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Publishing experiments

A couple of months back, I vented here about how the cost structure of the commercial ebook market is fundamentally broken.

Well, it turns out that some of my publishers read my weblog, and notes were taken, and now something's come of it — in the shape of an experiment.

One of my points was that, from a reader's point of view, ebooks are worth somewhat less than paper books — and ebooks with Digital Rights Management are worth even less than that.

However, the big publishers continue to publish ebooks with DRM at a price that's typically the same as, or at most 15% lower than, the most expensive dead tree edition of the book that's currently on sale. (This leads to the amusing situation that if you are so inclined, you can pay $24.95 for a DRM'd ebook of Accelerando. Or not.)

However, Orbit listened to me, and they decided that if their paperback edition of The Atrocity Archives retails for £6.99, they'd like to find out how many people would be willing to buy an ebook of The Atrocity Archives for £3.00 — half the price. are discounting the paperback, but the ebook is still cheaper — especially if you're paying Amazon for postage. In fact, you can buy a discount paperback from Amazon and an ebook from W. H. Smiths for the same price as the paperback in most of the high street stores. And if you do so, you'll help demonstrate to at least one major publisher that ebooks can sell — if they get the price structure right.

What do you think?

A couple of FAQs follow, below the link.

Why is this edition DRMed? I thought you didn't like DRM. I don't, but it's corporate policy at all the major publishers for the time being. Unless they change their minds, it's the only way you're going to see an ebook edition of this novel. (If Orbit do change their minds, rest assured that I'll nudge them about this.)

Why can't you publish it yourself? When you sign a book contract, what you're doing is giving the publisher the exclusive right to sell copies of the book in a number of ways. For some years now, the major publishers have been buying up ebook rights as part of these deals. No ebook rights — no book deal. So I do not at this time have the legal right to publish an ebook edition of my own.

Why don't you release it under a Creative commons license? "The Atrocity Archives" and sequel "The Jennifer Morgue" are contractually complex — three different English language publishers hold some or all of the ebook rights to them, in different regions. (Yes, if you're American you're not supposed to buy the cheap Orbit ebook; you're supposed to buy the expensive Ace edition — although it should get a lot cheaper when Ace's mass market paperback comes out, any month now.)

To make matters worse, my publisher's schedules aren't synchronized. CC releases make sense from a marketing standpoint, but only if all the dead tree publishers are in a position to follow through. Trying to convince your editor to let you release a book for free on the net six months before they're ready to publish it on paper is ... difficult. So they have to be planned to coincide with publication, or late enough on to boost sales of a book that's past it's publishing sales peak. And when the books are published at different times in different countries, organizing it is pretty much a non-starter.

This isn't to say that there will never be a DRM-free edition of these books, available at no cost, under a Creative Commons license. (In the long run, I intend to make all of my books available for free, once their commercial sales life is effectively over.) But you're going to have to wait until they go out of print and the existing publishing contracts come to an end. Which could take many years.

But Cory Doctorow does it! Why don't you? Cory blogs from a hot air balloon, wearing a red cape. Also, Cory isn't published in both the UK and the USA — he only has to convince one editor to let him do it. Also, Cory has a day job. This gives him leverage that I don't have, insofar as writing is my lunch ticket, not an optional extra. But you're whining ... No, I'm just pointing out that I am not Cory Doctorow. I don't even own a red cape.

Why is this so expensive? You're American, aren't you? The price is a function of (a) the current Sterling/Dollar exchange rate (the US Dollar is in the shitter) and (b) the fact that everything is more expensive in the UK — we're a smaller market, lots of stuff has to be imported (including paper), it costs as much to edit and produce a book as in the US market but fewer copies will be sold so the overheads per book block sold are higher, and so on. I could go on ad nauseam, and if you buy me a pint and sit me down in a pub, I will (until you run away or buy me another one). Just try to accept, for now, that British hardcovers cost about 25% more than American ones, and British paperbacks cost double.



Curiously enough, a pint is the one thing that is actually cheaper (as well as better if you like real beer) in the UK. Even at current exchange rate, a proper (i.e. Imperial, 20 fluid ounce) pint is less than the minimum $5 (plus tip!) you pay for 16oz US pint.

Good luck with the ebook experiment. �3 is a reasonable price but I've already got the PB. Still, maybe just to encourage them . . .


It's very nice that you've got publishers to sit up and listen about ebook prices. Kudos! :)

Vaguely Related Question: I live in Scandinavia, and I order books from I often buy "used" books because it's cheaper and it costs a lot extra to ship books overseas -- but will that rob you of your royalties?

Do sales of used books seriously cut into your earnings? :-S


ARY: I do not get royalties on used books. I don't get a bent penny from them. However, I don't see them as eating into my earnings any more than I see your loaning a book you bought new to a friend as eating into my earnings. We expect more than one set of eyeballs to read a book. In fact, there exist people who buy copies of our books and loan them out to people for free. Here in the real world, those of us who haven't drunk the RIAA/MPAA Kool Aid have a special term for such people: we call them librarians.


NB: if you are trying to insert a pound sterling symbol here, you need to type £ or £. Funnily enough, if you type the pound key on your Windows box, the resulting character will look like £ to you, but not to me (because Windows uses a fucked-up character set unlike anything else on this planet).


I think this snippet from the "Digital Rights" section of WHSmith's website may answer your question

Adobe eBook Copy: not allowed Print: not allowed Reading aloud: allowed Expiration: no expiration date

Thank god we can read it aloud!


It's regrettable that the ebook isn't available in a format useful to me (Palm), I've a hankering to read the book again and my copy is on another continent. What would be nice is some sort of easy bundling of ebook + paperback so I can read a pleasant dead tree book and at the same time have a less nice but more portable electronic version.



I'd happily read e-books if I had something to read them on. Just a cheap and nasty, slightly backlit, plain black type on off-white LCD thingy would do. Until the actual portable readers are available and affordable I'll carry on with dead trees. Reading on a PC is out for me, I spend all day in front of one, don't want to spend my leisure time in front of one too.


Just purchased a copy, wish they had a format for the sony reader though :)


Simon @8: I don't think the Sony reader is sold in the UK.

Brent @7: One like this, perhaps? (Due in September, list price €350. Of course, it'd need an ebook edition in Mobipocket format ...

Bruce @6: I can't read the W. H. Smiths ebooks either -- Linux/Palm here. It's kind of annoying, isn't it? Fragmentation of platforms and file formats is one of the big drawbacks to the current ebook situation, and DRM makes it a whole lot worse (because if it was available as, oh, RTF or HTML from Webscriptions, I could just reformat/translate it to a more usable format).

All I can say is, I will try to nudge my publishers to Do The Right Thing at every opportunity.


It's not available in the UK, on the other hand I did buy one via eBay and much prefer eink to my previous ebook reader of a Palm TX (apart from the lack of backlight). On the other hand in theory at least lit files are convertible to the Readers format unlike the eReader version of the book I already have :)


Simon, Orbit only have the legal right to publish the ebook edition in the UK and commonwealth territories. Because the Sony reader isn't available here, it's possible that if Ace were to have a snit and throw their toys out of the pram they might be able to convince a court that a UK edition for the Sony reader was a sign of bad-faith intent to violate their rights to publish the book in the USA. (This is a low probability scenario, for "I am about to spontaneously and mysteriously turn into a bowl of petunias" values of low probability, but it's the sort of thing they pay lawyers to think about, and it explains why you will not see a cheap Orbit edition of TAA for the Sony Reader.)


I recently started buying ebooks from Mobipocket, as their reader works well on my Nokia E61i smartphone. I'm happy to see that they also sell some of your titles. The prices baffle me, though. "Singularity sky" goes for a very reasonable $ 7.99, while "Accellerando" sells for $ 24.95. Both are published by Ace, BTW.


Charlie, see what you mean, I have to admit even Fictionwise doesn't really give any options for DRM'd books on the Reader, on the other hand their large print versions of the monthly magazines work very well as they're not protected and display nicely. Until Sony allow me to purchase from them with a non US credit card I'll be stuck to convertible formats


Hey, Charlie, I'm generally with you on this one (ebooks should be priced lower than pbooks), but I have to say that I think that 3 quid is way overpriced for anything with DRM on it. You and I both agree (I think) that anything with DRM isn't really your property (being governed by abusive EULAs that confiscate your fair dealing rights), has a necessarily short product life (because the vendor changes platform or goes out of business), is bad for your computer (inasmuch as it installs software that overrides local policy with remote policy), can't be sold used (how much less would you pay for a car that you couldn't sell as used when you were done with it), and relies on evil laws like the DMCA to prop it up.

I think that the average reader is coming to understand this, and doesn't like it. I also think that we've got a moral responsibility as people who care about liberty and technology to help people understand the facts about DRM -- especially the fact that DRM infects your computer with programs that ignore your orders in favor of someone else's, inherently undermining your computer's security and integrity.

More importantly, I think that there's a moral dimension to allowing your publisher to use your copyrights to lure unsuspecting punters into installing, using, and growing accustomed to crippleware on their PCs.

If reading a book requires us to give up partial ownership of our computers, then I think it's fair that publishers should buy our computers from us first. IOW: the right price for DRM is "You pay me some money for a part interest in my computer, and I'll let you intentionally cripple it with your remote-control software."

I understand the complexities. I had an incredibly frustrating meeting with Orbit about this that was purportedly about discussing the possibility of a UK CC edition of my books but turned out to be about them saying, "Our new French overlords will never let us do CC, would you consider abandoning your principles so that we can publish you?" My answer was no -- for commercial reasons (I think that free ebooks sell more pbooks), for moral reasons (I don't want to help DRM vendors push their snake oil) and for career reasons (I don't want to come across as a hypocrite).

BTW, I don't have a day job -- and I haven't since Jan 06.


I've happily bought tons of DRM-free ebooks from Baen books. But they're not a major publisher, I guess.

As for readers, I do fairly well using my (ancient!) Nokia 6620's web browser to get through to a secure area on my website.


Cory: I agree, £3 is a bit excessive. And I agree about the undesirability of DRM in general. (Why do you think I threw in that link to your editorial piece in the Guardian?)

I have other things that I'll say offline, but not in public.

PJ: Baen aren't a major publisher. A certain major publisher who shall not be named here nearly got to join in with Baen, before their multinational lords and masters had a cow over the lack of DRM and yanked their chain. My personal expectation is that we see a major US publisher ditch DRM on ebooks within 2 years, and that once that happens, the rest of the herd will follow suit. (But as I don't gamble, I'm not going to put anything on the table for you to collect on.)


Because (mainly) I am a cheapass - I actually use a small bundle of unlinked toys. I have an older Palm device that can pretty much read anything, and if it can't I..ahem..will alter the format to HTML on a PC and stick it on the palm anyhow.

Then my phone (separate) sometimes is loaded up with smaller articles. My MP3 player (Cheapy chinese job, but DRMless) will have a few podcasts and tunes. And my Tablet PC...well that's a PC so also does all the above except make calls.

But it irks me that I need this many devices to get around 'stuff'. Why oh why can't we have some convention for a singular language that lets the end user apply their own preferences upon it I ask?

Cory D - very nice to see you here :) You can add me onto the numbers for proof that the CC caused my to buy your books in realspace.

Though I think Charlie does appear to be 'with you' and is just trying to work his overlords into agreeing with him.

Accelerando is, after all, available.

Personally I give my work for free...mainly because no one will buy it (damnit)


Two things:

  • Given format incompatibilities, the expense & awkwardness (at least as perceived by me) of current e-book readers, my bad eyes, and the fact that I already sit in front of a PC all day, I'll stick with the paper versions - including the samizdat copies circulated by those seditious librarians! - for now. But I do long for the day when e-books are easy, not so expensive, highly legible, and effortless to port across various devices and formats.

  • Responding to JDC @1 (and other beer lovers): You should come to Austin and sample some of our better bars, where you can get a pint (in some cases a proper Imperial pint) of UK-worthy but locally made beer for $3 or so. And in many cases you can sit out under the trees to drink it - including in February, since our winters run extraordinarily mild. It's like a beer-drinker's Heaven . . .

  • 19:

    idle curiosity prompts me to ask: since the prices of paper vs ebook are now different, is the money you personally get for copies sold also different?

    as in, if I want you to be able to write many more books in the years to come, am I better of buying the hardcover, always, or how does it work? (the closest I ever got to the publishing industry is a good friend of mine who wants to work as a lector (or whatever this is called in english) but doesn't yet)


    Michael, I get five times as much money for a hardback as for a paperback.


    I don't even own a red cape.

    Ninja authors usually don't, too visible, especially in space.


    Cory @ 14

    A mild epiphany that you no doubt have already had: the business model you describe for DRM'd publication is a lease model, not a sales model. You can get a car (or a camera or ...) these days under the same terms; essentially you rent the use of the product for some specified time, after which your rights to use it expire. With physical items there remains the option to purchase all rights (at a usually horrific markup) at the end of the lease; I assume you can't do this with ebooks or other digital products because the publishers don't want to give up the rights under any conditions.

    Hmmm, the similarities are interesting. The auto manufacturers create new models to keep the life cycle of the product artificially short, and so do book publishers, by letting the supply go slack and then issuing "new" editions with different covers. Digital products again can't do that as effectively unless they change the readers (which they can't control, explaining why Sony wants to manufacture readers), so they need the DRM to get the same effect. This might be a good way to explain the whole mess to people who are clueless about DRM: they think they're buying when they're actually renting, and paying more per use.

    Charlie, I'd like it if you were to emphasize publically your plan to release your work into the wild when the demand for paper runs down. It seems to me to be something the average reader would understand as being advantageous to you without hurting the publisher, thus undermining the RIAA argument about lost revenue.

    To be clear: I admire both you gentlemen for having the foresight to do something that will be good for both you and your audiences, and even the publishers, if they can be pummeled into thinking it through.


    Tim Walker @ 18

    Cory & Charlie:

    If you go on a signing tour of the US, the two cities you must include are Austin and Portland (Oregon, not the one on the right side of the map). They're both cities with a high percentage of readers, many SF fans, and a love of (and manufacture of) good local beers). They're also among the more tech literate and wired (and wireless) cities in the US, which increases the interest in hard SF like yours.


    I'm glad to see Orbit has issued an ebook, and hope they follow through with ebooks of the rest of your books. I probably won't be buying this one, since I've already purchased the ebook edition of the Atrocity Archives (and Glasshouse) from Fictionwise (for a substantially higher price). 3 pounds isn't too much for me even if it has DRM (although I do tend to buy the DRMed books that I have a DMR breaker for :) I know that I'm an exception, but I'm happy to pay for ebooks and given a choice between ebooks and paper books I'll choose ebooks.


    Bruce, I might actually have an up-coming signing tour that takes in both those cities -- but if it comes to pass, it'll be my first ever signing tour. (Tours cost real money, so authors don't get them unless there's a strong marketing case.)


    Is it feasible in this day and age to point to things like the success of Baen's free library, and webscriptions, and the CC release of Accellerando and Blindsight and so on, and tell publishers that if they want to buy the digital rights, they have to release them in a non-DRMed form within a certain timeframe, and for less than 3/4 of the cost of the cheapest print version? If I ever get this novel I'm tinkering with finished, I want to try that, because I'd rather CC release it; that's done wonders for other people.


    JonR: If I was willing to fight to the finish over my ebook rights, I'd try it. However, the small print you don't get to see says that even though Baen's Webscriptions outsell other ebook models by 10:1, the actual sales volume is comparable at best to hardcover (i.e. a fifth of mass market paperback sales). And while free CC releases boost paper sales, I'd have a hard time believing that they double them (at least, not in my case). More like a 10-20% rise. Finally, book contracts aren't forever; in general, you're lucky if you're still seeing money coming in 5 years after the first edition comes out in a given language.

    While the clauses you suggest might boost my income per book by somewhere in the 10-30% range, to get them right now, as things stand, I'd have to start a knock-down drag-out fight with my publishers. I'd have to run the risk of pissing them off so much that they'd tell me to go somewhere else (and I'd get a reputation for being "hard to work with" into the bargain).

    And you know something? Pissing off my publishers is not high on my list of career-enhancing moves.

    This isn't to say that I wouldn't like to see such clauses in my contracts, and I discuss this sort of thing with my agent whenever a new contract comes up (every couple of years). But I'm not about to jeopardize my job over them. I think Cory lucked out to some extent in that he has a very smart editor who is also the editorial director at Tor, answering directly to the CEO, and once he'd come around to Cory's way of thinking he was in a position to authorize such a contract. The houses I deal with (in this case, Ace and Orbit) are very different companies, and my editors -- alas -- aren't in a position to say "boo" to their respective chief executives.


    Bruce@22: this is a very attenuated lease, however. For example, I'm willing to bet that Charlie's publisher does not account for the transaction by which you acquire an ebook as a licensing deal, but rather, as a sale -- sales usually generat a 5-10% royalty, while licenses are more likely to garner 50%. So it's a "lease" that pays Charlie 20% of what he should get if it were a real lease.

    Likewise, in terms of consumer protection laws, the vendor doesn't want to treat you as a lessee, who is entitled to ongoing support and enjoyment of the object for the duration of your "lease" (perpetual), but rather as a purchaser, not entitled to any rights other than those conveyed by a sale, mostly about "implied merchantability" or "fitness for the purpose for which the article is sold."

    But these are just small fry. Here's the biggest difference between a real lease -- say, of a car -- and the "lease" in DRM: if you lease a car from Ford, you don't give Ford the right to arbitrarily enter your garage, to surveil your use of the car, to add governors and limiters that prevent you from violating the terms of your lease, etc. A lessee isn't spied upon by the lessor.

    I've written a column about this:


    Three pounds for a DRM'd ebook that I can only read on a computer that runs Acrobat Reader? No thanks. When I read the digital version of Accelerando, I read it on my Nokia 770, which I was carrying around in my pocket. It worked because it was in an open format. Price isn't the problem with ebooks, at least for me. I'd much rather pay the same price as a paperback and get something I can actually read. It's not like Adobe's ebook format actually protects the book from people who want to pirate it - the DRM has long since been broken.

    Please don't take this as abuse - I appreciate being asked the question. I just want to give an honest answer.


    Ted: any book sale (except, perhaps, the bait-and-switch lease variety) is a reverse auction. They start out at maximum cost, and then the price gradually comes down. Eventually, if you wait long enough, it'll show up in a second hand store. And eventually, if you wait long enough, you'll get a free, legal, Creative Commons licensed, open format release of "The Atrocity Archives". I'm just not promising you a publication date yet.

    Bruce @22: there are clauses in my book contracts that say I'm not to compete with my own publishers. It's possible that emphasizing those plans might be misread as undermining my publisher's efforts to sell ebooks. It's also possible that such a statement would be seen as encouraging librarians pirates premature enthusiasts to jump the gun and start passing round warez copies. This would fall under the rubric of "annoying my publishers". It's therefore something I need to plan in advance and run past a couple of marketing people to make sure nobody objects strenuously to the wording. (And I need to pay a lawyer to draw up the literary trust for my estate, to make sure it happens even if I die before I get around to doing it in person.)


    Er, one other thing. I never bought a copy of Accelerando. Set up a web store where I can pay you a fair price for it electronically and I'll do it in a heartbeat. I've bought a couple of your hardcovers instead of waiting for paperbacks because I felt like that was some sort of compensation (I hope you get more for the hardcovers, or that's out the window).

    Personally, I think that the way to break the DRM blockade is for some well-known authors who can afford to take a risk to hire editors and self-publish electronically, with a web store. Because they're known quantities, the fact that they self-published doesn't damage their credibility. But I don't see that happening as long as authors are romantically attached to paper.

    Personally, if it wasn't so much work I'd just buy and scan all the books I get, and then shred the paper book. Bookshelves take up way too much space. Storage is cheap enough now that maybe it's not necessary for the computer to grok the book - maybe it's enough to just have a picture of all its pages.


    I've recently bought the (imported) dead tree, and I don't see any reason to buy it twice. For me, ebooks are good for sampling a work. I've bought dead trees after downloading the ebook (Accelerando, Free Culture)- I don't see myself doing the reverse. Would I buy an ebook of a work I didn't already own? Maybe. But DRM is a deal-breaker for me.


    Er, one other thing. I never bought a copy of Accelerando. Set up a web store where I can pay you a fair price for it electronically and I'll do it in a heartbeat.


    I've said this elsewhere, Ted: I can't accept donations for "Accelerando".


    a) The non-competition clause in those book contracts.

    b) The accounting headaches associated with declaring and accounting for an extra source of income to HMRC.

    c) If I encourage people to go this route, it deprives bookstores of sales numbers. This in turn depresses my sales track and means that advance orders for future books will take a hit.

    If you want to make a donation, buy a paperback and give it to a friend who isn't familiar with my work. That way, I get some money, the book trade gets the circulation numbers, my publishers are happy, and someone else gets a treat.

    Finally, it's not a romantic attachment to paper, but a romantic attachment to making money that keeps us from switching to self-publishing online. Paper outsells ebooks 10:1 in most markets, and I don't see that changing for a long time because just to use an ebook requires a degree of tech literacy that limits the market.

    I am aware of a couple of cases where authors are selling direct to their readers online and making money, but with few exceptions those authors are established pros who are continuing a series that has a devoted following but that has been dropped by their publisher. I might go that route in future if I am unlucky enough to have a series work in that position, but if you see me going that way without such a good reason it'll be proof positive that either the brain eater has gotten me or the traditional publishing industry has collapsed.


    Mr. Stross:

    I would like to add a couple of complaints to yours. One you mentioned in your earlier blog, the ridiculous cost of ereaders. $400 for an object with very limited utility is absurd. I truly want an affordable, decently sized device on which to read ebooks. I would probably spring for as much as $100.

    Of course, your point that these idiot publishers expect me to pay as much for the ebook as for the hard copy further mitigates against using ebooks. Frankly, I'm old enough - 62 - to love plain old fashioned books. I just hate carrying them on planes or holidays in general.

    Finally, and this is a constant annoyance is the amount that magazines want to charge for electronic subscriptions. I have subscribed to Scientific American for many years. Yet, they expect me to pay extra for the digital version. I would like to subscribe to the digital version of Analog magazine. They are asking almost the same for the digital as the print.

    Now, I want all writers to be justly compensated. But, since these days virtually all written documents are originally in digital form, clearly the costs - even with formatting - for producing a digital version are substantially less.

    I really do think publishers should finally get it about DRM and digital copies.


    Interesting, I have just come from spending way to much time and money at Amazon. I'm doing my part to support the hardback and paper trade. I like a nice first addition once in a while, although I think I spent too much. Today I bought a first addition, signed Doctorow DanOuInThMaKdm. How nice for me. I was dumb enough to give my first copy away in a "pass it on" jesture, spreading the bitchun meme or something like that. So, people do find a way to get this stuff for free. I have been known to borrow books and not give them back, but then I give a lot of books away as gifts, so it ballances out.

    J.J. Minor


    IP (#5): "Reading aloud" in the context of Adobe Acrobat files refers to Adobe's built-in text-to speech program, and not the v1.0 eyeballs-brain-mouth program.



    At this point I've given up on a ebook reader from this generation and am holding out (hopefully tail end of this year) for one of the new ultra-low cost PCs. Maybe an Asus Eee. The booken reader is going to be about the same price (if not more) here, and the Eee will do a lot, lot more.

    (And I carry a backpack with me everywhere anyway, so size isn't an issue)


    I think I am missing something. What does the publisher actually do? The picture I have is that they take your book and print it onto paper and sell it. When I started to think about it I realised there must be more to it or you'd get a lot more money for your (wonderful) work.

    If after all that is the only thing they do, can't you just self-publish on paper as well as digitally? If they do more, what do they do and isn't that something you could do on your own or at least in collaboration with some other authors?

    One more thing: I started to read Accelerando online and fell for it right away. Bought the paperback (I would buy hardcovers but then I could only get about 10-12 books per year instead of 20-30,) after maybe reading two chapters. If I hadn't gotten to read it for free I probably would have waited for it to come to Evil HQ (aka the library). Of course I'm sure you already know that the taste that a free e-book gives as well as the goodwill is a great selling point.


    Jim: the publisher does a lot more. They do marketing, which gets your book into bookstores, and they get reviews from people to print on the cover so people buy it. Not to mention editing, proofreading, cover design, and handling all the intricacies of printing, warehousing and shipping all the books.

    I put together a book at for a friend, and it was a significant undertaking. The publishing companies really do earn their cut of the deadtree versions. It's just that once the deadtree version is prepared, the marginal cost of e-versions is zero.


    jim @ 38

    "I think I am missing something. What does the publisher actually do . . . If they do more, what do they do and isn't that something you could do on your own or at least in collaboration with some other authors?"

    I'll start by declaring an interest: I work for Charlie's British publisher Orbit. We provide a range of functions for authors, including copy editing the manuscript, commissioning a cover, arranging ISBNs, printing the books, exporting data to bibliographic agencies, making sell-in material, selling the book to major retail customers at head office level, selling the book to individual bookshops through our sales force, planning and executing consumer marketing campaigns, sending out review copies to reviewers, following up with those reviewers, analysing sales patterns, following those up with retailers and so on. Meantime we're warehousing stock and reprinting as necessary.

    That's a thirty second summary - if I sat down with colleagues to work it out, there'd be a few things that I've missed.

    Now, if you break that task list down, there's no reason why someone sufficiently determined couldn't do any of the tasks on the list, though some are more complex than others. In particular, getting access to the retail buyers who control the majority of ordering in the UK book trade is difficult for small publishers (though some booksellers have made steps to ease this difficulty), and even more so for self-published authors. Being part of a larger publishing group helps get the access that's needed to sell-in in the necessary quantities.

    I hope that gives some overview of the process.


    Whatever flaws the Orbit e-book has, it sure does have a kick-ass cover. Pure '50s Penguin-inspired brilliance. I've often wished for a return to the plain primary coloured covers I remember being fascinated by in my parent's bookcase as a child. Those old Penguins and hardcovers with missing jackets gave out a aura of adulthood, grown up knowledge and pleasures, that today's complex and expensively art-worked covers have completely lost. Sadly, though you can't tell a book by it's cover, marketers seem to have proved you'll often buy one based on it.


    I just wonder how long it's going to take for someone to write an e-book reader for the iPhone. In one shot, they'd have at least a quarter-million new users, looking for new stuff on their $600 pocket computers (with very nice, high-contrast screens that are just big enough).

    Instead of doing it as a page, display the text as a horizontal text stream, with a slider at the bottom of the screen to control speed (sort of like the old "speed reader" training machines).

    I just tried it with a jpeg of some text from "Alice in Wonderland," and it works fine.


    I'm sorry, but the DRM is the deal breaker. I already have the book and three quid for a greppable copy to make it easier for me to, say, pick out passages to recommend to others would be a no-brainer. However, given a binary blob where the quite frankly quite dodgy-looking ebook webshite doesn't give me any confidence that I can even read the damn thing after handing over the money, they can go fuck themselves until they get a clue.

    No doubt they'll use this complete crippling of their product into unusability such that no sane person would buy it into justifying to some empty suit that they shouldn't have bothered with this e-book stuff.

    I seem to work for one of the few publishers that understands electronic media and doesn't bother with DRM on their content. It's rather shame that yours is still stuck in the twentieth century and apparently does not.


    Peter, to generalize wildly, the practices of the publishing industry make sense because they're the boolean intersection of the set of practices that didn't cause some other publishing house to go bust at some time in the past 600 years.

    Doubtless if and when your publishing house fails to go bust, others will notice their success and eventually copy it. But for the time being, there are large segments of the industry that are still stuck in the 19th century, never mind the 20th.


    George@40: With all due respect, I think that's an awfully mechanical view of what publishers do. Patrick Nielsen Hayden once conveyed to me the single best definition of what a publisher does to me:

    A publisher make a work public.

    That is to say, a publisher discovers, commissions, or modifies a work such that it is suited to some audience. The publisher mechanically prepares the work so that it will be attractive to that audience. The publisher then takes such steps as will efficiently introduce the work to that audience.

    By this definition, much of what Google does is "publishing" (and this is likely at the root of the otherwise incoherent publishing industry objections to Google preparing indices of their works, something that has been quietly done in the analog world for centuries without any fuss) -- and it's broad enough to cover a lot of blogging, but not, say, a file repository or a printer or distributor. File dumps, retailers, printers and distributors are critical to the process of making a work public, but they are none of them indispensible in this matter. We can imagine a publisher who doesn't arrange for (or need) a printer, or a retailer, or a file repo, or what-have-you, or any combination thereof, because the publisher has conceived of a novel mode of making a work public.

    The critical thing here is that "making a work public" is a complex process, not a mere act of printing, distributing, copy-editing, or any other task that a writer can simply commission. To be sure, a writer could commission or undertake many of these processes, but ultimately, she generally can't perform all of them well enough to compete with a publisher (in just the same way that many of us can write software, but not so well that it's cost-effective to roll our own operating systems rather than downloading or buying one) (and note that my/Patrick's definition of "Publisher" includes Ubuntu and Red Hat as publishers, since they assuredly go to great lengths to make their flavours of GNU/Linux public).

    Midlist writers with a lot of energy and limited interest in the reach of their works can make as much money as writers who are signed with major publishers. For example, Jim Munroe publishes many of his own books and make 4-5x per copy over what I make off my books with Tor. But his books reach a much smaller audience than mine do, meaning that his ideas don't reach as far as mine. He makes a little more money than I do in royalties (but arguably makes less than I do from ancillary revenue streams that are fueled by notoriety, such as article commissions, grants, and speaking fees). But he trades reach for his art for income and the moral high ground of not having truck with a corporate publisher.

    So for me, having a publisher is a no-brainer. The deal wherein my publisher takes most of the cover-price for my books isn't driven by my slavering need to be legitimized by a Real New York Publisher, but rather by my cold commercial and ideological calculus: if I give my publisher the lion's share of the dough, I'll make more money in the long run, and spread my ideas further, too.


    Would stating "I make 5x as much on hardcovers" on your bibliography info page be a bad thing? I mean, there's some kind of terrible worst case where I buy four paperbacks and chuck three into the pulper. (I'll show you a street performer!)

    I've not spent one red cent on iTunes after they tightened up their DRM. In fact, after I found out the l33t could no longer break them with impunity, I wasn't all that interested in the add-$0.30 deal.

    In case your publisher is wondering, I'm not sure it would be worth $25 to me to see Grubor in hell, so let's not go repricing Singularity Sky.


    There's software out there which can break open eBook formats. If it gets through the DRM it is likely illegal into US law, so I'll not publish a source, or identify a search engine which you might involve in any criminal practice.

    Baen are unusual in their attitude to eBooks and DRM, but it isn't, as far as I can see, breaking the company. And I've been able to read books that I wouldn't have bought. Having read them, some I still wouldn't buy. The author can draw you into the story, but...

    Over the years, I've come across some pretty poor printed stuff. Some of it transient pleasure, some potential kinetic kill weapons, and not always obvious which is which when you read a sample chapter.

    OK, I'm not going to say that e-publishing is a zero-cost operation, but the publisher doesn't get full retail price. You can argue a bit about where the printer is in the chain from authot to reader. Likewise the marketing. Whether the money goes through the publisher or not, what matters is what sticks.

    And when Tesco can sell a standard paperback for GBP 3.73 and a GBP 17.99 hardback can be sold for GBP 5, it gets difficult to justify eBook prices.

    What I will say is that, whle some classes of book are more fungible than others--a Harlequin or Mills&Boon romance isn't interchangable, but it's not as unique a product as a Harry Potter--the publishing industry seems to be forgetting that they have products that are not tins of beans. There's no supermarket own-brand Charlie Stross waiting in the wings in a cardboard vest and string kilt.

    eBooks bypass supermarkets. As an ex-farmer, I see the failure of the publishing industry, even without the Net Book Agreement, to stand up to supermarket price-pressure, as the biggest sign of looming failure. The supermarkets screw you on price, and play a lot of less obvious dirty tricks. I would be unsurprised if they had a higher returns rate, for instance.

    And farmers can't sell eTurnips.


    Dave, the publishing industry is clear on the fact that writers are not tins of beans: it's the non-specialist retailers and distributors that are the problem. Yes, the supermarkets in the UK are a huge, looming problem for the publishing industry -- although I'm not qualified to say how that'll play out. What I live in fear of is Tesco deciding to buy out HMV (or, lower down the chain, Waterstones), or to establish their own name-brand book stores, or real book departments within their supermarkets. That would make the current UK high street bookstore blood-letting look like a vicar's tea party.

    (For American readers: a couple of years ago, Walmart moved into the UK aggressively, buying fourth-largest supermarket chain ASDA and announcing they were going to go head-to-head with the major chains, Tesco and Morrisons. Earlier this year, Walmart complained to the Monopolies commission about unfair competition. Let me repeat that, to rub it in: the British supermarket chains are such ruthless and voracious sharks that Walmart has trouble competing with them.)


    Please, don't insult sharks.


    I'm not particularly worried about the pricing, after all - you're paying for the creative processes that went into the book, and not the object itself; but like a lot of other readers, the DRM is a killer. I have an iRex Iliad, and my wife has a Sony Reader, and we both like to read. If a book isn't available in a format that we can both read, then we're better off with a p-book. Which mostly limits us to Baen at present.


    Why not discuss the psychology of "Books"? You know, the way they feel and the fetishistic quality that some people can derive from them. Don't most authors have a few books (in material form) that they hold dear? The "human" connection with the actual tablet, vellum, paper...may be important in the long run. I don't think you two (C.S. & C.D.) are suggesting that we ever move to an all digital format for books. Or are you?



    I might be tempted, but, I suspect like many people here, I already have paper copies of your work, mainly in hardcover.

    I do think Baen are doing Very Sensible Things, and have consumed much of their output in a number of forms. Their ARC gimmick I particularly like - it enables them to get me to buy multiple copies of the same book AND be happy about it.

    I still find the printed word significantly more pleasant to read. Perhaps this will change with the advance of ebook readers.


    I buy quite a few ebooks, mostly from Pragmatic Press and occasionally from Baen. In the case of Pragmatic Press, I usually pay 125% of the retail price to get a combined paper+PDF combo. And that's a direct-from-the-publisher purchase with a 50% author royalty, and no DRM.

    But DRM is just a huge hassle, because I don't run Windows, and I don't like installing cruddy, blinking spyware. So the annoyance of DRM adds about $100 to the book's effective price, as far as I'm concerned.


    Charlie @ #4: For the most part Windows uses character sets that were defined decades before it existed by IBM et al, or later on by the international Unicode consortium.

    IIRC even my typewriter had # rather than £.

    Oh, and a word to the wise. If you're using Windows XP SP2, there's a new English UK keyboard layout called United Kingdom Extended. It allows you to take advantage of the Alt+Gr key to type lots of Euro chars like ê and ö without breaking into a sweat. It's sort of a Uk version of the old "US International" keyboard that had other so-called dead-key sequences.

    -- from my desk in Edinburgh (for August, hurrah!)


    Mike, you're not getting what I'm saying: Windows uses it's own bloody stupid 8-bit codeset (and descendants thereof) and what you get when you hit the pound key on your keyboard is not rendered correctly on other operating systems. It's not really unicode compatible, it's not really compatible with ISO8859/1 (or /15) and relatives, and it's a royal pain in the ass.

    (And no, I don't use Windows in general, if I can avoid it.)


    I've tried various ebook readers for the Palm, and don't like most of them. The reader i use has compression, so my limited Palm memory goes further. I need to reformat for this reader, so i need it in clear text. So, DRM is a non-starter.

    So, i read lots of Gutenburg books. Some, i even convert to audio via 'festival', and listen to them. Now that Librivox has humans reading books, not so much anymore.

    HP 7 wasn't available as electronic clear text, so i bought the hardcover. Otherwise, i prefer to read on my palm.

    Thought i've modified, and made multiple copies of electronic books i've bought, i've not handed them out to my friends, or even offered to do that. I understand that the authors often need to make a buck to continue their work.


    Charlie @55: Both ISO8859 and Unicode came along way AFTER the Windows encodings. Are you suggesting they should be arbitrarily forwards-compatible?

    Anyway what you get (on Windows) when you hit the pound key is a function of the keyboard driver, the current code-page, the active keyboard layout and the application. If you're saving something to be opened on another operating system then you can either opt to modify one of these on the Windows machine, or have an import filter on the other system (like all the encodings that Word supports).


    I think I am with the crowd that is less price sensitive but very DRM sensitive. I have read eBooks on a Palm, but the screens are too small and the experience isn't good enough yet. Having said that, I do keep quite a lot of PDF documents to read on my laptop, and this is how I would read eBooks if they were available in a non-DRM format. Anything DRM'd is a deal breaker for me, not so much as it abrogates my ownership rights, but the unacceptable nature of the restrictions and effects on my computer.

    As to price, I think that at ppb +/- 25% is very fair, although I feel that electronic distribution is so inexpensive that I would prefer to see the author receive more of the revenue, but that is for the publisher and author to argue over.

    Funnily enough, and perhaps counter-intuitively, the books I would most like electronic copies of, are my illustrated books. I have quite an extensive collection and I would love to have them in a more portable and particularly searchable, format.


    Mike @ 57: What the hell are you talking about? ISO 8859-1 predates Windows-1252, which shouldn't be surprising given ISO's adoption from DEC in 1985. The two standards Microsoft had in 1985 were BASIC and maybe DOS 2.0. My PC World demo floppy of Word 1.0 from 1983 really doesn't count; if I recall correctly from 24 years ago, they did the IBM PC CGA/MDA chargen rom thing.

    Charlie @ 55: It doesn't matter at all what stupid codeset Microsoft uses internally. Unicode is an interchange format, and there is exactly zero connection between how various Microsoft tools throw bytes around between themselves and what they should be putting out on the net. Euros, "smart quotes", em dashes---they all map quite nicely into Unicode, and this has been true for years.

    That doesn't mean that Microsoft tools aren't royal screwups. For a brief period I was chasing an Internet-related Microsoft job. That was pretty much over when I got SMTP mail from a PM marked as "ISO 8859-1" filled with illegal characters (yes, "smart quotes", etc). I got no response after suggesting that they fix their SMTP gateways to accurately describe the data they were passing, and I suppose that meant that both sides knew we weren't meant for each other.


    I use the ASCII-compatible ISO codes--two-character country code followed by the initial character of the currency name. With the euro being EUR. The only reason for the USD symbol being so portable is that it got used in programming languages.


    Jay Carlson @ 59

    Yes, you're right and Mike is wrong. I was an observer on the ANSI X3L2 Character Sets and Codes standardization committee in the early '80s, and one of the things we discussed was interoperability with 8859-1. And yes, the MicroSloth tools do a truly bad job of dealing with character sets that they didn't invent. As for compatibility, both Mac OS and most flavors of Unix predate Unicode, and they've all managed to make an accomodation with it. MS just didn't care until very recently when they suddenly noticed the potential market in China and started to drool.


    Hi Charles,

    First time poster.

    I think the whole model for ebooks is all wrong from the get go. I think ebooks would be better served if they were packaged like DVD's on a media card and sold at bookstores. This gives readers more choice, although I admit such a format would compromise precious shelf space as it is. The ebook would look like a DVD package with the media card inside. You could also include extra goodies in the package as well.



    Welcome, Jim.

    I'm sorry to stomp on your first post (and feel free to stick around!) but I'm afraid I think that model's a non-starter, for a variety of reasons -- and I'd like to note that it's been tried (during the 90s, for PalmOS; you can still occasionally find copies of the short-form Britannica on SD card floating around).

    The reason it doesn't work well is that the whole draw of ebooks -- for publishers -- is that the cost of manufacturing and shipping ebooks approximates to zero if you can reduce them to a stream of bytes over the internet. This means you can make more profit per item, or lower the cost per item and hopefully boost your number of sales.

    Bringing physical stuff back into the equation drags you all the way back to the physical distribution channels which are such a pain in the world of dead-tree publishing. You need to get media cards, burn data onto them, package them, and ship them. They're even less recyclable than paper, and they've got all the same undesirable characteristics (from a publisher's point of view) in terms of shipping physical stuff about. Even worse -- paper and ink are really cheap and don't rely on an external reader: memory cards cost more! (For really large lumps of data, like, say, the aforementioned Britannica, it may be cheaper to distribute data on a memory card than on paper: but my back of the envelope calculation is that you need to be shipping 5000-10,000 pages before this cuts in.)

    Finally, the packaging and ebook you just proposed -- if it's sized similarly to a DVD -- is exactly the same size as a 100-page paperback. This means that the retail outlets who stock them are back where they started -- only able to stock a limited range of titles due to physical space requirements. Except it's worse than that: readers can't browse the on-chip books in the shop and decide they like and want to buy something they didn't know about when they stepped through the door.



    My employer has been going since the 19th century. Its business model actually involves shoving lumps of dead tree through the door daily rather than every six months. Now, fishwrap is a different game to novels, but is it actually sufficiently different to not at least learn something from the looming crisis in the newspaper industry?

    The newspaper industry is watching dwindling sales as people get their information electronically. Most newspapers are starting to get it and while they're still killing trees, there is a shift to electronic media. From to, they're all getting into electronic publishing.

    But it doesn't have to be just ad-funded websites. You can even subscribe to an electronic version of the print Guardian and Observer. And print it out or cut and paste extracts to mail to your friends if you like.

    Now, imagine you had to use some dodgy application written by a cretin, which only runs (or more often than not crashes) on Windows XP, to view Would you bother? I sure wouldn't. Why should I have to put up with that for longer pieces of text where user-interface issues are even more critical?


    Peter: I assume you're following the current unfolding BBC iPlayer fiasco.

    (Apropos DRM, it's not me you have to convince. As I said up top, a while ago I yelled about the ebook market being broken through a combination of price structure and DRM. The response is that one of my publishers are trying to see if doing something different works better. At least one of their people is reading this thread, and I am disinclined to prejudice their conclusions by sounding off here.)


    Make that two, Charlie ;-)

    I don't propose to get involved in the DRM discussion for much the same reasons as our esteemed author. My employer (or the corporate entity that owns my employer - same thing for our purposes) has a policy on DRM, and there is no benefit to me in putting forward my own opinion. If I agree, I'm accused of being a corporate whore, if I disagree I run the risk of incurring my employer's wrath.

    There is one thing I do want to note, though: in amongst the vitriol being poured on large corporate publishers (for little reason I can see except that they want exactly the same thing out of the publishing process as Charlie wants - i.e. to make money from the sale of their/his books) is a kernel of truth. Charlie notes that "large segments of the industry that are still stuck in the 19th century, never mind the 20th". To a certain extent, that's true. Many of the mechanisms have changed but publishers are still doing what publishers have done for hundreds of years. And, given this weight of history and the incredible rate of change of modern technology, most publishers don't understand what's happening online. They just don't. Publishing professionals see the traditional buying and selling of physical items that could be tracked and accounted for suddenly under threat from, in Cory's own words "a machine for copying things cheaply, quickly, and with as little control as possible" (this is from the article Cory linked to, above). And what we don't understand, we fear.

    And my point is this: every person who goes online and labels publishers as evil corporate entities or pushers of crippleware, or declares that publishers can go fuck themselves (or inventive, if biologically unlikely, variations thereof) until they produce DRM-free products, is part of the problem. By taking up a dogmatic antagonistic position you force the other party to push back - it's simple human nature. In my experience - and, I admit, it's only the experience of one editor at one company - most people who have to work with this issue (editors and rights, mainly, but also sales and marketing) are trying desperately to understand the changing environment, but this takes time. Meanwhile, is it really so surprising that an attitude of keep-things-as-they-are-for-the-moment is prevalent? It's the same reasoning that leads to most referenda being defeated: if I vote "no" I don't lose anything. If you want a "yes" vote, you don't get it by scaring the population shitless, you get it by educating them.

    As I say, I'm not going to go into my personal opinion on DRM because (a) I love my job, and (b) it's still being formed - I'm one of the people trying to come to grips with where we're headed - but I will say that I wish even a small percentage of the energy spent making accusations was spent trying to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution.


    Hm, do I get any points for getting my dad to buy all your hardcovers? He lives in the country, and has lots of bookshelves... :')



    On the other hand, the memory cards are a potential use for a "print on demand" type service, no? You select what you want from the catalogue, pay, and it encodes onto a write-once medium and spits out the card with it on.

    Oh, perhaps not for novels, but for technical manuals, textbooks and the like, where the alternative is to mail order the physical book?


    Darren: nice to see you again!

    Andrew C: an interesting point apropos technical manuals and textbooks is that the market structure is fundamentally different from fiction. In fiction, once I've typed THE END and my editor has signed the cheque, the book is frozen forevermore. Indeed, if I tried to issue a bugfixed and updated version of "Singularity Sky", I can guarantee to you two things: (a) it wouldn't sell as many copies as the original, and (b) a number of folks (a small minority of the readership, but nonetheless a number of them) would yell at me for trying to exploit my market.

    In contrast, technical manuals and text books get updated. I know of some academics who make a tidy living from text books that only sell about 2000 copies per print run ... but that's to a new intake of students every year, and every 2-3 years they have to update it, and that's an extra 500-1000 sales to the other academics who need a copy on their shelves.

    This distinct usage pattern actually militates against a write-once read-many model, and in favour of pure software ebooks.

    Meanwhile, why write onto a write-once memory chip when you can have one of these and write onto a relatively environmentally friendly, recyclable material?


    P.S. Just realised that my comment above reads a little lopsidedly. I don't mean to take issue only with the anti-DRM lobby (I guess I pushed back . . .). The "energy spent making accusations" I cite applies equally to the business giants who think it's good practice to sue 12-year-old kids for P2Ping a couple of dozen songs. IMO, both sides need to lay out the issues that vex them and try to find a solution that works for both - or near as damnit.

    I'll leave you in peace, now, Charlie!


    Peace is in short supply around here ...!


    Darren, with all due respect, I don't think it's fair to say to customers, "Stop telling us how much you hate the new product line that we've promised will be the only way we sell our wares in the future, because it antagonizes us and makes us dig our heels in!"

    Customers who hate DRM hate it because:

    • It treats customers as presumptive criminals

    • Entertainment companies promise that it will be the only way that their wares will be digitally delivered

    • Entertainment companies promise that in the future, an ever-growing proportion of their wares will be digitally delivered

    • Customers have already had non-abstract, here-and-now, real-world rip-off experiences with DRM -- for example, anyone who bought a Peanut Press DRM ebook ten years ago and then changed credit-cards can no longer read those ebooks (I bought hundreds of dollars' worth of them)

    The world is not divided into [companies, customers, anti-DRM evangelists]. It is divided into [companies, customers who haven't had enough experience with DRM to hate it, and much better customers who spend more and have consequently had more DRM experience and hate it]. We anti-DRM campaigners aren't outside agitators: we're your (best) customers.

    This is not a case of everyone being too het up about the issue. This is a case of an industry ignoring demand signals from the marketplace. Capitalism has a traditional response for companies that ignore the market: the companies fail.

    There is no demand signal for DRM -- no customer walked into Dixon's this week and said, "What have you got that will let me do less with my books?"

    OTOH, there is a demand signal for ebooks -- especially and particularly for SF ebooks:

    If there is a market for ebooks at all, it is a market for sf ebooks.

    Yet most publishers will privately admit that the ebook ventures to date have the worst "hours-of-meetings:profit" ratio of any publishing venture in the history of the industry. In fact, the only trade publisher who can claim to have a growing, healthy, widely recognized and profitable ebook line is Baen -- who don't use DRM and see marked, measurable increases in the sales of their books.

    I think you are mis-stating the nature of commerce when you equate a vendor who says, "I won't sell you this product under any circumstances" with the customer who says, "I won't buy this product under any circumstances." Readers don't have any obligation to pay publishers for inferior products that they don't want to buy, and when a customer delivers market intelligence about a product to a vendor, the vendor should listen, not complain about the customer's zealotry.

    Indeed, this market signal is especially easy to listen to, since it amounts to customers indicating that they will only buy ebooks if they are produced in a way that is cheaper to manufacture (no DRM licenses to buy) and vastly cheaper to sustain (no need to employ tech-support for the inevitable DRM headaches). It is a market signal that tells publishers, "Please spend less on your products so that I can give you more money."

    This isn't a new signal, either. There are no DRM success stories: there's no unbroken DRM.

    There's no DRM that has boosted sales of a product. The software industry (who are a priori better equipped to evaluate the technical merits of DRM than the publishing industry) abandoned DRM as bad for business more than a decade ago. The WIPO Copyright Treaty protecting DRM has been in force for 12 years. It's not as though customers have leapt upon a new phenomenon and declared it dead. The DRM experiment is venerable and has failed repeatedly. This isn't science any longer: it's Lysenkoism.



    I didn't say it was fair, Cory, I said it was human nature.

    I think we've discussed this enough, you and I, that you know that I respect your position, and I'm not looking to debate the issue - I can't for the reasons stated above. But I do think I raised a couple of fair points:

  • that education, not antagonism is the way forward (from both parties)

  • that both parties have valid concerns

  • As long as producers refuse to recognise consumers' right to enjoy a legitimately purchased product via any delivery mechanism they choose, the consumer has a right to be unhappy about it. But by the same token, a producer has a right to try to ensure that their goods are legitimately purchased, surely?

    Let's say a DVD producer announces "Fair enough, we'll remove all DRM so that you can rip/copy/burn/etc this product that you purchased onto any device you own." That's good news, isn't it? That's what we, as consumers, all want?

    So what's the answer when they then say "OK, we've done as you want and made the product as user-friendly as we can. Now help us out. We trust that you won't post a free copy of the latest film onto the web for all to download for free - but we also know there are people out there who will. So how do we stop that?"

    That's a fair question, isn't it?


    Darren: "but we also know there are people out there who will. So how do we stop that? That's a fair question, isn't it?"

    It's a question, but the wrong one. The assumption is that a freely available copy of some product will replace the legitimate paid for copies by some [large?] fraction and thus reduce profits - let's call it large scale pilfering.

    The first issue is how do you even know that is true? Whenever I read about this, particularly from the RIAA, we get some stats on a guesstimate number of P2P downloaded tracks with the usual 'see how much we lost for each of those tracks!' It happened even back in those ancient days when blank cassette tapes were available to copy vinyl albums.

    First assumption - just how many of those freely available tracks would have actually been bought if only available in paid form? Demographically a lot of those tracks are downloaded by students. They don't have a lot of money to pay for stuff. Back in the vinyl days, we just shared albums. Similarly with software. MS Windows might be copied to death in China, but guess what, the average Chinese is not going to be able to afford $150+ for a copy of Windows, so he would buy something else - like Linux. So my first point is don't assume that free copies represent a major loss. The pilferage rate might actually be quite small.

    Now let's turn to the abuse of the customer. Again, let's think back to the days of vinyl records and cassette tapes. Remember how carefully those records were handled and how fast they wore out? Many of us made cassette copies to extend the life of the product. Digital media distributed as CDs and DVDs also get damaged. Preventing users from making backups to ensure preservation is just plain annoying. Now add in DRM that attempts to lock product to a particular machine and the content will obsolete as soon as as the machine dies or is replaced by the new model. Fancy having your DVD collection made unplayable when you buy a new HD DVD system? It's bad enough that DVDs have country code restrictions for no real reason (especially the old libraries), but think of the outcry if dead tree books couldn't be read outside the region?

    How else are revenues "lost"? Well libraries offer free copies of books, CDs and DVDs as long as they are returned. Used books, CDs and DVDs can be traded for no value to the publisher or creators. Are they truly "losses" to the industry (Charlie has covered this in an earlier thread). The ludicrous nature of this was spelled out with Google's book scanning project. Books that would never be republished or see the light of day were being made available in classic "long tail" effect and who complained? - the publishers. And it is not just books. There is a vast collection of old and new media that is unavailable because it costs too much to republish in digital format. Enthusiasts and other entities want to make it available at their cost and yet the copyright holders want to restrict that too.

    So the issue is much wider than eBooks. But let's address the eBook issue specifically.

    The formats are not fixed, and new readers will emerge in due course, we just don't know in what form - as dedicated eBook readers (I personally doubt the utility) , as super-lite PCs, as phones with extensible large screens? But whatever the device, the content that was paid for should be transferable to any of those devices, even if it means some digital reformatting. My books can transfer from house, to briefcase, to hotel to airplane. Why shouldn't eBooks be the same?

    So bottom line, eBook publishers are basically saying, I cannot treat my purchase like other purchases because a small minority will find a way to give it away for free and some people will enjoy it without having paid for it, even though there might be other legitimate avenues for them to do so without payment (like sharing or borrowing or buying used at a steep discount).

    If publishers managed to do for dead tree books the same as they want for digital ones, guess what, I'm going to spend my money in different avenues. And that would be bad, because I am one of those rare heavy book purchasers who actually buy hardbound editions and represent your major buying demographic.

    Good rule in business, don't piss off your good customers, because we won't stay your customers if you do.


    I must admit I do like the dead tree version of books. No humming or purring of electronics while you read. ....Although I would have downloaded the Atrocity Archives had I not already purchased a hard copy just last week. Is there a soft copy of Toast?


    Darren, I feel like we're talking at cross-purposes.

    Let's stipulate for the moment that it's fair for producers to want to stop their customers from posting stuff to the web.

    What does DRM have to do with accomplishing that goal? There's no unbroken DRM. DRM-only tracks sold through the iTunes Music Store are broken and made available on P2P 180 seconds after they're made available at iTunes.

    So, what, exactly, is legitimate about the publishers' use of DRM? It doesn't stop illicit copying -- the dominant mode of illicit copying is to google for a cracked version of the file you seek. IOW, you don't have to be a super-nerd DRM cracker, you just have to know how to use a search engine. The set of people who know how to use a search engine is 100 percent congruent with the set of people who might buy an ebook.

    Publishers' use of DRM only burdens and harms honest users who want to do the right thing and pay for what they get. What is the legitimate case for doing this? Not just from a customer's perspective, but from a shareholder's perspective: what's the bottom line case for spending money to make your product less attractive to the customers who don't want to steal it, without appreciably inconveniencing the users who do want to get it without paying?

    As to the fair question of "how do we stop copying?" The answer is probably, "You don't." You just don't. The Internet is a machine for copying. It is inconceivable that it will get worse at copying. So it's not a fair question.

    The fair question is, "How do we cultivate a business where copying benefits us, or at least doesn't harm us?" That's a question I think your customers stand ready to help you answer.

    For starters, the customers in this forum who've said, "I won't buy these books if they have DRM on them, but I will if you get rid of it," are telling you something about how to build that business.

    Every customer who buys a DRM ebook would also buy the non-DRM ebook -- no one logs into a website and says, "Oh crap, they've only got the open formats here, better keep my money." So if you remove the DRM, you get to keep 100 percent of the sales you would have had, and you get to add the sales from all the people who've said that they'll buy it without DRM. And you get to toss out the cost of DRM licenses and support for all those users who get shafted by it. And you sustain the goodwill of all the customers who would otherwise have hated you because your DRM screwed up their books, computers or both. We know that in this instance, the author will delight in having the DRM removed, so there's no additional negotiation cost on that side (there are undoubtably internal negotiation costs between Orbit and its French owners, but one hopes that those would be recouped in the form of new norms that will allow you to continue selling books this way, capturing 100% of the DRM-willing customers as well as 100% of the DRM refuseniks, avoiding DRM license fees, support, and loss of goodwill).

    You may be asking, "Well, what about the customers who would buy the ebook, but only if there weren't any pirate editions (derived from the non-DRM version) floating around?" The thing is, hackers can generate a pirate edition from the DRM version almost as easily as they can from the non-DRM version. So this potential group of customers is a write-off no matter whether you use DRM or not.

    The only way to lure more paying customers into an ebook market is to offer them a superior service and experience. iTunes is instructive in this matter: every song for sale in the iTunes Store is also available as a pirate song. The quality of the iTunes experience is better than the quality of piracy experience -- even when you factor in the gigantic minuses created by Apple's DRM.

    I don't have the entire answer, but I think the starting principle must be "first, do no harm." Don't punish the paying customers. Don't waste money on technology that alienates loyal readers.

    Acknowledge that copying is only going to get easier, not harder, and work to cultivate a copy-friendly business. Your customers have always had the option of borrowing books, buying them used, etc, and you've contended with that superbly. When I was a bookseller, I saw the customer life-cycle, from cost-conscious student to spendy professional. I knew that today's used customer was tomorrow's new customer.

    There's a segment of the book-reading audience that wants to give you money -- for books, for ebooks, for services, etc. Focus on how to give them the very best experience -- even if doing so makes it easy for cheap students and other freeloaders to scarf down the hors d'oeuvres without buying anything.

    My Wikipedia editor friend says that her life philosophy is "Don't let assholes rent space in your head." IOW: don't let the bad actors dominate your agenda. Focus on the paying customer, not the freeloader, and on capturing the largest possible paying customer market. How about giving bonuses/recognition/whatever to the customers who distribute the most copies of an ebook, or whose distribution results in the most sales of the print book? If nothing else, it'll help you identify those customers who love to promote your products and to figure out smart ways of harnessing them.


    I shall be purchasing this book because £3 is well within my budget. It is effectively the price of a pint and a packet of crisps and that's a fine price.

    I did have a rant recently about Lois M Bujold's new book which costs over $20 for the eBook whereas the hard cover is available at amazon for $17.

    I'm not fussed by DRM limitations. Its been cracked and since your ebook is published in Microsoft .lit format there is a very simple program to convert it into something DRM free. I have to say that I quite like the Microsoft reader anyway so I'm happy to read in that format but it is nice to know that if/when Microsoft and I go our separate ways I can still read the ebooks that I bought.

    BTW I do not think authors should make all their books available for free, old ones sure because the marketing value outweighs the potential revenue, but not the current bestsellers. I do think they should be made available in DRM formats and at a price which is reasonable ($5 or so) but it seems to me that it is stupid for authors to leave money in the pockets of the punters that could be theirs. Some of us actually think its a good idea to support our authors financially so that they continue to entertain us and an ebook ought to be giving you additional royalties.


    Ah, now we're getting somewhere! Alex and Cory: thank you. Now we have a discussion rather than rhetoric.

    There are some excellent points in 74 and 76, above. Whether or not they're sufficient to sway the corporate lawyers you need to sway in order to get DRM dropped altogether . . . I don't know. But I still believe that only by taking the time to address the legitimate concerns of the other parties (and both sides' concerns are legitimate - whether one agrees with them or not) can we get anywhere on this. It is going to require understanding from both sides.

    For example, Cory, you said:

    "Let's stipulate for the moment that it's fair for producers to want to stop their customers from posting stuff to the web.

    What does DRM have to do with accomplishing that goal? There's no unbroken DRM. DRM-only tracks sold through the iTunes Music Store are broken and made available on P2P 180 seconds after they're made available at iTunes."

    What does DRM have to do with accomplishing that goal? Perhaps nothing - but that's all they have.

    Like I've been trying to get across, this isn't about a bunch of suits sitting in an executive lounge trying to think of new ways to screw the consumer. Well, maybe in a few cases it is . . . but the point I'm trying to make is that DRM is not the issue. The issue is how industries that have remained virtually unchanged for centuries respond to a marketplace and environment that is changing radically on an almost daily basis. Traditional business models are under threat and producers are struggling to find a way to protect their investments.

    Rightly or wrongly, DRM is the solution that has been decided upon. I'm not arguing that it's right - never have done. To a certain extent I think we are talking at cross purposes, Cory, because you're defending a position that I'm not attacking (or attacking a position that I'm not defending - not sure which). All I'm saying is that I'd like to see both parties admit that the other side has a point. And then I'd like to see there not being sides any longer - just a whole bunch of people collaborating on a problem to make it go away.

    That may be naive of me, but it becomes tiring being in the middle of a firefight between the industry that provides my livelihood and authors I like and respect. I wouldn't mind seeing peace break out. 'sall I'm sayin'.


    "What does DRM have to do with accomplishing that goal? Perhaps nothing - but that's all they have."

    Customer: Why do you keep hitting yourself in the face with that stick?

    Merchant: To keep the tigers away!

    Customer: But there are tigers everywhere!

    Merchant: Yes, but it's all we have!

    Darren, you say that the other side has a point -- what's the point of DRM?


    I said I was going to stay out of this, but Cory's last question forces me to comment: there is one group who profit from DRM, and that's neither the publishers nor their customers ... but the companies with DRM products to push. Almost all of which entail the publisher paying license fees to some other software company.

    I think it's significant that there's no open source DRM software platform out there. If there was a positive demand for DRM, from within publishing organizations (some of which have extensive IT departments) surely someone would have tried to create one by now?

    The commercial software industry harbours some extremely cynical marketing folks, whose standard methodology is to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, then proffer a box that promises to solve the aforementioned FUD (and bring about world peace, and put a chicken in every pot) -- at a price. The anti-virus software biz works this way (we know how to solve the virus/worm/trojan problem, we've known how to do this for forty years, damn it), and I think the DRM vendors work the same way too.

    The point of DRM is to make money for software companies, not publishers.


    Darren #78

    Rightly or wrongly, DRM is the solution that has been decided upon. I'm not arguing that it's right - never have done. To a certain extent I think we *are* talking at cross purposes, Cory, because you're defending a position that I'm not attacking (or attacking a position that I'm not defending - not sure which). All I'm saying is that I'd like to see both parties admit that the other side has a point. And then I'd like to see there not being sides any longer - just a whole bunch of people collaborating on a problem to make it go away. That may be naive of me, but it becomes tiring being in the middle of a firefight between the industry that provides my livelihood and authors I like and respect. I wouldn't mind seeing peace break out. 'sall I'm sayin'.

    The only way to figure out whether DRM is actually an impediemnt or not is to experiment.

    Baen has been mentioned a few times in this debate. Baen do not have any DRM but sell books at the same price (more or less) as you/ your employer are selling Charlie's book.

    If you/your employee put a load of books on line (and publicize it) then we'll see whether DRM is an issue or not. At present the only 3 quid ebook I can see is his. Put 20 or more books up and a link from your site to WHSmith or where-ever and see if you get an uptick in sales. You could do a webscription equivalent (all books released per month in a bundle for say £12) as well as the individual sales to make it really fair. Looking at your upcoming (UK) catalog I'd probably be up for buying such a bundle DRM or no DRM because, while I like Baen, a pure Baen diet is probably not a good thing.

    Baen has comparatively well known sales figures (around 5000 per title IIRC on average with some obviously far higher) so after a year or so of Orbitbooks doing a similar model we'd be able to see whether DRM was impacting the sale or not. We'd also be able to see whether these books were showing up as WaReZ or if, as with Baen, the price point meant that no one cares enough (this was a point Charlie made in his earlier article).

    I personally think that DRM is not the sticking point - price, publicity and availability in the right formats are. Unfortunately we have no easy way to tell because no major publisher has released a large enough bundle of cheap multi-format ebooks for us to see whether it works or not.


    PS the price of your book is actually £3.59 there's 59 p of tax (19.5% VAT ?) added


    "I think it's significant that there's no open source DRM software platform out there. If there was a positive demand for DRM, from within publishing organizations (some of which have extensive IT departments) surely someone would have tried to create one by now?"

    Hmm. While I agree with your & Cory's other points, this particular one doesn't work. There are no open source DRM packages because if you can see the source, you can crack the DRM (even easier than you can with regular closed-source DRM). DRM is all about security through obscurity.

    Crypto systems can be open source because the security is in the key, which is kept as a secret. But for a DRM system to work, the decryption key has to be in the customer's posession -- they have to decrypt their purchase, in order to use it. Fundamentally, this is why all DRM is doomed to fail: all the pieces required to break it must, technologically, be given to the customer whom the publisher (irrationally, IMO) fears will copy their content. Essentially, the sole technical challenge of DRM is to make this key present on the customer's computer but so thoroughly hidden that no-one can find it. But open-source DRM would give that key nowhere to hide.

    (You're dead right about the marketing departments, though.)


    Francis @ 81

    I personally think that DRM is not the sticking point

    I agree with you that DRM isn't critical to a very large number of readers because most people in general, including people in technical fields, who ought to know better, don't seem to have figured out the long term problem with any digital format - that any format becomes obsolete and unreadable - and that DRM exacerbates this problem.

    But one of the reasons that ebooks haven't shown the kind of "long nose" introduction curve that most technologies follow, with a few enthusiastic early hobbyists, then more early adopters, then still more unique-requirement applications ... is that there's a critical mass of hobbyists and early adoptors that need to be convinced to shill ("evangelize" as we say) for the new gadget before the next stage gets started. It's absolutely critical for the introduction of a new consumer technology that you get those people on your side, and those are exactly the people that DRM pisses off most.

    So here's the situation: a potential market that's turned off by everything they've seen so far, and a set of vendors who are terrified of what's going to happen to their current business model (which has been showing cracks and fatigue lines for several decades now as the different parts of the supply chain jockey to dominate the profits) and who have latched onto a snake oil solution that violates the tenets of good marketing. Who's going to suffer more in this situation? The readers will simply continue to buy, trade, borrow, and copy books and ebooks as they have; all they lose is buying power, as the prices ratchet up, but that just means they'll be more picky about what they buy: there are still thousands of titles published every year. The publishers are going to lose a future market, and drive down the existing one with price increases.

    A lot of people in this discussion don't seem to get Cory and Charlie's position: they profit from the publishers' success in selling their books, and they want to maximize that profit in a practical and sustainable way: by creating a new market that only marginally reduces the old. Why won't the publishers listen to this eagerly? Because of fear, in fact, of FUD, as Charlie pointed out. I think that what needs to happen is that the argument has to be focussed on the campaign that the DRM vendors have waged to create this situation for their own profit; knowingly decreasing that of their customers.


    Cory @ 72: I'm curious why your experience with Peanut Press/Palm Digital/ has been 180 degrees different than mine? You said:

    "* Customers have already had non-abstract, here-and-now, real-world rip-off experiences with DRM -- for example, anyone who bought a Peanut Press DRM ebook ten years ago and then changed credit-cards can no longer read those ebooks (I bought hundreds of dollars' worth of them)"

    I've been using Palm Reader since the day Peanut Press launched, and also have hundreds of dollars in purchases with them. I've changed credit cards three times since they launched. Each time, I simply log into my account, hit the Reset Unlock Codes, enter my new number. When I go to my bookshelf to reread something, the new code is in effect. Once I unlock the first book with the new code on my Palm, I never have to enter the new card number again. I've never lost access to a single Palm ebook in nearly 10 years. How is it that a system that has worked flawlessly for me has turned into a "rip-off" for you?


    What kind of numbers are you guys talking about? If an author has a loyal following, that following will probably pay to own the book. As for all the others that are happy to read something for free, how much income do they take from the writer? These people may have used the library before, or borrowed a friend's copy. Better to focus on the paying public and just see what they want. The people that take for free are people who may have never paid for the product in print form, so at least the writer gets exposure with free stuff.

    How bit a piece did the online Down and out in the Magic Kingdom bite into print sales? Not much I bet.



    Cory: "How do we cultivate a business where copying benefits us, or at least doesn't harm us?".

    A very eloquent way to reframe Darren's question, that cuts to the heart of the real issue.

    Darren: The sorry state of publishing - of whatever stripe: eBooks, audioBooks, CD music, DVD movies, Genetically Modified plants (& animals), even software is the response to monetizing the content that has marginal replication and transmission costs.

    Esther Dyson spelled out the future in her book "release 2.0" back in 1990(?), but the industries just resist and try to make information more like physical goods. The "Wisdom of the Crowds" has been spelled out in a million blogs like this, and articles like Cory's on a million web pages. Publishers can see, but they won't act, and I don't expect the mindset to change anytime soon.

    Cory spelled it out very well in his Locus article

    Interestingly enough, I have never bought a book by Cory, although I have read his online content, articles in magazines I subscribe to, and watched videos of his talks. But guess what, he is absolutely right about free content creating future readers. Recently I had put him on my "blog reading" list, and with the renewed attention to his writings have put his name on the "buy book" list.

    The fact is, that the scarce commodity is not content, it is attention. And Cory is even more astute when he talks about "conversation", because the scarcest commodity is "belonging". Being part of a group is about conversation and interacting. That was what "talk radio" discovered in the 90s and blogs discovered later.

    So what does this mean for publishers? It means embracing the idea that pure content will eventually have almost zero direct value. What will have value is other things. Physical, author signed, first editions. I once read in Analog magazine that sales of the special, limited edition, leather bound copies of books were worth a big chunk of book sales and profits for those people who collected such books). Sales of books and other merchandize at author readings. Paying to see authors (I went to a Richard Dawkins engagement in SF last year, following his success with "The God Delusion") and so on. I went to a signing and like many others, got his to sign not just his latest book, but his much better "The Ancestor's Tale", which is now more valuable to me as a result. Publishers will be part of this food chain and I think they will have to change to offer value in parts of the this chain that they don't involve themselves in today.

    So let me throw out another heresy. I think the lobbying to extend copyrights is hurting the publishing business. I think that extended copyrights make IP more like physical property and encourage thinking in terms of extracting "economic rents" and "theft" because the potential value is apparently raised, and so is the perceived loss. This leads to stupid business models like newspapers offering current content for free, whilst charging for their archived content. As Tim O'Reilly has said, this model is exactly backwards. Reducing copyright term might well offer better incentives to publishers to let go of the "property in IP" and think more about the value of the intangibles based on the network properties of replicating memes.

    As usual, Charlie has already written about this in "Accelerando". Or you could read "Lobsters" in his "Toast" collection. I hope I don't embarrass Charlie by saying Accelerando is one of the books I have most evangelized in the last year, not just because it is a great read, but because I felt that his points about IP made early on are lessons my content provider friends should understand, and stories are a great way to internalize messages.


    "you say that the other side has a point -- what's the point of DRM?"

    Very witty, but not the argument I made, Cory. If you want to phrase it that way, it should be:

    "you say that the other side has a point -- what's the point of trying to protect your assets?"

    That's the only point I'm trying to make. I don't believe I can say it any simpler, so I'll repeat:

    "DRM is not the issue. The issue is how industries that have remained virtually unchanged for centuries respond to a marketplace and environment that is changing radically on an almost daily basis. Traditional business models are under threat and producers are struggling to find a way to protect their investments."

    That's all I'm saying. If anyone can point to where I've said "DRM is fantastic - I love it and I look forward to the day it's present in all aspects of my life" I'd be very grateful.

    I'm simply pointing out the reason that DRM is being employed (while, at no time expressing an opinion on DRM's goodness or badness) and saying that the underlying motivation (Charlie's aforementioned Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) is perfectly understandable, and it wouldn't kill people to acknowledge the validity of that concern. Likewise, the reason many people hate DRM (listed above in manifold and elegant points) is also perfectly valid, and it wouldn't kill the producers to acknowledge those concerns.

    I think Bruce @ 84's last paragraph encapsulates what I'm trying to say:

    "A lot of people in this discussion don't seem to get Cory and Charlie's position: they profit from the publishers' success in selling their books, and they want to maximize that profit in a practical and sustainable way: by creating a new market that only marginally reduces the old. Why won't the publishers listen to this eagerly? Because of fear, in fact, of FUD, as Charlie pointed out. I think that what needs to happen is that the argument has to be focussed on the campaign that the DRM vendors have waged to create this situation for their own profit; knowingly decreasing that of their customers."

    Exactly. Forgive me if I'm twisting your words to suit my own argument, Bruce, but that implies education rather than antagonism to me. Which is what - all - I'm advocating.

    As it stands, it seems to me that the situation is this:

    Three guys share a room. One of them's having nightmares so he sleeps with the light on. It's very annoying for the other two and, what's more, it doesn't really work - he still has nightmares and they can't get to sleep with the light on. What I'm trying to get across is that the best way forward is to find out why he's having nightmares and try to help him get over them. That way everyone gets some sleep. What I see actually happening is the other two guys screaming "turn the f*ing light off, you loser!" So the other two guys still can't sleep, because the light's still on, the first guy still has nightmares, but now he's even less inclined to turn off the light - even though he suspects it doesn't help - because he doesn't want to give in to the bullying of his roommates. Now, the two guys who want the light off might be perfectly correct in asserting that it doesn't help with the nightmares, but surely we can agree that they should be able to accept that his reason for performing what they cannot perceive as anything but a futile act is a valid one.

    That's my point. I fail to see how it's not a reasonable one.


    Alex @ 87:

    "Cory: "How do we cultivate a business where copying benefits us, or at least doesn't harm us?".

    A very eloquent way to reframe Darren's question, that cuts to the heart of the real issue."

    Good point, Alex - in fact, the single most important point in the whole thread. I apologise, Cory, that I didn't pull this out in my response above. I was too busy defending myself against accusations of defending a position I wasn't, in fact, defending. If that makes sense.

    Producers of content are concerned about copying. Let's all admit that that's a valid concern, and then move on to ways of dealing with it, and answering Cory's question above.

    In other words: let's deal with the cause of the nightmares and stop yelling at people to turn the light off.


    Is my point valid at all? That books (the paper kind) are valued not just for their content, but because they are the material form of the story? Maybe Cory and Charlie should continue to promote themselves as they have and just try to make the bulk of their income from the movie rights they can sell, instead of just books. Both seem invested in spreading their memes and the best way to do that is with a film, or TV. Or computer viruses.



    Jeff: movie rights?

    cough wheeze giggle

    You guys, you really try too hard to keep me entertained!


    they'd like to find out how many people would be willing to buy an ebook of The Atrocity Archives for £3.00 — half the price. Try $1. (50p) That would be more like it. Personally I need paper for anything over 3 pages.



    I think you did miss a very important part of what I wrote: there is really a villain in this piece, and the education that most needs to take place is to show the publishers how they're being ripped off, and set up for long-term failure by the DRM vendors. If they see that the readers aren't their enemies, but are being portrayed that way to sell them something that's bad for them, they may be able to change their thinking on all of the issues around digital content. But this requires a confrontation with the DRM vendors, who are not going to be willing to have a dialog.


    Hi Bruce,

    I didn't miss it - it's an excellent point - but I didn't mention it because my argument all along hasn't been about DRM per se, but about the validity of the producers' concerns and the necessity for education and collaboration rather than antagonism.


    C.S. You can structure a movie rights deal with the right producer who will make it worth your time. I'm glad I can help add to over-all "fun." I am an aspiring entertainer and when I grow up I wanna be just like you.



    Jeff, believe it or not, I and my agent have discussed our media strategy and what to do as/when someone serious asks for an option on one or more books. Note the words "someone serious" in the preceding sentence. I've had several sniffs, but most of them are fairly clearly time-wasters, and the ones that aren't ... well, to put it charitably, these things take time.

    Authors don't generally make big money out of movie deals. What they do make is several hundred to several thousand bucks a year on a continuing basis for an exclusive option -- i.e. a producer or studio pays you an on-going retainer not to sell the rights to anyone else. Hollywood only makes about 60-70 SF movies a year, and of those, a whole chunk are the original creations of some director, and another big chunk is an existing intellectual property franchise (typically from Marvel or DC Comics, or occasionally an outsider like Transformers). Of the remainder, the movies based on actual SF novels that have been optioned, most are based on existing famous (and usually dead) authors -- such as Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov.

    I've run the numbers and it works out that maybe 3-4 novels get turned into medium to big budget movies each year. And there are about 2000 SF novels published in the US market every 12 months. So, while there's no guarantee that Stephen Spielberg isn't right now getting out of a stretch limo to enter my agent's office lobby with a cheque for a million dollars clenched between his teeth, I'm not betting on it. I'm in this business to make a steady living, not in the hope of winning the lottery.


    C.S. I agree with it all. I've had a few experiences with the inside of movie making, and for some it's Rich, but for most it's not. No guts no glory. All you need is one good movie deal, which can be achieved if you can get the right person to take an interest. You seem to have written the Jennifer Morgue and A.A. to appeal to a wider range of people--they are not as intellectual as your sf and they will sell better.

    This is what I've heard from a few producers (they are friends): We want a writer who will be part of the creative process, not just his/her agent that wants to sell the rights. But that said, they are very quick to also say they don't want the writer to get in the way of the director's vision. But, if you can get along with the director, you may find that your visions are nearly the same. Look how well Michael Crichton has done, and it's not because he's a great book writer--he's a good book writer who writes his stuff to be instantly translated into a screen play. You are a great writer; now what you need is a real pushy rep to get your books into the right "fan's" hands. Decide who you want to play Bob Howard and have your agent get A.A.into their hands and they will love it. Once an actor loves your stuff they can make things happen. Just like magic.

    On a theorectical level I think I'm just trying to promote the idea that you are one of our best and that one good movie could set you up and expose millions to your product/ideas. It's just a way to spread the memes. Graphic novel?



    I read most of my books on my Palm these days, but I won't spend full hardcover prices for an ebook. I'm really concerned about what will happen with the Palm devices go away and my last one dies. I spent lots of years carrying around multiple dead-tree editions for reading, and I love, love, love the fact that I can now carry a small library in one hand. And I can read at night in bed without disturbing my husband. (I need a backlighted screen to do that, of course.)

    Kudos to your publisher for the lower ebook price of the book. I'm waiting for Glass House to come down to approximately paperback cost on Fictionwise before I buy, though.



    ...most are based on existing famous (and usually dead) authors -- such as Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov.

    You'll get there. That's the class I'd put your stuff in (you, Cory, Ken MacLeod...). The question is, do you get to live to see it? Eat your veg. ;)


    Charlie, To make a long story short, in the interest of supporting the experiment (and because the book sounds interesting), I just tried to buy the e-book version of Atrocity Archives. Unfortunately, the site first tried to get me to buy both the LIT and PDF versions... then told me I didn't have MS Reader installed (I do) or activated (I do), and when I tried reactivating it, was told I needed a different browser...

    That's the problem with the e-book system, and DRM (not to mention Micro$oft)... too many hoops to jump through, and most of them you can't tell are aflame. This is what keeps e-books from being more widespread in the public eye, not cost.


    I will buy ebooks when:

  • The format they come in is infinitely transferable (eg. when I upgrade my reader device/software; when I lend my ebook to a friend (I'm happy for this to time-expire); when I want to back up my "library")

  • They are sold for a fair price (ie. when the "cost" of paper, ink, printing, shipping, shelf space, air-conditioning, lighting, book store staff, etc. is removed from the equation)

  • And here's the killer:

  • When my current dead-tree 4,000 volume library entitles me to a free ebook of all the books I already own. I am happy to "hand in" my current books for recycling as "proof of purchase".
  • We are miles away from 1, sometimes you see 2 (but not often), and no-one's even mentioned 3 (so far as I know).

    I am a heavy consumer of books (100+ per year) and would in all probability buy twice as many if 1, 2, and 3 were true.


    If Darren is still reading, check out this blog comment on the nytimes article on e-publishing:

    There has been comment about how conservative publishers are, but was it always thus? I have seen plenty of C19th books that contain advertising. Why exactly could eBooks, especially of the pdf format variety not do the same to keep costs low? The sort of sponsored advertising that public radio and tv use is mild and appropriate. The DVDs retain the corporate advertising message which has a long life cycle compared to most product ads.


    I just tried to buy the Atrocity Archives online, too -- won't take my credit card, for reasons unknown. Then it told me the transaction had already been completed, and I could download my book, but My Bookshelf told me I haven't bought any books yet.

    The Atrocity Archive has yet to appear on the bookshelves of Borders in San Juan, so I'd really like to buy it. But I can't.

    And I was really looking forward to a good ninja read, too, dammit.

    (I do have Glasshouse in paperback on the to-be-read stack, by the way. That I bought in Indiana while up north this summer.)


    Michael: what country are you connecting to the internet in, and what country is the bank that issued your credit card based in?

    (That might have some bearing on the problem, if one or other of them is not UK and licensed territories for this edition.)

    NB: the mass market paperback of The Atrocity Archives is due out in the US in the next month or two, and the trade paperback of The Jennifer Morgue is out around November 1st -- or was, last time I was updated on that. The UK paperback of TAA is already out, and my author copies of TJM arrived a couple of days ago, meaning it'll be in the shops in a couple of weeks.


    This thread may be dead, but if anyone's around, I'm curious about this:

    the UK... [is] a smaller market, lots of stuff has to be imported (including paper), it costs as much to edit and produce a book as in the US market but fewer copies will be sold so the overheads per book block sold are higher, and so on.

    I've always wondered why this was done separately for the US and the UK. It seems like producing a different cover, sometimes re-copyediting the book, etc., is a massive waste of resources. So why not just produce one version of the thing for the entire English-language market? Is there a good reason or is this just an artifact of historical accident?

    I'm sure this is an old question, but if anyone knows of a sucicent, accurate answer, I'm curious....


    (The thread isn't dead, but I've been scarce recently due to (a) battling to finish an overdue book and (b) illness. Normal service will be resumed ...)

    I's a historic accident, basically. Go back to the old days and shipping dead trees across the Atlantic wasn't cheap. There was also the aggravating factor of the US approach to non-US copyrights -- i.e. what would today be considered rampant piracy. (It's kind of ironic that the copyright maximalists today seem mostly to be coming from the US.)

    Some modern publishers are trying to go worldwide, and I think it'll happen over the next decade or two, but it ain't there yet. In the meantime, you'll note that my books are only copyedited once -- the second publisher just buys the typeset files in and produces a cover that they think will sell better in their market. (American and British aesthetics are somewhat different, and a "good" US book cover will go down like a lead balloon in the British book trade -- and vice versa.)


    Thanks for the answer! Hope you're better soon.


    Darren, in post #88: "So the other two guys still can't sleep, because the light's still on, the first guy still has nightmares, but now he's even less inclined to turn off the light - even though he suspects it doesn't help - because he doesn't want to give in to the bullying of his roommates. "

    I think that there's a general rule that when one talks about being 'bullied' by one's customers, that there's a serious problem. It's akin to the old saying that you never win an argument with a customer.


    Charlie: "There was also the aggravating factor of the US approach to non-US copyrights -- i.e. what would today be considered rampant piracy. (It's kind of ironic that the copyright maximalists today seem mostly to be coming from the US.)"

    Not ironic, just normal human nature. The US profited from ripping off everybody else as needed, particularly the UK, which was the pioneer in the Industrial Revolution. When circumstances in the US vs the rest of the world changed, so did the interests of many in the US. So what was 'right and proper' was revised.


    Barry @ #108: But I'm not saying producers are being bullied by their customers. The little example of the lights on/lights off guys was an attempt to get my point across without using the loaded term 'DRM' as it seems to be three letters that cause people's common sense and reasoning faculties to go out the window.

    My point is, and always has been, this: that while one might vehemently object to the mechanism by which content producers have chosen to protect their electronic assets, it is simply not reasonable to object to them wishing to protect their assets in the first place.

    Many people in the US buy handguns because they want to protect themselves and their families. I do not consider it wise for civilians to be in possession of firearms - but I accept and respect the motivation behind it (please note, I'm not talking about the violent burn-outs and survivalist nutbags, here; just the perfectly normal folk who want to protect themselves).

    And you're right: you never win an argument with a customer - not even when the customer is wrong (which is not, and never has been, my opinion on this point, incidentally). That's why I'm advocating discussion rather than argument.


    Cory@76 wrote, "The fair question is, "How do we cultivate a business where copying benefits us, or at least doesn't harm us?" That's a question I think your customers stand ready to help you answer."

    There have been a couple of posts about advertising in books since, but I'd like to point out one extension of this idea: if books were paid for by advertising (e.g. at the ends of chapters, or occasionally in the bottom margin of the page, and targeted appropriately to the book), it would be directly in the publisher's interest to encourage book files to be copied and distributed as widely as possible. Some kind of ping-back so publishers could show advertisers how widely the files have been distributed might be needed, though, and that has privacy issues.

    I'm no fan of ads, but I'm even less a fan of DRM that locks me out of accessing books I've paid for because the server is down (Mobipocket, anyone?) or the publisher has gone out of business and my previous device has changed. For that reason, I'll stick with DRM-free books or at worst, DRM systems I know I can break.


    I'd be buying the eBook for £3 now if it wasn't wrapped in DRM. I prefer my eBooks to be in Mobipocket format, but if it wasn't wrapped in DRM I'd live with the awkward format. But DRM? - just too much hassle.

    I do like eBooks though. I've bought around £1500 of eBooks over the past five years or so from Webscriptions and Fictionwise, a total of around 1000 eBooks. So my average eBook cost is more like £1.50, although some of them have been at the £3 ($6) mark.


    Something I can across on Livejournal a few days ago (and I suggest the commenter drop a mention into this thread, as it seemed relevant). Since this doesn't seem to have happened. I shall brutally summarise.

    1: RWA (Romance Writers of America?) has adopted an ebook-hostile policy. There are ebook-only publishers, but the RWA rules lump them in with subsidy and vanity publishers, and thus exclude such publication from qualifying an author for professional membership. I can see reasons for all this, but they combine in a bad way.

    2: I was then informed that Harlequin, US romance publishers, were moving into ebooks in a big way. Their product has a shelf-life problem, but ebooks are a method they're using to keep older books available. And their pricing is around half the price of a physical edition.

    It's in Elf Sternberg's LJ, and the full thread is here.

    Harlequin are at

    It's not the same pattern as a Baen webscription, but it's a lot closer to your ideal than the other SF publishers seem to be.

    (These don't seem to be the romances that my mother read.)



    I've just read your first three Merchant books, and now can't wait to read the rest. So quit messing around with blogs and get back to work!

    Seriously - nice work, and I'm very glad to see that you're on the side of the angels in the DRM deb(ate|acle). The killer for me is still that, for all the advantages of (sensible) electronic formats, it's just more comfortable to read print on paper. Some of the electronic paper stuff looks interesting though - give me 2-300 dpi and a reflective, rather than backlit screen, and you suddenly have a usable reader.


    Charlie, on the subject of the forthcoming mm pbacks of the Atrocity Archives and the Jennifer Morgue, what kind of weirdness was it that bundled them both into that "Her Majesty's Secret Service" book club edition that has been out for, like, ever in the US?



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