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Dragged kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat

It's something of a truism that the larger a publisher gets, the more trouble they seem to have in understanding this interwebnet thingy. While smaller outfits like Baen Books and Subterranean Press seem to have more than half a clue, it's been almost embarrassing to watch the larger book publishers flailing around, roughly half a decade behind the state of the art. Currently most of the big imprints have caught on to the fact that you can use the web as something more than a copy of the quarterly sales brochure, but they're still standing on their soapboxes, honking into megaphones; so it's nice and refreshing to see one of them get their act together.

Case in point: Tor.com — Tor's revamped and relaunched web presence. It's very Web 2.0, with original fiction, blogs, and social networking bells and whistles; hopefully it'll be linked up to their long-awaited ebook store fairly soon so you can all buy my books. (Ahem ...) And it actually looks like more fun than a corporate sales pitch.

Anyway. I mentioned free fiction? Go there and you'll find stuff by John Scalzi and, um, some guy called Stross. And if you stick around to tell us what you thought of it you might even get an answer. It's that kind of place.

Oh, and to celebrate their launch they're giving away free books.

36 Comments

1:

What do we do if we've already bought your books? ;)

I wonder. Am I the only one who thinks offering free ebook versions along with the dead tree additions might be a good idea? I have an ebook reader (The rather expensive Iliad) and I love it to bits. It's just really awkward to get content for if you don't like drm. To be honest there's no a huge selection of good sci-fi even if you do like DRM. If ebooks are ever going to gain real traction (If they should is another discussion) publishers need to be working on ways of getting the message out.

Cheers for the new story though Charlie. I'll pop that on the Iliad and read it on the way into work tomorrow.

2:

No, your not the only one - its definitly a great idea; the first Stross book I read was free, the first Scalzi book I read was free, the frist Doctrow book I read was free; now there is a bunch of shelf space I can't use as it happly housing dead tree versions of many of your/their books. As Cory points out, it's market penertration thats the problem. Sure, some people won't buy. Newsflash, they won't anyway - there are plenty of torrents around, and you don't have a snowballs chance of stopping that kind of sharing now it's all bits.

I too have an eBook reader (Sony), and feel the same way about it; when it breaks there will be tears and a express mailed replacement. On the whole I now perfer it to paper for every day reading (smaller and lighter, can have several books on the go at once, and I never have journey where I don't have something to read). But I'll be buggered if I am going to spend money on a DRM infected and format locked bit of malware, regardless of the content.

Good on TOR for giving away a bunch of books; I've just downloaded the lot; who knows, maybe there will be 2-3 authors from the lot that I like enought to pay for more. Seems like a pretty good gamble from all parties points of view to me.

3:

ooh, I'm not so sure I want publishers to start selling, unless they commit to (stupidly) sell for MSRP. If they truly disintermediate, and sell at, say, wholesale plus a little markup for their intarweb costs, it undercuts any chance that a second party smaller than Amazon can try to get a footing out there.

There's a need for little voices crying in the wilderness, providing value in reviews, opinions, cross-publisher comparison, and the cost of that value is a little higher book price. Maybe they can meet or beat Amazon, but they can't beat buying it from the source.

4:

St Hilda of Grantham. :-)

5:

@joelfinkle, if the internet disintermediates, it disintermediates.

If there's truly value in reviews, opinions and comparison, it will be paid for in some other way — directly, via referral fees, subsidised by something else, or arising itself from web 2.0 as user-generated content. After all, even traditionally there are book reviews in newspapers and club newsletters, which are not subsidised by a higher book price (or, at least, not from the bookshop's margin).

η

6:

Heh, they're just some rounded corners, AJAX and dropped vowels (TorReadr.com :) away from the Century of the Anchovy.

7:

Er, scratch that -- rounded corners all over the place!

8:

Good news, and as soon as they make books available of yours (which aren't already available on fictionwise), electronic tokens representing goods and services will be transfering from my banks, to Tor's banks, and then some percentage to your account.. Hopefully then you can use those tokens to buy more food & toys so that you can write more books for me to read :)

9:

A good website, and great to see the comments section at the bottom of each story.

Also the free content - both the written words and the audio versions (audio makes my commute so much more bearable :)

Charlie - any plans for converting the laundry series to film?

10:

Ha! I'm reminded of circa 1995, when my business partners and I (doing web consulting) gave a presentation to the Doubleday Music and Book Clubs senior staff. We just knew that they'd heard of this new web thingy and wanted to know what they could do with a web site.

"OK," we said, "this is great, you can save a ton of money. You know how you currently send out post cards asking people whether they want such-and-such a book, and have to pay enormous processing fees for returned books when they don't reply in time? You can save all that trouble and money by allowing users to maintain their accounts on-line, and by warning them by email just before you ship a book."

They stared blankly at us for a minute, regained some semblance of orientation, and then said, "We just want a web site!"

"Fantastic!" said we. "You can provide better service to your customers! You know how you currently send out the same book, chosen by your editors, to everybody in a given club? With the kind of database you will be able to quickly build, you'll be able to fine tune your recommendations so that people will get books they will like, instead of what your editors hope many of them will like! Look at Ringo / Firefly," (with its email address), "which recommends music based on just a few pieces of music you already like - no matter who you are, you'll get recommendations that you will personally like!

They stared blankly again. "We want a pretty web site!"

We offered to go over our ideas again with cost savings projections and their IT people, but never heard back - I understand they went with static pages made by an executive's family member instead. It was years before they even began to consider the inevitable.

That was the point when I decided to take the advice that Eric Hughes gave me: "If you want to make money with technology, take the stupidest thing you can think of and make it stupider." He was right.

11:

And even better is PNH's statement in various places that we will be able to buy Tor ebooks (again) real soon now.

12:

I just prefer real softback books that I can crease, bend, tear, spill coffee on, add dog ears, annotate, stick post-its in, etc. Also, with an ebook, I'm assuming you don't get the lovely new book smell. And what the hell would you put on your bookshelf. How would you intimidate people with how better read you were in comparison to them...? I just love books - the way they are, and I don't think ebooks are ever going to truly replace them, other than a specialist took. I can definitely see the attraction of being able to carry round a 100,000 volume encyclopedia in a tiny little satchel.

In conclusion - don't take my books away, please.

13:

I don't think anyone is suggesting that ebooks should replace real books. Some of us just like them as an alternative option. I have no issues reading books on a nice e-ink screen and carrying my reader around (Especially on holiday) is much easier than carrying a book.

I'm currently reading a dead tree version of Ashes of Worlds by Kevin J Anderson. It's bigger and heavier than my ebook reader that contains hundreds.

I'd just like to be able to buy electronic versions when I choose.

14:

Full-price eBooks, priced to match the physical book, feel like a rip-off because, as a physical book, I'm buying the complete, eyeball-ready, package.

No, I can't figure out the per-book cost to me of this laptop, or of a dedicated eBook reader, but a couple of hundred quid, up-front, before I can read a single page, is a significant barrier.

Then there is the discounting. Arguably, eBooks are competing with Amazon, so you'd better take into account the price people pay Amazon.

Of course, that's an example of the supermarket fallacy, which falls apart when you're talking about books. You can't substitute J.K. Rowling for Dan Brown, even if there are people who will cheerfully buy the cheaper of Coke or Pepsi. The marketeers would kill for a brand that was as distinctive as Charles Stross, but you won't even pop up on their screens without a movie deal.

(I'm not trying to recall enough of the jargon for the labelling on the "Bob Howard" laptop, built to be mathematically safe.)

15:

Dave: SATURN'S CHILDREN is available as a DRM'd ebook for US $24.99! Or as a handsome hardcover for $24.99, usually discounted to $16 in the actual shops (or on Amazon).

Which would you buy? (Me, I'd buy the hardcover and hunt down a cracked warez copy of the ebook.)

16:

I certainly wouldn't buy a DRM'd copy. Your other problem is tracking down cracked copies of books to go with your paper. As we all realise ripping a book to a digital format is a lot more involved than ripping a cd. I know the places to go to get naughty digital copies of books and to be honest unless you're after classic sci-fi the selection isn't that good. To be honest Charlie I'd be surprised if Saturn's Children appeared on the warez networks anytime soon (Or ever). That being a good or bad thing is up to the reader.

Just look at how long Iain Bank's Matter has been out. I still haven't seen a digital copy to go with my dead tree version. In the case of Matter I'd rather have bought the electronic version. I'm not a big enough fan of his to care about having the paper edition.

I'm not getting locked into drm though. No way.

17:

As a side note, in the Discworld, isn't it now the Century of the Anchovy?

18:

Saturn's Children on Amazon Kindle sold for $9.99 (yes, it's DRM'd). And since my 2 brothers + 1 coworker had their kindles tied to mine, basically all 4 of us got to read the book for $10 (so the DRM is a non-issue for us!). That's $2 a person --- less than the price of a subway ride in Munich. Throw in the lack of having to wait for Amazon to ship the book, I think I got my money's worth. :-)

So Charles, stop trying to discourage sales of Saturn's Children. It's a great book, even in e-ink format.

19:

Oops. $10 / 4 = $2.50. Still less than the cost of a subway ride in Munich. (Which is 2.3 Euro = > $3)

20:

Actually for EBook readers, Saturn's Children is currently available @ fictionwise for 11.48, 9.76 if you are a fictionwise member.. I think I paid about $13 when I purchased it last week. [Of course the discount is in the form of a 'micropay rebate', but you can use that to purchase other books, I actually purchased the book with my existing rebate money for no money out of pocket [Their current rebate is one of their credit card only ones, you have to shell out money for it]

It's DRM, but of course certain versions of DRM are easier to break than others.

21:

I looked at Fictionwise last week and SC was $25. Someone must have onitced ...

22:

I've just found a shiny (untouched?) hard copy of SC in the round_and round_the_books_go library-thing in the basement of my students hall, I hope the purchaser and Charlie got their money's worth. - and we wonder where student overdrafts go.

23:

Well, I'd never read your work before and I was really blown away. Like I said on my comment there it's the exact thing I want to read. I'll be grabbing up the rest of your work.

24:

Eric: all the rest is different ;-)

25:

Eric - if "the exact thing you want to read" is stunningly intelligent SF, ignore what Charlie is telling you and buy all the rest of his books. (What does he know? He's only the author.)

26:

"in the Discworld, isn't it now the Century of the Anchovy?"

I suspect that is precisely Charlie's point.

27:

Too late Mr. Stross! Orders were made!

(that's exactly what I'm after Clifton...)

28:

You know, this'll give Tor a lot of hard data on the effects of free eBooks on authors' sales. Eeeeexcellent, Smithers.

29:

Last week fictionwise seemed to have a bug on their website that didn't reflect the member price & rebate on SC (which I greatly enjoyed). When you added it to your shopping cart, the proper price was reflected there.

30:

After reading "Down on the Farm", I'm convinced that our host here watched too many Dalek episodes of Doctor Who.

31:

Martin - you should get hold of the short story "Trunk and Disorderly". You think "Down on the Farm" riffs on Daleks, you ain't red nothing yet!

All I will say is "Inseminate...INSEMINATE"

32:

Charlie plans to finish off the set with a gentle tale of time-traveling killer droids who, sent to kill off the future leaders of human resistance, instead skived off to sample the merits of real-ale bare in the Leeds of around 1990.

Their drunken bottle-cry is left as an exercise for the reader.

33:

Martin @30:
There is no such thing as too many Dalek episodes of Doctor Who.

34:

hmm.. thank you very much. usefull information

35:

Cool. It took almost a day to find this info. Thanks, great job. :)

36:

I love your blog...really. Did you already hear about water on mars? :)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 20, 2008 6:53 PM.

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