Back to: "We're going to need book covers. Lots of book covers!" | Forward to: Why I don't self-publish

Things publishers can't do (yet)

(Caution: here lies crazy speculation. For a backgrounder, the casual reader should probably read my Common Misconceptions about Publishing series of essays; otherwise you're going to fundamentally misapprehend what I'm talking about.)

Trade fiction publishing is a supply chain business. At the back end, out of sight, a trade fic publisher takes raw inputs from a large number of small businesses (mostly sole traders). It transforms these inputs, packages them, and then—at the other end of the business—distributes them via wholesale and retail channels. You or I then buy the products, which are micro-branded and highly idiosyncratic. The author is the micro-brand; despite centuries of striving there are few sub-sectors of trade fic publishing where a reader might go to a store and buy half a kilo of a particular publisher's product range without reference to the authorial brand.

Like all supply chain businesses, trade fiction publishing is dominated by contracts—contracts with suppliers (such as authors, copy editors, typesetting bureaux, print shops, cover artists), and contracts with customers. (You and I are not these customers: I'm talking about Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, et al.)

These contracts lock in certain types of business practice. And the first contracts in the chain are author/publisher contracts. And so it occurs to me to ask: what new business models might be possible if author/publisher contracts were drafted differently?

An author sells the publisher a limited license to reproduce their work in a given language, in specific territories, usually for an open-ended but finite (and terminable) period. (That's misconception #1 right there: I never sell my copyright to a publisher. Period. In fact, I would view any publisher who tried to buy the copyright to a piece of my work as negotiating in bad faith. This point differs in some other sectors—journalism and technical writing come to mind—but is pretty much standard in trade publishing.)

The contract enumerates the sales channels through which the publisher may reproduce the work, and specifies how the author will be paid for each copy sold through each given channel, and also how the publisher will account for sales (including the author's right to audit their books on demand to ensure they're not hiding anything).

The big sales channels are: hardcover (shipped to booksellers on 90 or 120 days' rolling credit—at the end of that time the seller must either return the product to inventory undamaged, or pay for it), mass market (sold like newsstand magazines, i.e. essentially disposables: at the end of the credit period unsold stock must be destroyed and the stripped covers returned as proof, and sold stock must be paid for), trade paperback (sold like hardcovers), audiobooks, and so on.

(Ever wondered why mass market paperbacks are all the same size, and trade paperbacks are a different size? It's so that bookstore clerks don't accidentally rip the covers off trade paperbacks in order to claim them for credit—to get credit for a trade book you have to return it intact; if you destroy it, you bought it. Oh, and this channel imploded in the UK about 20 years ago; all British paperbacks are trade books now. Some are just smaller than others because that's what customers expect, is all.)

The big new sales channel is: ebooks. These are sold as trade. There's no credit, as I understand it, because there's no physical print run and no stock: a customer clicks "buy the book", the retailer takes their money and forwards a request to the publisher's server to send back a DRM-locked copy encrypted with the customer's public key, and the retailer forwards the ebook to the customer before they have time to notice what's going on in the back office. Alternatively, some (Amazon springs to mind) act as re-publishers who license re-publication rights (on a specific platform) from the initial publisher; they handle the DRM themselves and account and pay for sales monthly.

Right now the ebook sales channel is still growing. It's eating away at the "disposable reading" niche that for three quarters of a century was occupied by the cheap mass-market paperback. But in another couple of years it will probably stabilize. The US mass market paperback will die, but trade paperback distribution will still exist for beach-side reading and technophobes; hardcovers will still exist for bibliophiles: but ebooks will dominate casual reading.

Author/publisher contracts specify royalty rates in the craziest way imaginable. This is because they consist of archaeological strata of legal boilerplate, accumulated over decades and haggled over by publishers' lawyers and authors' agents. Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, "if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond spacetime tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?"

And so we have constant re-use of legal boilerplate that's decades old. "For sales under 10,000 copies, a royalty of 10% will be assigned based on the undiscounted suggested retail price. From 10,001 to 15,000 copies, a royalty of 12% will be allocated ... from 15,001 up, a royalty of 15% will be allocated ... for copies sold at less than 40% discount off SRP, the full royalty will be paid; for copies sold at discount of 41-50% 80% of royalties due will be paid: from 51%-65% 50% of royalties will be paid: above 65% 40% of royalties will be paid." You can think of it as a stack of IF () THEN () ELSE () statements switched off the number of copies sold and the discount the wholesaler extorted for taking them off the publisher's hands.

Now, here's my question:

What if ebooks weren't just a sales channel?

There is stuff we can't do while this sort of rigid, mechanistic contract is in force: business models that are inapplicable to paper books, but that could work on electronic downloads.

* Books are sold today by reverse auction—the newer the title the more you pay for it. But the reverse auction only has a couple of price points, which correspond to sales channels: paperbacks are released a year after hardbacks, for example. And because the bindings are different, consumers mistake these for physical goods, not price points in a reverse auction. In contrast, we could do a direct reverse auction of ebooks: start at $20, then drop the price by 5% per month until it bottoms out at a floor of $2. For added fun: if you want my new novel but are only willing to pay $10, then I'll take your $10, give you the first half of the book right now, and email you the entire book when the price drops to match your payment.

* Publishers angst a lot about DRM and piracy. But a wired-up publisher could in principle be their own Kickstarter. At launch, you can buy a DRM'd copy of a book. Your payment goes into a pool. Once a set profit threshold is exceeded, the DRM on everyone's copy is released and copies sold thereafter are DRM-free. Or they could make the title 100% DRM-free but run it as a straight kickstarter, releasing the book when pledged pre-sales hit the profit point: implementing Bruce Schneier's Street Performer Protocol (for how to sell IP safely in a world with ubiquitous, instantaneous piracy).

* Books are the length they are because of binding and printing overheads. But in an ebook world it's perfectly straightforward to sell short stories ... or 2000 page doorstops. And to put different covers on them. In the world of ebooks, book covers persist as advertisements that show up first in thumbnails (Amazon's are 120x80 pixels) on storefront websites. Why not use animated covers?

* Why don't we do A/B testing on covers to work out what sells?

We don't see much A/B testing on the covers of physical paper books today because it costs money and time and can lose you a place on the bestseller charts. Books have occasionally been sold with multiple covers in the past—"Skyfall" by Harry Harrison springs to mind, as does the first Harry Potter novel—but they're usually on course to go bestseller before they get the high-budget launch. You can only really justify that kind of market research technique if the potential profits from, say, a 10% uptick in sell-through is going to justify the work of preparing a second cover and setting up the test. For most anything short of a novel from an A-list author that is hopefully going to go bestseller, the profits to carry the work just ain't there.

The snag with A/B testing such breakout-hopeful works is that books are sold as SKUs identified by an ISBN specific to the binding and distribution mechanism for the channel in question. That is, a hardcover has a different ISBN from a trade paperback or mass market paperback of the same book. Bookscan, from which bestseller charts are compiled, tracks book sales by ISBN of the item sold at the cashier's desk. To do A/B testing you'd have to issue two different ISBNs (or ASINs on Amazon). This splits your sales figures, thus almost guaranteeing that your hopefully-going-to-go-bestseller title won't make the charts.

However, ebooks need cover art which is legible even when iconized; this simpler graphical elements, which may reduce production costs. And if they're not being sold as SKUs through the normal distribution channels, either they're not being tracked by the bestseller chart compilers in the first place, or a new and hopefully more flexible sales capture system can be deployed. If we can combine cheaper covers with A/B testing we might actually end up getting somewhere.

* What about the first sale doctrine? Under the first sale doctrine, if you buy a paper book you own it and can do what you like with it—read it, warehouse it, burn it, give it away or sell it. Right now, most publishers are petrified by the question of what happens if the first sale doctrine is applied to electronic content, because ebooks are so easy to duplicate. This isn't an abstract concern; following a recent German court ruling, resale of second-hand software is legal in the EU. To avoid resale issues, early ebook publishers decided to license Ebooks as software products rather than selling them like physical books; looks like in the long term this gambit failed. But there may be ways to deal with the question of ebook sales that generate multiple readers if we can step outside the current licensing frameworks. Or if we steal a leaf from Artists' Resale Rights. (Authors to customers: "you own your ebooks. You can give them away to someone else with no strings attached. You can even re-sell them. But if you resell them for more than [insert reasonable amount here], you owe the creators a 10% commission on your proceeds.")

* What about libraries? This is a subset of the first sale problem; publishers (US publishers in particular) generally hate the idea of selling a single copy of an ebook to a library who then lend it to all their customers. As it happens, there's a solution to the library loan question in much of the world: Public Lending Right. Libraries track loans, so can in principle pay a [tiny] kickback to authors (or publishers) every time a book registered with them is loaned out. How you fund a PLR system is an open question—the UK one is paid for out of central government funds, but the Conservatives seem to be on track to abolish it (along with libraries).

Summary: The issues here are enormous and gnarly. But I suspect a chunk of problems currently facing the publishing industry may go away entirely, or look very different, if we could only tear up our existing contracts that view ebooks as a distribution channel and figure out a better way of accounting for success.



If you could get a publisher onside, would you want to publish a book street-performer style? As a reader I like the idea.


In principle, yes.

In practice ...

I'm doing okay with the current business model. I'm also locked into existing book contracts for the next 2-3 years. I do this stuff for a living; my personal cash flow depends on getting it right. So I'm about as cautious in approaching new ideas like this as anyone else would be if asked to gamble a year's income on an untried new technique. Which is what a novel-length trial would mean.

Which is to say: I'm pretty sure it would work, and once it's an established route I'll happily consider it, but I don't feel comfortable about gambling with my family income.


Another thing publishers can't currently seem to do is make available for sale a full-length novel in less time than a TV program takes to go from commission to broadcast.


* Rolls eyes *

There is a reason for that.

Did you spot the bit about publishers being a supply chain business?

They take lots of inputs of variable quality and run them through a production line. The production line tempo is limited by the slowest, most unpredictable and failure prone component in the line. And it averages ... one year!

If nothing else, the chain store buyers expect to order their stock 90 or 120 days before it's ready ... and the paper print run size (for the printer -- a separate company, not part of the publisher) can't be finalized until the bulk orders that account for up to 70-80% of sales are finalized.

Yes, you can rush a book through in 8 weeks. Trouble is, it disrupts the hell out of everything else on the conveyor belt if you do that. And when you've got maybe 100-200 separate somewhat customized but individually low-value items on that year-long production line, you can't easily rejig everything so that each item runs as a separate project. It'd be GANTT hell.


Eminently reasonable. What do you think the publishers would think of the idea, if you had wanted to blaze a new trail?


With regard to selling half a book and then supplying the rest at a later date would this not add another task of making the end of the first half of the book good enough to keep a reader hooked for the time until the second?

I've heard people talk before about selling ebooks in chapters or serials but if I think about a few examples of books I own I doubt it would work if they were simply chopped into smaller chunks. One segment might end after a particularly slow moment for instance which doesn't satisfy without reading the faster pace bit soon after.


"Publishers" are not a homogeneous class; some will view it with extreme skepticism, some won't understand it at all, and quite possibly some will pick up the ball and run.


The jury is still out on serial ebooks, but John Scalzi is giving it a good try right now. And Baen have been selling ebooks on a not-dissimilar basis for the past decade -- you can buy up to the first half of an ebook three or more months before the publication date. Meanwhile, I'd like to note that this is how most novels were sold in the early 19th century. The current paradigm of the monolithic finished text being delivered in one installment is the new interloper business model, if anything.


If ebooks are treated as software, how long until publisher begins sending out patches and updates to fix typos and editing problems? Obviously when that becomes possible some writers will succumb to the temptation of tinkering with their work after it's out in the reader's hands - while some publishers will lower their editing standards, knowing that anything can be fixed after publication.


Already happening, for some years. Doesn't happen very often, but if an ebook gets auto-converted by Amazon and there's a screw up, they may reissue an updated version. (This happened to Neal Stephenson's REAMDE, as I recall.)


On multiple covers: a couple of thoughts.

If you have more than one cover, it might make sense to ship with all of them, and let the customers have a choice --- as, I think, Cory Doctorow did with his self-published story collection. As to which one you show in ads, and such: there are tools (e.g., Google conversion optimizer) for trying to automatically pick the ad with the highest click-through rate for a particular customer's location and other demographics. A sufficiently plugged-in merchant (Google themselves, or probably Amazon) could follow through right to the purchase page.

(In the US, at least, there were print books in pre-ebook days that sometimes shipped with multiple covers: C.S. Friedman's "In Conquest Born" had a wraparound cover that was printed in two mirror images, so you could choose a copy with your favorite character on the front. I'm not sure they got separate ISBNs, though, and even if the publisher had no way to get feedback on which was selling better, they probably had no way to close the loop and make use of the info.)


I'd suggest another problem with the publishing industry: editing. Most writers (myself included) need critical allies who can spot our mistakes and suggest ways to improve our writing.

Paying the editor, though, that's hard.

One model that might be amusing is the traditional apprenticeship system, where writers (ab)use student writers as researchers, gofers, and so forth, while teaching them the tricks of their trade and editing their work. This turns writing from a solitary model to a small business model.

A similar model is the tai chi/Chinese martial art model: students, disciples, lineage holders, and masters. Masters teach students, and all they are obligated to do is teach them the moves and the basic concepts. Students can master the art this way, but it's largely a catch as catch can.

Disciples are taught everything, not just the moves but the tricks, logic, etc. The issue of loyalty here are much more intense, because the disciples are the intellectual heirs of the masters. The lineage holders are one step up from the masters and disciples, in that they supposedly perform quality control on the disciples, making sure they're still doing everything right.

Substitute training in writing and editing for the martial aspects, and there might be a usable model here. Writers can teach writing in any of a myriad of ways (such as how-to books), but they really only sit down and edit a few people who show promise and pay for the privilege, either through money (as at Clarion) or through some other form of compensation. The goal is to perpetuate a style of writing, and instead of winning fights, the payoff is in sales.

Yes, I know writers already do some of this. I'm just thinking of cultural ways to formalize informal practices.

Note that the point here is to find a way to pay for editing, so that writers can improve to where they can sell to a large enough customer base to support themselves. That's what we don't really have right now, no matter what model we use.


One problem with A/B testing is that it's wide open to spoofers who try to swipe your sales. If you're experimenting with multiple covers, it will be more difficult to keep out people who make something that looks like one of your experimental models, who try to swipe a few of your sales before getting caught and locked out.

Otherwise, I think it's a great idea. Ebooks are made for experimentation.


Some comments:

"...despite centuries of striving there are few sub-sectors of trade fic publishing where a reader might go to a store and buy half a kilo of a particular publisher's product range without reference to the authorial brand."

There are several boxes of well-known TV show spin-off books in my library that give me a good idea what those sub-sectors might be...

"The US mass market paperback will die, but trade paperback distribution will still exist for beach-side reading and technophobes; hardcovers will still exist for bibliophiles: but ebooks will dominate casual reading."

Add UK to the list, and there goes my physical book-buying except for those authors I deem worthy of buying the hardback (probably in a good quality limited edition). Trade paperbacks are neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring: they're almost as expensive as a hardback, take up almost as much space on the shelves, and are far more prone to shedding pages. Hi-diddly-dee, the Kindle Fire for me!

"Once a set profit threshold is exceeded, the DRM on everyone's copy is released..."

Nice idea. It might be technically easier to email (or whatever the current channel is) all registered users to a limited-use link to download a DRM-free copy. As a bonus for putting up with the DRM, make it a special edition with an extra short story, or some other fun stuff not generally avialable anywhere else.

Artists resale rights: David Braben's mulling over the same idea for his reboot of the 'Elite' game. I'm ambivalent: it trumps the first sale doctrine (selfish version: I bloody well paid for it - our transaction is over). How it could - possibly - work is if the creator provides a reasonable alternative to the private sale / second-hand market ("Finished with an e-book? Trade it back to us for £X in cash, or £X+Y in credit towards another one. Find a better deal? Let us know, we may not be able to match it right now, but if it's something we haven't heard about before, we'll credit you with £z. Oh, and if you do sell it on and it turns up in multiple places, we remind you that each copy is individually watermarked...").

Michaelgr@9: Diane Duane is one author that I know of who issues "patches" of her ebooks if they contain typos. It'll be nice to see it take off in the mainstream ebook markets.


Charlie: all British paperbacks are trade books now. Some are just smaller than others because that's what customers expect, is all

Murphys: Trade paperbacks are neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring: they're almost as expensive as a hardback, take up almost as much space on the shelves, and are far more prone to shedding pages

I think you skipped over Charlie's explanation.


Harry, every paperback you've bought new in the past 20 years is a trade paperback. The size (A-format) is the same as the old mass-market books but they're distributed on sale-or-return, i.e. as trade paperbacks.

(This is what I mean by people mistaking a sales channel for a physical product based on the size of the binding.)


You could also have a continuously updating ebook -- for example, you could have a version of the arabian nights that just consists of a different story each day. Or a collectively-voted on choose your own adventure novel. Done right, this could be an incredibly great way to build a relationship with a rabid fanbase by having different content there each day to reward fans for reading it regularly.


(This is what I mean by people mistaking a sales channel for a physical product based on the size of the binding.)

For values of "mistaking" which mean "never having been told the difference, which is transparent to them in any case".


It's business model vs packaging.

The end customers don't know -- and don't need to know. Everyone else in the chain does.


Some interesting comments here, and another interesting article to start things off, Mr Stross.

Michaelgr@9: I pay for my editor(s) and proofreaders upfront, but I also patch my books whenever a reader spots a typo (and I ask readers to submit them). A quick look at my longest-published book shows that I've uploaded about 15 patches to it since it was published in 2011. One example - I hope - of a more error-free book than you'd get from a traditional publisher.


If we are thinking big future, why won't books eventually follow the flat monthly fee "all you can eat" model we already have for movies (Netflix) and music (Spotify)? Legal history constraints aside, this is something Amazon is obviously wanting to do, and why won't they eventually succeed? Maybe $25 a month for ad free unlimited books. Half that if you accept ads. And free with ads if you only read say one book a month. It would continue us farther down the path of less money for authors, but it seems where the technology wants to go.


One model that might work for DRM or not, and still involve the publishers, is to offer books DRM free with an "honesty policy" of not reselling them. Possibly at a slightly higher price than the DRMed version. Consider punishing those that do resell, but don't chase people who offer them to file share free.

There are definitely authors out there, not including OGH who I started reading before eBooks were really an option, where I started by being recommended a book on the "Customers who liked X also liked Y" basis by you know who. Rather than risk my money, or sometimes because I didn't have any, I made the effort to find that book free online. It's not difficult after all. Read the book, and on the basis of that made the choice to read more by this author or not. For one author that's led to about 19 books from their back-catalogue appearing on my iPad, all paid for. Yes, they made a small loss of potential royalties - if I'd bought that book too, they'd have got the royalties for 20 books after all - but they did get 19 books worth of royalties that they probably wouldn't have got without the "free trial."

This might sound like pie in the sky, but although the music industry moaned like crazy, and still does with each change, the iTunes store with DRM-free music more expensive is a huge sales channel. Every time I see research about it, people with pirated music in their collection tend to have appreciably more unpirated music than those without the pirated music too. I appreciate the lawyers look for every safeguard under the sun as if they're dealing with the devil incarnate but I see no reason why the same system shouldn't work with books. In fact, I suspect the book buyers (eBooks or otherwise) are older and usually have more disposable cash than the music buyers on average, and so they're more likely to try, then drop some cash on the books.

And on a separate note, if there's the falling price version, I think I'd prefer to offer a known price (say $10 again) and not have the book until the price falls to that point. It's a predictable wait after all, just like pre-ordering a yet-to-be-published book now is.


Ads in books would be a specific contract violation -- that battle was fought and won in the 1920s.

It would continue us farther down the path of less money for authors, but it seems where the technology wants to go.

Letting the technology dictate the path is only a touchstone of faith to the libertarian American boosters of capitalism as an ideology. There are other ways to do things, and I don't notice Germany, Japan, or France doing particularly badly for their creative industries by imposing price controls and raising a middle digit to the market fundamentalists.

if you resell them for more than [insert reasonable amount here], you owe the creators a 10% commission on your proceeds.

Did you figure out how to send 10% commission to the creators of the last house or car you sold?


If you're going to rethink the landscape, how about going one step further back? A lot of the details of current contract language result from the current model being based on copyright as the ultimate legal control on what can and cannot be done. Copyright has changed tremendously in the US and a little elsewhere; why not think things through another step back, and consider alternatives there as well? (Well, beyond the obvious reason, it'd be more work.)

Could we do it all with individual contracts between final recipients and the various parts of the distribution chain? That's essentially done with software, which everybody has today, so maybe it could. That could give us different rights and opportunities.

Could we do it all with technological enforcement? DMCA and draconian net-watchers and things? (It would certainly be resisted and I probably wouldn't like it, but it has to be considered I suppose.)

I'm sure there are more outre ideas that aren't leaping to my mind right now, too.

I personally would consider it tragic if old fiction just disappeared. I've read lots of interesting things in Gutenberg that are not in print now, so some sort of resale or public domain is the only way I see to preserve that as the final outcome. I think currently it's pushed so far out into the future that it lets lots of works die permanently, which is sad; but there's limited attention available and something's gonna die I suppose.


I own the car. I have a signed receipt from the vendor saying so. What I do not own is the right to manufacture further examples of the car, which was retained by the manufacturer when they sold it new.


I own the car. I have a signed receipt from the vendor saying so. What I do not own is the right to manufacture further examples of the car, which was retained by the manufacturer when they sold it new.

This may be a stupid comment but I was under the impression that you do have the right to manufacture a copy of the car but not to sell it commercially. If anyone sees a product they like but don't want to pay for it they have the right to assemble one themselves if they like but selling it when you don't have the patent's for the mechanisms and the copyright for the branding is against the law.


Charlie seems like everything you suggest is being done and done successfully with video games? I don't think there is anything preventing any of it other then the will to do so?

And so we have constant re-use of legal boilerplate that's decades old.

That looks like the big show-killer right there. We've been needing some sort of customizable boiler-plate that can be fitted into a template and tested for outputs and consistency, just like you would any other software. That's a very general statement, but it strikes me that ebooks are an instance where writing up this sort of thing would be relatively (relatively!) easy. You want to treat the etext as software? Write it in. You want to treat it as a regular book? That's okay too.

Of course, I'm assuming that all that old legal boilerplate has generated tons of precedents for specific cases you can use as, well, 'case' statements for want of a better term :-)


Ah, I see you're talking about pretty much the same thing I am. My apologies - your post wasn't up when I started writing and I had to stop when a student came in. But yeah, something like this seems doable.

Providing the lawyers don't fight it that is ;-) Funny how them and doctors and a few other professions are fighting productivity improvements via automation tooth and nail. That's being anti-Capitalist[1], if you ask me.

[1]Capitalism is what's good for other people, apparently, whether they like it or not.


I don't think Adverts in books can be ruled out for all time. As you say, it's a matter for contract, and it strikes me as possible that some of the methods used for advertising supported web-pages might work for ebooks. But I would expect any author to be very hesitant about taking that chance. Services such as Adsense allow a lot of control by the website, but getting the settings right is non-trivial and there will be endless competition between advertisers and book-controllers to out-manouever the filters.

Harlan Ellison's dead-gopher story is the least of the consequences of such skullduggery.


the way the video game guys get around the legal issues (which were far less of a big deal for them) was to set up new companies and work direct with the distributors

they were normally not locked into multi year contracts though


Did you figure out how to send 10% commission to the creators of the last house or car you sold?

That's a very good question.

Cars have registration numbers assigned by and tracked by a national-level vehicle licensing authority. House ownership is tracked by a land registry. So yes, it could be done, if there was any reason to do so.

Works of art over a certain value are liable for resale rights, which are handled via the Artists Collecting Society -- as with music/performing rights/PLR.

Extending this sort of right down from >€1000 works of art or from public reproduction in bars/pubs/hotels to bracket residuals from $9.99 ebooks is obviously a big leap, but it's not a radical new innovation; it's just more of the same.


The trouble with revising copyright as the basis of IP law is that it's locked in via international trade treaties -- WIPO depends on it. This makes it nearly as deeply embedded as the US constitution, and just as difficult to get rid of (for similar reasons): you'd need to get over 160 nations to simultaneously agree a new treaty framework, then to ratify it and enact it in local law (means US Congress and Senate both have to agree to pass a new bill complying with the treaty; ditto equivalent EU directive process).


Video games: range in scale from amateur hobbyist projects up to big budgets rivaling high-end Hollywood blockbusters.

Novels: range in scale from amateur hobbyist projects up to ... nope, not going there. Even the biggest breakthrough fiction series of a decade generates less turnover than a low-budget movie like, say, "Iron Sky".

The pay-off from a new business model is therefore higher with video games than with novels.


I have, over the years, seen enough example of legal boiler-plate in internet-service handling of copyright to think part of the problem is lawyers who fail to understand a new technology.

Point 1: If a blog-hosting site is running proper back-ups, there will be several copies of every copyright-protected element of the site.

Point 2: removing something from a back-up risks wrecking the back-up.

Taken together, it's a reason for the contracts which give the service a perpetual right to make and keep copies, but such contracts are the crude and simplistic way of defining a solution.

Seems to me that what those old contracts didn't need a right to publish everything on a back-up, subject to a bit of protection against mistakes, and other leaks of withdrawn data associated with the restore process.

And sometimes the lawyer has to believe some of the silliest things their client says. (It's the only explanation I have for some of what I have seen for myself.)


I'm not sure you're right about assembling a car if you buy all the parts but, even if you are, copying an author's work is protected rather differently - the parts aren't individually protected (words are common use after all, the vast majority of them anyway) - but the combination is specifically their creation.

That said, I guess if you want to you can copy a book out long-hand for your own use. It might be illegal - it is only recently you've been legally allowed to copy a CD to mp3 in the UK for example, although lots of people did it - but you're pretty unlikely to actually get into trouble for it.


Maybe things would have been different if the evolution of story-telling moving pictures hadn't been so dominated by US interests. In Europe, going by the dates, we were having some sort of war as a distraction.

And television was essentially another sort of moving picture...

Is it so crazy to see echoes of Hollywood in so much of what Amazon, and the big publishers, are trying to do around the ebook issues? But if it's a new technology needing a new model what is there that would distract the established interests?


Publishers seem to be trying new tricks with ebooks, and they're rather ugly tricks from the PoV of an author. Oh, some of them have backed off from some of the tricks. From that same PoV, I don't think much of what Amazon is doing. Too many greedy people trying to make the new rules, not enough enlightened self-interest.

Whatever the solution, we all have to be able to make money, or the chain breaks. (And in the current economic mess, that's a good general rule. Too many greedy people breaking too many chains...)

I am certain that my writing is better than almost every book Amazon promotes in their Top Ten Free Books RSS Feeds. I have tried to read enough of them that I have, I think, a good betting strategy. The only decent product I have seen is the Shadow Unit series, and it isn't something I really want to read. Not my sort of story, rather than being a question of writing quality.

My sort of story may be too weird. Ho-hum, so it goes.


Do you think the recent US Supreme Court decision on "grey imports" will have any impact? ( ).

Could this open the door to a company such as Amazon buying UK editions and selling them in the US, for example? With ebooks this could destroy the regional restrictions currently in the Amazon sales model...


This sounds as if it may be jurisdiction-dependent. How much it is really possible, in terms of parts availability, I'll dodge. Might be easier for an out-of-production model: Shelby Cobra "inspired" kit-cars used to be a commonplace.

I have a yearning to go into Rally Vincent mode, OK.


Bellinghman@ 15, Charlie @16:

"Harry, every paperback you've bought new in the past 20 years is a trade paperback. The size (A-format) is the same as the old mass-market books but they're distributed on sale-or-return, i.e. as trade paperbacks."

Yeah, well, feed me a straight line, you know what happens next...


That recent USSC verdict merely reasserts the first sale doctrine.

Could this open the door to a company such as Amazon buying UK editions and selling them in the US, for example?

No, because AMZN are a wholesaler. The point about the FSD is that it applies to the final, retail, customer. You can already buy US dead tree book imports in the UK from or (the latter case only if there's no UK publisher). You used to be able to buy imported books directly via ads in the back of newspapers, all the way back to the 19th century.

The only thing that's changed here is that the US SC have reaffirmed the way things are and slapped down a publisher who tried to get the law to hand them a monopoly.


Doing some googling it does seem that I'm wrong. Apparently if someone builds an exact copy of a patented device and uses it for the patented purpose they are infringing the patent. Exceptions include if it is changed in some way, used in a different way than intended or used for research purposes.


That makes sense. Aside from protecting the patent holder from commercial sale of infringing products, the law also protects against internal use for commercial gain, for example by using a patented device to improve manufacturing productivity.


The lawyers are dealing with a wave of automation that is causing severe unemployment among recent law school graduates. A paralegal using online sources and specialized search engines can now do more case research work for less pay than several junior lawyers using traditional methods.


I never really understood how the numbers worked for the all-you-can-eat models myself. Gym memberships I understand: oversubscribe, count on most people not showing up every day. Same model dial-up ISP's followed.

I suppose buffets work on a similar hope -- the senior citizens coming out to eat will only do a little damage and help defray the cost of the lard-butts doing their best baleen whale impression at the seafood bar. Still, it's a business model I would not have believed until I saw it work.

How does Netflix handle it? I pay my fee, do the producers of the shows I watch get a cut based directly off of my viewing? They have real metrics, not BS and guesswork like with broadcast ratings.

A netflix-style library would be pretty cool. I technically have that through my local public library but with a very limited selection of books and a ridiculous time-limited checkout scheme.


@ 17
Continuously updating book?
Already there, long since ..
The "Rubber Bible" has been doing that for years.

SoV @30
Not "anti-capita;ist" but protecting their vested interests, same as everybody else - in fact Doctors & Lawyers are just posh Trades Unions, are they not?

zochaka @ 36
The problem is to get (almost) ANY lawyer to understand any technology!


I don't know if you've followed it, but what do you think of the editorial experiment that Frontier Developments explored with the recent Elite:Dangerous Kickstarter?

For those that do not know about it, Frontier recently did a kickstarter to finance the writing of the sequel to their classic Elite videogame, and auctioned the rights to write a novel in their setting as a flat-rate sum.
Many young writers, wanting to write novels or other similar products in that setting, did other kickstarter to collect the sum (plus some for extras like covers, arts, and their own living).
For what I know, I think all of them managed to collect moderate sums, even if mostly unknown authors.


Books are sold today by reverse auction—the newer the title the more you pay for it

in non-fiction often the older a book is the more you pay for

want a new copy of "Me 262 Vol 4" by J Richard Smith and Eddie Creek?

there you go

"For sales under 10,000 copies, a royalty of 10% will be assigned based on the undiscounted suggested retail price. From 10,001 to 15,000 copies, a royalty of 12% will be allocated ... from 15,001 up, a royalty of 15% will be allocated ... for copies sold at less than 40% discount off SRP, the full royalty will be paid; for copies sold at discount of 41-50% 80% of royalties due will be paid: from 51%-65% 50% of royalties will be paid: above 65% 40% of royalties will be paid."

:-o - who actually enforces this? Do retailers/publishers provide a breakdown of what they have sold, and at what price - per book/per author, and if so, is it accurate?

There are several boxes of well-known TV show spin-off books in my library that give me a good idea what those sub-sectors might be...

Another sub-sector is Perry Rhodan. 52 years now, and it consists of a rolling stable of writers (I don't think any of the original authors is still working - or maybe even alive). The marketing brand is the series, not the authors.

Of course, due to tradition, there IS an author name on all books. Completely fictitious, but still.

I never really understood how the numbers worked for the all-you-can-eat models myself.
An interesting variation I've seen on this is a local Korean buffet. It's all you can eat, but you get a 1€ surcharge per part of the buffet you didn't finish.

who actually enforces this? Do retailers/publishers provide a breakdown of what they have sold, and at what price - per book/per author, and if so, is it accurate?

Yes they do. And authors (and authors' representatives and trade bodies) audit them, and if they're not accurate, Bad Stuff happens. Starting with top-up payments and/or lawsuits, but if the figures are too inaccurate, suddenly established authors stop doing business with that publisher. They can keep going for some time with the ignorant and the desperate, but it hurts their business if the suppliers take their balls and go elsewhere.


>>>The author is the micro-brand; despite centuries of striving there are few sub-sectors of trade fic publishing where a reader might go to a store and buy half a kilo of a particular publisher's product range without reference to the authorial brand.

Charlie, could you elaborate as to what in your opinion are the reasons group writing is unable to create anything good? (Unless I miss some examples where it did).

I'm not talking about coauthorships. Most of those suffer from visible discrepancies in style/rhythm etc, because different parts are written by different people (yep, even Rapture for Nerds :-)). The only coauthorship I know of that didn't have this defect is Strugatsky brothers, because of their writing style - they literally sat in the same room and wrote everything together, sentence after sentence.


Charlie, could you elaborate as to what in your opinion are the reasons group writing is unable to create anything good?


That subject is off-topic for this discussion, and potentially derailing.


Re; all you can eat buffets; For food, you need to remember that the dominant costs for a restaurant are rent and wages. Ingredients bought wholesale are much cheaper than the equivalent bought at the supermarket, so the fact that a buffet represents a huge savings on labor makes them profitable - Ringing them up is faster, they are self-serve, and keeping them topped off is much less work-per-customer for the cook than individual dishes. The fact that some people eat a lot of the buffet does not outweigh this on a single customer basis except in remarkably extreme cases, and never overall.


Magazine serials used to commonly do that without too much problem. Of course, it wouldn't work for all works, but it would for a large number.

IIRC, Dune was originally a 5 part serial...actually two serials, one 3 part and one 2 part, but I may be confusing it with something else. (IIRC the big divide was when Paul and Jessica were buried under the sand after their escaping ornithopter went into a storm, and was forced down.)

It's true that EVERY constraint limits the forms of works that can be created without being mangled. But serials weren't that bad.

For that matter (and in a slightly different area) you could look at the "Girl Genius" web-comics. Now working on their 12th printed volumne. A three-times a week graphics novel in full color that has the in-progress work available free, (Admittedly the printed version has higher quality rendering of the art-work, so your work NEEDS to be a work of art for this to work.) But also note that the format shapes the plot. This is a connected story, but it's quite episodic, and I suspect that the plot is frequently contorted by the needs of the presentation medium.

That said, I don't think that serializing a work would present a major limitation...not unless you were strict about each chunk needing to be the same size.


In the world of ebooks, book covers persist as advertisements that show up first in thumbnails (Amazon's are 120x80 pixels) on storefront websites. Why not use animated covers?

The discussion has not picked up on this remark, but I'd like to chip in that I'm happy to see it. I had the same idea yesterday, over on the previous thread.

Does anyone know anything about this? Amazon might strip out all but the first frame of gifs as Facebook does; it seems unlikely that nobody's ever even tried uploading an animated cover.


You could use the 'Sibylline books' business model: at intervals, reduce the price, but delete parts of the book. You can have as many stages as you have the patience to do the continuity for. (I know Sibyl put up the price, but I don't think that would work if you have already sold copies of the full version).


One other thought, there's just too much consolidation across the board: the natural trend towards all human economic activities tends towards concentration of capital and ownership. Romans were complaining about the latifundias, tipplers complain about how four gigabrewers control over half the global beer market, video games, movies, durable goods manufacturers, etc.

Is there an antidote to this? Seems like the usual recipe is catastrophic failure and picking up the pieces after the collapse.


If his prediction about page shedding is correct (or if it's shared by many people) then it doesn't matter that what you say is it's a trade paperback, he says I'm not buying it in that form factor.

For that matter, to me the also the form factor is a major consideration. I'm really reluctant to purchase works that I can't fit into my bookcase, which is sized for something just a bit larger than the traditional mass market pocket book. It's true that I have another set of shelves for trade paperbacks (i.e., larger size) but those are dedicated to technical books of various sorts. And I absolutely HATE e-books. After a day of programming I want to get away from that screen in my face. (And even during the day I find reading something lengthy on a screen an exercise in masochism.) The e-book readers I've seen do not solve the problem. The default fonts are too small, and they do terrible things to graphics. (Which is a real shame, as I bought it so that I could read technical documentation without blocking the view of what I was working on...but because of the way it handles graphics it's unusable for that purpose.)

I understand why you consider the designation "trade paperback" significant, but given the definition you are using it's invisible to the purchaser (or the reader). So when they use the term, they will use it to refer to something that they can see or feel. To expect them to do otherwise is like computer afficionados to expect newspaper readers to understand the difference between hacker and cracker.


It astounds me that an order of fried wings from a standard restaurant can cost as much as the lunch price at a buffet, plus everything else is available. Even the supermarket cost on things like seafood is much, much higher. I'm not sure if it's because their discounts are so low or the markups are so high.


If you will forgive my jumping to a different topic, I was struck by your comment about "if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond spacetime tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?" It occurs to me that the distinctive traits of the American political system are almost entirely explainable by assuming that Americans tend to ask, "if my government was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond spacetime tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?"

Whether people who ask that question are cripplingly paranoid, or people who don't ask it are denying the evidence of history, is a question that could be debated at much length and likely to little profit. Perhaps both are true. But if you take it simply as a predictive model of how different cultures think, it may have some use.


>>>> It occurs to me that the distinctive traits of the American political system are almost entirely explainable by assuming that Americans tend to ask, "if my government was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond spacetime tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?"

Does not compute. American government is HUGE. You'd think if Americans were wary of the government they'd try to minimize it. Like Costa Rica, you know. They were wary of their army, so they just abolished it.


This topic (US government) is derailing; please drop it.


> The pay-off from a new business model is therefore higher with video games than with novels.

Is it? Modern video games (and movies) are created by teams of tens to thousands, most of whose payoff will not change. So there's a large fixed cost. Novels cost whatever it costs to feed, clothe and debauch an author for long enough to emit a novel (and pay an editor, cover artist, whatever -- I'm assuming these are only slightly elastic.) These costs don't change in a different model. What you can hope to reduce or eliminate are advertising, distribution, and maybe manufacturing costs.

The potential payoff multiplier therefore seems much higher for a novel.

A sufficiently established author could, I think, go directly to the public with a future not-yet-contracted novel.

Kickstarter. 60 days, funding goal comparable to what *you* would pocket from a mid-to-highly successful novel.

Visiting the page lets you read the first chapter.

Cheapest buy-in ($10?) gets you a DRM-free "honor system" ebook, and your name as "contributor" in the ebook (maybe also tiny print in print editions -- needs investigation).

Higher price points for printed pocket book, trade paperback, and clothbound editions ($15, 25, 50?); with a substantial surcharge (double?), and limited counts, for signed versions.

High price ($500?) to get printed galleys and be mentioned as a reviewer (limited).

$RIDICULOUS prices to be mentioned in the acknowledgements (limited) or the dedication (1). Signed copies of all formats with the reviewer & higher options.

If the KS succeeds, you're already paid; crank the gears to make all the Stuff happen. Print extra copies of all formats to put into traditional distribution channels, sell from your own web site, sell on Amazon as self-published (etc.)

Getting the price points right could be tricky, but I think an adequate approximation can be done.

An obvious downside is that existing publishers may blacklist your future work (possibly even if the attempt fails).


very illuminating!

makes me glad I'm a salaried employee...and I don't say that very often

still, could be worse, you could still be pharmacist - or at Datacash...


An obvious downside is that existing publishers may blacklist your future work (possibly even if the attempt fails)

not much in it for OGH, then - let Tom Kratman try it first ;-)


I suspect the trouble is, existing authors are often tied to their next X books. Occasionally that's the next X books in a particular style. And when each rolls off the line, the new contract respecifies with the same X. If we assume Charlie has 'same style' books, he's contracted for a number of Laundry style books, a number of Merchant Princes style books and a number of far-future space operas. (Apologies for any styles I've missed.) The Merchant Prince ones might have a declining X in future as Charlie approaches a pre-agreed end point (I think the Harry Potter ones were agreed to finish at 7 for example) but that's pretty rare as I understand it.

Unless he breaks out into sparkly vampires and their unicorn farms (or similar) he's kind of stuck. I'd consider kickstarting Charlie's take on urban fantasy (I read UF too and I'm not ashamed to admit it, but not the sparkly vampires) but I wonder just how many people would? Ok, so he knows up front if it's a viable operation but I wonder just how viable it would actually be, given the tie-ins from the existing contracts. You have to bear in mind that Charlie makes his living this way. It's got to be a pretty good bet for him to switch to a different model - or for him to suddenly have a J. K. Rowling style breakout so he's so rich it doesn't matter.

What I suspect we'll see, what we're already starting to see in fact, is a rise in vanity publications of eBooks via Amazon and the iBooks store (and possibly others). Bad though the results of many of them will be (as they are for most vanity publications) some will be decent, or commercially successful, authors. (J. K. Rowling was rejected how many times? You don't have to like her books to think she's hugely commercially successful. E. L. James too, with one book to date.) Apple and Amazon take their cut but, as I understand it, don't tie you in for future publications. The next E. L. James (not necessarily from fanfic, but breaking out completely unexpectedly from self-publishing) might make a living from kickstarter funding. And might, or might not, be willing to gamble that way.


"That recent USSC verdict merely reasserts the first sale doctrine."

Is that all it "merely" does, though? In this case the action involved buying books abroad and bringing them into the country solely for the purpose of reselling them; there was no intent to use the books himself. This was a business venture, earning him $900,000.

Could this not lead to a blurring of lines between wholesale and retail? Especially when the concept of "sale of return" vanishes (as in the case of ebooks).

IANAL, but it seems to me that this ruling extends the scope of first sale doctrine, not merely reasserting it.


But then you have games like Dear Ester or Kentucky Mile Zero that are massively blurring the line between novel and game. Or even Bastion for that matter

In general I don't think these new models are rising in the video game industry because there is so much money there, it's more because people have weird projects they want to do and think they can t least break even in them. And the cost for a platform like Steam to let them distribute is close to zero.


A sufficiently established author could, I think, go directly to the public with a future not-yet-contracted novel.

That does happen. For instance Catie Murphy's No Dominion.

(Yes, it says 'novella'. That was her original ambition, but the physical volume ended up as a little under 300 pages. A full novel and a bunch of other stories.)

In this case, it's a side-story from her Walker Papers series, which is (and I think was always planned as) a 9 book sequence. She did check with the publisher of that series (which had, IIRC, 7 books out at that point - the 9th is being written right now) whether there would be a problem with her doing this, and the answer came back that since it was a different central viewpoint, they were fine with it.

If you want a good idea of how a KickStarter can go well, go talk to Catie. She's not the only, nor even the first, to do it, but she's a good example of how to do it right by leveraging her fans.

(When Charlie and Catie are next in the same place at the same time, I want to hear that conversation. Sadly, though Catie's making her first Eastercon this year, Charlie's going to be down under, so some other time.)


Games are a good analogy, the major difference is game people tend to be more technical so got there sooner

what is to stop authors from doing something like this?

other then the legal shackles of course


We can't (at all easily) change copyright, that's true (although it did have considerable value back BEFORE the whole world kind of standardized, too). And I suppose models based on more-permissive licensing terms are already being included in the discussion. Okay.



Nice to see you took things and ran with it. Some thoughts, points, etc.

1) In terms of book covers as adverts in the ebook world, they are actually icons of sorts - look to banner ads and icon design for where that can go - and the prices for construction. Animation is no problem technically - but Amazon only allow JPGs/TIFs at the moment.

2) Think genetic algorithms for cover design optimisation on the fly. Take your photoshop layers, set attributes for colours, text size, image size, rotation, etc. and you can evolve your image, A-B testing/evolution that's entirely automated. Same goes for animation. It's this that I think is patentable, and I hope that's enough prior art to kill such a patent.

3) If you view eBook selling as 9 parts advertising, then the conventional Amazon page isn't too smart - publisher-wise or author-wise. Much that can be done to treat the book as valuable artwork, rather than 250 pages of non-paper, and in doing so both enhance the perceived value, and the conversion rate.

4) The best time to get money out of people for a book isn't before they have read anything, or after reading for that matter, but whilst still reading. That's the point they are most invested in finding out what happens. You can give away the first few chapters, but there are many more techniques that can be employed here - and it's virtually an untapped world in today's publishing.

5) As I've said before, if you do the job well, probably the most valuable IP you own is the 'world', not the book. If I were you, I'd be nailing down my rights to this yesterday - there are MANY ways to monitorise this IP - and you want to make sure you own them...

In the end, the only way this is going to happen is if disruptive forces enter the space and rough things up. In part Cory was one of these, Amazon is another - but as you point out, the legal boilerplate once put in place kills much of the opportunity for change, and it's the author (as the licensee) that can shake up things by taking maybe a test example of their product, and doing new things. The publishers won't (they are stolid supply chain handle turners).


For an example of your kickstarter suggestion, look at the organization, which is trying to buy ebook distribution rights to give them a creative commons license. The trick is getting authors, and readers, to understand the idea of present future value.


As I've said before, if you do the job well, probably the most valuable IP you own is the 'world', not the book.

Interesting you should say that; as I type this I'm about two meters from my Laundry RPG book. That was $$ I wouldn't have normally spent. (Still haven't played it, what with one thing and another. Oh, well.) While I'd watch a Laundry TV show, I'm glad I'm not trying to sell it. And I'm fine with Charlie being flown to Hollywood to be showered with cocaine and hookers for the negotiations. *grin*


Video games: range in scale from amateur hobbyist projects up to big budgets rivaling high-end Hollywood blockbusters.

Novels: range in scale from amateur hobbyist projects up to ... nope, not going there. Even the biggest breakthrough fiction series of a decade generates less turnover than a low-budget movie like, say, "Iron Sky".

The pay-off from a new business model is therefore higher with video games than with novels.

I just looked at this:

And this:

And this:

It looks like numerically by units, the books win, by dollars it's hard to tell but probably about a tie over the comparable time periods.

Iron Sky was approximately $8.15 million worldwide gross, or about equal to its 7.5 million euro cost. Presumably DVD sales will carry it over into profit.

Comparing to books at $7 each, say, that's about 1.2 million book-equivalents, which is off the bottom of the charts on very popular books or book series.

Harry Potter as a series sold 450 million books, total value including movies and merchandising was put in the $15 *billion* range, of which about half was the movies. The highest grossing movie of all time was Avatar around $2.5 billion; the movie series in order are HP ($7.7 B), James Bond ($6.2 B), Star Wars ($4.4 B), LotR ($3.9 B), Marvel ($3.8 B), Pirates of the Caribbean ($3.7 B), Batman ($3.7 B), Batman ($3.7 B), Shrek ($3.5 B), Twilight ($3.3 B), Spider-Man ($3.2 B).

On first impression, books aren't doing badly by either video game or movie standards. There are a LOT MORE BOOKS - most of which fall very far down on the lists - but speculative fiction books led to the HP movies, JB movies, LotR, (comics) Marvel, (comics) Batman, Twilight, (comics) Spider-Man.


I just got a big numbers comment held for moderation (three links inside it, gasp), however on slightly different subtopic...

I think that a combination of PoD and eBook primary focus offers a model that might be very attractive to publishing.

I'm giving away some secret sauce, but the lead time investment is a big part of the capital tie-up corner that traditional publishers' business model gets them into. The (dollars x time) value invested in things in the production flow process right now, a lot of which depends on the physical stuff, times the time cost of money and opportunity costs of money sunk, are very significant. I was throwing things and getting upset at people earlier this month over on Scalzi's blog, people who don't understand time-value-of-money.

The whole physicality aspect of the lead time can be made to go away with an eBook focused model.

If some physical books (either PoD or some press runs done on a faster-reaction real press, for booksellers willing to commit to orders) come out the side of it, in a process you handle more like they were ebooks, then that still doesn't change the ebook-centric processing.

Another secret sauce,but shrug - the A/B testing that's enabled by this? Conventional publishers are too entrenched to try it, and their model almost makes it impossible anyways. Many eBooks come out of that model. Most of the rest of the eBooks come out of people doing it themselves who don't have enough background to A/B test and understand the results.

If you understand A/B, and executing on it costs you nothing, you A/B test the shit out of your online offerings - your covers, your summary writeup/teaser lines/etc, your other authors' blurbs, etc. Doing this rigorously is a multiplier that runs from (mumble) to (3-4 mumble) more effective, depending on the type of product. Not sure where in that range eBooks would end up falling.

I'm not an A/B tester but understanding what it can do and how, and hiring a marketing people who understand it? Probably more significant for the business than the whole standing army at any existing print publisher.

I have done business financial stuff and time/value of money calcs and the time issue? Also probably more significant for the business than anything that's happened to publishing in the last 100 years.


While I'd watch a Laundry TV show, I'm glad I'm not trying to sell it. And I'm fine with Charlie being flown to Hollywood to be showered with cocaine and hookers for the negotiations. *grin*

Or, read Gaiman's "The Goldfish Pool..."

And cry.


Ignorance is a powerful, dangerous thing.

Before reading the FAQ's here, I had a highly simplified understanding of the publishing process and the labor involved in preparing a manuscript for print.

Having read the FAQ's, I can appreciate a great many steps are involved but still don't understand why things are so complex. I'm not sure if the explanation is that the steps are vital and I'm still obtuse or it's a baroque and needlessly complex and elaborate business process created by entrenched powers with a desperate need to justify themselves.

Whenever I think an answer is obvious and those who cannot see it are damned fools, I wonder if my comprehension is stuck on step 2, ???.

As for the new ideas, those who extol first-mover advantage forget that it's a minefield and it's often the second and third movers who find the right path by using the corpses of their predecessors as guides.


"A sufficiently established author could, I think, go directly to the public with a future not-yet-contracted novel. ... If the KS succeeds, you're already paid; crank the gears to make all the Stuff happen."

Fiction writing doesn't work that way. You don't reliably end up with exactly the book you contracted for. (Just ask Charlie about the Merchant Princes books...) What do you think will happen when the author comes back later with, "I had a bunch of new ideas while I was writing it, so instead of the stand-alone urban fantasy I promised you, here's the first third of a steampunk time travel trilogy"? Publishers can deal with little surprises like that; they may not like it but they know that sort of thing is an inescapable part of the fiction business. A few thousand naive Kickstarter backers may not be so understanding.


I can see what you're getting at, but a lot of that thinking is certainly less important with current low interest rates. It's messing with a lot of things, both the present value of a future sum of money, and the inverse calculations that can apply to such things as pensions.

And when $_Publisher starts spending money on a book, they have some uncertainty about what will come in when they finally see it on sale.

Yes, a faster production cycle would make a difference, but I am not sure that ebooks would make much difference. What might show a difference is a specialist ebook publisher that isn't going to be dealing with the old-fashioned suppliers who still use marks on paper that are delivered by surface mail from the far side of the world.

If they can set up with technically competent authors, all using a standard file format (not necessarily MS Word), the back and forth of editing and proofs could easily be cut by 10% of the total lead time.

I think we have an occasional commenter who works through a specialised ebook publisher, who can mock my estimates.

Thing is, I do have a bias here. I was a farmer, and I couldn't speed the production cycle. I had to be preparing the ground in September so that the crop could be planted in time to have ripened for harvest in the following August. And I couldn't do what a publisher can. I couldn't plough in October and November and December for crops to be harvested in September and October and November.

So I am wary of the thinking which says there are universal management tools which can be applied to any business.

But those financial calculations are part of the toolbox. It's just that you don't use the same spanner for every nut, and it is potentially the quarter-inch Whitworth that only gets used on the farm Land Rover.


On your point about the typical Amazon page as advertising for a book.

I don't think it's meant to be advertising the book. And how much would they benefit from one publisher being able to do a better job?

Does Baen do better? Once you're on their website you are half-way to being a paying customer, but I think their web-page design does make better use of the visual elements of a particular book. It's been a while--too many Tom Kratmans--but as I recall those thumbnails are keys to open larger images. They do other things better than Amazon. But they only have a half-dozen new titles each month. It is a much more focused effort.

And if Amazon were to buy a patented technique from an outsider, there would be a transaction on record which might wreck their fake internal market for IP rights, that they use to take money out of the reach of the taxman.


Small additional thought: you don't need any "brain-eating monsters from beyond space-time" when you have Amazon.

(Briefly sketches a re-write of Kinnison's climactic battle with Gharlane of Eddore which concludes with the revelation of Jeff Bezos behind the mask, rather than an apparent Rogue Arisian.)

((Note that the Arisians never let Kinnison see the reality...))


You are right, but you are wrong.

It's 100% true non-fiction works usually become quite more costly as they age, but there is something fishy with the example you linked, because volumes 1-3 are older and much cheaper. It could be some kind of scam.


Movies and TV shows are increasingly being sold in original release version, then the special edition with making of extras and commentaries, and often finishing up with the special special director's cut edition.

Could this work with ebooks?


Rambling a bit here .....

Gaiman's "Neverwhere" has just been done on the radio.

zochoka ... err .. Land-Rovers use almost entirely metric bolts now & have done since at least 1990 (except for brake unions & propshaft boths, I think ....)

Off/on topic - I asked this elsewhere, but I think it got lost:
What's OGH's take on this "Press Regulation" thingy,especialyl, since it seems it is going to be applied to blogs?
I feel that some sections of the national press needed a good hiding, but the excuse has been too good for the politicos to us it as a means of imposing a really tight censorship - I mean if you don't sign up & someone sues, you DON'T get your costs, even if you win.
[ Surely contra to EUHCR ??? ]


>>>Fiction writing doesn't work that way. You don't reliably end up with exactly the book you contracted for.

This is why you write the book first, then KS it.


#41 et previous - Various manufacturers (Ferrari spring to mind for such things as the Corvette (it only looked like a 365GTS "Daytona Spyder") in "Miami Vice") have successfully sued companied for copying their body styling.


It's not me that writes eBooks, but a friend does, as well as standard books. eBooks are generally 'published' about a month after exchange of final agreed copy with all edits. It could be faster, but a month gives them time to advertise it on their website, submit it to Kindle, iBooks etc. get blog rings of authors to big it up and all that stuff.

For her, physically published books are closer to 9 months than a year after submission usually, but on one memorable occasion closer to 18 months.


Technically Neverwhere is still being broadcast... it's continuing on Radio 4 Extra every night this week, 6pm or midnight. Not sure of the relevance to the general discussion though. Sorry.


I'm slightly unclear abut how this works in your case. Here in the UK, I've seen buffets make a charge for "unfinished platefuls" so, if say you took 30 spring rolls and only ate 27 of them you'd incur a charge for that, but not for then not even taking portions of "Kentucky fried dog" and "ice-cream".


Fiction writing doesn't work that way. You don't reliably end up with exactly the book you contracted for.

You can, but only if the author has already written the book. Ahem. In which case, it's not really a kickstarter; it's street performer protocol.

There is only one thing wrong with this: namely, that the author has to forego a traditional publisher's advance and take on board the entire risk of the project themselves. The point about an advance is that publishers (a) understand full well that the final book won't exactly match the sales pitch, but they're willing to work with the author (this is where editors come in) to ensure it's salable anyway; and (b) publishers don't want authors to starve while they're working, hence the up-front payment to ease their cash flow.

Cash flow is always a killer for small businesses, and it doesn't get much smaller than being a novelist (solo, often part-time). And this is why front-list authors with decent advances aren't enthusiastic to pioneer new and risky business models.


If they can set up with technically competent authors, all using a standard file format (not necessarily MS Word), the back and forth of editing and proofs could easily be cut by 10% of the total lead time.

Not really. It's already been cut to the bone. When Ace moved over from paper workflow to all-electronic, meaning MS Word for manuscripts/copy editing and PDF for page proofs, all that happened was that they clawed back 2 weeks that had hitherto been allocated for postal shipping time. However, that's about 4% of the year long production cycle. And in practice? They don't coordinate well with authors, so you get shit happening like a set of page proofs arriving in the author's inbox while they're on vacation with only an iPad, leading to a two week slip ... that postal "dead time" was, in actual fact, quite useful to have around as a contingency reserve.


I bet publishers can't set a spam filter that even humans can't get through. Please Charlie, check you email (probably in the spam folder); your friendly Spanish translator is trying to reach you. He is 99% human.



At least one U.S. publisher has almost completely removed themselves from the editing loop. An author uploads a chapter in MS word, and immediately downloads a marked-up copy in a preview format. Asking the editor questions about the error messages from the previewer has no effect, so you either edit it all yourself or it never goes any further.



While I don't think there's much to be clawed back with regards to layouts and so on, I'd be very interested in seeing what a more modular disintermediated publishing chain could be like (both in lead time and in other ways).

At the end of the day, your reverse auction observation, from the main post, is right on the money with regards to the "newly available" aspect being conflated with bindings/prestige purchases.

I'd be very curious to see what separating those out would be like. I suspect the outcome will be very different (in a good way) from our current setup.

(the following is rough and ready rather than a finished/worked example as it has mostly just occurred to me)

Take a situation where the end reader is able to log on to a site, see their favourite author is flagged as having a new (edited) work uploaded and be able to purchase rights associated with reading it.

If they're just looking for a once-off "kill some time when travelling read", they can buy short term rights (or flag it for their government to pay library lending cash towards. Whichever). Author gets a small payment, other costs get a small contribution.

If they're looking to permanently own it, they can make a more substantial "personal use" payment to be flagged as eligible for some other purchase options going forward. Author gets a large royalty payment (lets say a little more than the current royalties for argument sake), other costs get a proportional contribution.

Now comes the interesting part to me. The author and editorial/capital investment/site costs are paid off at this point. The time-auction element is done and dusted - we can even set this price to automatically decay down to the baseline royalty according to the costs left to pay-off.

At this point, the consumer can choose what type of edition they want to purchase (lets say ebook, PoD paperback, PoD hardback, Pod Leatherbound/prestige for example though some sort of aggregated print run would be possible as well), pay the associated costs (and another smaller kicker to the Author), and have their choice delivered to them.

While I've broken this down by what's happening, it'd be very easy to make the majority of that invisible to the end consumer - they buy a book in some format and replacement copies/alternate formats just become cheaper as far as they're concerned.

The author keeps their royalties (perhaps slightly higher total royalties as more people buy the cheap variant copies with the small author kickback), the author-support costs (editing & associated as well as capital loans etc) get paid, the publishing/variants can be disintermediated and the link between early purchase prices and prestige copies is broken.

I'm probably missing a lot of insider-obvious things, but I think it's an interesting alternative to the monolithic publishing houses vs. PoD vanity.


You haven't seen "author's preferred" editions? The one that springs to mind first is Raymond E. Feist's 'Magician,' but apparently Neil Gaiman has one for 'American Gods,' too.
It's also fairly standard for trade paperback comic collections to have a bunch of artist's sketches and other goodies included, but I don't know if that's germane.


Unlikely. With a physical product people will understand why they're paying again for the same thing with extras. With ebooks, on the other hand, people will be outraged at paying again and want to know why, seeing as they've already bought the ebook, they're not getting a free upgrade instead.

I realise this makes it appear I have little faith in human nature, but my lack of faith is backed by evidence; people already blatantly don't understand how the economics of ebooks work - "you don't have to print and distribute them, therefore they should be massively cheaper!" - and if they can't understand that there's no way they're going to understand a model that calls for them to pay for an ebook more than once.


alas but no - no scam involved

1) there was [and still is] an oversupply of Vols 1 to 3

2)the publisher had cash flow problems, and limited storage.

3) the cash-flow problems prevented a print advertising campaign

4) print-run of Vol 4 was about 75% smaller as a result [all hardback]

5) some were still sold at less than RRP [I bought Vol 3 and 4 together for the price of one volume]

6) as soon as it became apparent, long after publication date, there was fourth volume to the series, demand and prices shot like a rocket-assisted Sturmvogel - an Me262C-1a, if you will


The publishing process does not have to be the way it is

You always here the same arguments as people defend obsolete and inefficient ways of doing work. They will stick to the arguments even after they have been utterly disproven because they don't want to change.

There is nothing preventing innovation in this space, as the video game hackers have proven. Video game production is just as complicated if not more complicated then books, yet the video game people continually reinvent their production models

Look at this link again and tell me where are the middle men? where is massive established corporate chain of value augmentation?

SuperGiant game has 7 employees and they work out of a house. Pretty much every one of them either directly produces content in one way or another. They have a publisher, but not until the product was complete and gaining popularity, so the contract was on their terms.

A lot of this is because video game people are very very different kinds of people from book publishing people. They are much more technically savvy and the established ones are much less risk averse. The find ways to change rather then excuses not to change

What publishing needs is a few people like Charlie to take some risks. Some of the risks will pay out some won't. The game will change.


Of course, one reason that game programmers are less risk averse could be that they are younger, better paid, and self-selected for making a very risky career choice (by all accounts, it is hard to get into that industry, and hourly pay is low for a skilled professional because lots of bright-eyed twentysomething programmers don't see anything wrong in being asked to work 80 hours a week for no ovetime). As our generous host has observed elsewhere, few novelists have the combination of life experience, writing skills, and connections to make a living from writing before they are 40.


that's exactly correct Sean. People to a great degree are what their pasts have made them. However the only difference it makes to various industries is the speed of the change not the change itself. The world is full of people that are willing to take chances, eventually there are enough trailblazers to move the others along

It's funny I am having a very similar conversation with someone else about the US post Office, he has the exact same arguments around how hard it is to deliver a letter. And even as I sign up for Outbox it doesn't change his opinion one bit.


And there's more. Getting a book right in the editing (even for an ebook) is much more important than for a game. With almost any game these days you can issue a fix for something like a door with hinges on the wrong side but for mistakes in a book you have a real problem. People don't read a book multiple times per day/week and appreciate it getting better. They expect the syntax and plot lines in a book to work the first (and usually only) time they read it.


An author uploads a chapter in MS word, and immediately downloads a marked-up copy in a preview format.

I'm assuming this is for grammar and spelling, not for logical consistency. Which is a major reason (AIUI) that editors exist.


But people like Charlie have taken a hard look at the risks and say "no thanks". Publishers can have a hundred books in the process. Trying something novel with one of them isn't a huge risk. People such as Charlie have to risk everything.

(OK, I can imagine a possible deal, but if some great experiment fails, how much blame does the author get?)


This could partially explain how Rhianna Pratchett is making a good career about writing stories for games. She's in her late thirties, young enough to be adventurous and old enough to be a good writer. Plus a bit of inherited talent (whether nature or nurture).

(Though some of the reports I have seen about her re-boot of Lara Croft, and the way the game seems to lurch away from her version of the character between cut-scenes leave me thinking that the video game industry in general has a tin ear when it comes to story. Another reason to be wary of taking them as inspiration for how to sell stories?)


And yet people like Amir Rao and Gavin Simon who have just as much at stake as Charlie are willing to risk everything.

Neal Stephenson is also taking a lot of risk right now, and as Charlie pointed out John Scalzi is also doing some experiments. And then you have Cory Doctrow

Being established should actually make you more risk accepting not less. The impact of a failed experiment or two to someone with a strong fan base and established track record is pretty short term IMO.

Often the opposite happens though, once you have a level of guaranteed success it's easy to ride it


I have no idea what Amir Rao and Gavin Simon's personal circumstances are, except that they look to be 20 years younger than I am.

Neal Stephenson is huge. As in, high-end bestseller grade huge. As in, has assets. He could float himself on NASDAQ. Sell Stephenson futures.

John Scalzi is a New York Times top ten bestseller; he's got that to fall back on if his experiment tanks. Cory is ditto on the NYTimes list; and he has a parallel career as a public intellectual and speaker.

I am not a NYTimes bestseller, nor do I have a parallel career, nor am I independently rich. I am also older and less energetic than John or Cory. Ten or fifteen years ago I'd have been up for this sort of risk; today, I'd have to have a good reason to take a gamble with a couple of years' income (because there's the time taken to write a work before publishing it experimentally, and then there's the time taken playing catch-up with any debts I ran up while the project tanked, if it didn't actually work).

Let me make a guess, fatal.error: you are under 30 years old. Right?

Hint: most novelists are in their 40s or 50s when they're at the peak of their game. They have middle-aged/old folks issues -- serious pre-existing medical conditions, lack of energy, dependents. It is a bad idea to ask a middle-aged person in non-perfect health and with obligations to others to take risks. Leave that kind of thing to the young and enthusiastic!


Nope I'm 43. I'm not especially risky at this stage in my life either.

The nice thing is Charlie you don't have to take risks, I'm not preaching it. Being a close follower at our age is a pretty good plan.

The fact that we get less risky as we get older is not necessarily entirely rational though.


I'm following closely. I'll leave the trail-blazing to folks with a bit more flexibility and/or less to lose, thanks.


Not sure whether this shouldn't be in the covers thread but I'm getting a lot of pleasure looking at the cover art for the separate episodes of Scalzi's experimental periodic work. But I'm deferring until the work is complete and I can gulp it down whole. Actually, in a print edition if possible rather than ebook. I'm willing to defer for that. (Like I want to own print versions of the complete Jean le Flambeur trilogy.)

Also, can't see how speeding up the publishing process from final draft to finished book really has any impact on the reader. I'm not going to get any more Stross out of it. Charles is writing his ass off already. It seems to devolve into the view that without the intervention of professionals between author and reader you'd get a cheaper but still high quality product. That is, it collapses into self publishing.

But, you know, I know bugger all. I just like to read sci-fi.


A quick note, however--there are examples where people have decided to take risks when they are older when retirement kicks in, and there is either enough income, or the retiree finally has the time after escaping from the day job to take that risk. I can't spend all day writing books, as much as I would like to, till the bills are paid.

On the gripping hand, older people who lose their jobs anyway have a great deal less to lose--again, with the cushion of unemployment checks--and more time to spend on some kind of venture. Since the odds are against older people finding job comparable to the one they lost, a lot of things suddenly look much better.

A lot does depend on family history and health, of course. (lucky me, Nana lived to be 97 and was doing a crossword puzzle the night before she died, and I hope to follow in her footsteps).


IMHO a lot of the risky-when-young, conservative-when-old thing is cognitive bias kicking in more then rational assessment of pros and cons. Probably could tie to biology and child rearing or something.

In general, humans are lousy at assessing risks in general.


But what about a nearly-zero-risk experiment like the crowdfunding ones?

Choose a book project that your current publishers are not really interested it, but you think your readers could be.
Do a kickstarter to promote it, saying that you pledge to write this project, have it proofreaded, covered and release it as you see fit if you manage to collect in advance X sum.
Offer as part of the pledge versions of the project starting from drm-free epub/pdf up to luxury signed numbered editions.
If it strikes your fancy maybe offer the right to name a character or two, or maybe even the right to offer you a beer!

Sit down and see what happens.

Choose a properly balanced X sum, and unless you fear your publishers being offended or something by such a thing, worst case you've lost the time to setup a kickstarter account and the time to properly do a presentation of your project.
Best case, you earn so much money that you can start to do this on a regular basis for many of your projects...

This is different from many of the other experiments in that, asking for money before you actualy even *write* it, you can minimize your risks as much as you want.


It's not really zero risk. For one, you then have to write it, and the public may be more fickle than a publisher regarding staying on original concept. The opportunity to piss off your readership in a public manner is something to be wary of. Additionally, the editing and cover and production process of the various ebook editions and any print ones you chose to roll in is significant effort that the author is not used to doing. At the least you would probably have to include crowdfunding costs to pay for freelance editor and cover artist and the like.

And perhaps, a "project manager" to see it all through so the author can avoid having to ride herd on the other components. By which time, you're replicating a lot of the effort of the traditional publisher, the hard way.

It's certainly being done successfully, but I think that the "what effort is being expended where in the process / value chain" question deserves a deeper answer than the "just go kickstarter a book!" concept...


In fact I said *nearly* :p
I'm not underestimating the effort needed to organize a proper crowdfunding campaign, and for sure the project and the required sums must be well tought off in advance, to cover all the subsequent organizational costs (including essentially paying for the normal editorial work done usually by the publisher.
The risk of misjuding times and costs is one of the major risk of such a project.

I guess there's also some risk of deadline-missing for some writers like the relatively recent case of GRR Martin book, that was delayed for a very long time... a writer that does not like at all writing under strict deadlines would not be well suited to this approach, I agree... many reader would be likely less than thrilled of waiting 4-5 years for the book they've kickstarted.
I don't know if Dr.Stross is such a writer, that's for him to judge!

But, the difference with the traditional approach in my mind, and so the part related to the current topic and not simply an answer to a previous observation, is the fact that the product is commissioned before being written agreeing about it with the public, not the publisher, and all the expenses and writer compensation have to be covered before writing the book.
Essentially, the writer is agreeing upon the book that will be written, and upon the level of expense that each of his faithful readers is willing to spend for such a product.

We talked about the reverse auction that ebooks could allow if the publishers were willing to abandon the traditional contract structure... a kickstarter (I use kickstarter to indicate all the crowdfunding experiences) would allow a reverse auction to take place, in advance over all kind of publishing material.
Are you willing to pay for draft-level-quality access? Do you want the extra-luxury limited signed hardcover in leather? Are you willing only to fork for a drm-free pdf? Are you willing to wait more to see your book or do you want the first release?
Everything you can price in advance, and you can have a decent idea about how much success is your book having to have simply by counting how many people are willing to fork before it's being written.

You could even, in some sense, auction the requested quality of the final work: have famous cover artists as a stretch goals, and/or allow your subscribers to vote for the final book cover...
Use your notes about the book to have a contractor write a book companion, and offer it as an additional reward.

Thinking a bit about it, it does open a lot of new possibilities to deepend and disintermediate the relationship between the writer and his readers, and do this without asking the writer to take risks that were limited previously to either the super-best-sellers writers or the young "desperate" ones.
Many are doing it succesfully already, will it be a trend or a fad? No idea, future tend to be unpredictable, as all SF writers should know...:p


This discussion really brought home that the disruption ebooks have caused in the publishing industry has only just begun in UK and mainland Europe.

DRM? Who still thinks that DRM:s for books will be different from DVD ones? DRM is a nuisance for paying customers who want to read their book on several platforms and pose no problem at all for the average pirate. Useless.

If you want to see what 2018 looks like in publishing, take a gander across the Atlantic today.

Not because it's bigger and better in anyway, but because the publishing industry there has been faced with competition in the form of new formats, new distributors and new micro-publishers in the form of writers for a longer period of time.

Check for yourselves. The bestsellers lists now have writers who are traditionally published, self-published and mixed variants.

The importance of print is waning. I don't think it's disappearing anytime soon, but the next generation is growing up with a smartphone attached to their hand. Digital will be their their reading format of choice, not paper.

Last, @ #116:
What about the simple zero-cost venture of uploading your masterpiece as an ebook to distributors like Kobo and Amazon?


I'm not even vaguely against the idea of trying something like this, I just want a complete and realistic appreciation of what's involved.

Please don't take this as The Man stepping on the idea 8-)


Charlie seems to say that first sale doctrine applies to a final retail sale, but currently in the US it is really FIRST sale. There is no distinction between sales to distributers vs. sales to consumers. The main point of the dissent seems to be that Congress did not intend to eliminate the practice of selling works in different countries for different prices at different times, and the new ruling would mean this cannot be enforced.
Possibly the expense of importing physical books may allow the current system of contracts to endure; otherwise, authors will soon find that they can no longer sell two sets of English-language publishing rights to their books.


Speaking as someone with an ebook on Amazon and B&N (Dead Man's Hand,a longish fantasy), the costs are not zero even at my level of the food chain. I paid an artist to do the cover, and think it was money well spent. I used up friend-time for critiquing, and rather a lot of my own for Serious Nitpicking. I used up a weekend screaming at my file converter, though that's a cost I won't have to repeat, I hope, since I have a better idea of how it works. It would definitely not be zero cost to a writer with contract commitments that he or she actually plans to honor.

Now, this is a lot *less* cost than other publishing venues, and to me, it was time better spent than wondering if an editor or agent was ever going to get around to reading my submission (some, who demand exclusivity, go up to a year and a half. Folks, at my age I really don't have that kind of time!). A friend of mine, who had an editor actually promise to look at her manuscript, is still waiting three years later. Yes, we all know the people for whom a miracle occurs and three months later they have a multi-book contract, but there's a reason they get the headlines--it doesn't happen very often. It happens--but that's not the way to bet these days. Yes, it's difficult to get people to read my work yet, but not as much as sending it out seems to be these days.

And Of Course There Is Never Age Discrimination when agents pick the puppies they want to back in this race. I have a bridge for sale if you believe this one. And it makes sense--as an agent, I'd rather represent someone I thought was good for 30 books, and wouldn't keel over dead in the middle of a series. Every once in a while, someone sends a classic manuscript into an agent or publisher, and shows off the rejection slips (well, from those who didn't spot the classic).

Ok, enough with the rant. But for someone like Dr. Stross, the cost isn't zero even with a gimp cover and a magical word processor.


*Not really. It's already been cut to the bone*

I only have experience in the non-fiction world, but it feels like it could get a fair bit better than it is now.

For example I helped tech review a textbook recently (well... mostly didn't help to be honest coz I was slack...) where I got the changes in source control. In git. So I could make diffs, branches, etc.

Obviously for this to work it needed geek author, publisher and reviewers... but speed wise compared to my previous experiences with PDF mail outs and annotated/commented word docs.... night and day.

I've been playing with this recently. It's trying to be version control for writers (with built in "send this to an editor" - just enter you CC details...).

It's not perfect (especially on small screens) and I'm wildly suspicious of the "send to editor" thingy ($10 for 45m! ;-) - but I can see this or something like it with a bit more polish cutting a lot of time out of the editing loop on some shorter non-fiction $work writing I do. Just because it avoids all the p**sing about mailing docs, changing formats, remembering how to use Word's accept/reject changes rubbish since I spend most of my time in a proper editor, etc.


Another thing folk might find of interest if they've not come across it before is

They let you publish work-in-progress books and help by providing a simple publishing process, a marketplace for the books, and help setting up communities of early-readers.

They let you pick a few different kinds of pricing model, and take 10% + $0.5 per sale.

It was seemed to be initially aimed mostly at non-fiction authors - but I see a bit more focus on fiction on the home page now.


I've been thinking about the translation side lately, especially since there were some books I wanted to get to people not that good at reading English.

Now machine-translation is not that practical, but there is one technology called Computer Assisted Translation used by quite a few documentation translators and like:

Yeah, used in manuals is not that much a recommend...

Now this works best with repetitive text, and not so with most literature, but is it possible to crowdsource translation with this?

Or create a preliminary translation with a author-specific memory and little tuning and a better translation if there is demand...


The trouble with this assessment is that it's not really well based in our heritage. If you go back a few centuries, typical life expectancies fall to the point that old age hits around 40, just about everyone has their kids in their own late teens and early 20's and possibly through to later if both parties survive it all.

The young, gallivanting risk-takers of today, were the breadwinners and responsible heads of families for most of our history.

Now, our culture has changed that. Most of those in their late teens and early 20's don't have a family, don't have a mortgage and the like. Similarly, at some point later on (I don't know the average, but in my parents' case and the case of several friends of my generation, final mortgage pay-off was scheduled to be around 60-65, although my parents made the effort to pay it off earlier as their income rose, an option possibly not open to Charlie). But, as commented above, we see a rise in risk-taking for at least a subset of in those in healthy retirement - incomes may be lower, possibly much lower, but so are outgoings generally. (Yes, I am aware there are many counter-examples too but it's still fair to say there's an average rise in risk-taking.)

Now it's entirely possible not all the decisions are completely rational. People are generally poor at assessing risk, I agree. Combinatorial probabilities are really counter-intuitive. Even people who have been taught how to do the sums and do so regularly can easily make mistakes if you get them to rely on intuition. Not helped by the fact that, of course, they're actually assessing an unknown risk here. If you're an established author you're risking your income stream, your house and so on.

With the street performer model (pre-write the book) you're spending a year not earning, then hoping to earn enough to recoup that and, presumably more - enough more to enable you to do it again. With the genuine kickstarter model, you know up front if you've got the money on the table but you're gambling that what you produce is good enough and close enough to the proposal to not annoy your funders. Even for an experienced author, I suspect two rather unmeasurable risks. How do you do rational analysis? Especially since it's basically untried methodology at the moment - there's not really a body of data to sample.

What we might see - what it certainly wouldn't surprise me to see if the current economic "recovery" in the UK continues - is a number of people in ages normally considered risk averse trying these routes out. Laid off as the economy continues to rumble along in and out of growth? Why the heck not try writing a book with funding from kickstarter? Or write it anyway and hope to sell it. But if you think of all your friends, those whose writing you've read - or if you don't have many, the commenters on this blog - based on what you've read, just how many of them do you reckon (besides OGH and his invited guests of course) would write something you'd pay to read?


Fiction writing doesn't work that way. You don't reliably end up with exactly the book you contracted for.

I suspect that wouldn't nearly be a show-stopper. On the one hand, "Charles Stross novel, whatever comes out next time he writes" would probably still raise a fair amount. On the other hand, an established, professional author probably can commit more specifically than that ("a Laundry novel"). I don't think it would be worse than the typical Kickstarter project.

Risk and cash-flow can be managed by Kickstarting shorter works more often.

For that matter, if it's just a question of disaggregating the "pay advance / take on risk" part of a publisher, that's basically a financial product, a "cash for profit share" arrangement. It can be set up as just that. Possibly it already exists (

Of course, OGH has previously estimated that disaggregating the publisher's job would land him with 0.5-equivalent of management work, leaving us (and him) with only 0.5-equivalent of an author. That doesn't mean it can't be done, but there'd have to be a pretty good reason...


Better plan: use the rookies who haven't transitioned to making writing their main/only source of income to blaze a trail through the minefield by trial and error.

Say, hypothetically, that you get published tomorrow. You'll probably get a few thousand dollars, but almost certianly not enough to live on. Your agent made you aware of this before you signed the contract, so you haven't quit your day job. If the experiment tanks, you're okay, because you haven't quit your day job.

And hey, maybe you strike it big and make 50 Shades money. Probably not, but the start of your career is the time to take the kind of risk that might pay off that big.


Yet another plan was the experiment Lawrence Watt-Evans did for The Spriggan Mirror. You can read the details here, but the teal deer is that he put it up on the installment plan, one chapter at a time.

This wouldn't work for every author, but LWE had the perfect combination of factors. He was an established author who had already written several novels in that series. He wanted to write more, had readers who wanted to read more, and found that the publishers weren't particularly interested in that series. (While the Ethshar stories were selling decently, his other fantasy was selling better, and Tor had the reasonable idea that he should write the most commercially effective books possible.) It was a perfect storm for that specific experiment, and he approached it as an experiment. All in all, it proved to be a successful one (I've got a dead-tree copy of the book myself).

Sorry, neophiles; he says his traditional publisher-mediated work makes more money.


Are Smartphone screens big enough for comfortable reading?

One aspect of the success of the Kindle is that the screen is the about the size of an ordinary paperback book, with adjustment for the text size. There's a lot else, and the iPad had a larger screen until the Mini came out. Many tablets are roughly Kindle-sized, some are larger.

It's only smartphones which are smaller. I ask the question based on my anecdotal experience, but I think it is an important one. (And my eyesight also sets me wondering about the Google Glass idea: I have the usual late-middle-age vision problem that cannot be rectified by a single-formula prescription, plus astigmatism which isn't compatible with contact lenses anyway.)

We have ideas being driven by technophilic young people, and I wonder what will happen when they get old?


The Publisher involved is a technical publisher, and from what Charlie said right at the start, they're likely to own the copyright, not just a regional licence.

That's one difference.

I suspect that the USA doesn't have some of the trade laws that the EU has. If the case were heard here, there would be other arguments than First Sale; issues such as grey imports. The USA seems generally happy to import goods from countries with low production costs, and to hell with US producers. WIPO allows certain "anti-dumping" measures, and the EU does use them. But would the Wiley situation just get laughed at: the company is essentially competing with itself.

Generally, there has never been a big problem with the outside-region trader importing a supply of books, it's even been a winked-at method of exploiting the small market there might be. And if an non-US edition needs to sell 10,000 copies to break even, somebody selling 50 imported copies at an Eastercon is going to be lost in the noise.

Amazon has been trashing that low-level trade argument for a long time.

And if the publisher's argument had succeeded, how do you define "Made in the USA"? Charlie writes a book. He isn't in the USA, and he has the copyright. His Publisher is in New York, and, last I heard, that's still in the USA. They're doing some of the "making". Then you have the question of where it is printed. I have books that were printed in China.

Who made the book and where?


A lot of good points there.

Within England there are local cultural difference in historical marriage ages. There's a division visible between the Danelaw and the more purely Anglo-Saxon parts. The Norse influence led to a tendency to marriage a few years later, with some sort of established career.

And in some significant ways, adult life is starting later. In the last fifty years in England, the median age at end of education has been pushed from 14 to 21. I understand a similar shift has happened in the USA, with High School Graduation becoming the minimum for any hope of employment, and a degree becoming incredibly more usual. And the result is huge debt, in a recession.

There's nothing to lose by taking a gamble, and there is a rather vocal crowd of younger people screaming and shouting about their successes. "I did it, so can you!" is an understandable, if badly flawed, assessment of the risk.

Charlie has taken several gambles in his career, going through pharmacy and computer programming and technical writing before he hit on this particular road. I'd venture he knows very well what is involved.

I had a lot of any tendency to gamble burned out of me by my medical history, and the one big failure of my early years, in that rather strained economy of the Seventies.

My tendency is to ask, "Can I afford to lose?" And, when you do that today, chasing a degree starts to look like a mug's game. Crowdfunding a novel? I cannot avoid wondering how I would explain things to the taxman.


Patially answering my own Q @ 48

It SEEMS that, at present it is not intended that "normal" blogs will be subject to the new censorship rules being proposed for print-media-for profit-or-sale.

Which means that, at the moment, Charlie is safe & so is everybody else.

Next Q
Do we trust the bastards to keep their word, or are we going to get an attempted blog censorship, anyway, a year or two down the line - just "to bring it into line with publishing" you understand?


Side-story for covers: When you order older books through Amazon of which there are more than one cover variant available, you sometimes don't get the one you expected. I have a weird assortment of Charlie's books in US and UK versions.


And sometimes you get ones that don't even exist. :)

My wife ordered an older book for me for Christmas a few years back and got it with the rear cover torn off. And the seller was fairly rude about her, my wife, claiming it wasn't a legit copy.


Well, I'm a heavy consumer of ebooks, and I've been using smartphone size screens to read them for well over a decade now (started in the early 2000s with PDAs, switched to iPhone in 2008). I was in my early 20s back then, but had pretty terrible eyesight (since corrected with lasers), and I never had any vision-related issues with a screen that size. The default textsize has always been fine for me. That said, there can be ergonomic issues with page turning - with a page that small, you need to page-on rather a lot. All those ads you see with pages being turned with a finger swipe, and a lovely page-turn animation? HELL no! After half an hour, your finger will feel like its about to drop off! Always set your reader app to turn pages with a single tap, on an area that requires as little finger motion from rest as possible. With that, its quite possible to read all day without problem.

It may also worth using darker background than the default bright white, which can be quite fatiguing after while. I usually use white text on a black background or black text on a beige background for bright sunlight. However, this is a fairly minor concern for a screen this small, its more an issue for tablets.


I began to reply to that comment, but it got a bit out of control, so I turned it into a new blog entry: Why I don’t self-publish.


That's actually a stolen copy -- the missing cover means the cover was returned for credit, but the book wasn't actually destroyed! I'd report that seller to the publisher, who may want to investigate them for fraud ...


As I get older, my screen requirement changes.

I used to be okay reading from a 160x160 pixel 2.5" PalmOS device.

These days, the 4" iPhone 5 screen is just too small and uncomfortable for reading on.

I suspect I'd be okay with a 5" phablet like the Galaxy Note 2, but I'm not about to go forth and drop a lot of money on a 5" device when I'm happy reading on an iPad mini.

I have a residual twitchy temptation to buy a Kindle Paperwhite, simply because of the huge battery life, but I keep telling myself that if I really need battery life I've got a Kindle keyboard III ... although the Paperwhite display is rather pretty.


I know. I was trying to be tounge in cheek with
And sometimes you get ones that don't even exist.

It was an Amazon affiliate and seemed to be a single person running out of their home. I suspect they had deals with various local store employees to gather up books that should have gone in the dumpster and were selling them online via the Amazon channel.

Buy the time I found out what the full story was (this was a present bought a month or so in advance) I decided it wasn't worth the hassles.


As I get older, my screen requirement changes.

Something many 20 (and 30) somethings understand intellectually but not in their gut. And have trouble taking it into account when designing software and hardware.

Along with an understanding of the issues of giving out all your personal details 24/7. I know of at least one break in due to 20 something year olds Facebooking about the great time they were ALL having at the beach. A concrete block through their apartment patio door and all their nifty electronics were gone when they got back.


You could also have a continuously updating ebook
With a fresh ISBN for every update?

More than once I've been tripped up when discussing a movie with someone. I'd seen the movie... but they'd only seen a remake of it, and I wasn't aware there were now two considerably different movies of the same name. And that was before some started editing their re-releases. "As I remember it, Han shot first..."

I really wouldn't care to see that sort of thing happening in books, too.


You make a good argument for not trying out one of the more risky experiments, especially given how many of the trials are done by special cases. What i'm wondering is if there is a low risk but innovative thing you could try (of course it would still take effort).

Earlier in the thread it's been noted that the book contracts are full of boilerplate. A spotify-like service has also been dismissed as unworkable and 'would mean the authors got less'. If i'm understanding coreclty spotify works for music because the record companies have enough of the rights to give it critical mass (although i think it's yet to be proven that spotify can be profitable itself).

So my wonder/challenge. Come up with some boilerplate that gives the publisher rights to give a spotify like service your work for a given fee (said fee being worked out so you DON'T lose, would need to be very carefully done). Ideally also come up with a zero-cost grandfather clause for existing contracts to allow existing publisher to do same for old books although that would be tricky i'm sure.

The motivation? Well as an author it would be two fold. Motivation number one would be it would provide basic protection - if the boilerplate was driven from the wholesale side it will be a lot less author friendly i'm sure. There is clearly demand for such a service - having a pre-built way of serving that demand is important. For publishers the motivation would be it's also low risk (they don't have to use the rights) but it does give a potential additional wholesale channel. The other motivation for both is it's the only way you're going to get extra cash out of me for you're existing work. I will at some point own a device i'm happy to read ebooks on - just not yet found one worth not spending the money on books on instead yet - but I will not buy books i already own in ebook form - and I read enough to re-read often. However I would subscribe and would happily re-read book I own that way and you would thus get money for old rope.

I think spotify is an important example. I look at the three types of media consumption that I have made the switch to 'new' on. If I had to magic my work to be either music (spotify), film/dvd-post-cinema (lovefilm) or news (ad supported online) I know which i'd choose - although I'll admit i'd prefer to stay with where it goes today. So it's not a panacea, but it is looking to me like a lesser of evils.



Technology doesn't 'want to go' anywhere. I've not yet heard one of our chips say "My plan is to bugger up sci-fi book publishing when I hit the market" (much more likely for sci-fi books to drive technologies direction). I'd argue it's much more helpful to think of Technology as a fundamentally disruptive influence. There is no reason you try can't steer the disruption to your advantage. Of course generally the worst thing you can do is ignore the disruption, that way lies corporate death.


You seem to have forgotten that many of the things you describe are ok if done with permission of the copyright holder. Printing the books in a different country, small quantities sold at cons, etc. are perfectly allowable under any interpretation of the law if the copyright owner permits them. Furthermore, the copyright owner remains the copyright owner no matter where in the known universe she chooses to reside.

You talk about disaster if the publisher's argument had succeeded, but what the publisher argued for was a continuation of current policy.


Some of these wild ideas might have precedent in publishing history. Even if we limit the scope of that history after to the Berne Convention, there's a hundred years of ideas which have been tested as law, and quietly sidelined for one reason and another. The new technologies might make some of those ideas work better, for all parties.

US Publishers don't have as much Berne Convention history to draw on. We may be looking in the wrong place for innovation.

But does the multi-national IP-based media corporation get in the way? Charlie, tell us the DRM story again...


I don't know whether to take offense at the comment about "technophobes" and paperback editions. I've been involved in computing since the early 80's, so I don't believe that I am a "technophobe."

The long and short of it is that when I spend money on an item, I expect to own that item. This does not happen with eBooks in the current model. Nor do eBooks increase in value as time goes on because the data can always be duplicated and passed along. Some might say, "Well you spend money to see a movie, and you don't own the movie." Well, this is a whole different case.

In the same vein, I do not purchase digital downloads of music or movies either. A digital download is essentially a rental and it should be priced accordingly. However in this age of immediacy, people don't seem to care that they are giving full value on an item that they don't own. This is sort of like purchasing a car and then returning it at the end of the week because you can't sell it or even give it away.

Publishers need to pull their heads out of the 1960's and start offering books for all types of readers from the get-go. Instead of offering a hardcover and delaying the trade by 6 months and the mass market by a year, they should release everything at the same time. I do not buy hardcovers as a rule, and I'm sure that I'm not alone. Those who like hardcovers will continue to buy them, and those who don't will buy what they want. This also solves the problem of them printing 250,000 hardcovers and having to sell off 150,000 as remainders or simply scrapping them.


Likewise on all points, with the note that I have tried a pile of small dry sticks as a reading device and wasn't overly enthused.


" long until publisher begins sending out patches and updates to fix typos and editing problems?"

The Dark Horse Comics app on my iPad has already told me several times that "an updated version of is available". These were generally for larger books with a significant text component that may have had some editing issues that needed correcting. (Sadly, release notes were not included.)


Always set your reader app to turn pages with a single tap,
The software for my 7" tablet was so bad it was basically useless for epubs or pdfs. But I found I could convert the books to plain HMTL and use its file browser applet instead. It took a while to get the hang of scrolling instead of paging, but overall, I think scrolling is the better way with such a small screen.


Instead of offering a hardcover and delaying the trade by 6 months and the mass market by a year, they should release everything at the same time. I do not buy hardcovers as a rule, and I'm sure that I'm not alone. Those who like hardcovers will continue to buy them, and those who don't will buy what they want.

I think you did not read the part about reverse auction in the original entry. Go up to the top and read it again; this might enlighten you.

If not, it might be time for a trip through Common Misconceptions About Publishing, which is not short but is quite enlightening.


Re: #135, #136, #140

Amazon Third Party (3P) Sellers;

PLEASE report them. It's hard to make an honest buck when you have all those people cheating. Actually, the real problem and the reason the second hand market is a disaster is the "Megasellers" who get their stuff for FREE (But it's for charity...).

And even when you report them (Ex Library is NOT "Used-Like new") (Free merchandise) Amazon (US) is reluctant to punish them.

Select titles involving Nazi subjects seem to do OK; WHat was the Me262 vol 4 going for?


Para 4 - $type aviation books on WW2 or later machines pretty much always do ok or better.


As I said by the time I got involved and realized what was going on time had passed and not all details of the transaction where available.

My wife now knows what a missing rear cover means.


"Ads in books would be a specific contract violation -- that battle was fought and won in the 1920s."

But I have paperbacks from after that with little order slips from the publishers listing other books they've produced. Was that an exception?

I really don't understand why ebooks aren't treated a little more like other electronic publications - able to track how many times they've been read, with links out to other publications.

Especially regarding other publications _by the same author_, you'd think it would be a win-win to offer, not just a list, but a list that was linked to more info about each publication and an opportunity to buy it. You could put it at the back of the book, like Tor is doing with Scalzi's ongoing series, and like they used to do with those order slips.

You could do the same for related/recommended books by the same publisher and/or bookseller. And what might make the most sense, especially for a system like amazon/kindle, where your ebook remains in a networked, registered device or app the "publisher" or distributor has authority with, would be to make that endplate a module that could be replaced - so the list of other pubs by that author would stay current instead of only representing what they'd published before you bought the ebook, and the list of related pubs you might like would likewise reflect whatever was currently popular and currently available.

Even without a distributor-registered app, you could make a reader standard that had a setting and people could opt for their books to update or not. Then typos could also vanish as future editions are released, yet your own bookmarks and comments/annotations could be retained.

When an author's next novel is completed and released, the previous book in the series could automagically have the first chapter of the next book appended, with a link to read on/buy, even if that chapter didn't exist when the ebook was released.

It could be pretty cool.

Just a thought.


little order slips from the publishers listing other books they've produced

Technically, yes, you can count those as ads.

But those (as with the 'other books by this author' lists) are appreciated as helpful by readers, as long as they don't take more than a handful of pages.

What you don't find is the same load of advertisements as you'll find in magazines, advertisements totally unrelated to the work in your hands.

If you want to know quite how bad advertising in books can get, do read this about why Terry Pratchett changed his German publisher.

Back yet?

Yeah, pretty mind-boggling.


But I have paperbacks from after that with little order slips from the publishers listing other books they've produced. Was that an exception?

Yes. The contractual limits on advertising permit the publisher to use blank pages at the end of the book (books are printed -- or used to be printed -- on "signatures", big sheets of paper holding 16 or 24 pages (8 or 12 per side) which are then folded, cut, and bound together; it's rare for a book to be an exact multiple of 8 or 12 pages, so there's usually some empty space on the final signature) to advertise other books from the same publisher.

What they're not allowed to do is to print adverts in-between the text of the book, or to modify the book to include product placement.

This isn't true of all markets, and one German publisher was notorious, as late as the 1990s, for editing translated novels so that just as the hero was getting ready to hare off after the villain in a car chase, everybody would sit down to a nice, piping hot bowl of MAGGI'S SOUP™, or equivalent. (See Bellinghman's link to Terry Pratchett's account, above.)

This sort of thing tends to annoy readers. Not to mention the authors, who invariably get an earful of grief from their readers, who hold them responsible for any sins that the publisher might have committed in their name -- after all, that's the name on the book cover, right?

(Some of the suggestions you make -- when book n of a series is published, add its first three chapters and a "buy this now" link to the end of book n-1 -- are excellent ideas. And I'm sure they'll show up eventually. Personally, I'd just love to be able to include an active web link to a landing page on my website in every ebook. But we're not even that far ahead yet.)


The rather vague impression I get about TV advertising is that in the UK it is regulated so that it is limited in time, and kept distinct from the program. There's one of those caption-card things as a marker for the transition. In the USA, and I have heard the pattern in recordings of radio shows, there is far more advertising, and it is not marked off as distinct from the show.

American TV is much more like those German soup adverts.

Now, I'll say right now that adverts in books, paper or electronic, are going to be annoying. But using a page at the end of a chapter might be tolerable. It's distinct from the text, and were I writing for a market that used such a style I might think carefully about how I used chapter breaks.

But no way would I want those German soup adverts.

And it could backfire big-time. Who wants to risk pissing off the readers?

Still, I wouldn't rule out the possibility. People sell stories to magazines which contain adverts. But how can it be done without breaking either the story or the advertising?

Charlie, think of the money you could have made from a pizza joint in Colorado Springs.

Though they might have sued you over the suggestion of what might be found in one of their pizza boxes.


Select titles involving Nazi subjects seem to do OK; What was the Me262 vol 4 going for?

its list price was £35 - the £XXXX copy on amazon has gone :-O [somebody's bought it?]

there is a $599 copy on abebooks though

its not just books about Nazis - though Robert Forsyth's "JV44 - The Galland Circus" is another notorious example.

I would like a copy of Kodwo Eshun's "More Brilliant than the Sun", a book about rave music and its development in the 1990s?

"dust stains due to shelf age" - at that price I'm not surprised

even a second hand paperback will cost you the thick end of 100 quid

it's original list price? £10


some authors have been known to accept filthy lucre from beastly corporations to put product placements in their novels

Fay Weldon took money from Bulgari to frequently mention their expensive fripperies in her novel "The Bulgari Connection"...


I will note that there's a lot of catalog scraping and price gouging by speculators in the Amazon marketplace.

The way it works: you write a program that scans Amazon marketplace for all the books listed there, and compiles a database. You then list all those books as available for sale in your own marketplace store, at a price that's about double the highest anyone else offers. You then use SEO techniques to drive your position up Amazon's search results. You can now sit back and wait for someone who is ignorant of this scam to order a book from you, at which point you use your database to source the cheapest copy and ship it to them, making your margin by arbitrage.

It's legal, but unethical (the folks doing it are preying on the ignorant and/or desperate) and it makes it hard to get an accurate impression of the real second-hand market value of books.

Addendum: if you see one of my books going for an unfeasible sum and want a copy, just email me. I probably have a spare copy I can let you have for a lot less money, signed, and make both of us happy. I'm not a bookstore but I do have piles of books clogging up corners of my apartment, and while I'm not set up for drop shipping, if you make it worth my while to take half an hour out of my daily schedule to package and mail a book, I'll do it. (But please note, I do not work for minimum wage. Also note: offer not valid for the next five weeks, I'm about to go off on my travels again.)


See here for another way that Amazon prices may be driven up. To summarise, it requires two trading algorithms.

Algo 1: I have the book. If anyone else is advertising it, I'll advertise at 95% of their price

Algo 2: I don't have the book. But I know where I can get it, so I'll advertise it at 110% of the other seller, and if I win, I'll buy it off that other seller and pocket the difference.

Tick 1 - Algo 1 offers it for sale at €10.00
Tick 2 - Algo 2 notices, prices at €11.00
Tick 3 - Algo 1 notices, prices at €10.45
Tick 4 - Algo 2 notices, prices at €11.49
Tick 5 ...

According to the New Scientist this week, the currently highest known price has been $59,780,802,831,736.00 for a copy of Recent Advances in Epilepsy, though the said book's price collapsed totally to $0.02 a couple of weeks later, possibly when someone else offered a copy.


"I'm about to go off on my travels again"
Wehre, this time?
Somewhere nice & is someone else paying?
Eastercon is due next week isn't it?


I'm off to Perth for SwanCon. Then coming home via an actual holiday -- travel with no work attached! (I vaguely remember "holidays" from my distant past.)

No, I will not be working on "Dark State" (Merchant Princes #7) while I'm gone. Got 10% of the way in earlier this week, stopping for the duration.


It's legal, but unethical (the folks doing it are preying on the ignorant and/or desperate) and it makes it hard to get an accurate impression of the real second-hand market value of books.

sounds highly likely - always seems to the same name sellers on AMZN marketplace

it's nice that you'll sell on copies of your own books - I seem to have everything of yours that I desire - or I can get hold of it through the usual channels.

I bought a copy of "Glorifying Terrorism" for £12 last year...seems to have tripled in price in eleven months...

enjoy yer trip to Ozland, and a proper holiday too! Nice...


some authors have been known to accept filthy lucre from beastly corporations to put product placements in their novels

Mercedes Lackey has made jokes for years about the desirability of trading on her popularity and name for a certain car company's advertising, for only one or two of their products. To date they haven't taken her up on it.


It's not really a viable business model. That's the issue.

A high-end midlist/low-end frontlist title in the USA might sell: 10,000 hardcovers, 25,000 paperback, 25,000 ebook (current market conditions). That's 60,000 copies in total. Dead tree books apparently have an average of 4 readers each: let us assume the DRM locks the ebooks down, or pirated copies don't carry advertising (why wouldn't the pirates chop out the annoyance along with the DRM?) so we're looking at 165,000 pairs of eyeballs.

Typical advertising sell-through rates might be as high as 0.1%. So we're looking at 165 sales. Postulating a $50 product, with 10% of revenue going on marketing (because it's sold direct marketing rather than via retailers), the advertisers break even as long as they spend under $825 on the in-book advert. But pages of advertising in the book must compete with pages of prose to generate profit. That 60,000 unit sale book is going to be making the publisher (and the author) on the order of $100,000 in profit. The advert needs to be roughly one page of an A-format paperback -- anything smaller is going to be hard to spot -- so in a 300 page book it's $825 in revenue from 0.3% of the page count. The revenue from the ad is only triple what the publisher and author each make from replacing the ad with a page of prose.

But books are not magazines. Magazines in the USA have as little as 20% editorial content, and as much as 80% advertising. Books ... you're not going to make a significant contribution to the publisher's bottom line through advertising unless you get into that kind of territory. And even if you only go for 50% advertising, that means that a 300 page novel suddenly bloats up to 600 pages -- something the readers will not be terribly happy about.

So: 1-2 pages of ads make very little difference to the profitability of a book, and 100-300 pages of ads make the book borderline unsaleable.


I read on my smartphone (an HTC) all the time, though I prefer my elderly Palm Pilot or Kindle. But I know people for whom their smartphone is their only computer, and use it for almost all their reading (most of them have younger eyes than I do). Of course, I also have an emergency paperback in the back of the car, in case all of my devices have their batteries die at the same time (and the 10,000 paper books in the house, and a long, happy relationship with the local library. Let's not even mention all my dad's old SF in the storage space).

But there are people who read on their phones all the time.


some authors have been known to accept filthy lucre from beastly corporations to put product placements in their novels
There's one "thriller" writer who has some product featured in each of his books - a knife, gun, light airplane, whatever - with lengthy and irrelevant descriptions and praises of the product's usefulness and virtues, plus pricing and contact information for the manufacturer or a vendor.

Since I haven't seen this in any of the other books from the same publisher, I've been assuming the author made his own deals for product placements.


We may all have been misled by magazines such as Analog, which might be taken as an instance of a tolerable level of advertising in fiction. But I doubt people see it as a "book", and that matters too.


A/B testing is already being used by some switched on publishers like Sourcebooks. Actually it is more like A/B/C followed by B/D/E followed by E/F/G testing...


As for applying a PLR-style system to ebook library lending: such a system exists in Sweden and publishers hates it (it is far too rigid).

Also in Sweden everybody borrows ebooks for free(counties foots the bill) and almost nobody *buys* ebooks. Amazon not yet having entered the market may be a contributing factor, but free and easy lending has almost certainly cut into the market for purchasing ebooks.

Publishers are not totally irrational in hating lending (forma business point of view). Off course once a title is back-list or too obscure to find any takers when published, it is a totally different matter. Then you might actually *want* the exposure (and income) of library ending.

P.S.: Absolutely loved Road (first 70% until it got all Gaia) and off course consumed as (paid for - yet steeply discounted) ebook.


Something that occurred to my brother: will publishers still indulge in bidding wars for books by certain sorts of author?

Charlie is well short of the bestseller class of author where the royalties might come closest to matching the advance. On the other hand, production process costs are hardly likely to change until we get to printing. It's publicity which will increase the publisher's costs. Perhaps the numbers make sense as a share of the profits.

But the bidding failures that get reported seem to be the memoirs of the celebrities (including politicians) and the more literary sorts of fiction, where there might be some intangible prestige thrown into the mix.

In 2016, which writer will be a better deal for their publisher: Charles Stross or David Cameron?


"Why not use animated covers?"

Because it would waste bandwidth and lead to slow page downloads? However the issue of tiny icons could perhaps be solved by rigging up some kind of a rollover magnifying glass effect, so if you roll the cursor over an icon it shows in a larger form on part of the screen, without requiring clicking on it and going to a new page exclusively about that book. Fat chance that will happen, they probably have done the statistics to know that once you click to go to a book specific page you are more likely to buy than you would be if you just saw a nicer bigger view of the cover.

"Books have occasionally been sold with multiple covers in the past"

They could do that systematically and see which cover sells best, for like the first edition as it were. Then subsequent ones would all have the cover that sold fastest initially. Which would not necessarily be the best or most appropriate one. And doing that would mean buying multiple artworks.

Regarding paper books, I still buy them from Amazon.
I prefer mass market paperbacks because they are more portable. But these days you can't always get every book in that form and have to get a trade paperback, and if you want the latest greatest it has to be hardcover. Thing about e-books is that you pay almost as much and the use-ability is restricted. You have to have a reader, and not just a reader but the right brand of reader. And they are fragile, no reading an electronic reader in bed or in the tub or carrying it in your back pocket. I recently broke my fourth Kindle. To be plain, e-books are a rip off unless they get more cheaper. (Which IS grammatical.)


You can get waterproof cases for e-readers, essentially plastic bags with a guarantee. So the bath/beach problems are surmountable.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 19, 2013 12:01 PM.

"We're going to need book covers. Lots of book covers!" was the previous entry in this blog.

Why I don't self-publish 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