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Work Is Never Over: On Publishing and Its Many Faces

A couple of commenters indicated interest in hearing my thoughts on the blistering array of publishing options currently fighting it out Pon Farr style in the contemporary world of letters. Before my time here comes to a close, I'll try to address it in some way I haven't before. I sometimes feel that with every post on self-publishing we draw closer to some millionth-customer trumpeting confetti-strewn alarum announcing THE INTERNET HAS HAD ENOUGH, NO FURTHER COMMENTARY IS NECESSARY. KEEP CALM AND PUBLISH HOWEVER YOU WANT.

Wishful thinking.

But it's true that I've published with the Big Six and I've published on my own damn website, I started out in the small and micro press world and I've experimented with all the methods of getting my words into people's heads that seemed to make sense to me, so I do have A Perspective. I've talked before about my thoughts on the writing life in this age of uncertainty, innovation, and hyperbole--for never was there a post on why traditional publishing still has a whole lot to offer for those of us who never had any ambition to start a small press that only publishes one author that was not answered by gnashing of polearms and delighted furor insisting that Kindle will save us all, publishing itself is dead, or in some charming cases, that taking money from a publishing company in order to write a novel is akin to being a house slave in the American South.

I've also had incredibly negative publishing experiences and incredibly positive ones. I've had big giant presses treat me badly and drop my books down a Well of Forgetting that I'm convinced exists in the center of New York. I've had big giant presses stick by me and treat me like family. I've had teeny presses put out wonderful books and behave with kindness and professionalism; I've had teeny presses treat me like something to scrape off their shoe when no one is looking. I've had self-published projects that won major literary awards and literally made my name and ones that no one gave much of a crap about. You'll notice that it doesn't matter much what method was used to bring a book into the world--it can go poorly and it can go well in each and every camp.

Much of the blaggering about How to Publish Without Those Foul, Cackling Warlock-Publishers relies on the idea, which most aspiring writers have, though the smart ones keep it on the down-low, that there is some kind of magic Success Wand that can cast Accio Everything I've Ever Wanted over them and make them sell a million ebooks just like Amanda Hocking. No one would ever admit that they think this wand exists--they pay lip service to the idea that writing is hard work and you never know what will get traction in the market--and yet I get several emails a week asking me to share the secret of how I "made" The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland such a hit.

At the moment, the Success Wand is the Kindle. Why, it's easy! Everyone is doing it! Nothing could ever possibly go wrong! Why would you trust your work, the substance of your soul, to a greedy, Machiavellian, rapacious corporation that only wants to edit, package, and sell your book use you and screw you and when you could instead trust it to a different greedy, Machiavellian, rapacious corporation who won't do any of those things before using you and screwing you?

And you know, funny thing, that corporation just yanked thousands of ebooks because it wants to dictate contract terms to the 2nd biggest independent distributor in the US instead of negotiating like a normal fucking business whose official moral stance doesn't include: be a schoolyard bully and swing your weight around because no one can stop you (this year).

I know it's super boring to say: e-publishing doesn't change the fact that writing is hard work, editing is hard work, finding and legitimately paying for GOOD art and cover design is hard, copyediting is hard, marketing is hard, and it all costs money and takes a huge amount of time. I want to be a writer, not a small press--and that's been said before oh so many times, including by Our Host, but it's true. I barely have time as it is to keep writing books while handling the business of writing. I have no interest in taking on 6 other jobs. Yes, quicky formatting and slapping a stock image/stealing something from Google Images and hoping for the best on a book and uploading it to Amazon does not take very much work. But those methods do not fill me with assurance that the work itself has been crafted with skill, patience, or deep knowledge and feeling. There is a reason for the traditional publishing process. Yes, they screw up sometimes. Yes, they publish bad books. Yes, they can and hopefully will learn to speed up their cycles and administer erights in a fair way and adapt to a changing world.

But if they were so useless now that we live in the Publishing Singularity, Amazon wouldn't be setting up shop as a print publisher, cherry-picking already successful authors, and doing everything New York gets hated on for while insisting on exclusive contracts, listing books early, screwing bookstores, distributors, authors, and trying to replace an entire industry with itself like some kind of capitalist Absorbaloff.

Honestly, it's not so much that they do these things--that's what corporations do, and getting mad at them for acting like robber barons is like getting mad at rain. What continually frustrates me is the geek insistence that they are our friends, not only friends but savior and great democratizer, that they are more fair than other publishers despite their propensity for pulling books and the fact that the juicy royalty rate can change at any time and most probably will given that this is how robber barons work: lower prices and operate at a loss until no one else can compete with your deep pockets, then jack them up again when you've clear cut your industry and left only yourself standing. I mean, it's a classic.

Ebooks are most definitely the future, and they are very nearly the present. I don't think we'll stop print runs any time soon--when millions of copies of a product still sell, it's a little early to crow over the death knell of their manufacturers. But I don't see why I should put on my frilly come-hither dress for robber barons and count myself on their side. Amazon is and should be seen by everyone who lists their books with them not as a savior but as a brute beast that you can strap yourself to for the present, but never forget that they can trample you, and you may want to leave a knot or two lose for a quick escape. No one ever loved and feared iUniverse this way. Self-publishing has always been hailed as the great equalizer, and it has always had these exact drawbacks: uneven quality, overweening quantity, low profit margins for authors, and poor packaging. Only one of those--the profit issue--is helped by the current system.

But enough about Amazon. Part of my issue with the whole dialogue is that they dominate every conversation, and the whole part where we write books and love them and people care about those books gets lost, because it's all about the format, it's all about being more tech savvy that the next author, all about selling--when really, it's not any more likely to sell big numbers than before. Where Kindle shines is in its ability to sell back-catalogue books for authors who've had some print publishing. New Kindle-only authors are as unlikely as ever to make a big splash, though of course it happens, just like the NYT list happens, just like lightning happens. And now, it's probable that any Kindle stars will be snapped up by Amazon's print arm anyway.

So yeah, enough. We all have to work with them. They have a use. But they are not quite the neutral tool for forging the new world that so many seem to think they are.

But what I was asked was: how did it work for me? No one wants to hear there is no secret, it's luck, it's writing something people respond to, it's effort and time and work. SO BORING.

So here's some data points. In seven and a half years in the game, I have published five novels with indie presses, one with a micropress, six with New York presses (Bantam, Tor, and Feiwel and Friends), and two serial novels. Two collections with indie presses, five poetry collections with micro or small presses, a standalone hardback novella with a regional science fiction association, and one collection self-published via Kindle and Lulu.

That Kindle collection bears some explanation: since 2008 I have run a crowdfunded subscription project wherein I write a short story every month which is not published elsewhere, print it on archival paper and mail it out to readers all over the world. There's also an e-version, but interestingly, the vast majority of subscribers want the physical object. It's called The Omikuji Project, and I collected the first two years of stories into a single volume.

I'm sure there are ways and means of publishing I have not tried. But I've done most of it at least once. In every single instance, I have busted my ass marketing and trying to get those books in front of people, made all the more difficult by the fact that I don't really write easily-digestible thrillers. I have toured on my own dime, run ARGs, made book trailers (one of which got over 2 million hits, one of which didn't manage to top 2000), blogged unceasingly, done tie-in musical albums, thrown masked balls, anything I could think of. I have been nominated for awards, won and lost them, in fairly equal measure between traditionally published material and online publications, as far as anyone can tell Fairyland was the first self-published book to win a major literary award before appearing in print in any fashion. But I didn't get nominated for the Nebula until I did a standalone limited edition novella with the WSFA as part of my obligations as the GOH for a small regional convention.

The point of that little infodump is to say: everything is always and forever unpredictable. I had no idea that the serial novel I put on my website in 2009 to pay my rent would become my breakout book. I had no idea my deeply strange surrealist sex novel would get me my first Hugo nomination--I wouldn't have bet a dollar on that. Is "the secret" to publish with Tor or Orbit or Bantam or DAW? Is it to put a children's book on your website and not even bother to list it in the Kindle marketplace because that's a lot of work (actual reason for Fairyland not serializing on the Kindle)? Is it to publish with WSFA? No, because those were all very specific circumstances, and if you ask any writer, you will find that very specific circumstances, impossible to manufacture, predict, and often repeat, govern just about every success story. And I've easily had as many failures as successes, all governed by equally specific and unrepeatable circumstances.

You simply cannot know what, when you are a working writer, will take off and what will flop. You do not know it anymore now that ebooks are on the rise than you did before. The ebook marketplace is the slushpile, and it is just as long a shot to be plucked out of it as it ever was. You cannot know when someone with a lot of influence will read and like your book, or when a juried award will pick yours out of low-middling performance obscurity and make your name, you cannot know if the cover of your book will sell it to people who've never heard of you and don't even like fantasy. It's not that you have no control over it. It is gameable, but chaotic. The system is not rigged, but it is slanted--publishers can put a tremendous amount of energy behind a book to make it a success and it can work most of the time, but it fails, too. And there is very little you can do to determine whether your book is chosen for that infusion of life or not, whether the thousands of Kindle-available books will part like a sea to reveal your perfect pearl of a novel to the millions of readers looking for a .99 fix.

Art, it turns out, is hard.

So we wrap around to a point I made at the beginning of that massive four part post about writing advice. Since you don't know, and likely are not in a position to game it with much skill, you might as well write what you love, write what you believe in, and use every trick to get it out there. Start with the big presses because they are still the best path to growing as a writer (you will be edited and this is not a bad thing, it's not cramping your pure vision, it's not violating you as an auteur) and making your book available in multiple venues (not locking you into exclusivity with one website or bookstore). If it doesn't work, write harder, write better, become more awesome at it. Then try again. Try smaller presses. Get an agent--or don't, I sold four novels before I got one. But I couldn't live without mine now. If you still can't sell, hit the e-market, Kindle, Smashwords, your own site, give it away for free in hopes of going viral or charge what you think the market will bear.

Hire someone to edit you, hire someone to copyedit you, hire an artist/designer or buy good art legitimately, maybe learn to design yourself, but always have people to tell you if your design sucks. Be creative, advertise with content: for every bit of advertisement, supply an equal bit of interesting content so people don't get irritated. Do the best you can, and then do it again. Pay them money, because if you think writing should earn money, if you think it's a job that you should be compensated for, then what editors and designers do should also earn payment, is also deserving a slice of the riches you hope to pull in from Amazon's royalty rate. At least barter. At least, if you're going to make yourself into a small press, behave with the professionalism toward your own work that a press would.

There is no one answer. Do it all. Try everything. Be canny and aware. Protect yourself and don't trust any company to have your full interests at heart--even if they do, the company itself can fail, as so many did in late 2008, which, combined with other companies failing and laying off my husband, is what forced me to start serializing a weird kid's book to begin with, which turned out to be the best thing I ever did for my career.

Be a hybrid, leave no tool unused.

We are in a transitional state in this industry. No one knows how it will shake out. Greater forces than we stalwart authors are at work. All you can do is be like unto Boxer: work harder. Decide what it is you want. Do you want to Be a Writer? Or do you want to write? Is it not good enough if you're not on the NYT list? Or enough that one person somewhere was touched by your book? If you can do the work, some level of success is available to you. There are many paths to it, and no one of them are easy, but the raw fact is that the world wants good books, and if you can make them, it is very likely that you will find a way to one of those levels. Beyond that, there is luck and there is brutal bloodyminded drive and stubbornness and there is work. Work, as the Daft Punk kids say, is never over.

And no matter what new thing is being waved about as a Success Wand for the new era, there is no shortcut around that work.



Standing ovation... Well said!


Really good articles thanks, although I suspect it might not be what a lot of people want to believe.

I noticed that you talk a bit about gaming the system, with self published work. Casting an eye over the Kindle store there appears to be a heck of a lot of cheating going on with reviews for self published stuff.

Has Amazon has been caught out by the ability of self publishers to game the reviewing system, in a way that professional publishers wouldn't dare risk their reputation to do? Or is it that policing this sort of thing is a sufficently complex technical problem that they have been unable to get on top of it yet?

Any view on the implications on Print on Demand for physical publishing? As I've mentioned before, I was wondering whether the big supermarket chains are likely to get involved with that?


I left a long and info-dumpy reply to this, but it's probably better to say that it's on my blog and I agree with everything you say here.


For what it's worth, Stackpole's post wasn't talking about being a house slave in the American south, but about being a house slave in ancient Rome. (That's why the subject line said "vs. Spartacus".) Kind of an important difference since the American south version has a racial subtext that tends to distract from the message.


To clarify a bit my personal view on the "publishers are dead" meme. FYI, I used to work for CNET in an analytical role (as of about a week ago so I can say that now) who is owned by CBS who owns Simon And Schuster and been involved in a lot of interesting discussions...

The existing new york publishing houses are going down the tubes not because Amazon is better or more noble or stands up for the little guy or because authors don't need services anymore.

They are going down the tubes because Amazon is more efficient, can price lower, controls their most important distribution channel and is happily, joyfully, mercilessly killing them. The are the deer to amazon's wolf. Nothing more.

When the tech community says "yeah those guys are toast" it's not a moral statement it's just a prediction based on the past twenty years of eating companies like that and then picking our teeth with bits of ribcage afterward.

Best thing for an author to do to maintain balance of power is to strengthen apple, IMO. Cause trust me, you so now want to be Jeff Bezo's slave...


Yes, indeed.

Speaking here as one very affected by the IPG business.

This may or may not be on topic, but some writers are sneering at IPG along the lines of asking, "Why are IPG in the e-book biz at all?" They don't understand that these indie publishers such as ours have their own contracts for their Kindle available titles bundled in BY AMAZON with the contract amazon has with the publishers' distributor. The distributor isn't in the e-book biz, it's in the distribution biz.

It's part and parcel with amazon pulling all its Kindle available titles from public libraries. Which then did several of the major commercial publishers. This also goes with amazon not wanting the publisher's price on your book either, whether print or e-book edition, and changing it peremptorily.

I don't know about the other publishers that IPG handles, but the publisher for our earlier books is very cost conscious at every level. Their efficiency has allowed them to so far weather the publishing catastrophes of the last years entirely intact, paying us very nice royalties all along. amazon's demands would cut very deeply into those royalties, whch are fair, and based on what the contract between the writer and the publisher agreed to. We got paid small upfront advances, but because the books sold and still sell so well, the royalty rate has provided a significant income from the very first reporting period on each title, and which has continued every since. So far.

Love, C.


One of the biggest factors in the SF&F publishing business in future are going to be fan sites doing reviews. They will be the equivalent of peer review prowling the eBook slush piles of Amazon on behalf of the readers. This blog and similar ones held in high regard will also be very influential.


Thank you.

I will venture a guess that the "small" publishers like Prime will become much more important to writers beginning their careers and also for established writers whose output is low or idiosyncratic.

As to Amazon...I've heard from someone I trust it was founded as an experiment by a couple of hedge fund managers. Anyone who has read Amazon's contracts knows they are not trustworthy. Amazon treats its suppliers like Wal-Mart treats its suppliers, and authors are suppliers for its publishing business.

This doesn't mean it's impossible to do business with Amazon. But it does mean that if they see a way to make a profit at an author's expense, even a small one, they will do so.


BTW, I like Amanda Hocking's comments on this subject:

Her list of favorite authors is interesting, and probably has more to do with her success than her publishing model.

Continuing speculation on e-publishing, it looks to me like Google (oh, noes!) might be the best of the lot when it comes to doing business with the big three e-publishers. I say this, however, without a careful review of their contracts and might change my opinion next week.


Ultimately, for famous authors, why go to Amazon for their latest eBook rather than their own personal website. Why, for example, does Stephen King or J K Rowling need Amazon?


Amazon is at war? The whole company is run on a war footing.. To get inside the head of Jeff Bezos think of Joseph Stalin around 1942. If Jeff had an atom bomb he would drop it on his enemies without blinking


I imagine even for famous artists they need the distribution channel that amazon provides, or else they will loose sales

However they should be in a position to play the competitors off against each other (apple, nook, amazon) that is really the trick to keeping the playing field level

The thing I cannot figure is out is why famouse authors let themselves get locked into long term contracts


Hire someone to edit you, hire someone to copyedit you, hire an artist/designer or buy good art legitimately, maybe learn to design yourself, but always have people to tell you if your design sucks.

Well said. While we're notoriously our own worst editors, I try to ask myself that question before putting things out for others to read. I don't always produce the right answer. But then, some people aren't even asking the question.

(Hm, what's that Hoovering sound coming out of my word processor?)


"The thing I cannot figure is out is why famous authors let themselves get locked into long term contracts"

(1) they weren't famous when they signed them is part of the answer. (2) authors aren't (mostly) lawyers. (Exception: S M Stirling>) (3) publishers generally treat authors who do become famous very well--it's the rest of the authors who may get the short end of the stick.

As to the relationship between authors and publishers, I wrote this about a year ago and I think it stands up pretty well: "Publishers make their money from editing, marketing, and taking on financial risk; authors are in the business of communication."


"I imagine even for famous artists they need the distribution channel that amazon provides, or else they will loose sales"

I'm not sure how true that is. Amazon is not a bookshop where people browse the shelves. I suspect most people (like me) go to Amazon knowing what they want. In future, if I wanted the latest Stross I would look here first if it were available for download.


Charlie: Honestly, it's not so much that they do these things--that's what corporations do, and getting mad at them for acting like robber barons Like Apple corp, you mean?


Thanks, Cat; that's a impressive piece of rhetoric. I hope that are some people out there reading it who will be enlightened by your point that there's no mystic secret to success. I don't think anyone could make it any clearer or more persuasive.

Art, it turns out, is hard.

No shit, Sherlock. And as long as you have to work hard at something to succeed, it ought to be something you enjoy doing, worked at in a way that rewards you, and that produces results you can be proud of. You're likely to regret it if you don't at least try hard to fulfill all of those objectives.


Apple's not a whole lot better than Amazon for books, and Amazon's customer base for books is much larger. For indie musicians, well, at least Apple honors their contracts. But scuttlebutt is that they're awful contracts.


I don't think Apple is any better then Amazon. You just don't want Amazon with an unchallenged monopoly.


Well said, Cat, well said. Should be required reading for anyone who wants to write and publish.

Yes, art is hard. And yes, since there's no way of knowing what will succeed in the marketplace of ideas, write what you love.

BTW, loved your take on the women of Doctor Who @ Boskone. I was the woman who risked audience ire to say how much I couldn't stand Moffatt's writing.


Much appreciated. The only suggestion I'd make is to update this semi-annually. That and pray that plot bots don't become too effective.


Cat said:

Amazon is and should be seen by everyone who lists their books with them not as a savior but as a brute beast that you can strap yourself to for the present, but never forget that they can trample you... No one ever loved and feared iUniverse this way.

Well, no novelist has ever loved and feared iUniverse this way, but publishers with apps in the iOS app store have, at this point, suffered from multiple arbitrary policy changes imposed on Apple's whim, sometimes on purely aesthetic grounds.

Example: the app from a bathing-suit merchant which got caught up in a "sexual content" purge because --- gasp --- it featured women wearing the product. Not to mention Mark Fiore, who couldn't get an app published featuring his Pulitzer-Prize winning political cartoons because they had --- gasp --- political content. IIRC, both these got reversed after bad publicity, but there's no telling where the lines are. (The upshot of the Fiore thing, as far as I can tell, is that anyone can now publish political cartoons in the iOS app store, so long as they have first won a Pulitzer Prize.)

Apple hasn't been caught playing games like this with books yet --- but that may just be that they aren't yet enough of their business to get on the radar. Or that they're still trying to build the ebook business, so now would be a bad time to piss people off. Either way, though, you can't assume things will stay as they are...


I mean: brilliant essay, Cat Valente!


em>The thing I cannot figure is out is why famouse authors let themselves get locked into long term contracts

One word: security.

Most authors (Cat is an exception) don't even start publishing novels until they're in their mid thirties. Ten books in, they're in their early to mid forties. At that point, they're typically dealing with elderly parents/young children, and feeling the onset of middle-aged ailments. It's a time of life at which being offered a guaranteed income for multiple years is very appealing -- and not just to writers.


Thanks, Cat!

Together with Charlie's CMAP series, this should be required reading for all aspiring authors. And each one should have this stamped on their heart:

Art, it turns out, is hard.


I would not be surprised if, in those cases, it were the choice of the publisher. A few years there was some wailing and gnashing of teeth when publishers started explicitly including e-publishing rights. Most of the rage and fury seemed to be directed at newspapers. For books, at least, the publisher has put in a lot of effort on editing, and an e-book is is part of a whole package of different editions.

As a reader, Amazon provides a service which works, something of value to me. So do publishers. And libraries. But none of them should feel entitled to rip-off their suppliers.

The way Amazon is trying to use e-books, they're ripping off publishers and authors. The systems they have, allowing me to find books, and for them to be bough by me and delivered, are so good that they don't need to act like gangsters.

But they do behave that way.

(Hold on, I think the parrot is being delivered. Looks rather tired, beautiful plumage, might it be pining for the fjords?)


Though I don't want to derail the topic, it's fascinating to me that both Amazon and Apple haven't learned the lesson that dictatorships tend not to last long, especially in an environment where people can walk away. I bet we'll be dealing with other big companies in 10-20 years.


I think Amazon essentially wants to be Walmart. Dictatorship has worked pretty well for Walmart.

Apple is a little harder to pin down as regards to longterm corporate strategy, Jobs was a slippery one.


Apple wants to sell shiny hardware because the profit margin is HUGE. (Up to 30% on some of their kit.) The apps and movies and music and books are primarily there to suck customers into the walled garden that hooks them on a treadmill of (ideally) annual hardware upgrades to something newer and shinier.

Amazon ... books are a loss-leader; they make their real money selling domestic appliances and Walmart-esque contents. "Amazon want to be Walmart" is exactly right, and that strategy only works well if you can drive your competition into the ditch and establish a local monopoly (on sales) and a simultaneous monopsony (on buying). If you can do the mono(poly|sony) trick properly you can make out like a bandit -- forget dominating the market, you are the market.

This, to my eye, makes Amazon much more dangerous -- they need to trash their competitors completely and they will discount hard and take short term losses to build market share, unlike Apple (who gain market share by disrupting existing tech paradigms and merely use the online stores to polish the halo of perceived value around their products).


"Amazon is not a bookshop where people browse the shelves. I suspect most people (like me) go to Amazon knowing what they want."

I don't know about most people, but I spend a lot of time browsing on Amazon, I've found quite a few books serendipitously that way and I have even (though rarely) had useful recommendations from it. (It was how I discovered Charlie's books). I also find it very useful as a catalogue - I searching to see what's coming out in future from the authors I like to read.

None of which is to say that I necessarily then buy the books from Amazon itself, though I sometimes do.


Some NY publishing houses will fold but most will not.

You have to remember that a lot of them have already been sold off to foreign multinationals, who are into this kind of thing for the very long run. They might scale down in front of the Amazon- Apple offensives, but they'll go on, and on. A few will of course decide to cut their losses and throw the New York people under a bus.

Then, you have the NY publishing houses made up of people who actually have a passion for publishing. They'll eventually adapt to anything that Amazon and Apple can throw at them. The key word is "eventually".


Well, what the publishing houses need to do is band together and create their own eBookshop


Somewhat related to this topic: It's Not Academic: How Publishers Are Squelching Science Communication, from Discover Magazine's blogs.

And Rudy Rucker has announced that he is starting his own 'press' to put out ebooks of some of his back catalog.


The problem with independent ebook publishing is how to get paid. Amazon and Apple, with their closed network models can charge for access. There's no way to insist on payment for unlocked ebooks. Basically, authors are singing for tips.

So far, I see four models: (1) Singing for tips. Authors can make some money that way; problem is, so far not as much as through conventional or ebook publication. (2) Serialization & publication of collected serial works. Works great for comics, if the individual pages are attractive. Sequential art is one of the great winners in internet publication: inexpensive high-quality color makes a huge difference. Not sure about pure-text fiction, though. (3) Old-style patronage: a small number of patrons. Well, provided one can find patrons, it works. But the works are--obviously--going to be biased towards what the patrons want. (4) New-style patronage: crowdsourcing. A large number of patrons via Kickstarter or tips or what-have-you. Can work, but works best for the already established.

A combination of new-style patronage for advances, singing for tips, and ultimate paper publication might actually be a winner for novelists. Anyone have some numbers to put on this?


In fact, that might actually be a model for publishers. If it works well enough, it might be possible to offer advances, even.


First off, DRM on ebooks is the walking dead. Its as useful as DRM on DVDs and music. Every popular eBook is cracked and available over torrent. Same as every movie, even on BluRay, and every CD. Second, you seem to think that the way an author would run their site is to have a download button and a tip jar. That's not how it would work. You pay the money first, you get sent the eBook. If you ask too much money the customer turns into a pirate.


There is a technical term for such a joint enterprise, Dirk: it's called "a cartel".


That's what it may come down to - cartel versus monopoly


I think (hope) there's also a role for a mix of the new-style patronage concept with the concept of mutual funds: it can become a lot of work to find out about and contribute to projects that I would like but that might never happen, and I'd gladly pay someone who has tastes similar to mine to make it worth their while to do more of that work than they could otherwise afford to do. I figure part of what publishers do now is to act as a filter between aspiring writers and discerning readers (not that I consider myself particularly discerning), and I'd like there to continue to be people who can make a living out of that.


Speaking purely for myself, I now download stuff I would not pay for. Or rather, I would not pay the "official" price. However, if the online price for low enough I would find it very awkward from an ethical POV not to pay. By "low", I mean something around $0.20 for an episode of CSI, or a crap "straight to DVD" movie. Ultimately piracy is going to drive down prices to this sort of level at the low end.


You make a good point, Dirk. For technical reasons it's hard to move small amounts of money around - and this is a question that's been kicking around the net for fifteen or twenty years. The current debit/credit card system doesn't cover it; that $0.20 you mention may be less than the company fees for the transaction itself. While it's easy enough to hand off coins physically, that doesn't translate to the online world.

And it's worse for things smaller than TV episodes. I read web comics, and I'd be willing to pay a penny or 1/01 cent or whatever per episode for some of them. There's no support for this, and none in sight.


I've been known to pony up a subscription (basically the cost of a book) to see the archives of a comic that I came to late and liked.

That's not an impossible model, although it's a bit hard going forward.

What I do hope is that there continues to be a market for pure text fiction and non-fiction. We urgently need Harry Potter level phenomena about every 5-10 years, just to keep enough kids reading to replace the old readers who've shuffled off to the Akashic library.

If kids get to the point where video games replace TV and videos replace books, while asking the computer to read Wikipedia to them counts as reading non-fiction or doing research, we'll be in Ray Bradbury territory.


Maybe something like bitcoin is the ultimate answer?


Bitcoin has huge problems. (For one thing: it's inherently deflationary. Gold bugs seem to think this is a feature, not a bug: other folks, not so much.)

I will note that credit card settlement fees are around 30-50 pence in the UK. And that Apple typically ding my credit card once every couple of weeks for iTunes Store purchases, rather than once per purchase, so that they're processing transactions in the £5-15 range rather than once for every £0.69 download. Even so, CC corporation settlement fees must be a visible chunk of their operating overheads (although I suspect they're a sufficiently huge customer to have cut a special deal with Visa/Mastercard).


Bitcoin is probably only deflationary if it became a major currency. I doubt whether it would have any effect if it accounted for well under 1% of online transactions. After all, the proposed use is for very small amounts.


Great post Cat, thanks. It remains a difficult conversation with too many people thinking they know the best solution.


There is probably no workable "best solution"


What about Flattr? Another micropayments scheme, run by a Pirate Bay founder.


Yeah, I noticed that. Anything from two days to two weeks before Apple process small purchases. (Got hairy this weekend as I was only 7 quid short of my overdraft limit...)

That might be the least-bad solution for multiple low-cost online purchases. Instead of paying a few pennies here and there for this and that, you have some sort of subscription account, and the payments are only finalised when you get to a certain level. Which is of course pretty much the paypal model.

Apple and Amazon in effect become retail banks by taking their customers orders and holding them for a while, just as some big bricks-and-mortar retailers have legally made themselves into banks and ebay merged with the execrable paypal.


They are going down the tubes because Amazon is more efficient, can price lower, controls their most important distribution channel and is happily, joyfully, mercilessly killing them.

No. The US publishing industry has been busily performing corporate seppuku since long before Amazon. I've been watching publishers, imprints, and bookstores folding for 20-odd years now.

Amazon isn't the cause. It's just what's moving in to fill the vacuum.


Interesting - I had not heard about it, but this side of things is new to me. I don't deal with this part of the Zero State infrastructure, but I should know a bit more after next Saturday's meeting in London. We are having a get together on the subject of bitcoin and darknet tech. People are invited to bring a laptop if they want to give it a try. Something of an experiment right now. It's a pub meet/moot and is free.


Alas, I'm in Dublin. Good luck with the meeting!


Well, round up some local friends, pop over to ZS and we can add you into the network for the next round of hands on stuff.


+1 to this.


"Jackie Collins, queen of the glitzy bonkbuster, is the latest bestselling author to take the DIY route, announcing plans to self-publish a rewritten version of her novel, The Bitch, in the US.

Collins told US publishing website GalleyCat that she will self-publish an ebook of The Bitch in March, "a complete rewrite" of the novel, for $2.99 or less."



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This page contains a single entry by Cat Valente published on February 25, 2012 5:31 PM.

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