Most of my novels are available in ebook format, but I keep being asked in email some variation on the following question:
Recently, I started reading the Merchant Princes series ... I've been reading on my kindle. And there is no book 4, kindle edition that I can find. Which is odd, because I bought 1-3 and have 5 and 6 on my wishlist. Is there any explanation you can provide? Is it a rights thing, or a delay, or a the-original-manuscript-disappeared-down-a-black-whole kind of thing?The correct answer is, "none of the above" ...
Circa 2005 (I'm going from memory here), Tor (the US publisher of the Merchant Princes books) dipped a toe in the ebook water. They picked a number of authors, got us to give them permission, and published our books as part of an ebook pilot program. That's when "The Family Trade", "The Hidden Family", and "The Clan Corporate" showed up on Webscription.
For internal policy reasons, this did not meet with approval from Tor's parent corporate multinational. The brake pedal was well and truly stomped on, and Tor's involvement in ebook publishing ceased for a number of years.
Subsequently, circa 2008, Tor got the go-ahead to start up the ebook program again. This time, all new titles would be rolled out through ebook channels in parallel with the dead tree release. This is why you can buy "The Revolution Business" (2008) and "The Trade of Queens" (2009) as ebooks.
Unfortunately, "The Merchants War" was published in 2007 — during the gap between ebook programs, along with hundreds of other titles (Tor publish roughly 300 books a year).
Tor would obviously like to bring their entire back list online as ebooks, but there are significant practical obstacles. For starters, many book contracts signed before 2001 don't make any mention of ebook rights, so Tor's contracts department have to renegotiate those contracts with the authors ... or their heirs and inheritors (who often have weird ideas about how the publishing industry works and how much they should expect to get paid for these rights). Next, they probably don't have usable DTP files for any book that's more than a handful of years old. (The industry as a whole seems to be moving from Quark Publishing System to Adobe InDesign; even though InDesign has a really good Quark file importer, pre-2003 files created using Quark on a Classic Mac may be a bit tough and stringy to chew on.) Consequently, to bring Tor's backlist online as ebooks requires negotiating additional terms for a couple of thousand legal contracts, then re-typesetting(!) and proofreading(!!) those books.
(You may have had the happy fun experience of reading published ebooks — especially on Kindle — that are full of typos. That's a consequence of scanning a paper copy and running it through OCR — optical character recognition — software without a human proofreader to check the output. Raw OCR output is always sprinkled with errors, and offends readers who've paid good money for a defective product. Unfortunately, fixing OCR files takes at least 30-40 hours of paid proofreader time per book.)
My back-of-the-envelope estimate is that for Tor to put their backlist online would take on the order of 2000 employee-months of labour. Which is a tall order for a company with 50 full-time staff, to serve a channel that accounts for at best 6% of sales.
Anyway, Tor have my written permission to roll out "The Merchants War" as an ebook whenever they want, and I've expressed my feelings quite clearly (about the unwisdom of making all but one middle volume of a series available through a given retail channel), and my editor Feels My Pain: but I'm not holding my breath in anticipation. If in the meantime you want to download a dodgy scan of that particular book (and buy a mass market paperback for the conscience money), I personally won't hold it against you.