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CREATe: a trade fiction author's perspective

January 31st and February 1st this year saw the launch and inaugural conference of CREATe — the RCUK research centre for copyright and new business models in the creative economy. It's a seven-university, national scale academic consortium primarily led by law academics, intended "to help the UK cultural and creative industries thrive and become innovation leaders within the global digital economy".

I was invited along as one of the speakers, with a brief slot in which to describe how the analog to digital shift in the creative media has affected me. The conference was frenetically paced: I don't think I'll surprise anyone else who was there if I confess that I came away with my mind churning, but physically exhausted. As nobody got more than six minutes on stage during the case studies session, I had to deliver an abbreviated version of my talk. So I'm publishing the whole thing here, below the fold ...




I'm Charles Stross. I'm a full-time science fiction author, multiple award nominee, winner of two Hugo awards, with about twenty novels in print from major publishers (SF imprints of Macmillan, Penguin, and Hachette). I do this for a living; as I like to explain it, "I tell lies for money".

In my defense, it's better than what I used to do for a living. I started out as a pharmacist, then by a drastic sideways hop acquired a computer science degree and ended up working as a technical author and programmer in the first dot-com boom. And, as a side-effect, I first stumbled blinking onto the internet in 1989.

There have been ebooks on the internet for nearly eighteen years longer than I've been on it. If ebooks were people, some of them are old enough to be grandparents — legally. Project Gutenberg got started in 1971, after all, and one of its first homes was an ARPAnet connected mainframe.

And there have been ebooks off the internet — even commercially sold ebooks — for a long time as well. Anecdotally, I know of SF authors who tried selling novels (on floppy disk, for PCs) as far back as 1985.

During the pre-history of ebooks, various blind alleys were experimented with, mostly unsuccessfully. Nobody needed a $5000 PC to read books with in 1985, so some sort of value seemed to need adding. Infocom's text adventure games were marketed as "interactive fiction" and there's still a marginal but healthy sub-culture of IF authors and consumers to this day. Later, Voyager experimented with Apple's HyperCard as a delivery for books in hypertext form, distributed on floppy disk and CDROM.

But it took a very long time for the internet to take off as a sales channel for newly written trade fiction.

The problem with the interactive fiction and hypermedia attempts prior to 1998 was that they relied of physical media for distribution — and the media were much more expensive than ink on wood-pulp, not to mention limited to an audience who owned the even more expensive display device. (The actual cost of goods in a paperback or hardback is around 10% of the suggested retail price.)

To make matters worse, developing a hypertext with "value added" content is inherently more expensive than sitting down in front of a text editor and bashing out a linear narrative text. (You want music and special effects, both of which cost money.)

Then the internet came along. And the big incumbents in the publishing industry tried to ignore it for as long as possible.

To be fair, the big publishing incumbents are the little brothers of big media — typically the publishing subsidiaries of large multinational media conglomerates with magazine, newspaper, and sometimes music and TV/film publishing arms. They observed the damage caused to the music biz by file sharing and a botched approach to monetization, and then the film industry, with growing horror. However, during the late 90s and early 00s, ebook uptake was impaired by fragmentation. As late as 2007 there were around half a dozen battling ebook file formats and corresponding platforms, with no clear winner until Amazon bought MobiPocket and used their system as the basis for the Kindle (into which Jeff Bezos pumped many millions of dollars, effectively subsidizing the early adopters.)

In addition, sales of commercial ebooks were hampered by contract boilerplate.

Books are sold by reverse auction; highest-price editions appear first, then over time the price is lowered, through limited editions, hardcovers, trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, and so on.

However, books are also sold through distinct sales channels. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks are sold as trade goods, on sale-or-return credit. Mass market paperbacks are essentially disposable items, like magazines, where the covers are stripped and returned for credit if they're unsold.

Were ebooks a sales channel or a reverse-auction price point? Nobody in 2005 had a clue. Publishers set up internal web/internet divisions, which then made a bid for control over the new ebook channel, and the trade publishing divisions then tried to sabotage the internal empire builders by forcing them to sell ebooks for a higher price than the corresponding paper edition. Chaos ruled!

What forced them to focus was an external threat: Amazon.

Amazon's goal is to use the internet to collapse all existing producer-to-consumer supply chains, and position themselves as the sole intermediary. Jeff Bezos picked the book retail channel as his first target for disruption because it looked moribund, chaotic, and vulnerable. Amazon's deep-discounting of books threatened publishers with a price war and was eroding the traditional retail channels, which had been left weak since 1992 when WalMart effectively destroyed the US mass market channel by reducing their number of wholesale suppliers from around 470 to 90 across the USA (destroying a bunch of local specialist wholesale market information and creating the gap that B&N and Borders expanded into).

Bezos' pushed development of the Kindle, and sold it to the Big Six as a safe ebook platform with DRM and standardization. Trouble was, it was a walled garden: the publishers only realized around 2009-10 that they'd handed the DRM keys to Amazon, locking their customers into a vertical silo, and Amazon were now free to squeeze them for deeper discounts.

The publishers response was to look for a white knight, in this case Apple with the iBook store and the Agency model. This then led to a DoJ anti-trust investigation (ironically favourable to Amazon, the 500lb gorilla with the 90% market share) and leading to the slowly emerging situation of oligopoly, in which three primary DRM platforms lock customers into specific sub-markets — Adobe Digital Editions, Kindle, and Apple's FairPlay.

(There is some movement on the DRM requirement within the publishers; Macmilan dropped the requirement for DRM on genre fiction titles last year, for example, having finally worked out that piracy was less of a threat to their long-term future than being bent over a barrel by Amazon. Who play hardball with publishers in pursuit of steep discounts. Did I say hardball? More like rollerball. And they play dirty.)

So. What does all this mean for me, as an author?

Rewind to 2003.

I have a literary agent, on comission, to handle contractual negotiations with traditional publishers. They buy the territorial rights to my manuscripts, polish, edit and turn them into books, then publish those books through trade and mass market channels. They then pay me a royalty. Royalty terms are recondite and vary with channel, number of units shipped, discount off SRP at which they were sold, number of returns, and so on. Very roughly, the publisher covers production and manufacturing costs, splits the profits with author, and the distribution chain takes the other 60-70% of the price the end-customer pays.

Forward to 2013.

As a successful novelist my picture is ... unchanged, except that there is a new distribution channel: ebooks. Ebooks are not subject to sale-or-return accounting; every sale is final. Ebooks never go out of print, so contract reversion terms are different. The retail price is typically lower but the sales channel has fewer middle-men so the royalty rate is higher. Production costs are, surprisingly to most people, nearly as high as for dead-tree books (ebooks still need editing and proofreading and marketing).

Mass market paperback sales are down around 50-70% in the USA. (In the UK the mass market channel disappeared in the early 1990s; all paperbacks are sold as trade books.) Ebooks are now up to 60% of gross sales, from 6% in 2008-09 and 0.6% in 2005.

Hardcover or trade paperback sales are, mostly, unaffected by ebook sales. These are premium products sold to people who like buying lumps of dead tree. They may dwindle over the coming decades but the hardcover market is still okay.

So ebooks are the new mass market paperbacks; easily distributed, cheap, disposable reading matter.

But what's life like for unsuccessful novelists?

Here's where things get interesting.

The barrier to entry for publishing has all but collapsed. Anyone with a credit card and an address can self-publish a book via Amazon. It probably won't sell; the new author's biggest enemy is obscurity. But once in a blue moon, something catches fire — E. L. James for example — and word of mouth (which is still the best marketing tool an author has) causes it to explode. With no physical product to go out of stock, there's no deferment of gratification for the customer: so an obscure ebook can go bestseller overnight under the right circumstances.

(However, if you self-publish it probably won't be you.)

Good self-published writers are equally likely to be headhunted by publishers as to break through on their own. John Scalzi (multiple Hugo-winner and New York Times top 10 bestseller) self-published his first novel on his blog before it was acquired by Tor. But John had form as a journalist and AOL editorial content provider before he did that. Beginning authors generally have little or no ability to judge the quality of their own work, and may therefore self-publish prematurely.

The flip side is that self-publishing provides another avenue for authors with a track record who are currently out of favour with their traditional publishers (for failing to meet ever-rising sales targets) to reach their market. I know of several experienced authors in my field who have switched to self-publishing. They generally end up spending extra time on production and marketing rather than the primary specialty, writing, and they don't usually make more money by self-publishing, but they're no longer entirely dependent on the goodwill of a publisher who may be being held to profit levels set by the accountants of a media conglomerate. They can, in other words, specialize.

63 Comments

2:

Well, that one's just hugely depressing.

3:

Nonsense, it's just a sign that there's a lot of work ahead. (Note that people like myself and Paul were invited, not frozen out.)

4:

This is the thing in Glasgow where you were tweeting "my brain is being fried by pols" and "more wine!"? Good that you didn't get too much wine then . . .

5:

Yes, that was the thing.

The launch/reception thing was opened by a couple of political figures -- a junior minister from Westminster and a senior minister from Hollyrood. The organizers had wanted an informal feel, so they provided wine but no chairs ... then the main talking heads were an hour late showing up. "It's okay for you, you weren't wearing high heels," one of the other attendees griped at me afterwards. Well no, I wasn't wearing high heels: but I was standing on a foot that still hasn't 100% recovered from a broken metatarsal last September. Which may explain the slightly acerbic tone of my tweets ...

7:

An author friend of mine just sent me a link to this post, and I have to say that as someone who works as a book publicist for an indie publisher, I found myself nodding along with so much of this post. The one area that you didn't touch on is indie publishing (small to medium size presses, specifically), and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this part of the industry. I work for North Atlantic Books, a non-profit, independent publisher that's been around since the 70's and has world distribution through Random House, without having a corporation making our creative or editorial decisions for us. You're exactly right about publishers striking deals with previously self-published authors, we've come to publish some amazing books this way. There was an interesting article in the Galleycat newsletter recently pointing out that small publishers may actually be the fastest growing part of the publishing industry. Here's the link, in case you're interested: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/are-small-publishers-the-future-of-the-industry_b64627

I am obviously biased about small presses for obvious reasons, which is why I'd love to hear your perspective and insights on the role you think they also play in an ever-changing industry, if you have any. Either way, I'm glad my friend pointed me to this post!

8:

Ah, context, thx. Nice talk you made there.

9:

I hope that "piracy was less of a threat to their long-term future than being bent over a barrel by Amazon" made it into the actual speech.

10:

Charlie
“CREATe” does NOT include any Russell-Group Science or Technology/Engineering departments.
Um. Why not? Isn’t Science & technology creative, then?

From Paul Bernal (any relation of the famous Bernal?) …” Dr Frances Pinter made a special mention of the sadly missed Aaron Swartz.” Yeah, murdered by the so-called anti-piracy bastards, & their crooked, bullying lawyers.
The obvious answer is to throw the lobbyists out &/or start calling them (true) rude names (?)

Oh yes, referring to the changes in the past 10 years from your “speech”: - it was 2003 that I first found a C Stross novel … “Singularity Sky” in an Edinburgh bookshop! Congrats, or something.

11:

Greg - it specifies 'creative economy', that is, music, film, arts. Which by no stretch of the imagination includes science and engineering, even although both need some creativity.

12:

“CREATe” does NOT include any Russell-Group Science or Technology/Engineering departments.

Wrong research council; this bunch get their funding for law, social sciences, and so on. Because this is a policy research forum for the creative economy, not engineering.

13:

Um no. CREATe has a strong technological involvement including people from Informatics at Edinburgh and the Horizons Digital Economy Hub at Nottingham. Try looking first ;-) we are pledging to build software tools for innovation including a distributed open source user platform far far better than Diaspora.

14:

So writing software comes under it as well? That's handy for some people, but doesn't really affect the point Greg got wrong.

15:

@13 surliminal: "we are pledging to build software tools for innovation including a distributed open source user platform far far better than Diaspora"

Sounds cool. Got any details?

16:

@ 11, 12 (& 13)
This is the sort of thing that gets me gibbering with rage.

With apologies to surliminal @ 13, though I did notice the lip-service to "The digital economy" in the flyer, & discounted it as so much bullshit, I'm afraid. (Was I wrong, there, though - possibly?)

But I think the lobbyists will crush you & take the whole thing over, probably turning the whole enterprise around by 180 deg, in order to continue to establish their dead-hand grip. That's what they've done every time, so far, at any rate.
And the collapse of HMV etc does not seem to have taught them a thing, & the death of A Swartz has just encouraged them, as far as I can see.
They have the existing money & the existing corrupt contacts inside guv,mint already in place, no?

That science/engieeering are NOT thought of as "creative".
I mean WTF?
They are discovering & exploring & making & this is NOT "creative"?
Grrrrr .....

17:

So did you and Professor Edwards get to demonstrate the Secret Fannish Handshake?

I've had the chance to see these senior politicians in action--agriculture in particular--and they have never come across as all that clever. Maybe better at manipulating humans than I am, but only a vague grasp of the measurable realities.

You mentioned how much of the traditional book market's income got siphoned off in the distribution chain--it happens with everything, but it's one of the things that gets forgotten, and so produces a publishing myth--and I can't recall ever meeting a politician who paid any attention to it. Not even the simple rule of thumb that the price doubles at each link in the chain (that's the sort of rough estimate that gets you a near-enough answer to get the order of magnitude for using a slide rule).

18:

I can see how the funding will set up a bias. But it doesn't rule out money being spent on the technology side. If they can't pay a specialist to report on a technical issue, there's a real problem.

And the computer scientist, or whatever, that you need is likely to be the sort of person who makes a good teacher, rather than a high-powered researcher. They have to translate into terms the lawyers or politicians or accountants can understand.

I noticed, late in the last century, how the terms & conditions of the first dot-com boom, for things such as a user-created web page, looked like a pretty extreme copyright grab. But it also looked like legal boiler-plate that happened to cover specific technical problems, such as how do you delete content from back-ups.

The short answer is that you really don't want to try to do that, because of what can go wrong. But the legal language was struggling to cope. So somebody in a similar position to John Scalzi, a novel self-published on a web-page, would be faced with not quite having the rights that a publisher might expect. $WEB_HOST has a contract that knocks holes in the assumption that the author has full control of the rights.


I think things have improved. And all that is based on a bit of guess work about the possible technical reasons for those rights grabs. There are specialised lawyers who know the technology--they work on such things as patent law--so you might not need explicit connections with engineers.

You need the input on the technology.

19:

Great update on e-books.

Conferences like this never really do anything.

The purpose of copyrights (explicitly in the US Constitution anyway) is ostensibly to motivate creative people. How many are actually motivated by the idea their stuff will be protected 75 years after they die? I do know that Mack Reynolds wrote a huge amount of material in a fury in the 1980s when he knew he was dying, to ensure his heirs would be set, but for the most part how much effect does this have on the average author? An earlier post talked about how little the "back list" affects the bottom line.
I guess the real function of such long copyrights is to ensure there is not free relatively recent material available, so as that as long as one is purchasing one might as well get the latest and greatest. So the effect of extremely long copyrights is to bolster a market by suppressing competition from the dead.

What they really need to do is come up with some way to Steam fiction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_(content_delivery)

20:

"Conferences like this never really do anything."

The conference appeared to achieve exactly what it was intended for -- it introduced a bunch of stakeholders from different academic institutions to each other, held break-out sessions to discuss their particular interests and inputs into the different tasks in the organization's remit, and turned these into a "to-do" list for the next four years of work.

In other words, it's a beginning, not a destination.

21:

>>>How many are actually motivated by the idea their stuff will be protected 75 years after they die?

Well, I suppose the fact that you can't push Harry Potter into public domain by assassinating Rowling makes here sleep easier...

22:

You don't need life+70 years for that. The real pressure for idiotic copyright extensions (such as life+70) comes from The Mouse Corporation™ and their ilk, who do not want to see Michael Murine enter the public domain.

23:

@16 and 12, 13

No the digital economy stuff is not lip service. Try looking at our actual web site on www.create.ac.uk and especially the work packages doc under the Resources tab there. Then try googling Horizon at Nottingham. I suspect you,ll be pleasantly surprised.

And no frankly the chances of our capture by media lobbyists are precisely zero. Which doesnt mean we'll necessarily back the Pirate Party eiher ( for example) - we are academics and we plan to find things out using rigorous methods and publish them. Notwithstanding this, the chances of our outputs and evidence being rubbished and marginalised by lobby interests are much higher than our capture, but we have already planned a great deal about how to avoid this and have high level government and IPO backing as policy makers genuinely want decent evidence to base policy on.

Watch this space and follow @copyrightcentre .

24:

@15 early days right now but it's a 4 yr project at Horizon with so far a team of c 6 PhDs and PDRAs pus academic leaders and ore details very soon. Follow @coprightcentre and try googling the Horizon DTC and DE Hub expertise. Hoping for a prototype by end 2014.

25:

>>>You don't need life+70 years for that.

How much do you need?

26:

surliminal @ 23
That is good to hear & ...
Well, really good luck with it, then!
I wish you every success.
You'll need that luck though, because in spite of ...high level government and IPO backing as policy makers genuinely want decent evidence to base policy on. the lobbyists have loadsamoney & also have the ear of guvmint.
Could be interesting.

vanzetti @ 25
Copywight USED to be 50 years, until the rodent corp as alluded to by Charlie, started interfering.
Another case of USSA exceptionalism, of course, because getting US publishers (books, music, plays, recordings, anything in fact...) to acknowledge anyone else's copywright, up until approx the mid-'70s was well-nigh impossible.
Wiki says 1974 - & 1955 for the UCC Geneva, but this was widely ignored or flouted until the latter date.
Hence the "revisions" made by Igor Stravinsky to a lot of his compositions, to get US copyright, & the battles JRRT had with US "editions" of his works, as examples.

27:

You would almost think that the potentially infinite endurance of the trademark has been forgotten by these people.

But this is the day that it is revealed that Apple has trademarked the shop.

I suspect the report has missed something. Legal documents of all sorts will include some pretty sweeping claims.

28:

The duration can be argued about, a lot. But have a look at the usual duration of a publishing contract. That is, for how long is a publisher willing to buy rights for? There should be a reversion clause (and ebooks will force a change in the details) which can end the deal early, if the publisher stops publishing the book. You could justify adding a couple of years for the production lead time.

Pulling a figure out of my hat, if the usual deal is for ten years from publication, a twenty year post-mortem duration might be a sensible minimum to try for.

29:

Greg, you really don't need to lecture Surliminal on copyright law and history. No, really you don't.

30:

Two naif questions: Given that it's easier than ever to not only write in whatever form you like, but to self-publish, what's the big problem? Iow, why do people write?

The second question: Am I correct in thinking it all comes down ultimately to Who Will Read the Slush Pile? Until you get AI good enough to make at least a 90/10 unpublishable/maybe publishable first cut, I don't see this isn't anything but soul-killing, underpaid drudge work. Of course publishers will use whatever cheap-and-dirty filter hacks they can come up with!

Or am I wildly off base on this one?

31:

What are you replying to, SoV? Because that comment looked utterly adrift from any context elsewhere in this discussion ...

32:

Charlie ....

I was actually replying to Vanzetti @ 25?
He was the one who asked the Q on copyright, after all!
( Take some painkillers, preferably in pint format, to cure this problem! )

Incidentally, Rhona does a lot of this (IP rights, transfer of earnings from IP across jurisdictions, that sort of thing) from a Tax perspective - I pointed this discussion in her direction, but her comment was (paraphrase) "Very interesting, but nothing new"
Her other permanent comment is that "Lawyers just (usually) lose the plot completely, when it comes to numbers & calculations"
Though that may not apply in this case.....

ALERT - Davidpark @ 32 looks like SPAM to me!

33:

AH - it's gone now ...
Can someone please edit the last line out of my previous comment & then remove this one?
Pretty please?

34:

This bit, right here:

The barrier to entry for publishing has all but collapsed. Anyone with a credit card and an address can self-publish a book via Amazon. It probably won't sell; the new author's biggest enemy is obscurity. But once in a blue moon, something catches fire — E. L. James for example — and word of mouth (which is still the best marketing tool an author has) causes it to explode. With no physical product to go out of stock, there's no deferment of gratification for the customer: so an obscure ebook can go bestseller overnight under the right circumstances.
(However, if you self-publish it probably won't be you.)
Good self-published writers are equally likely to be headhunted by publishers as to break through on their own. John Scalzi (multiple Hugo-winner and New York Times top 10 bestseller) self-published his first novel on his blog before it was acquired by Tor. But John had form as a journalist and AOL editorial content provider before he did that. Beginning authors generally have little or no ability to judge the quality of their own work, and may therefore self-publish prematurely.
35:

Iow, what I get is that this is a kind of best of times/worst of times things for an author. Depending on what the author wants to do ;-)

36:

Why bother filtering the slush pile? That part's already being crowdsourced.

I'm only being half sarcastic here. Anyone who can independently invent a computer system that determines what will be a hit has bigger things to do than read books. For instance, they could read scripts, and tell movie investors where to profitably invest that billion dollars. That's a much more lucrative option than selling novels.

Thing is, best sellers from unknowns are still black swans. For example, 50 Shades of Gray wouldn't have been a hit without Twilight to piggyback onto. I'm not sure who saw that Twilight would become a bigger hit than, say, other books about paranormal romances involving vampires and faeries and werewolves and such. Predicting how a black swan will spawn off another black swan is a bit of a fools' errand.

The crowd-sourcing churn of the public slushpile will guarantee viral hits, although it's probably better at finding the next Da Vinci Code than, say, the next Dying Earth or the next Wizard of Earthsea (to pick a couple of influential books).

From a business perspective, it's simpler to look at sales and buzz, rather than bothering to do much of your own sorting. Sure a few gems will be missed, but the thing is, they get missed all the time by slushpile readers. It's the norm.

37:

That speech would make a good foreword to the CMAP series, or afterword or somehting.

Anyhow, here's a quickie video on the history of US copyright law:
http://m.video.pbs.org/video/2311045702/

I don't know if it can be viewed outside the US, would be somewhat ironic if it can't.

38:

Of course publishers will use whatever cheap-and-dirty filter hacks they can come up with!

The filter hack most of the publishers use for dealing with slush is not to read it. They simply don't accept unsolicited submissions any more. (This shovels the workload out onto the literary agents.) Some publishers still read slush ... but not many of them.

My thought is that the slushpile problem is to some extent going to be cured by Amazon's self-publishing facility, which a lot of the folks who used to clog up the slushpiles are now using. The good ones (who are rare) will get noticed and agents or publishers will go to them; the rest will fester in the outer darkness, aggrievedly proclaiming that they don't need those traditional rip-off publishers anyway.

39:

I'm about to give a presentation on Wednesday on 'Idea Generation Mechanisms' in London - believe me these are just as relevant to creative arts as they are to science.

The copyright business needs to look at the impact of Intellectual Property Rights and vice versa, as both are about commercial protection and encouragement to generate art or science ideas. The two can no longer be considered as separate entities, especially when it comes to computers.

So why the heck are they being looked at separately? I'm sure King John when he granted UK's first patent never had these difficulties... at least I think it was King John as he lived about the right time.

40:

I wonder how I would ever stand out in the ebook business. The stuff I write is aimed at a minority of readers. I enjoy writing the stories. I get good reactions from readers. But I'd have to go crazy to get enough readers to be noticed.

Though there is one story I could rework...

I've seen some dreadful writing get into the Amazon Top-100 lists. I know. I paid for some of it. At least there are authors playing the free-teaser trick, so you don't have to spend money to test their competence.

Free, and a couple of Kindle pages might be all I read of this one. It's the sort of social milieu that one of my characters has experienced, and the writing is incredibly laconic: nothing that really gives a sense of the place. The first line is "The events of the next twenty-four hours would determine the fate of the world". There are words in the text which I doubt are in any dictionary (And not names of places or people).

It's a formal ball, and the protagonist is the host's daughter and she's so detached from events that she can just stand there drinking champagne. That's not how she would be expected to behave in any world I know of.

It all rings little alarm bells. And I think I have done better:

Lady Helen had agreed to be formally presented to the King, which was rather superfluous since he had attended a dinner party she had hosted, but the rest of the "Season" didn't appeal at all. She liked dancing—"proper" dancing, that is—but the balls were a little old-fashioned in style. And the formality could be wearing. On the other hand, it did set some limits. Respectability, she thought, was over-rated, but there was a safety to it.

Safety of a passive, out of her control, sort. She wished, sometimes, she could just walk out the door, straddle her 'bike, kick the starter pedal, and be away. Freedom, that's what it was, limited only by her skill, wit, and conscience. Though a ballgown on a motor-cycle would look silly. Worse, it would be silly.

"Is my dancing so bad?"

She blinked. "Oh, no, Grigori. Just... I started thinking."

41:

Charlie @38: "the good ones will get noticed" -I hope so, but there are obviously so many on Amazon's pile that you could die before you could read all the books put on there last year alone. My coworkers aren't interested in what I read, only one or two of my friends same my same taste in books, my social profile online only gets me so far(if, let's be honest, anywhere), and even putting it on goodreads gets it one vote. Hell if I know the solution, I suspect it's that enough good stuff will mostly bubble up, rather than the best bubbling up to the top.

42:
the slushpile problem is to some extent going to be cured by Amazon's self-publishing facility, which a lot of the folks who used to clog up the slushpiles are now using.

I wonder if it will also cure the vanity publisher scam problem...

43:

Speaking as An Outsider/Reader and Not writer but as one Long Practiced in the Arts/or these days Apps of Business Management - Dilbert was only wrong in having to blunt the Way Of Catbert - not a chance! They will simply regroup, redeploy and ATTACK with " Make Zillions from Amazon ..You Too can be A Famous Author/ J. K. Rowling Zillions Will Be YOURS! For You Deserve IT! ..Send MONEY TO ....

44:


As Realistic as I am ..Never Say Cynical! ..I have to say that it should be not be, as implied ' All Hope Abandoned ' ' but rather " No Hope Abandoned " because a New Perspective is taking shape in which established Authors like err..shuffles feet - and I still don't have to believe in the Reality of Publishing and Schedules and such like Stuff if I don't want to, Charlie - established and capable, not to say innovative and interesting authors will recommend New Authors that they think merit attention from Readers Who LIKE own WORK.

Moreover Readers who like Our Hosts Stuff will also, in passing conversions, recommend other Writers who have caught their attention, thus ... READ John Michael Scalzi II " Redshirts " which is a really nicely done variation on an old Idea ..


" http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1400583.Out_Of_Their_Minds


- and which is Great Fun. And also Kate Griffins Work ..her latest variation on the World of The London of Mathew Swift has lightened the Winter of England for me with her concept of a Self Help Group - a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous - for the Magically Challenged ...


" Review
Griffin's writing is as fluent and enjoyable as always, with a hint of humour that verges on Pratchett-esque (SFX )

Kate Griffin flawlessly balances horror and humor to . . . pull off a funny yet frightening read about the supernatural-induced demise of London . . . both unique and addictive (SCIFI NOW )
Book Description
The first book in a new urban magic series from the author of the Matthew Swift novels set in London's hidden otherworld "


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stray-Souls-Magicals-Anonymous-ebook/dp/B008Y15D7W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359933984&sr=8-1

So, Our Host will Squish me if I've gone too far, but ...you DO realize, Charlie, that you are now an Elder Statesman of the Genre? Its the BEARD Wot Does It! Hum... Thinks in a Meditative Fashion ..But, No, it Does NEED an Exclamation Mark at that point after 'does It' thus !!!!!!!!!.


Things are changing, and whilst I - Hell I'm 64 now! And will you still Need Me? Will You Still Feed Me? HA! The Young Folks of Today! There's NO Respect; I wonder if I can get a NHS walking stick to brandish in an indignant fashion?

45:

I wonder if it will also cure the vanity publisher scam problem...

Some people going the vanity publishing route are getting exactly what they want. It's not a scam if you pay for what you want and get it.

46:

It's worth pointing out, at this juncture, that a whole other industry uses the vanity pay-to-publish model, and it dwarfs the fiction publishing industry.

I refer, of course, to academic publishing. Elsevier (to pick one example) is over ten times bigger than Harlequin (to pick another example).

While I'm one of those who hopes that academic publishing will become free rather than pay-to-publish (after all, there's no particular reason why anyone needs a publisher to publish a journal), there is a huge problem lurking out there.

That problem is copyrights. The journals claim copyright of the articles they publish as a matter of course. If they go out of business, those copyrights are the most valuable part of the academic publishers' property, and they will be sold off. I seriously doubt the interests of scientists or the public will be taken into account, unless politics change dramatically in the next few years.

While PLoS and other free-access journals have made elaborate plans to keep their articles freely available into the future, even if they go out of business, the big for-pay journals have not, to my knowledge. It would truly suck to have all of Nature, or Science, or New England Journal of Medicine (to choose at random) suddenly become off-limits while various poorly informed bankruptcy judges around the world argue about who owns which article, rather than whether the public or even reputable scientists have any interest in ever seeing them again.

Unfortunately, this is probably going to happen in the next decade or so. Gotta love disruptive innovation.

Hopefully I'm overly pessimistic. We'll see.

47:

Some people going the vanity publishing route are getting exactly what they want. It's not a scam if you pay for what you want and get it.

I don't think all vanity publishing companies are scammers. I was speaking specifically of the sort that are scams, and that Writer Beware warns of.

48:

This comment stream appears to be converging on what are recognized as two of the most important problems of the web/net: editing and browsing.
When you buy a[n "old school"] book or magazine, you are patronizing a professional Editor whose function is to seek out and make publishable the sort of material you want. Now that material can be marketed without any such intervention, we have no substitute for that skill.
As for "browsing", the web is unparalleled for finding what you want, but can't find what you didn't know you wanted. ((Back in the depths of the Twentieth Century, I had a high school assignment about Mark Twain. The neighborhood library had management so anal he was shelved as "Clemens". There was a book with the sf marking right next to it . . . And that's how I discovered "Mission of Gravity".))

49:

It's already happened. The APA had an online journal, Psycoloquy - "a refereed international, interdisciplinary electronic journal sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA)" and it's now let it die. The old material is currently kept online by what used to be a mirror site (http://www.cogsci.ecs.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy), but that's a fingerhold at best. As someone who had made the academic journal trade - I give you my work for free against a promise to keep it accessible somewhere - involving an article in Psycoloquy I was really pissed.

50:

neilrest @ 48
...the web is unparalleled for finding what you want, but can't find what you didn't know you wanted
Precisely.
This is why real actual second-hand (& new) bookshops are soo good.
The number of obscure & fascinating bits if railway (& other) history I've found that way.
Not to mention a certain Charles Stross, come to that.

51:

Yes, you can get that NHS walking stick, but it can cost you more in getting to the hospital for the assessment than you would pay your traditional walking-stick maker who has just opened that web-store.

(Serious point, you really should have somebody who knows their business checking that the length is right for you.)

Remember, brandishing a walking stick is dangerous. You might fall over.

52:

Self Publishing is in the news it would seem.

53:

Self Publishing is in the news it would seem.

For all the wrong reasons.

In general, journalists who do not specialize in the publishing industry who report on this sort of topic are about as clueless as you should expect, and then some. I was particularly amused by the sample self-published author they quoted: "after 8-10 of these [rejections] I was beginning to doubt the quality of the book." Yes, well, world trying to tell you something: either (a) you are going about the submission process all wrong, or (b) maybe there is something wrong with your book.

Hint: even as a well-published professional author working on his twenty-somethingth novel, I find it difficult to tell if what I'm working on is any good. (I've grown better at analysing my own work once it's finished, but I still miss problems that my editors point out, because we authors are always our own least-critical readers.) To someone who's just setting out, it's vastly more difficult to tell good from bad.

54:

or (c) - it's technically ok, but not going to sell in the sort of numbers that $mainstream_publisher needs it to in order to pay its overheads?

55:

Looks unusual to me. For one thing, the guy is a former Director of the British Board of Film Classification, and I wouldn't be surprised if that is how he was able to access a journalist. But if he's sold 400 print copies, he's not a total no-hope wannabee.

And he directs media enquiries to a PR company.

I can't help wondering how reliable the BBC story can be. He could almost be the poster child for the idea that you cannot get published, or get publicity, without being some sort of insider.

56:

To be honest, this sounds much closer to vanity-publishing than to self-publishing (reference to paying for the book to be printed, not "breaking even", wanting the finished book to "look good"). I would say that you are very right to query the reliability of the article as any kind of commentary on self-publishing.

57:

All comments 53-56
Are robably true, but what got me was the serendipty (?) of the BBC piece & this discussion, & what started it, the CREATe conference.
As Private Eye used to say - are they related in any way?

58:

Interesting question, Greg. I'm going to call it synchronicity rather than serendipity -- the CREATe conference may have triggered the article; I wonder if you could analyse articles in general news outlets and find an uptick on the topic after this event? Although I do think that with the advent of easy self-publishing and stories like that of E L James, there is a greater public interest in publishing and specifically self-publishing -- after all the first instinct of a journalist is not just for a good story, but a good story that rides the zeitgeist and that the public want to read.

59:

I'd be astonished if anyone at BBC News knew about the CREATe conference -- it was pitched as an academic initiative, and not a terribly big one, either.

61:
I wonder if it will also cure the vanity publisher scam problem...

I imagine they'll just evolve and merge into the scammier end of SEO / content marketing.

"Is your wonderful new master work not selling on Amazon?Are you seeing inferior work from Evil Publishers outselling your new novel? For just $XXX we can help rework the cover art / summary / title / copy edit your way to success!"

One 99design logo + trip through mechanical turk later...

"Oh... the first $XXX didn't fix it - well you probably need our $up-sell product range."

Repeat until poor.

62:

Hmm, I'd think that they get a list of what events Government ministers are speaking at, maybe even a copy of the intended speech, but whether anyone would pay any attention is another matter. The ministers have their own little publicity machine, after all.

It's a bit like the Kendle store. Some poor bugger has to take the trouble to read the stuff, and decide what is worth bothering with.

63:

A bit like how I'll take recommendations from any regular poster here as worth the effort to check on-line sources and reviews, and quite possibly worth investing in a paperback or two.

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