Charlie's Diary

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Thu, 28 Jul 2005

Worldcon schedule

Interaction, the 63rd world science fiction convention, takes place from next Thursday the 4th through to Moday the 8th of August, in Glasgow. I'm going to be there. If you want to see me, I'm going to be taking part in the following events:

Friday, 11am: Has SF Lost its Faith in Social Science?
With increased discussion of politics and economic systems in SF, are SF authors beginning to treat the social sciences with the same rigour as the hard sciences? Or do they continue to make stuff up, expecting the reader will demand less from the "soft" sciences?
Friday, 1pm: How do You Research Things that don't Exist?
What are the "rules" of vampires or fairies? And how do you justify departure from the rules?
Friday, 7pm: Pro-Am technobabble
Dave O'Neill and Paul Cray present an authors-vs-fans special of their long-running panel game for the hard-sf geek. Can you tell your warp coil from your wormhole generator - and more importantly, can you tell your glamourous assistant what the difference is?
Saturday, 11am: I have seen the digital future and it is full of fans
Once we were the proud and lonely few. But here in 2005, science fiction tropes are everywhere, and the interactions of the internet -- blogs, livejournals and so on -- feel like fanzines reinvented for the digital age. Except these days, everyone seems to be doing it. Our panel wonder if that means we're not special any more?
Saturday, 1pm: Autographing
Main autographing area
Saturday, 2:30pm: More authographing
This time at the Borderlands table in the dealer hall.
Saturday, 3:30pm
Sunday, 10am: AI: The aliens we make?
Aliens and AI are both Other, but where one comes from Out There, the other lives Down Here. Are they really the same thing -- and either way, what difference does it make?
Sunday, 12am: Genre killing ideas
Charlie Stross wrote "The Singularity is this enormous turd that Vernor Vinge crapped into the punchbowl of sf writing, and now nobody wanting to take a drink can ignore it." What other ideas have had the same effect on the genre?
Sunday, 5pm: Alternative technological history
What were the roads not taken in the development of science and technology? Could we have really had Babbage machines, steam motorcars or Betamax video?
Sunday, 7pm: Hugo awards
Monday, 10am: Needles in a Haystack, Finding the Fantastic in Stephenson's Baroque Cycle
A much-lauded SF writer and computer scientist writes a 3000-page meganovel on the emergence of the scientific method. Writes it with a fountain pen! But is the Baroque Cycle science fiction, or just fiction about science?

A couple of notes. Firstly, aside from the signing and the kaffeeklatsch these are panel discussions, and I didn't pick the topics (although I agreed to be on them). Secondly, I don't know where they are, yet – if you're there, check your program book. Thirdly, these aren't my only engagements – just the public ones. If you want to talk to me before or after one of these sessions please bear in mind that I might be rushing off to an appointment at the other end of the conference centre.

Finally, if you're going to the worldcon and haven't been to an SF convention before and want to see what your favourite authors look like in the flesh, you might want to glance at this helpful advice for how to behave around authors first. Of course I'm sure the readers of this weblog are all suave sophisticates who know this stuff already, but it never hurts to repeat the obvious.

Have a great worldcon!

[Discuss worldcons]

posted at: 22:39 | path: /fandom | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 23 Jul 2005

Q & A about free ebook editions

A month ago, a reporter from The Book Standard got in touch with me, to ask some questions for an article they were researching on the topic of authors who release free ebook editions of their novels. Well, the article surfaced in the due course of time – but most of their questions and my answers failed to make it into the final piece (which was, in fact, shorter than my Q&A).

As these questions keep recurring, I thought I should blog them here.

Q: The first question is, of course, why you chose to make an electronic version of the book available before the print version comes out – and why you decided to make one available at all.

A: First, let me say that it's common practice these days for publishers to release a couple of chapters of their new books on the web, as a teaser. The rationale for this is that the ecommerce business needs some sort of equivalent of shelf-browsing. Readers don't buy totally unfamiliar works or authors, but if you can make a reader in a shop pick a book up and open it you're halfway to a sale, and the same is true of the web. If you've ever read one of these samples, it may well have motivated you to order a hardcopy book. So I'd say that the practice of putting extracts on the web is on a sound footing (and note Amazon's support for it of late).

Putting the entire book on the web is a bit more controversial – at least, to people who haven't investigated the marketing response from it, or realized that it happened as long ago as 1992, when Bruce Sterling released the text of "The Hacker Crackdown" after the paperback had been in print for a year. But these days, a number of publishers are experimenting with it. There is one clear advantage to it: readers like samples, and the ultimate sample is the entire book. People are more likely to download the entire thing, because there's the promise that they can read it all on their computer. However, in practice most people don't like reading on a screen or a PDA. If they get hooked, they'll continue reading until it hits their personal pain threshold – then they're highly motivated to seek out the paper edition (in hardcover, if necessary).

A secondary consequence is that you get lots of coverage very cheaply. In the first week on the web, I've logged 22,000 direct downloads of ACCELERANDO from my web server. (Update: 57,000 downloads in the first month.) Another 500-1000 users have downloaded it via BitTorrent. I can't put a figure on the number of readers who have acquired copies from direct consumers yet, but I've got the logging facilities in place to produce some figures in due course. (There's not much point in doing so in the first month.)

Q: Are you concerned that the electronic version will affect sales of the hard copy?

A: Yes – that's the whole idea!

When Cory Doctorow released the entire text of his first novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" (Tor, 2003) on the web, he got 35,000 downloads in the first month, and probably a total in the hundreds of thousands over the first year (including secondary download sites). For an anonymous midlist novel, it then went on to sell very well indeed in hardcover and trade (I believe both editions were reprinted). Given the huge number of readers who may download a free ebook edition, even a 1% sell-through rate translates to a rather nice boost in the bottom line.

Again, Baen Books – a medium-sized SF/fantasy publisher – have taken to releasing free ebook editions of some of their titles, when their paperback sales peak is past. They've noted a strong secondary sales blip, mostly affecting hardcovers, when the ebook comes out. It seems that readers like novel-sized samples and in many cases they aren't content to own just the e-text – they want the paper artifact as well.

Q: Is this the first book you've made available online? (and it's the full text, right?) How long has Accelerando been online?

A: It's the first published novel I've made available online – for values of "published" that approximate to "coming out next week". ACCELERANDO will be published by Ace on July 1st, and in the UK by Orbit (Time Warner UK) on August 4th. The ebook went online on the 17th of June, two weeks ahead of first US publication. This release schedule was discussed and agreed with input from the editorial and marketing people at both publishers, for maximum impact. It takes readers time to digest an ebook, and by running it two weeks ahead of the official publication date we're aiming to give them enough lead time for anticipation to build, while not so much time that the memory goes stale.

Q: Do you think this kind of strategy would work for authors like Dan Brown or Stephen King or J.K. Rowling as well?

A: In a word, no.

The primary commercial reason for pursuing a free ebook strategy is to build market awareness of your product. It's a supplement to word-of-mouth and conventional marketing, not a replacement. The best-selling authors have already reached saturation in this respect, and giving away free samples won't help build their sales further. For example: I have not read Dan Brown's novels, but I know enough about them, through word of mouth, to know that they're not the sort of thing that appeals to me. Free samples probably wouldn't add anything to this.

In contrast, like all midlist writers I face a major obstacle: most people who might buy my books haven't actually heard of me, or read enough of my work to get hooked. So I can benefit a lot by making myself more accessible to the audience.

Q: Do you think it hurts the Biggest-name authors more than it hurts midlist writers?

A: I don't think it hurts at all.

Here in the non-internet world, we have a technical term for people who, without the permission of the authors, take copies of their books and give them away for free to lots of readers: we call them "librarians". Complaining about readers "hurting sales" by reading free ebook copies "instead of" buying the paper edition is a bit like complaining that library withdrawals hurt sales. It assumes a false either/or dichotomy. In the first instance, some library users are too poor to buy the book in the first place – hence, they are not a lost sale: they were never a potential sale in the first place. Secondly, many library users go on to buy copies of books they first read via the library. The library is a great browsing opportunity, and only drives sales in the long term. I think that sector of the publishing industry that angsts loudly about "ebook pirates" is missing the point by the mile – the readers are not your enemy, and once you start viewing your ebook rights as a marketing opportunity to boost your paper sales, rather than as an unfeasible and unusable profit centre, things fall into place and the pain is replaced by gain.

Ebooks are worth much less to readers than a paper edition. They're harder to read, they're not useful and ornamental artefacts either. If they're encrypted using DRM they're worth drastically less than a paper book – you can't lend them to a friend and say "read this" – frequently you can't even copy them to a new computer when you upgrade! Commercial ebooks therefore sell rather poorly compared to paper editions. But by the same token, a freely available ebook edition is a hugely powerful viral marketing tool.

If we're talking about sources of pain, the real pain comes when someone starts producing unauthorized commercial editions of a work. That's why I released ACCELERANDO under a license (from Creative Commons) that explicitly forbids the creation of derivative works and redistribution on a for-profit basis. If anyone breaks that license, my publishers and I want a cut of the money. But it hasn't happened yet: the availability of a free ebook actually undercuts the profitability of pirate paper or electronic editions.

Q: Why do you think more publishers don't use this as a marketing device?

They're beginning to do so. The main problem is inertia; nobody wants to risk the company, so proposals to do this sort of thing tend to get referred to a committee where they die. Baen were able to start aggressively using this technique because as a small company (about 8 staff, total) they had no such barrier to adopting a new technique. They've been doing it for about six years, now. Meanwhile, the larger publishers are beginning to do it. When I first proposed it to Ace and Orbit, the idea was met with blank incomprehension – then they discovered they'd already been doing it (in a parallel non-fiction imprint) and it slotted right into place immediately. As more imprints and more staff become familiar with this device it will become commonplace.

A final word: obviously it's too early to tell how well ACCELERANDO is doing from the publisher's sales figures (it's only been out for a month), but if you use's sales rank as a rough indicator, ACCELERANDO has been significantly out-selling my earlier SF novels at the equivalent point in their publication cycle (for values of "significant" that approximate to "is ranked twice as high as the other books ever got").

So I'm not complaining.

[Discuss Writing (2)]

posted at: 12:30 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 22 Jul 2005

Terrorism redux

Here's what the London Underground currently looks like (thanks, Feorag!):


posted at: 01:14 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 18 Jul 2005

Report from the trenches

I'm head-down in "The Jennifer Morgue", about 70% of the way through the first draft and trying to get it nailed down. I was aiming to finish by the end of July, but I think that's unlikely; mid-August is looking more like it. On the other hand, it seems to be working so far. Anyway, that's why the long silence.

It is now one month since I put Accelerando on the web, and two weeks since it officially went on sale in the US. In that time, I've had 54,000 downloads from my website; there are probably thousands more that I don't know about. (As a random comparison, Cory Doctorow reported 35,000 downloads in his first month for "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" – but that was a first novel and this, er, isn't.) Anyway, since the initial release "Accelerando" initially peaked at 440 in Amazon's sales rank, and has been happily bumping around the 2500-1500 range ever since. This average level is about as high up the Amazon charts as "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise" ever peaked – in both cases, with transient spikes rather than solid sales – so I think I can safely say that the early indications are that the free ebook release hasn't prevented "Accelerando" from significantly out-selling my previous novels.

I have about two weeks to go until Interaction (the Worldcon that's about to land on my doorstep) and the UK launch of "Accelerando", to be followed by a trip to Texas for Armadillocon 27. It's funny how time is telescoping towards a collision between a deadline and two cons ...

[Discuss Writing (2)]

posted at: 19:38 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 10 Jul 2005

Life is stranger than fiction, part 43

Gacked from the Chonquing Business Post by way of Esther Dyson in comp.risks:

Game Accounts Take Center Stage In Divorce
Legend of Mir 2, Online Game, SNDA, Shanda
Posted by: Zhou Zhengqian on Jul 01 | 17:07

A divorce in Chongqing has turned ugly when both parties want their joint online game accounts, Chongqing Business Post reports. Mr. Wang from Chongqing and Ms. Ye from Huibei met last September on Shanda's (Nasdaq: SNDA) online game Legend of Mir 2. Wang saved Ye's character from being killed by another player. The couple married at the end of October but decided to get a divorce in June. During their marriage, the couple jointly played over ten Mir 2 accounts, attaining level 40 to 50 status for all of them. The characters and virtual items are estimated to be worth 40,000 to 50,000 Yuan. Wang said that he wants to keep the accounts and virtual items and is willing to give their joint apartment to Ye. However, Ye wants to split the apartment and game items equally.

I've heard of excessive computer gaming being cited as cause for divorce, but this seems to be a case of the marriage being the result of gaming in the first place – and divvying up the spoils afterwards seems particularly bizarre.

(I should note at this point that I avoid MMORPGs like the plague. I've fallen into standalone Neverwinter Nights and that is entirely bad enough for my productivity – if I get into World of Warcraft you won't see me for at least six months and a wrist operation to repair the mousing overload damage. On the other hand, I'm fascinated by the way these online societies develop, and in particular how their economies and social structures deal with phenomena like farming, and I have half a novel kicking around my head that really needs to be set half inside an MMORPG in order to function ...)

For a bit more illumination, see the discussion Nutted by futurity over on Making Light.

[Discuss game vs. reality]

posted at: 20:47 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 04 Jul 2005

Hugo voting reminder

If you're eligible to vote in the Hugo awards (because you're members of Interaction, the 2005 world science fiction convention) and haven't done so, please vote now. Votes must be received by 11:59pm, BST, on July 8th, i.e. this Friday.

You can vote on-line here.

posted at: 20:29 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry


Happy whatever to you all as you play the Dalek Song. Exterminate!

[Link] [Discuss]

posted at: 18:28 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

Quick links:

RSS Feed (Moved!)

Who am I?

Contact me

Buy my books: (FAQ)

Missile Gap
Via Subterranean Press (US HC -- due Jan, 2007)

The Jennifer Morgue
Via Golden Gryphon (US HC -- due Nov, 2006)

Via (US HC -- due June 30, 2006)

The Clan Corporate
Via (US HC -- out now)

Via (US HC)
Via (US PB -- due June 27, 2006)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)
Free download

The Hidden Family
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

The Family Trade
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

Iron Sunrise
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)

The Atrocity Archives
Via (Trade PB)
Via (Trade PB)
Via Golden Gryphon (HC)
Via (HC)
Via (HC)

Singularity Sky
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (US ebook)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)


Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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