Back to: Utopia | Forward to: Invaders from Mars

I get a lot of email from readers saying "Books 1-3, 5, and 6 of your six-book Merchant Princes series are available as ebooks, but book #4 is missing. What gives?"

I am happy to announce that The Merchants War has been available on Kindle and, I am told, via B&N and iBooks, since November 19th.

(I'd be even happier if someone from my publishers had, like, told me, but the next time that happens will be the first time, so, well, better late than never.)

This means that if you're in the USA you can read the whole Merchant Princes series in ebook form. (Note that book #6, "The Trade of Queens", costs more than the earlier volumes because it's still in hardcover; it should get cheaper sometime next March, when the mass market paperback edition is released. Folks in other territories may be out of luck unless they can bamboozle one of the US vendors into supplying an ebook out of area. Yes, this sucks. Yes, when there's a fix I'll announce it here.)

58 Comments

1:

> Yes, when there's a fix I'll announce it here.

You still believe in miracles? (I.e. being told about about the fix?)

2:

Unfortunately Google eBooks appears to only have #3, 5, and 6 of the series.

Incidentally, I'm curious to hear your opinion on Google's new eBooks platform, when you get a chance.

3:

My opinion is that I can't give an opinion because it hasn't launched in my country yet. So there.

4:

The bastards at Amazon won't sell this to me in Europe; I'm wondering what price they charge? They list the mass market paperback at $7.99, and I see that the ebook is tagged with overpriced-kindle-version.

5:

Rights to sell the first three Merchant Princes books in English outside North America were sold to Macmillan. They're currently out of print, and Macmillan show no signs of pumping them out as backlist ebooks. Macmillan have not, at this time, bought UK rights to books 4-6. So you can't (and won't be able to) officially buy those ebooks outside North America.

Hint: there is a workaround. Register a new (free) gmail account. Use it to open a new amazon.com account. Give your new Amazon account a home address somewhere in the USA. Do not give it a credit card. You now have a US amazon account!

Buy amazon.com gift vouchers by logging into amazon.com with your existing UK/EU-based amazon.co.uk account, and cash them in to charge up your new, sanitary, lives-in-the-USA account. You are then set up to buy US Kindle ebooks by pretending to be American.

You'll need to have a Kindle device tied to that account, or read the books on screen. (Personally I'd download the ebooks to something like an iphone, then break the DRM on them and transcode them to epub files for reading on whatever the hell gadget I prefer. But you didn't hear me saying that ...)

This is an artefact of the way book contracts are drawn up, and is unlikely to change with respect to the Merchant Princes books in anything less than geological time.

6:

nixar@4, the current kindle price is $7.99, at least as of 30 seconds ago. The overpriced kindle tags probably indicate that when Tor/Macmillan originally listed it they listed it at $12.99. They do this all the time, and then sometimes drop the price later (as happened here), and for that matter, sometimes raise the price later. Unfortunately there's no way for those of us who leave 'overpriced kindle' or 'price fixing' or '$9.99 boycott' tags to get notified when the publisher changes the price, so those are left as evidence of an earlier price.

As an aside, Amazon really needs to set up a 'notify me when the price drops' function - they'd generate sales off of it, and the ability to tell the publisher, "look we have n people signed up waiting on the price drop", might be very useful information indeed.

7:

Skip, books are sold by reverse auction -- price starts high, then drops over time.

Unfortunately this usually coincides with cheaper production costs and therefore a physically different-looking dead tree edition (e.g. hardcover to trade paperback to mass market paperback). So consumers mistake the pricing for an artefact of the binding.

Also, the reverse auction has few (two to four) fixed price points rather than being continuously variable.

This is also enshrined in the contracts between authors and publishers, which inflexibly encode royalty rates as a function of the physical format of the book.

Otherwise we could start out at, say, $25, dropping by 10% per month to a floor of $5, or something like that (which would make a lot more sense for ebooks).

8:

Here are "nook" prices on B&N:

Family Trade: $6.99
Hidden Family: $7.99
Clan Corporate: $6.99
Merchants' War: $7.99
Revolution Business: $7.99
Trade of Queens: $11.99

However, price change when the paperback comes out is not a given. For example, Mario Acevedo's "Werewolf Smackdown" lists there at $7.19 for the paperback and $9.99 for the eBook.

9:

Personally I'd download the ebooks to something like an iphone, then break the DRM on them and transcode them to epub files

Not that I've got around to dealing with any Amazon ebooks yet, but wouldn't it be slightly easier to download to something with a real file management system, rather than an iPhone? Saves the step of extracting the downloaded file from the bowels of wherever iOS stashes it.

10:

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that our gracious host's method works. The only limitation is that without a US-based card on file you can't take advantage of free pre-orders. You can get currently-available free ebooks, but the pre-orders do require a card on the account.

It works very well if you're simply buying the book.

However I'd also recommend downloading to a PC/Mac with "Kindle for personal computer of choice" and strip/transcode from there rather than a portable device. Most of the tools work better on computer downloads than the portable device ones.

11:

I just can't get up any enthusiasm for e-books - but if I was even slightly minded to adopt them, I think this weird jumble of rights and formats would kill the idea off for me anyway. Surely it's in the interest of publishers to sort this out, if they want the idea to take off? What do they think they're doing?

12:

Charles, I see little evidence that the publishers are doing anything as sophisticated or sensible as a reverse auction for ebooks. I'm very price-sensitive on them. I've got enough of a reading backlog that if a book isn't in my 'must buy' category, I won't spend more than $10 on the ebook, and I won't spend more on the ebook than I would on the corresponding legacy physical edition. So I tend to watch the prices. And it's not uncommon for a book to come in at $14.99, a few weeks later be $12.99, then a couple of weeks later be $11.99 for 2 or 3 days, then back to $14.99. It's obvious to me that they're testing various price points to see what they do for sales (and yet while the books are in hardback they almost never test down to the sub-$10 level, it's almost like they don't want the info they'll get).


I would absolutely love it if they'd go to the 'continuously declining' price, but I fear that makes too much sense for the publishing industry to actually do.

13:

davharris@11, the jumble of formats and rights really only exists in the mind of the publisher, it's not that big a deal for the consumer. As for formats, today there are basically only two - mobi format, which amazon uses, and epub, which everyone else uses. And both have copy protection so weak it is as if it was designed to be stripped, and once it's stripped, they're easily converted from one to the other.

Now the hoops you have to go through if you're overseas do add something to this, and one other thing to be aware of. Last time I was in Europe, going to buy something from the US Amazon.com, using my US account and US Kindle, they wanted to charge me a VAT, detecting I was hitting Amazon from overseas.

14:

I think you are looking at two different markets. The short term fluctuations are Amazon continually (and often randomly) change prices on items to clear stock.

Charlie is discussing the 9-18 month cycle of a book release as it moves from premium hardback, to large size paperback to mass market paperback.

As for buying stuff from Apple and Amazon in the states, you should remember to purchase a Western Union prepaid mastercard when you visit there. It makes purchasing goods "within" the USA so much easier.

15:

I wonder how hard it would be to write a script to automate the cross-region buying process for e-books/iTunes/etc...?

16:

When it comes to Kindle books, I have also been able to purchase UK/European only content (as I live in the US) by registering an additional UK address to my account and activating/deactivating it as needed on the "manage your country" section of "Manage your Kindle"

17:

Selling by reverse auction works with physical media that don't have alternate distribution channels.

But with media available electronically, it imposes such a high barrier to immediate entry that people unaware of how authors get paid would acquire zero-cost copies immediately rather than wait for "cheap" copies from the publisher?

Kind of like reading Pratchett in hardback from the library, rather than waiting to buy a paperback copy, although more destructive?

18:

Why would you need to pre-order an ebook? What, are they going to run out?

19:

Can you say "artificial scarcity"?

20:

@ 5
Charlie
That is totally insane!

And why the fuck can't you just buy a CD or e-book that will work anywhere?
You've just BOUGHT IT - so why the restictions?
Utterly potty

21:

Here's the WashPost tech columnist on Google's new eBooks.

23:

Nothing in this thread encourages me to make the leap to eBooks. AFAICT, they have the sole advantage that you can carry hundreds of them in a backpack, but I haven't found a scenario where I want hundreds of books in my backpack.

24:

They also take up much less space in your home than physical books do. And organizing them is much easier when you don't have to move dozens or hundreds of books to keep them alphabetized. (And being able to have books in multiple sorting orders -- by author, by title, by series, by keywords, etc. -- is not something to be scoffed at.)

25:

Wasn't B&N talking about buying Borders a year or two ago?

As for eReaders, I've never liked the idea of spending that much on a single purpose device. Yes, I know newer ones can do more, but still... I've been toying with the idea of getting a new iPod touch for ebooks, facetime/skype, and other things (not music, though). Hell, plug it into my TV and get a wireless keyboard it could probably replace my old iBook--except that, for some things, it can't.

26:

Off topic, but can't help it.
Just saw a trailer for the new "Dirk Gently" series at Tor.com. Give the guy playing him a haircut and he's very nearly how I picture Bob Howard.

Also there: "The Princess Bride" with lightsabers

27:

Seems incredibly unprofessional, not to mention being a woeful marketing failure to not actually tell the author these things.

It isn't like an eight year old could write a script to automatically email authors when their books went live or anything....

28:

A time or three, I've seen Charlie point out that authors vary enormously on the tech they use. Having an ebook listed doesn't tell you anything about the author, certainly not whether they have email.

It looks as though the publishing world defaults to paper, at the author-publisher level.

29:

Nixar @ 4, Skip @ 6.
"The bastards at Amazon" are being hit by hacker-attacks.
As is everyone involved in the great anti-Assange conspiracy.
GOOD.
See also Charlie's earlier thread on this.

30:

Finding ebooks stashed on an iOS device is easy ... as long as you use a client-side application like PhoneDisk. And generating a MobiPocket-equivalent PID and decrypting the ebooks is do-able. Whereas the PC or Mac desktop Kindle clients go out of their way to hide everything, presumably because those operating systems are known for letting users dig around and locate files. (I can't speak for Android.)

31:

Greg: the restrictions exist to stop book piracy as practiced in the pre-internet age, when books travelled as ballast in the hold of ships -- or not at all. Lest you forget, the first edition of "The Lord of the Rings" published in the USA was an unauthorized pirate edition -- that sold millions.

(There's a little more to the LoTR story than that; the publisher set aside a royalty pot and handed it over when Tolkein's UK publisher finally noticed and sent out a nastygram, after years of ignoring the US publisher's requests to license it; and they'd forgotten to copyright the book in the USA first, making it effectively free game under US law at that time -- a real cock-up! But book piracy back in the 19th century, by real publishers is one of the things that has shaped publishing contract boilerplate to this day and still leaves its greasy thumbprints all over ebook availability.)

32:

I've not tried to convert the files off my android phone yet but it looks like kindle files are easily accessible if you connect your phone to your computer and browse to the kindle directory.

33:

James@26. Can't watch the Princess Bride video. Content is blocked in the UK on copyright grounds. Not only ebooks that have idiotic restrictions then!

34:

Charles,

Have you ever written about ebook piracy? It's been the sleeping giant of copyright infringement - always there but a minority interest until recently. Is it damaging revenues? Do you see the book publishing industry getting involved in RIAA/MPAA style activities? Where do you personally stand on it (I note you are a collaborator with Cory D, who has strong views on this, I wondered whether you share them). If I were a published author I think I would find it hard not to sit in various channels and forums telling people off!

This line of thinking was triggered by your description of the Amazon region-free hack, which is sort-of-a-little-bit verging in that direction, though only in terms of the circumvention, not the actual copyright infringement.

35:

I just got a Sony reader, after a lot of thinking about this, and well... you are right.

ebooks has a ton of advantages, and I really like the idea. Then you see the current situation and I want to scream and rip some heads.

Is the book you want available? It is available on your country? It is available on your device?

And no, workarounds are not a good answer. They work, BY MAKING ME WORK. What should be a perfect trap to have compulsive readers buying things like there is no tomorrow ("I CAN GET THEM ALL NOW, IN SECONDS, VIA THE INTERNET!!!!!111!!!!"), becomes a pain in the ass.

So, from all the advantages, right now "I can easily spend my money to buy new books quickly and without the waste of having them shipped to me" is hostage to the old issues of nobody really giving a crap about the consumer and laying 3000 new layers of inconvenience for them to pass through if they try to give you money.

Then, of course, PIRACY IS WRONG. And it is. But boy, doing it the legal way is BSDM.

36:

Hi Charlie

An obvious question: Do you feel that your US Publisher do a good job or serve you well?
Looking at it from a buyer's perspective, the answer is a resounding no. They seem to dick around with pricing and availability to the point that it seems like they actively don't want to sell the book. They do weird things to the cover art, they choose decidedly odd blurbs for your physical books. They screw with territorial rights and make it very difficult for paying customers to give them their money.
Do you regard them as a good publisher?

37:

Have you ever written about ebook piracy?

Yes, repeatedly. As someone who's been reading ebooks since roughly 1997-98, and who writes books for a living, it's a topic I've been tracking for some time.

Shorter Charlie on piracy:

#include <Doctorow.h>;

Longer, more nuanced version: I am in business to do two things -- to maximize my readership and maximize my revenue. And I can tell the difference between a lost sale and a download where no sale was there to be lost in the first place. And between a culture of obsessive collectors and a real threat to my income stream. And I've seen the surveys going back to 2000 demonstrating that p2p users spend more on media on average than folks who don't use p2p.

If I catch a company selling my work on a commercial basis to make money, I expect to be paid -- if they're making money and not paying me, that's theft. Otherwise? I could care less.

38:

Do you feel that your US Publisher do a good job or serve you well?

Yes. Your problem is that a lot of what my publishers do is invisible to you, as a customer. See the second of these essays for a brief run-down.

As for the territorial rights, I could sell them world rights, every time. I'd be shooting myself in the wallet if I did that, though: I get maybe 50% more money by splitting North American from UK/rest of world English language rights and selling them to a different publisher. There is a delicate balance between your desire for convenience and my desire to be able to eat -- which side do you expect me to come down firmly on?

39:

Ordering from Amazon US can be simpler than that. Add a random yet existing adress in the US to your adress list, mark that one as your real address.

Then when you want to buy a book, browse through a free proxy site located in the US when you press "One-click buy".

Free proxy sites are slow as muck, so you should just browse to the book you want to buy normally, copy the address, and paste that exactly in the proxy server site.

Paying with a non-US credit card registered at a non-US address doesn't seem to be a problem.

Sometimes a book is cheaper if you live in the UK or Canada, just add an address there to your account and browse through a proxy site from there.

40:

personally I wish borders would open some stores in the UK - again. They sold their UK chain to a bunch of idiots who smashed it the deck as a result of the credit crunch.

The advantage for Borders is that they now know what sites worked and what didn't. Oxford was doing amazingly well.

41:

Borders (in the US) is in no position to contemplate expensive corporate expansion ventures overseas.

42:

Taking into account that I dont understand anything about selling & buying rights and all the things you explained on your articles about the sausage factory :-P

... wouldnt it be a logical step or solution to sell separate, world-wide ebooks rights?

43:

That would indeed be logical. Unfortunately the major publishers are shit-scared of exactly that, and won't sign a deal for dead-tree rights that doesn't also include ebook rights.

As ebook sales are currently around 6-7% of the market, the nuclear option -- calling the publishers' bluff -- isn't worth pursuing at this point in time.

And even where the publisher does own worldwide rights (as Tor does for the Merchant Princes books) they're not selling the ebooks worldwide. (Not sure why; probably because it would add an extra layer of complexity to their sales accounting infrastructure by requiring them to track ebooks as both domestic sales and exports -- because a different royalty rate is payable depending on which they are.)

44:

Pity then. Again, as a consumer, and a lowly computer guy, I find the whole situation between ridiculous and impossible to understand (You have a file. I want to give you money to get that file over the internet. How come I cant?), but of course, I'm blind to the complexities of the situation from your & the publishers point of view.

Still, it is ridiculous; I want to buy those books (I have almost everything with your name on it but those), and with ebook would get me buying the whole thing in half a second... and to do so I have to follow your own advice to, basically, bypass the whole different regions, different publishers rights, lets put DRM in it too situation.

And to add insult to injury all the while I will have my coworkers laugh saying the equivalent of "Why you dont get them pirate, is your BIRTHRIGHT to do so! Screw the author! He should find a (magical) way to make money by letting me get them for free!" :-/

45:

Re: Piracy

In the long term we might get simultaneous global releases across formats, but currently ebooks are often only available in pirated form. So there is a problem there isn't there? Surely there will be lost sales from people who would have bought but just can't wait. This is a pressure on enthusiastic fans to move towards pirated copies, and some percentage of those will never get round to buying the conscience copy when it becomes available.

46:

Yes, it's a problem. Believe me, my editors are aware of it (and so am I). Fixing it is somewhat harder. Hint: the solution involves lawyers and lots of money.

47:

Melvyn@33; Apologies. Unfortunately I read the comments pointing that out at Tor after I posted here.

48:

Hi,
these are just the kind of things (regions/DRM/rabid price points) that have stopped my spending any money on eBooks of any stripe.
And the piracy thing does not appeal.
I'll stick to DTF. At least your books are a reasonable size.. ;) my shoulder twitches in angst at the thought of a Steven Errikson tome or Peter F. Hamilton..

49:

i don't like reading ebooks, i just weight for used copys on amazon, in fact all the books i buy, the shipping cost is more than the actual price of a used book,
i bought one of the laundry books from a library that doesn't want it on their shelves anymore, and will soon begin to read the rest of the series once i can collect enough change from recycleing cans, though i am diggin the laundry book more than the null a series from another author.

50:

You know that when you buy used copies not a single bent cent goes to the author?

Ditto library loans in the US (over here the Public Lending Right scheme gives me a tiny but measurable kickback from library borrowers).

I don't begrudge second-hand book sales and library loans from those who can't afford to pay, but sometimes it seems like people think "well, I paid for the book, so why are these authors bitching and moaning?"

51:

The problem with dead trees is that if you, like me, end up moving around every 2-3 years, you have an incredible huge pile of objects to move around.

I lost more or less all my book collection when I left Caracas - carried my computer science books and that was a pain. I've been moving all over Spain with my every increasing book collection, I have my parents home full of books, I have my house full of books...

At this point its either ebooks or cut down the habit :-P

52:

Sounds like your scraping change for the Laundry.


Sorry, couldn't resist.

53:

Yes, the other way a while back, but a very big investor in Borders is pushing this and may get it because of his money.

54:

Well sorry but did you pay a commission to the person who built your house? (or their decendents), when you buya second hand car did you pay ford or whoever as well?

Could you have aforded a new built house or car? Dont you think you should have bought one?

Me neither.

(i buy your books new and sometimes in hard back I even order from the USA, but i reserve the right to do with them what i please, including resell them without me or the buyer having any obligation to the author (thats why ebooks should cost less they have less rights)

55:

if i could i would actually buy all the paperbacks, the atrocity archives was everything i really dig about sci fi, looking forward to reading the other in that series and moving on...to the other books too

56:

Work have lent me an ipad for six months, in return for me writing a report on it... I've got ibooks up now, and under your name I have Glasshouce, Accelerando, Iron Sunrise, Wireless, Atrocity Archives, Jennifer Morgue and Clan Corporate. Which is kind of a shame because I was hoping to get Family Trade. gah.

Me, I hate new tech toys. Make the old kit faster, and freeze the architechture in place long enough for me to _really_ work out how to use it properly. I suspect that this attitude, formed from being a leading-edge user in the 1990s, is now too TwenCen for my own good...

57:

Try being a relict leading-edge user c.1975!
Arrgggh!

58:

Chris: email me, please.

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on December 8, 2010 5:47 PM.

Utopia was the previous entry in this blog.

Invaders from Mars is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda