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The Faces of Publishing

At the start of this year Rachel Manija Brown and I decided to self-publish Hostage, the second book in our YA dystopia series. The long explanation is here.

Some people applauded, others shook their heads, but most discussion has not been about our books so much as about publishing in general. Underlying that I think is the anxiety many us writers feel about how fast publishing is changing, and what it all means for each of us.

Maybe it's just because I've always been a history geek, but the more I talk about this stuff, the more I'm reminded of the ways people dealt with the rapid changes of publishing during the wild days of the early novel, specifically in England. (Yeah, I know that Cervantes, and Madame de La Fayette, etc, were all early novelists, but I mean the eighteenth century when novel publishing went from a few to hundreds and beyond over a matter of decades. Kind of like genre books went from a few a year during the fifties and sixties, to hundreds a year, and then thousands.)

The way I see it, right before that, England's (after 1707 the UK's) publishing history divides off from the rest of Europe with two big changes: after 1695, the Licensing Act was let lapse, and in 1709 the first copyright law passed. Before then, like the rest of Europe, political ups and downs were reflected in the struggle between printers and booksellers for ascendancy in restricting or promoting publications, while the government tried with varying success to control the whole.

That's not to say that after 1695 the English government didn't give up oversight. They brought the hammer down against blasphemy, obscenity, and seditious libel--in 1719, the last man swung from the gallows for printing Jacobite material--but it was increasingly a rearguard action.

Like now, there were ripoff booksellers masquerading among the legitimate ones, though today's scammers (see Writer Beware) are rarely as colorful as the rascally Edmund Curll -- printer, pirate, and pornographer. He stole material with flagrant disregard for copyright. As soon as some prominent person died, he collected gossip -- it didn't matter if it was true -- for a biography, and if he didn't have enough material, he made it up. Prominent people reportedly dreaded dying because of what Curll would do to them. A faint echo of the Curll treatment occurred a couple weeks ago, when Colleen McCullough's obit started off by noting how fat and unlovely she'd been.

Curll churned out so much X-rated stuff under various guises that the word 'Curlicism' became synonymous with porn. Prison, a stint in the stocks, even being blanket-tossed and beaten by the boys at Westminster school not only didn't stop him from theft and libel, he turned them all into marketing opportunities. Even when he was convicted of libel and forced to publish an apology and a promise to stop printing, his repentant words touted his latest books.

He's best known for the twenty-year running duel with the poet Alexander Pope, from whom he not only stole, he lampooned under his own name and with sockpuppets. It began when he first pirated Pope, prompting the poet and his publisher to meet Curll at the Swan, where they slipped a mega dose of "physic" (think ExLax) into his drink. He turned that, too, into a marketing event, once he'd recovered from the extremes of ejecta; when Pope published a couple of triumphant pamphlets, claiming Curll was dead, Curl came right back with new material demonstrating that he was very much alive and up to his usual racket.

Their history--and there are other equally crazy-ass stories--remind me of the whoops and hollers of internet feuds and FAILS now, among writers, editors, publishers (some individuals wearing all three hats).

Aside from the Curlls, most booksellers, the publishers of the eighteenth century--like the editors working at traditional publishers now--were hardworking people who made careful decisions about what to publish because they were the ones fronting the costs of printing and of copyright.

The booksellers of Grub Street were all about copyright. For most of the eighteenth century, they met yearly, over sumptuous dinners, to hold a copyright auction that was exclusive to the booksellers. Interlopers were unceremoniously chucked out.

Of course for every success there were misses, such as booksellers refusing refused to pay the asked-for five pounds for the copyright to the satiric poetry of the rakish clergyman Charles Churchill--who then self-published his Rosciad, clearing a thousand pounds in two months.

Most of the time the booksellers knew a good bargain when they saw it, such as John Cleland's lubricious Fanny Hill, whose copyright sold for 20 guineas. The Griffiths brothers, booksellers, cleaned it up a little, turned around, and raked in ten thousand pounds' profit -- before they all were arrested. Then, of course, it was pirated.

In 1740 Samuel Richardson's mega-hit, Pamela, started out as a work-for-hire piece jobbed out by booksellers Osborn and Rivington, who wanted a series of morally instructive letters. It quickly turned into a phenomenon reminiscent of reality TV, complete to heavy merchandising: Pamela fashions, dishes, etc.

In 1809 Jane Austen, using a pseudonym, wrote a crisp letter to Benjamin Crosby of Crosby and Sons demanding the return of the early version of Northanger Abbey when the bookseller lagged without printing the book for six years. His answer back was equally crisp: pay me back the ten pounds I paid for the copyright and it's yours. (She wasn't able to do that until 1816, not long before she died.)

The easiest way into print was through the periodicals, but self-publishing could be accomplished by anyone who managed to beg, borrow, or buy a printing press, like Horry Walpole, who was such a snob that he had to do everything himself to insure his printed matter came up to his standards of good taste; he dismissed with lofty contempt the very idea of making feelthy lucre off his books, which he largely gave away. For those who couldn't buy a press and had no issue with feelthy lucre, there was always the subscription method, which today we call crowd-funding.

Early in the century Grub Street was an actual place (Milton Street in the Moorfields part of London), most booksellers having their shops in that part of London; by the end of the century publishers were everywhere. Adventuresome booksellers in Ireland energetically competed with those in England, such as when a team of covert ops printers scored the sheets to Sir Charles Grandison from Richardson's own press and smuggled them to Dublin, where the book came out before its author published his legit edition in London. Copyright theft was flagrant -- especially in the nascent States: Frederick Marryat talks in his memoir about the stinging irony of fans coming up to him in New York to rave about his books, for which he never received a penny. His daughter, a generation after, expressed the same regret in her memoir.

Piracy -- copyright -- how one got into print all seems to me to reflect patterns, then and now. But there's more. Until the eighteenth century, art (which included literature, which in turn was beginning to include literature's raffish bastard, novels) had been the preserve of kings and church. During this century it became the property of a larger public.

At the same time, a revolution in perceptions of privacy was also going on. The tension between the interior self and the public face, what is art and who gets to define it, is still going on three hundred years later. We call that outing and doxxing. There is also -- still -- a tension between originality or novelty and the sure sell; a struggle between what is literature and what is trash, who claims authority to establish standards, and how all these are marketed.

One heat-inducing question that has come up again in recent years is the question of patronage. Patrons have a tendency to want to get their money's worth, if they aren't tampering with the products they patronize, at the very least by only choosing works that appeal to their tastes.

In the 18th century, not surprisingly, wealthy noble patrons favored work that supported the aristocratic ideal, claiming that this was art as opposed to popular trash. If patrons didn't actually contribute cash to needy authors, they could influence the marketplace by using their rank, wealth, and position in promotion.

Jump up 300 years to genre.

It's tougher to sell mixed genres to traditional editors today, though it's happening, whereas it was nearly impossible twenty years ago. I don't believe the reason is fear of taking risks -- there are some terrific books coming out from all the major publishers that push boundaries all over the place -- so much as the question of marketing is for them still tied to the printed book, specifically to slots at the bookstore. Where do you put something you can't easily categorize?

But this has got pretty long. Rachel is going to talk more, specifically self-publishing and why people do it, on the 11th.

Sherwood Smith



And, apropos those closing remarks about the difficulty of publishing cross-genre works (or books that take risks): "The Atrocity Archive" was originally rejected more than once because it was too transgressive of these marketing boundaries -- there was no obvious slot in the bookshop. That's why it first appeared as a serial in the pages of a Scottish small press magazine, then between covers from a boutique specialist publisher of SF/Fantasy/Horror. Neither of these publishers were vulnerable to the pressing question of where do you shelve this in the bookstore because they were too small to get bookstore distribution. (Then the second novella in "The Atrocity Archives" won a Hugo award and everything changed for me.)

It's no accident that the melting of hard genre boundaries in the past decade has coincided with the decline of the big bookseller chains as a distribution channel and the rise of internet sales (which permit much more flexible filing/searching filters for books).


Between the subject of this post and this blog's typical obsessions, this seems like a good place to mention Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London, a bit of RPG Cthulhiana where the major characters are London booksellers of various degrees of financial desperation struggling to purchase, steal, copy, sell, burn, or otherwise cope with various tomes of historical and eldritch importance.


That sounds pretty cool.


The bit that always confuses me - when the internet was taking off, everyone was talking about "disintermediation" and how the internet would kill the middleman.

Fast forward to now and it's nothing but middle men, making the money off the actual creators like some DRM-toting, rent-seeking, Fagin. Whether it's books and Amazon and the big publishing houses fighting it out about who's going to screw the authors most; or Google/Apple and the app developers, raking in their 30% for doing nothing except make the developers lives harder; or the movie studios, producing even less new or innovative content, yet still controlling what you see in the local multiplex.

Where did it go so wrong?

You can make excuses about sifting wheat from chaff (although objectively, the gatekeepers have been shown to be terrible at that), or dealing with complexities (whilst 4-5 man teams can get new products manufactured and shipped) - but in the end it just seems to be mass stupidity on the part of the creators. They seem most happy being bent over and rogered - and aren't at all interested in working out how they can work together to get the biggest slice of the pie, rather than some leftover crumbs.

Faces of Publishing? If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.


So crowdfunding / Kickstarter don't exist then?


That's fascinating about the Pamela merchandise--I had no idea. Pamela dishes makes me think of jam jars with Disney or Pokemon characters on them. I wonder how many other popular novels of past centuries had product tie-ins.


...when the internet was taking off, everyone was talking about "disintermediation" and how the internet would kill the middleman.
Where did it go so wrong?

Middlemen serve a purpose. They get "things" in front of people. Without them the internet would be a billion IP addresses with no obvious way to find a new book, computer, whatever. Think of Amazon without search or categories.

The optimism was like the 60s movements. It pretended that a few million or billion people could exist as if there were only a few hundred of them.


You can make excuses about sifting wheat from chaff (although objectively, the gatekeepers have been shown to be terrible at that), or dealing with complexities (whilst 4-5 man teams can get new products manufactured and shipped) - but in the end it just seems to be mass stupidity on the part of the creators. They seem most happy being bent over and rogered - and aren't at all interested in working out how they can work together to get the biggest slice of the pie, rather than some leftover crumbs.

That's quite a flame-broiled roasting of creative folk, with just a pinch of bitter flavoured misanthropy to leave a slightly sour aftertaste.

It's rather curious that you start out condemning corporate entities like the owners of your local multiplex chain(s), Google, Apple and the company run by that lovely Jeff Bezos chap for their unwillingness to take creative risks, saddling their ebooks with DRM, shafting software developers etc.

Yet, strangely, you save your harshest criticism for "the creators". You seem to be saying that you believe "the gatekeepers" are lazy and risk-averse and are content with pushing mediocre product or proven sellers while shaking down content creators every chance they get - but ultimately it's the dim-witted and masochistic creators that are to blame for not only their predicament but for Google, Apple and A****n's business practices as well.

Perhaps I'm missing something but I find your contradictory positions confusinng. Do you work in a creative field or with creative people? Do you have much experience selling your original novel, screenplay, software, music or other artistic creation, directly or indirectly,to monopolistic multinational corporations?

What happened to the glorious new world bursting at the seams with innovative and original artistic/creative content that the internet age was supposed to herald? If by "world" we mean the wealthy Western nations...that age has arrived. And, as predicted by many an "expert" 20-30 years ago, so has the age of post-industrial automation (and outsourcing of manufacturing jobs) that has ushered in an era of reduced working hours and a significant number of people now have much more time on their hands. Sounds lovely except for one crucial bit that's missing - and that bit is the money.

Sure, you can create all kinds of stuff, what with 3D printers and, for example, audio production gear that a decade and a half ago cost many thousands of £$€¥ and required a dedicated recording studio now costing a fraction of the price and fitting onto a home computer or tablet device. And with that extra free time automation and the wholesale outsourcing of the West's manufacturing industry has brought, opportunities for creating exist like never before! Just don't expect to eat or keep a roof over your head.

Earning a living as a writer, musician/producer, painter, multimedia artist or pretty much any artistic pursuit has never been easy. Especially if your creations aren't easily marketed and sold to the masses. Hence "starving artists". But, yes, the digital era has made it more affordable for people so inclined to create original and innovative art and, just as important, it's made it much, much easier to reach a potential audience. Writers have benefited immensely from this development. But, and it's a big but, to actually make a decent living as a writer of fiction is a different story altogether. This is true for musicians and other artists too but this is a writer's blog so I'll stay with that example.

One company in particular has grown to become an effective monopoly in the publishing world. Even if an author doesn't deal with them directly, their agent or publisher certainly has. It's unavoidable. And this company is known for strong-arming smaller publishing houses, significantly downward impacting an author's earning potential, unsavoury business practices in general. They are also known for their high-pressure, low-wage warehouse operations (which are outsourced to hiring agencies so the company remains one step removed and evades responsibility for how workers are treated). They are also allergic to paying tax and have a CEO who does a good impression of a first-rate sociopathic arsehole. I am of course referring to the 'A' company that isn't Apple. Want your books to sell enough copies to keep you clothed and fed? You're likely gonna be dealing with that company and they are not your friend.

I think you underestimate how difficult it is to earn a living as a writer or a "creator". It always was, even before the interwebz came along. Dealing with underhanded monopolies just makes it that much harder. In the US Apple was hauled into court and ordered to pay a few hundred grand for price-fixing ebooks on its iTunes Store. The company is appealing. The thing is we live in a society where making a good profit isn't good enough and the shameless greed for more more more practised by corporations is breathtaking. One major consequence of this, as I mentioned earlier, is an aversion to risk and marketing or selling anything that's not guaranteed to bring in the cash immedy. So for the most part it is lowest-common-denominator products. Innovation and the risk it involves is the domain of smaller companies or small groups of individuals rather than massive multinationals. But it's the big outfits that control the gates.

Finally, your frankly bizarre and strongly worded accusation that "the creators" are stupid and lazy and incompetent and happy to lean over the barrel and settle for whatever crumbs are tossed them by their corporate overlords is misguided. It's kind of a David and Goliath situation and in the real world little David doesn't win easily. You seem to be forgetting the power and control a large corporations wields via z the power of a person dependent, at least in part, on that corporation for their livelihood. It's easy to sit on a high horse and scoff at perceived character flaws (and to make wildly broad generalisations about creative folk trying to earn a living with their craft). If you've never been in a job situation where the choice amounted to either putting up with more bullshit than you'd normally accept or losing your are very fortunate.


Quick introduction...I discovered Charlie Stross's work about two years ago and have been a fan since then. Started with the Halting State books after someone in a cyberpunk forum recommended them as definitive works of near-future, post-cyberpunk SF. I enjoyed both books immensely and sought out more books by this Charles Stross dude. The next book I bought was the first Laundry series novel and that hooked me immediately too and the rest, as they say, is history. Discovered this corner of the blogosphere last December and after lurking for a few months and checking out some of the back catalogue I am looking forward to contributing to the discussions. Rest assured that I am not always in confrontational rant mode ;-)


The middlemen are good at exactly one thing: getting paid. If you want to get paid for what you create, you go through them. If that's less of an issue to you, there is an enormous quantity of free stuff on the web, there for the searching, and you can consume it or add to it as much as you want without dealing with a middleman once.


Oh, yeah. Merchandising goes way back. 'Trilby' hats were all the rage when that book was a mega hit. (And a lot of people's unfortunate great-great grandmothers were named Trilby)


cf. the example of Horace Walpole above.

For those who don't want to deal with greedy middlemen (because Bernd Samson up there is right in that the A company is convenient, but is not your friend) people are experimenting--as they did three hundred years ago--with different models of publishing.

Back then it was "how to publish without dealing with the booksellers?" Now it's how to publish (and earn a living) without dealing with middlemen? Rachel Manija Brown is going to talk more about this on Wednesday, but one way is writers consortia such as Book View Cafe--run by writers, wherein writers get 95% of the profit. But that means volunteer labor for all those middlemen jobs that otherwise writers don't have to deal with: production, distribution, marketing.


About selling online through the big channels etc, I haven't put much effort into studying it. I've read the following by somebody who did:

It sounds like, if you want to sell through them you have to promise you'll sell through them at your lowest price. So price-conscious customers will go to them first expecting to get the lowest price. If they can't find your product there, they may not look a second place. They give their customers a good deal -- low price. They give you access to their customers if you accept their terms, which are not good for you at all. But many of those customers won't find you unless they can buy your stuff from the one place they look, so you might rather have a tiny slice of a loaf rather than nothing.

If your work is something that people will get excited and rave about, and it has a long buy-by date, you might develop a devoted fan base over time by word-of-mouth. A lot of your dedicated fans will pirate your stuff, but some of them will buy and some of the others will advertise for you. Supposing that 10% of them pay you, that's about as good as 7% to 12% of the selling price through somebody else. Better. Because the ones who cheat you are the readers who don't pay, and not distributors who don't send you even the share they promised of the money from readers who do pay.

My guess is that very few customers go to Amazon etc intending to read reviews and look at advertising and find a book they would like to buy. So if you sign a contract that says you will help the top online warehouses drive all their competitors out of business, you are probably not helping yourself very much. If you get people interested in your work some other way, then you get the fraction of sales from customers who would be lost if they checked *only* Amazon and didn't find it.

Amazon might be a good deal for writers who are already very popular, who benefit from the fraction of their fans who will buy on Amazon because they're cheap and otherwise will not buy. But if you aren't almost making a living from your writing without Amazon, you probably won't get the least bit closer with Amazon.

Recently I picked up a library book from someone I'd never heard of, David Wong. In a note he explained that he had been writing fanfic, and when a lot of people liked his stuff he branched out to write his own stuff that people liked, and after a lot of people showed they liked it, he was able to edit his stories into two novels that got published. (Though looking him up now I see he is executive editor of the prestigious publication, which may have gotten him an in.) Similarly, the author of _Fifty Shades of Gray_ wrote Twilight fanfic, branched out to her own topic, and got formally published from it.

Two examples isn't a trend, but this may be the future. Instead of professional editors shoveling through their slushpiles looking for new authors, we may have hordes of unpaid amateurs who choose which amateur writing is worth paying for. You would sell mostly to fans anyway, and they would be happy to buy from you and not from Amazon etc.

On the other hand, consider the music company _Mannheim Steamroller_, which could not get published. They put out their own label, and distributed their music to chains that sold music speakers, since their crisp tones were good for demonstrating how good the speakers were. The stores sold the music to people who came in for speakers, and they gradually got a following. You might find a marketing approach that works only for you.

I first noticed Charlie Stross from this blog. He seemed like an interesting and knowledgeable person so I started reading his books and liked them a lot.


Kickstarter takes 5% of the funded amount + 3-5% payment processing fee. It's an interesting new way of funding creative work, but it certainly doesn't cut out the middle man.


But ... at a much lower rate.
Normally, an "agent's" or middleman's fee id 5% - 20%
The lower figure is why there is sucha thing as a "guinea", by the way ..
£1 + 1/- - 1/20th or 5% ...
Goes some way back ....


The history of the Guinea doesn't support that origin. The Pound Sterling was 20 shillings, silver coin, while the Guinea was gold, and the relative values went up and down. The Guinea was eventually fixed at 21/- and used as a unit of account, which is where the 5% comes from. The last Guineas minted contained gold worth 27/-.

And you thought Gideon was confused.


"As soon as some prominent person died, he collected gossip -- it didn't matter if it was true -- for a biography, and if he didn't have enough material, he made it up. Prominent people reportedly dreaded dying because of what Curll would do to them. "

Leon Brittan: Innocent until proved dead


It's a bit simpler, I reckon, if you're in the USA, but the way that the virtual Walmart* handles taxes, forcing Kindle self-publishing to deal with the US tax system. is hardly encouraging for those of us elsewhere.

I have seen odd mentions of the hassles for an author over dealing with a foreign publisher. There are tax treaties that can get you out of paying tax twice, but HMRC can be awkward to deal with: where are the people in their offices who know about the particular topic, and how do you contact such a person? At least the cheques from a conventional publisher are of a size and frequency that can be managed.

Until the end of last year, it was just about possible to self-publish e-books from your own server. The changes in EU VAT rules that are intended to catch the tax-avoiding retail corporates happen to hurt small traders a lot, and HMRC wasn't telling any of us.

* Have you seen what that outfit sells besides books?


I'm not convinced that 5 to 20% is much lower than 8 to 10%, but more importantly kickstarter is only one part of the process. Other than things which are electronically delivered to the backers and nobody else, there will be plenty of other people involved looking to get their cut / adding value for which they can legitimately expect to be paid.


J. Thomas, there are many writers, many readers, and many experiences. You can indie publish without ever putting your books on Amazon. However, it is incorrect that no writers succeed on Amazon unless they're already succeeding without it. Many first-time writers have done exactly that, particularly in the romance genres.


ETA: Comment 19 was by Rachel.


Yes, it was supposed to be a bit incendiary; there's a base problem that goes to the heart of why we are where we are.

And yes, putting the blame on the creators rather than the middlemen is being honest, I think.

We don't start out with the middlemen in charge and making the big profits. No, we start out with creators not wanting to deal with part of the process and all too happy to pass it off to someone else to do the boring bit. But then they have to pay them, and the support staff start saying "you can owe me"; which becomes "here's an advance"; which becomes "here's a contract to sign" - fast forward a few generations and you have those support staff as the gatekeepers, controlling access to the market, taking the majority of the profit, and rent-seeking up the wazoo, with all the risk-averse consequences that entails.

The reason I point it out is because it's a common mode that happens again and again - and by now we ought to have been smart enough to see it coming and head it off. Today, in particular, it doesn't have to be that way. Big printing presses drop away, marketing and communication easily available, it's perfectly possible to imagine a decentralised structure where authors deliver their content, discovery is handled via optimised search (jointly owned by the creators), books are financed by internal investment, and where the profit goes to the creator in the main.

And why does that matter? Well it matters because it matters who has control, the creators, or the MBAs. It matters because the rent-seekers unbalance society, and finance (hello Piketty). And it matters because gatekeepers are single points of failure who's interest is the interest of the creator or consumer.

Charlie has something of a left-wing bent - well this is the workers owning the means of production. It's easy to fall into this trap, but every innovation, every new means of connecting creators and consumers has the capability to break down one of these rent-seeking, gatekeeping entities - rather than create a new one.

Crowd funding ought to be somewhere where the creators have control, no? Decentralised? Well take a look at the structure of Kickstarter, the owners, and above all the patent lawsuits about who is allowed to create crowdfunding entities under license for the 'patent', on crowdsourcing.


Ian, I'm a little unclear as to whether or not you're already aware of the existence of writers' collectives. If not, since you obviously want to support them, I suggest that a good first step would be doing your book shopping there.

You might start with Book View Cafe. You can buy our Hostage and many other books there.

- Rachel


... and by now we ought to have been smart enough to see it coming and head it off.
... It's easy to fall into this trap, but every innovation, every new means of connecting creators and consumers has the capability to break down one of these rent-seeking, gatekeeping entities - rather than create a new one. ...

It happens over and over because most people don't want to deal with the boring bits of taking creative stuff and getting it in front of the masses and getting money from it so they can live.

Reading this I keep thinking of Charlie's screed about people not being spheres and libertarian politics.

I've spend the last 20+ years working around creatives (architects) and many(most?) of them hate the business side of things. The successful ones deal with it and pay the bills and stay in business. The ones who want to do it for the sake of their "art" tend to go bust a lot, have a working spouse that supports them, and/or have a second job that keeps them afloat. Or get accused of abandoning their craft and working for builders doing boring stuff.

The entire "everything on the internet will be free or free of big business" was mostly started by people in academia where most of the early users existed. Many of them didn't have a direct correlation between work and profits.


My claim is based on inferences which might be wrong. I tend to believe without sufficient evidence that the limiting factor for writing success is that customers must want to buy your books enough to find them. Possibly if your book is displayed prominently with a great cover, customers might impulse-buy -- they just grab it without thinking and buy without thinking. But usually they won't do it unless they want to.

And I tend to believe that A* does very little to help authors push their books. It does provide a page where they can publish quotes from reviewers etc. And it provides a place where anybody who pretends to have read it can make comments. Does it do more? Almost everything that increases the chance that someone will want to buy your book is done by somebody other than A*.

Beyond that it provides some services which are none of them the limiting factor -- it can ship physical books, which your physical publisher could do (while taking its own cut and demanding that you and the publisher get less than you would any other way), and it expensively lets people download books and accepts payment, which many others could do cheaper. The third thing it does is give you access to A* customers.

So I make the unprovable assertion, based on reasonable assumptions, that anyone who is successful through A* would have been successful without A*. And further, more of the money their customers spent would have gone to them.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Maybe people who know they want to buy a book but don't know which one, will randomly look through A* until they find one they want, and it might be yours, and that could be a significant fraction of your sales. I discount this.

But I can't so easily discount that the A* page layout might get people to buy who were already interested but just not sure. Maybe A* has cunningly researched how to subliminally get people to buy from webpages and uses their knowledge to help you. And a cheaper alternative would not give you this benefit and would result in lower sales.

(I'm not clear whether using A*'s name like this would cause problems with Britain's insane libel laws. It's tedious to make circumlocutions around the name which might still not be sufficient. What's acceptable?)


It goes all the way back to the pin factory (and beyond).

Maybe typing your book into a computer changes the balance between the different tasks, but printing was a skilled manual craft for centuries. And I have heard a few people within publishing companies say rude things about the people who work only with the money.

I have thought some of them have been a bit short-sighted, doing all the human things in response to apparent criticism. I've wondered if they had noticed what was happening, or just chose not to look beyond the market-territory their company works it.

There are two conflicting movements. There's the freedom the internet gives us, which makes it easy to get at the whole world, and there is the globalisation which gives us the huge multi-nationals such as Amazon and Google.

Just a thought, but look at the different local brand-names and products that General Motors has sold. It isn't a monolith. Google and Amazon have to pay attention to languages, but they are dealing in goods of a totally different sort, and can exploit the nature of the internet.

We have a small number of huge publishing companies which are more like General Motors. Some of the subsidiaries can build compact cars, but nobody seemed able to sell those cars in the USA. Language makes for bigger differences than there are between the roads of Germany and the USA.

Are these big publishing companies experiencing the equivalent of the Japanese invasion of the US motor markets? It isn't so good a parallel, the ebook is so technically different. It's a bigger difference than the introduction of the Tesla.


"In the 18th century, not surprisingly, wealthy noble patrons favored work that supported the aristocratic ideal, claiming that this was art as opposed to popular trash. If patrons didn't actually contribute cash to needy authors, they could influence the marketplace by using their rank, wealth, and position in promotion."

You hit the nail on the head..this is still going on, even from 'small' web press: its called tropes


Specifically, the move from hierarchical classification in a single axis toward tagging, which seems amazingly simple but allows books or other objects to be in many categories, has I suspect affected that if not effected it.

Positioning an object along various dimensions or on a plane in an n-dimensional space allows people to pick out clusters which if the books had been arranged on a single dimension would not appear or be easy to locate.

Part of this goes with the change from navigation in The Web to search as the primary means of finding things. Navigation requires (to a first approximation) the hierarchy, even if there is more than one hierarchy imposed by aliases etc, whereas search accepts a flat or multidimensional space and allows jumps to each point in it.

Jakob Nielsen, whioc seems to have a clue or two, was writing about it last century, and refers back in 2001



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This page contains a single entry by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown published on February 7, 2015 7:11 PM.

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