the trucks, putting them on shelves, taking the books off shelves, ripping the covers off the books, mailing the covers back, recycling the rest of the books, etc etc

Everything after “writing ” is a godawful inefficient mess though.

I mean they printed it out. And then they drew on it with a pen. And then they mailed it to John. And then i bet John draws on it with another pen. And then i bet John mails THAT back. And then some other poor fools probably types it back into the computer again at the other end. Sweet Jesus, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry

And then they drew on it with a pen.

annotating an electronic file would be no faster.

And then they mailed it to John.

emailing it would be slightly faster, but the amount of time in transit compared to the total time spent on the book is small. And I don’t think that time is actually “wasted” in any sense of the word, meaning it probably isn’t holding up the author from doing something (cause authors often have multiple projects to work on) and isn’t holding up the publisher from doing something (cause the publisher has other books to work on).

and then i bet John draws on it with another pen.

again, marking text up with a tablet would take the same amount of time as marking it up with paper and pen.

and then i bet John mails THAT back.

see above.

And then some other poor fools probably types it back into the computer again at the other end.

More and more I am getting the impression that you have never actually written a novel. The markups in your “evidence” picture are markups from the editor to John. Many of them may be straightforward typos, mispellings, and such. but those don’t take a lot of time to fix. Most of them will actually be subjective remarks, rather than black/white “this is wrong, here is the right way”.

John will then have to go through those remarks, and then integrate them into his mind, figure out the solution that will work and remain consistent with his vision of the story, and then write in the correction.

It is important to maintain a consistent “voice” in a novel, just having editors and anyone else alter text in a novel willy nilly will result in something that will read like a patchwork quilt.

For example: Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a forgotten tome of ancient lore, some mother fucker started knocking on my door. Ah clearly I remember, it was in bleak december, and each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Other comments might not point to specific text but be an overall comment or request for change such as “make this gay character straight”, which the author must then integrate the consequences into their mind, and decide if it is in line with their vision fo the story. It might be a good idea (maybe the character is a cardboard stereotype of gay characters and needs be rewritten) or maybe its a bad idea (the character is fully fleshed out, real, multi dimensional, a positive contribution to the story, but the publisher wants the character removed because he thinks it’ll sell more books that way). Comments like those aren’t simply mechanical translation of red marks on paper being re-keyed into a computer. ANd a lot of markups will be markups like that. The most important ones will be comments like that. One can fix typo markups on a novel in fairly short order. Most of the time will be spent dealing with “This character is flat” or “this plot turn is cliche” type issues, which is not mechanical rekeying marks written in ink.

There is certainly overhead in the process, and it is a sequential process with some delays in it that could be reduced with electronic copy versus paper copy. And publishers have been converting over to electronic forms where it saves time. But I don’t think you realize how *little* time is wasted compared to the overall process.

Removing that inefficiency won’t fundamentally alter the way the problem of writing novels is solved. It is still yet pretty much a solitary author working through feedback from various sources in his/her mind and finding their way to implement the suggestions. That’s where most of the labor resides. hypertext markup won’t make such a huge difference that it fundamentally alters the way novels are created and legitimately questions the entire basis for copyright altogether.

If it were the case, the simplest way to prove it would be to show by example that it is possible.

Everything after “writing ” is a godawful inefficient mess though.

No, much of it is subjective back and forth trying to extract the story from the mind of the author, sort of like looking at a block of stone and extracting the statue that lies within the mind of the sculptor. Writing a novel is a lot more like sculpting than editing a random article in wikipedia.

And just to extend that metaphor a little more, the invention of power chisels does not alter the sculptor’s job in any fundamental way.

You’ve fallen into the common but IMO grotesque idea that everyone must procreate. It’s bizarre, because it’s never been true in any human society; there have always been people who had no children, though attitudes toward those people have varied.

No, I haven’t. Not even close. I’m just going with the basic truism that the absolute first two priorities of any society that intends to stay around for the long haul are, in order:

1) Make sure the current generation has what it needs to survive
2) Make sure there will be a next generation, in sufficient numbers to at the very least prevent population decline.

Not everyone needs to be making babies, but enough babies need to be made for the next generation to still have a viable gene pool. The smaller your population, the larger the percentage that’s going to need to help expand it.

And yes, John, I’m aware that Perry’s assistant (I can’t recall the name and right now I’m away from my books) was a lesbian.

And no, Mythago, I don’t think a seed colony of women and a single sperm bank is a good idea.

At the very least you’d want multiple source of sperm. Preferably sources that don’t require fairly high levels of cryonics and medical technology to keep the samples preserved or inseminate women with them.

In fact, it’d be even better if they were self-repairing and self-replenishing, and given the weight limits it’d be a major bonus if they could be used for other purposes as well — say, heavy lifting — and it’d certainly make things easier on everyonce concerned if they didn’t have any maintenance needs that aren’t already covered by the rest of the supplies…

First rule of planning: Don’t needlessly overcomplicate.

Greg you are correct I have never written a novel

I have written and edited novel sized documents though, and my experience is at odds with what you are saying. I have edited 500 pages documents in real time with people in three different time zones. Electronic annotation was faster and better in every way.

It is also at odds with conventional wisdom in the business world, which is all about real time online collaboration

However I am willing to accept that there is something different about the creative process of novel writing that makes this not true, the writer/editor interaction is still creative after al

Your fundamental premise seems to be “most of the work is in the writing, the rest of it doesn’t really matter and is already reasonably effective”

However most of the money goes to people other then the writer

How do you explain that discrepancy?

Seems to me either there is a lot of non-writer work (an assumption that is further validated by the number of people employed downstream), or it’s plain old gouging, or there is some other money sync out there

The only other money sync I can think if is marketing. It does not seem reasonable to me that marketing accounts for 80% of the gross or some other ungodly number

unholyguy: “Your fundamental premise seems to be “most of the work is in the writing, the rest of it doesn’t really matter and is already reasonably effective””

well, sort of. you pointed to a picture of paper copy with red pen hand written markups and said that is inefficient and wasteful. I said that picture represents mostly subjective work the author has to resolve and that converti.g that part of the process to electronic wont save mass quantities of time.

“However most of the money goes to people other then the writer How do you explain that discrepancy?”

This is a different topic then hand edits versus electronic edits. and I am not involved with this end of things so my information is not from personal experience. having said that there is a lot of money spent in printing the books themselves. print large quantities to get the per-copy down to something cheap enough to handle the fact that some copies will be returned by stores unsold. but that then requires a lot of money up front.

contrast this to POD approaches, which I have some direct experience with, and the cost per pod book is way more expensive then any cost per book on something with a huge print run, even accounting for the number of copies returned unsold. I have heard an editor say that many books dont actually make enough money to keep the company in business, more like just break even or slightly better. they generally work on the principle that if they publish a number of what appear to be good books, maybe one of them is a stellar performer enough to pay folks salaries awhich enables them to publish thenext batch of books.

possibly most importantly of all, I wonder if your question is packed with the implication that writers dont get a lot of money because publishers are scraping off the bulk of the money to buy yachts and jets and helicopters, and if we just removed these people, then authors would get their fair shake.

I dont know any editors who own a yacht. Copyediting is a poorly paid job. so is a lot of the work done by the publishing end of the process. Authors dont usually make a lot of money because there isnt a lot of money to make to begin with.

I know someone who got a three-book deal. They didnt quit their day job. because there isnt a lot of money in it. if an author gets 10% royalty and they get $10k advance on that royalty and mayne a smattering more after they pay out the advance, that would mean the book sold $100k total. retail. bookstore gets their cut. editor gets printer gets some money. truuck driver gets a little bit of money. cover artist gets a little money. ad guy gets some money. its not a lot to start with and its not like everyone else is living large.

and thus far it isnt like you can replace those jobs with the internet yet. cover art is stil needed. advertising is still needed. editing is still required. amazon will want their cut. the only thing the internet really cut out was the truck driver, replaced by internet connection costs, wev site maintenance, etc, and you may replace the printer by using an ebook. I think mass printed books cost less than a dolar a copy in printing costs. paperback at least. so you saveda dolllar, and changed some peoples titles. otherwise everything else is the same.

and the thing is, if you remove any of these jobs, the number of copies sold drops. you cant look at some book that sold a million copies and say “we shoukd do it again but not pay for an ad guy or marketing guy, think of how much coin we get to keep.” except you dont sell a million copies that way,you sell less.

books (paper or ebook or pod or whatever) are weird. they are fussy. they are not a commodity like florida orange juice, cattle, or gold. they are art and they are personal. stephen king tried selling a book under a pen name and it did mediocre. then he revealed he was the author and sales shot up. people really do judge a book by its cover, and so on.

Chris Sears @ 29: Malinda Lo, bless her, has done the legwork and analyzed the proportions of published LGBT… YA to published YA. The charts are devastating. Quoting:

Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.

Before the obvious straw men start: There is no reason to believe that this represents the proportions of LGBT books submitted. 1% is a great deal lower than the representation of gay people in society at large; there is no reason to believe that the proportion of gay and gay-friendly authors is smaller. 1% is too goddamn low, and it doesn’t matter if the bias is intentional or implicit. It’s there, and it needs attention.

@John, you are an artist and you should do whatever makes you best able to produce good art. if that means dancing around a bonfire naked, I am behind you. As long as I don’t have to watch. No offense (:

I’m not sure what “easier not to screw up” means though. All these collaborative word processing programs (MS Word, Google Docs, etc) have version control built in them which means your editor could propose changes, ask questions (and add comments on why he thinks that is a good idea) and then you can reject those changes and revert to original if you choose. You never lose anything as long as you have it turned on. It’s also pretty useful in that all the proposed modifications are still there, you get the whole history. Kind of like a wiki change log.

They also all work in real time, so you and your editor(s) could sit down on the phone and go through the document and accept/reject things and see what the other is typing.

But again, if the physical system works better for you, I’m not arguing just making sure you know what capabilities are out there, since they’ve grown a lot over the last few years

@Greg the estimate I have heard is that the process of printing and delivering books runs about $1 for a paperback

Assume the author gets a $1 /book as well

The question I have never heard adequately answered is “where the hell do the other $8 dollars go”

A bit to the editor, a bit to the cover artist sure, but those are pretty minor

Marketing yes, but book publishers are not exactly buying super bowl commercials

I absolutely don’t think the publishers are buying yachts, I know the publishers are low margin, barely break even kinds of businesses.

I bet anything there are a lot of semi manual and inefficient process that go into making physical books, some of them historical in nature, some of them tied to the fact that printing things on paper is fundamentally inefficient. Then the retailers have their costs which need to be covered.

A lot of that should simply evaporate if/when physical books went away and everyone used ebooks

The reason why a lot of books are barely break even is there is a fair amount of initial sunk cost in doing a print run, if the run fails to sell, the publisher has to eat those costs, usually by passing them on to the consumer with books that do sell. There is much less sunk costs in electronic distribution. If a book doesn’t sell, you are only out the advance and the editing cost really.

Amazon knows this, there plan is to make those costs evaporate and then pocket the difference, pass just enough savings on to the consumer and authors to kill off the old school publishers. The scary thing about amazon is that they don’t have any real competition, so it’s very likely to happen. This annoys me cause what I would prefer to ahve happen is the savings are split between author and consumer and the publisher is the one that evaporates.

“I bet anything there are a lot of semi manual and inefficient process that go into making physical books”

but you havent proven that in any way. the example you gave was editing, but you then acknowledged your experience wasnt in editing fiction. and my experience with fiction says most of the work is subjective work, not mechanical work.

if you were really willing to take that bet, take some money and startva publishing company. if you are correct about the waste, you should mop the floor with paper publishers.

“The reason why a lot of books are barely break even is there is a fair amount of initial sunk cost in doing a print run,”

well if the physical prining costs a buck a buck and the print run sells 75% of all copies then the real cost works out to be $1.25 a book. the copies sold absorb the cost of the ones that dont. assuming publishers actually provide some value to the book selling business, I would hope returns arent more than 50% on average novels. so you save a buck-fifty of printing costs per copy and get to instead spend that money on webservers and programmer support. that stuff doesnt come for free either.

UnholyGuy – you’re ignoring one thing about this Track Changes thing: it forces everyone involved to use the same software package. I know, I know, a lot of editors ask for Word-like documents as the finished product. That doesn’t mean the author in question has to produce their work in a Word-like software application. Scrivener (what I use, as an example) is proprietary, but can export to a Word-like format. If the editor sent it back to me with Track Changes turned on, I’d have to go load it on a computer that actually HAD MS Word on it. I know, it seems like it should be so simple, but it isn’t.

And speaking from my capacity as a professional Office Assistant, it surely CAN be screwed up if people don’t know what they’re doing with Track Changes. I’ve had to explain many things since I’ve started at my job that one would think are elementary, but they aren’t to him. It’s a mistake to assume everyone understands even what appears to be the simplest technology. To them, it really IS easier to print it out and mark it up by hand.

Rens @102: I was being a bit flip, because I was trying to address your silly assertion in #71 in a lighthearted fashion. But okay:

The idea that gay people can’t procreate is silly. (Gay people procreate NOW, even at our non-planet-colonizing tech level.) The idea that gay people *selected as colonists* would suddenly say “Oh shit! What about babies?!” once they made planetfall is also silly.

The more females you have in the colony, the greater the potential number of births. So I’m really not seeing a problem in being asked to believe the fiction that humans who have interplanetary travel and colonization can also manage to get a portable, sturdy sperm bank on the ship. (We already have sperm banks. And tools for heavy lifting.) And of course with a sperm bank you have the benefit of ENORMOUS potential genetic diversity, instead of being limited to the next generation all being descendants of the same group of people.

Chris Sears @ #29:
I’m having a hard time getting into a decent righteous indignation over the YA gay characters solely on the article to which you linked.

The plural of “anecdote” is “anecdotes”, not “data”. If they had numbers showing that YA novels with gay characters are rejected at a higher rate than regular YA novels, then they would have something. If they told us what percentage of agents requested that their gay character was removed or rewritten, then we would have a frame of reference. If you are going to claim there is a systemic problem, give us more than one example.

Wow, did you actually bother reading the comments here?

Oh, and I had to chortle at your apparent naivete – you really think publishers and agents are going to just admit “yeah, we don’t like the gay because we think our audience are fraking homophobic loons who think literacy can make you queer”?

Personally, I think “the market” unfairly gets blamed for a lot of passive aggressive bigotry/’common sense’ that is neither from the industry. Hell, Joanne Rowling was told to pick a more “gender neutral” pen name because boys don’t read books written by women, right? (That hysterical laughter you hear in the background is J.K. Rowling’s bank manager.) Jim Baen and David Weber were going to lose their shirts on a military SF series with a female protagonist – right?

Cryptic Mirror @ #69:
One thing I’ve noticed about YA books and homosexuality is that gay characters are allowed if the book is about the (w)angst of being gay.

OMFG, I’m really hoping you’re being extremely sarcastic but have you actually read any YA fiction lately? Fire is hot, water is wet and teenagers angst about everything. The whole Twilight saga would have been a pamphlet of haiku if Bella wasn’t a quantum singularity of self-absorbed (w)angst.

Rens @ #71:
you’re going to prefer people that are likely to actually procreate.

You might also be pretty easy with a lesbian doctor who has some expertise in dealing with complications during delivery, and the gay male couple who happen to be engineers who can design and build various things that will help guarantee your spawn access to clean water and the safe removal of its faecal matter. Just sayin’…

Bearpaw back @16 said:

… simply saying “we appreciate diversity” could mean anything. (In fact, the agent who asked us to make our gay character straight had made such mentions.)
Makes me wonder what the agent means by “diversity”.

I don’t think it’s a question so much of what they think “diversity” means, as what they think “appreciate” means.

@110, Greg well we have missing money. It has to be somewhere. I agree I have not proven that the manufacturing chain is inefficient.

I am not understanding you about the print run. You cannot retroactively change the price once you’ve not sold enough to cover expenses. The only thing that happens at that point is that the run becomes a loss that must be absorbed back into the system. The only way to cover the loss is for profitable books to pick up the difference. This means that effectively the profitable books are subsidizing the not profitable ones

I don’t want to start a publishing company. Then I would have to compete with Amazon, and they would mop the floor with ME. Because they ARE efficient. I read somewhere it costs them less then a penny to sell an ebook. Once they get done killing off the distribution side of the chain, they will work their way up the content creation part. A monopoly on distribution will give them total leverage.

@111 it forces the editor and the writer to use the same software while performing editing, doesn’t mean the author has to write in that software. So George RR Martin can keep his Wordstar 2.0 if he likes. Last time I used Microsoft it was office 2007 and the change control pretty much worked. Howevr Sharepoint was much better. We use Google Docs at C|Net though, which seems quite solid

Doc Rocketscience @ #122:
Thank you, we’ll be here all week. Don’t forget your coat, and please tip the waitress. :)

I don’t think it’s a question so much of what they think “diversity” means, as what they think “appreciate” means.

I’m not entirely convinced either word means what they think it does. To paraphrase John’s column on Ellen Ripley, just saying “oh, we’ve got a black lesbian in a wheelchair on our list, we’re diverse – mission accomplished!” isn’t merely missing the point it’s noxiously condescending.

Hell, I don’t want to see any publisher or agent engaging in facile quota-mongering, but it would be really nice if a lot of literary gatekeepers were self-aware (and self-critical) about the privilege they bring to the table, and the assumptions that come with it.

xopher, ah. no, I get it. my parser dropped the context and, well, fruit flies like a banana, amd all that.

unholyguy: “The only thing that happens at that point is that the run becomes a loss that must be absorbed back into the system. The only way to cover the loss is for profitable books to pick up the difference.”

wait a sec.

a publisher will build into the price some amount of returns on the original print run. ie they will assume an average of (for example) 50% returns. the printer charges them a book a book, the publisher packs into the price of the book a buck fifty to cover the predicted 50% returns.

and make a profit.

if the return rate is higher, it starts eating into their profit. if it is sufficiently high enough only then does the book become a loss/unprofitable.

the short of it is a buck a book might actually be the padded amount that publishers pack into the price of the book for printing costs cause it actually covers the returned books too.

All you need to do is recall the copies in the bookstores, tear the covers off, and put on new ones with the $5 higher price tag. For the second edition (1965) which corrected the one error and introduced five others, covers were not put on until they were sent to the stores, who were careful to not over-order (textbook being used as an example.) Next quarter, new price printed on some of the covers, those were bound, and shipped to fill orders. Repeat until the law about keeping back stock changed.

@Greg yup they need to build a certain set of assumptions into the sale price, its only when those assumptions don’t turn out, that the book will take a loss. For any book that place will be somewhere between zero sales and full sales. Zero sales will of course be a loss regardless of the price point. Full sales will turn a profit unless you did your math wrong.

They will also adjust their risk level to accommodate the downside of the risk. The more a bad run costs them, the more risk averse they will become and the less open to new authors or new genre’s. One of the reasons there are so many teen vampire books running around right now, sure things.

The less downside there is the more opportunity for publishers to take chances, since they have less capital at stake but the payoffs are still the same.

If the cost of a bad run is less then they could in theory lower their prices and/or take more chances.

@127 if you raise the sales price you are moving yourself on the price elasticity curve. i.e. you will sell less books at +$5 then you would have sold at the original price. So increasing the price does not necessarily make a losing proposition profitable

Simiraily if you have a bad run, rather then raise the price you might want to drop it

interesting article here
and here

Craig Ranapia:

Wow, did you actually bother reading the comments here?

As a matter of fact, I did read several (not all) of the comments at the link you cited. There are enough comments of the variety “I like series X with gay character Y” that I don’t think that the publishing industry is the new Jim Crow. Applying the rule I cited about the plural of “anecdote” to myself, I will not make a claim that it is as easy to get a novel published with minority characters as a novel without minority characters. In fact, I NEVER MADE THAT CLAIM IN MY ORIGINAL POST.


There just seems to be more to this story than this one article is telling.

It took me an hour to write my original post because I was being very careful about what I was saying and not saying. There were a few phrases in the post by Brown and Smith that triggered the cynical portions of my brain that have been honed from years of watching Jon Stewart take on Fox News. Their post read to me like a “War on Christmas” story.

That cynical portion said, “They can’t get this novel published, and they are passive aggressively trying to shame some agent into representing this book.” I didn’t say any of this for three reasons: it would make me look homophobic when I am not, the mathematician part of my brain will not let me say things I can’t justify with a reasonable argument, and the Mallet of Loving Correction sounds like it really, really hurts.

John was nice enough to share this link to another side of this story via twitter today. The response by Stampfel-Volpe certainly reinforced (but didn’t confirm) what the cynical portion of my brain was saying. However, the mathematical portion of my brain is reasserting itself, and I will conclude by mentioning that I wasn’t in the room, so I have know idea what really happened or what are the motivations of the people involved. My righteous indignation has dissipated. (There goes another hour.)

An article with some hard numbers about publishing:

“the majority of books won’t earn back their advance anyway”

This suggests that whatever royalty is negotiated in the contract (5% of sales, for example), that authors actually get a little bit more than this because the advance on their royalties never pays out. The publisher never sells enough books to cover the advance, so if the royalty was 5% and the advance was 10,000, but the publisher only sold 1$150,000 worth of books, then 10,000/150,000 = 6.7% royalty.

“the average return rate for a book is approximately 25%”

#128 — required textbooks are not really on the price-supply-demand curve. When I first bought that text, it was $4.95; the last I saw it, decades later, still second edition, it was over $80. It was eventually pulped, the author (not me) sold copies without covers for at least another decade for $10.

Dead tree books are awful

And meanwhile the self publishers are debating whether $2.99 or $0.99 is the best price point for an ebook

This was an interesting quote from

Claudia Jackson, of Telemachus Press, does all my cover design. She charges $995 to publish an eBook, including cover creation, and distribution to multiple ebook formats. Any art work she purchases for the projects are extra, but reasonable. It’s nice to be able to write the book, send it to her, and not have to fool with the process.

Just to weigh in on the textbook talk – you CAN rent textbooks from Chegg. I did this for several classes and found I saved a ton of money. I’m watching the Amazon plan as well, but right now, I’m not sold on it, for the reasons John talks about.

Dead tree books are awful

You do realize that many of us here interpret that as “I am the enemy of all that is good, bwah hah hah,” right?

I don’t know, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume it refers to “books written for the edification of dead trees”. In that case I can probably bring myself to agree. I would think that such books would not be very interesting, and definitely not ethical in a cannibalistic way.

Otherwise, I do have a pitchfork in the shed. I think I have the makings for a torch…

Poor joking aside. I won’t even think about an e-reader/e-book for years. I live in Japan. I am American. I have enough trouble getting to see the TV shows everyone around here talks about. I won’t spend the money for an e-reader just to find that they won’t let me buy the books I want to read. Powell’s and Amazon will ship a physical book to me, no problems at all.

I just can’t bring myself to support something that includes “everyone but you can use it” in it’s plan. No matter who the “you” is pointing at.

Mind, I don’t have a problem with the idea of e-books just the implementation. I have watched computers and technology change in the last 30 years. There is always some new thing that is going to change the world. Sure, it does. But there are always new standards and protocols. The thing is, these new protocols and standards frequently make the older stuff unusable, completely unusable.

I’ll wait. It’s not like I have much of a choice.

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