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New publication dates (and audiobook news)

So, a brief update about "The Labyrinth Index" and British audiobook editions of the Laundry Files!

Firstly, "The Labyrinth Index" will now be published on October 30th in both the US and UK, not in July as previously scheduled. (It takes time to turn a manuscript into a book—copy-editing, typesetting, checking proofs, running the printing press, distributing crates of books toshops—and due to a cascading series of delays (that started with me not deciding to write it until after my normal 2018 novel deadline had passed) we had to add three months to the production timeline.) On the other hand, the manuscript has been delivered and should be with the copy editor real soon now, so it's on the way.

Secondly, some unexpected good news for those of you in the UK, EU, Australia and NZ who like audiobooks: "The Fuller Memorandum" and "The Apocalypse Codex" are getting audio releases and are due out on May 24th!

This has been a sore spot for years. Recording audiobooks is expensive and the British audiobook market is a lot smaller than the North American one. The Laundry Files have been released in audio since book five, "The Rhesus Chart", and a couple of years ago Orbit worked with the RNIB to release the first two books in the series, but books 3 and 4 were missing—back-list titles that were uneconomical to record (and the US audio publisher wanted too much money for a license to re-use their recording).

Anyway, it looks as if the growing market for audiobooks and the growing sales of the Laundry Files have finally intersected, making it possible for Orbit to justify paying for an audio release of the missing titles, and you'll be able to listen to the entire series.

48 Comments

1:

I hope I'm not asking anything you're not allowed to talk about, but how relevant are the print editions? Could you give a rough breakdown of digital versus print sales of your books? It seems so quaint to wait for crates of books to arrive at shops!

Anyway, thanks for getting The Labyrinth Index done, I'm looking forward to reading it.

2:

Ebooks are supplanting paperbacks as a proportion of sales.

In the USA, the mass-market (small format paperback, distributed like a magazine, pulped rather than returned if unsold) is withering and I'm no longer published in that format; ebooks are around 70% of my sales over the long term.

In the UK, the mass market channel crashed and never recovered in 1991, so all small-format paperbacks are sold as trade, which changes the economics somewhat. I still get paperbacks, as well as hardcovers and ebooks. Ebooks are around 50% of UK sales, but converging on that 70% figure over time.

Ebooks are sold cheaper to the customer, and I get a fixed percent of net revenue. However, the percentage I get from an ebook sale is higher than for a hardcover (and vastly higher than for a paperback).

3:

Ebooks are sold cheaper to the customer … [snip] … the percentage I get from an ebook sale is higher than for a hardcover

Can you/do you wish to say which gives you the higher amount of money? I've been buying your books in hardback where possible in order to maximise your revenue from me (for purely selfish reasons of course :-). I have a handful of authors I want to support this way, so how should I be buying in the future?

4:

Can't say. Firstly, the net receipts from a sale vary depending on the wholesale discount. Secondly, the percentage royalty varies depending on the volume already sold — there's an escalator clause so that if sales exceed a certain number, the percentage royalty paid on net receipts increases. (On the other hand, if the book is selling in high volume it's probably being discounted more.)

The best options for the author are either a hardcover sold in publication week through a small bookstore (not a chain), or an ebook sold at full price shortly after publication. Beyond that, it gets very murky.

5:

Hi Stross!
Are your percentage earnings similar for audiobooks? Are they a good option for supporting you compared to the ebooks?

6:

Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t you get an added bump in initial sales figures towards best seller status if the ebook is reserved for full price prior to release? I would think leaning on the metrics like that for measuring popularity of a release has a significant monetary value down the line.

7:

Excellent! Must say reading about the Laundryverse on Halloween makes a lot of sense to me!

8:

The index is available for preorder from Amazon Germany.

9:

Don't know; I've generally ignored audiobooks until recently (I have no use for them myself and they were a tiny proportion of sales until the past few years — following the same uptake curve as ebooks, but a few years behind).

10:

Charlie #2: Thanks for the info! I'm surprised that ebooks can get up to 70%, but probably science fiction readers are keener on newer technologies than most.

Maybe the day will come soon when it will be the norm for writers to go digital-only.

11:

I know its far far to early to move things offtopic but I've just seen an academic paper on Algorithmic Entities which Charlie covered back in Accelerando see https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2954173

12:

Judging by the comments around here SF fans are split between people who are already booking their first upload and those who think any technology newer than vacuum tubes is sorcery.

Or maybe they are just the ones who show up in the comments.

13:

"The best options for the author are either a hardcover sold in publication week through a small bookstore (not a chain), or an ebook sold at full price shortly after publication."

So: for the avoidance of doubt, ordering the hardback from (say) Transreal Fiction is good, in and of itself, in addition to pandering to my vanity.

14:

split between people who are already booking their first upload and those who think any technology newer than vacuum tubes is sorcery.

No, that's the prevailing cultural script for arguments about technology. The actual argument around here is between people who think technological progress is accelerating and people who think it's slowing.

16:

Charlie, what's your take on the CEO of Hachette calling eBooks "stupid" because they're just digital copies of traditional books and don't have any shiny multimedia or something?

It seems to me that he's missing the two most attractive aspects of eBooks, instant supply (I can't tell you how many ebooks I've bought because Jame Nicoll reviewed them and included a helpful link to the River) and being able to equivalent of thousands of virtual books in the form factor of a single physical one.

17:

integrated circuits are sorcery? Not really.

Personally, I've got a better explanation for why I buy ebooks: my partner, and limited wall space.

Personally, I think Ebooks are crappy, and I've published a couple. They're basically one-dimensional flows of marked-up text. This is good enough for a story, but radically insufficient for technical works that have illustrations, footnotes, and sidebars, let alone indices. These works are at least two-dimensional.

Since I wrote an index for my last book, I can tell you the paper book is a much easier way to link information, paradoxically. The point is that you can use an index to create, effectively, your own hyperlinks, if you're trying to link information in different parts of the book so that people understand how you're trying to link ideas. The problem with doing that in a ebook is that the proliferation of links is such (each proper noun gets a hyperlink to the index) that the ebook falls apart under its own bulk. Contrast that with a paper version, where all you need in the index is a list of page numbers.

Thing is, I have limited shelf space, and I live with a wonderful person who has strong ideas about what walls are to be used for, which includes, but is emphatically not limited to, holding bookshelves. Indeed, our wall space is strongly rationed, and reuse is subject to prolonged negotiation.

The solution turns out to be buying stories as ebooks, which take up minimal space, and leaving the bookshelves for works that do better in two dimensions, like scientific and technical manuals. And not too many of the latter, if I can get them from the library rather than buying them.

As for uploading, I don't want my online presence to replace me as "me" in this world, especially if my uploaded persona is a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, but being forced to continue its existence as an "independent contractor" to minimize Google's taxes and deal with pesky laws against slavery in very jurisdictions. The only reason I'm picking on Google is that years ago they patented technology to do something like this. Uploading doesn't strike me as a terribly good option unless you imagine that having your successors explore new and interesting forms of virtual slavery is a good trade-off for something else taking on your identity (while you still die) thereby prolonging your life to some unknowable degree.

18:

Charlie, what's your take on the CEO of Hachette calling eBooks "stupid" because they're just digital copies of traditional books and don't have any shiny multimedia or something?

As I said on twitter, "Buggy whip manufacturer notices declining sales, announces that automobiles are rubbish and road transport has peaked — the future is canals".

Hachette's ebook sales may have gone into slight decline, but Amazon — which sells about 80-90% of ebooks worldwide — doesn't disclose their sales figures and shifts a ton of self-pub work. I'm pretty sure that Hachette is losing ground relative to a growing market due to poor pricing, royalty, distribution and DRM policy, rather than this being a sign of ebooks having peaked.

In addition to instant gratification and compact storage, there are other positives associated with ebooks: typefaces can be rescaled (this is great if your eyesight is crap/aging), books are searchable, and so on.

From the publishers point of view, ebooks potentially make the second hand bookstore obsolete by ensuring books stay in print indefinitely (and can't be resold): the argument for cutting the cost of backlist titles in order to supplant the second hand paper book market is a very strong one, but most major publishers (e.g. Hachette) don't seem to have any corporate awareness of this as a business opportunity.

19:

Personally I am neutral about ebooks. I prefer old fashioned physical media that doesn't need batteries for reference books and things liable to be reread.

More disposable fluff fiction and travel reading that won't earn shelf space can go on the ereader.

I disagree about ICs though - I know a few silicon designers, and the impression they give me is that it is in fact sorcery. Arcane incantations and optimiser rituals, a production process involving poisonous and presumably evil smelling fumes, a certain abount of uncertainty about the quality of the results...

Definitely magic.

20:

Personally, I think Ebooks are crappy, and I've published a couple. They're basically one-dimensional flows of marked-up text. This is good enough for a story, but radically insufficient for technical works that have illustrations, footnotes, and sidebars, let alone indices. These works are at least two-dimensional.

I agree with you here. Physical books are much better for many technical books. Especially with the Google Play books I use the images and figures are often mangled to be almost useless. Also, I like to read about graphics and graphic design, and books for that are in my experience much better when printed.

However, I don't have unlimited amounts of shelves, so I have started buying as much ebooks as I can make myself buy - most fiction and much of the fact books that don't depend that much on images but more on the text. For some reason I have bought as physical books the fiction series which I have started with them - it's more neat that way.

21:

Also, we have public libraries which help in (at least) two ways: I can borrow books from there, so I don't have to buy them, and here they have a shelf on which people can put their unneeded books for others to take. I can both get new books cheaply there and leave the ones I have already read.

This is in addition to all other kinds of stuff the local libraries offer, from musical instruments to 3d printers and vinyl cutters, with people on hand to help using them.

22:

But what you're saying (that ebooks are just digitized books and not even very well implemented) is basically what the Hachette chap was saying. If you read his comments he wasn't really bemoaning ebooks per se but publishers' failure to make the format deliver added value. It was a publisher's perspective: basically "ebooks are bad for our business model, and it doesn't help that the ebooks we make are crap." Personally I think it's the technical and graphics that *should* be the selling point - graphics, colour plates, etc are super expensive to print, so books that can only be printed with limited graphics for economic reasons could be packed with pics in an eBook. I dream of that for books like Carl Zimmer's "Parasite Rex" for example - dozens of great photos. Or for a technical book there could and should be tools for playing around with the parameters of a model, say. None of this is really done, IMO mainly because for a long time publishers have been more concerned with DRM than usability. I love ebooks but they are "crap" in the sense of undelivered potential.

23:

I've done some semiconductor fab work in my time, and you're not wrong. The processes are prone to fail in extremely subtle ways. A stray fingerprint can ruin production for weeks, and I've heard horror stories about billion-dollar factories that had 100% scrap rates on Thursday afternoons for months (it turned out that Thursday was tuna day in the cafeteria, and workers with tuna-breath added just enough arsenic to overdope the silicon).

It breeds odd superstitions. One of my mentors would never perform a certain process unless there was a green pen to fill out the process documentation with. It wasn't worth fighting about, so we got the green pen.

24:

But what you're saying (that ebooks are just digitized books and not even very well implemented) is basically what the Hachette chap was saying.

Well, yeah, that seems to be the situation from where I'm looking. However, the digital technology still isn't always better - for example, tablets are smaller than books can easily be. For example, for graphic design, or maps, I like to have larger pages to be seen, and getting a tablet which would be larger than a large book or a foldable map would be prohibitely expensive if at all possible.

Also, I like to read and use my roleplaying books as books rather than pdf's. I'm probably a grognard, but it's easier for me to keep multiple tabs and search on the physical book while gaming.

Textbooks could probably often benefit from interactivity, but still I think just plain text and images works well for reading, if done properly. I haven't also yet seen a good music book done digitally - the ones I've bought for my tablet are pretty annoying to use, not the least because of the smallish screen compared to a A4 book.

25:

Physical RPG books. Gods, yes. So many of the PDFs are such a pain in the ass to use. I tab and flag the hell out of the edges of my 3.5 Player's Handbook, and can easily change my setup depending on my current character's class/race.

OTOH, having PDFs of ALL my RPG books that I can print out useful pieces of and scribble all over is really nice, as is the PDF being weightless and only taking up HD storage.

Comic books are way worse on an eReader.
How would you even do a full size 2 page spread? Two full size iPads with a hinge?

26:

The printing out and writing on pages thing was super useful when I was running some of the published adventures for The Laundry Files a few years back. They took quite a bit of proofing for consistency, and I also tweaked them a bit.

27:

This reminds me of a pet peeve: DMs who keep track of battles on their tablets. It slows the game down tremendously, and renders them unable to adapt should they need to.

Battles should be tracked with pencil and paper as Gygax intended. That is the law!

28:

OTOH, having PDFs of ALL my RPG books that I can print out useful pieces of and scribble all over is really nice, as is the PDF being weightless and only taking up HD storage.

Yeah, there are advantages in having the RPG books in PDF, too. Nowadays it seems most manufacturers offer the PDF for each physical book, so it helps. For example, adventures are very useful as PDFs and printed on paper. Still, I like to read for example the 20-year anniversary versions of the World of Darkness games on paper rather than on my tablet.

I kind of like having both with RPGs. At least the stuff available on Drivethrurpg is free from DRM, though watermarked, so it's also easy to use and back up.

29:

I still stick to paper books. Easier to hide in a drawer at work for when the machine is on a long cycle, can be stuffed in a jacket pocket for train journeys, less traumatic to lose, and if you find you've bought an utter stinker, handy for lighting the fire with :D

Anyone been to Scarthin Books in Cromford? Now that is what happens when your love of books gets way out of hand.

30:

I recall reading about something like that happening during WWII. The production lines soldering VT fuzes (the first radar proximity fuzes for AA shells) were staffed entirely by women. Working together for so long their periods synchronised and the change in skin acidity meant that the number of solder-joint failures increased for a few days every month or so. They did extra testing and QA of the fuzes manufactured over that "period" for a few months until someone just bit the bullet and bought all the workers cotton gloves to wear while handling the electronics parts.

31:

That sounds like a myth. Hasn't the "syncing periods" thing been comprehensively refuted?

32:

That sounds like a myth. Hasn't the "syncing periods" thing been comprehensively refuted?

Refuted, no. But there's not much in the way of actual scientific data to support it. It's mostly apocryphal stories from college age women living in VERY close proximity.

Lunar cycles are definitely disproved.

Not really synchronized either. Seems like when a lot of women live together for a period of time (school year) the dates of onset for the group squeeze down into a shorter period of time. Then they leave school for the summer and by the time they come back in the fall they're all back on their own differing schedules again.

I did have one college girlfriend tell me that when she started taking the pill it regularized her cycle "like clockwork". She started at the beginning of her freshman year when the school infirmary supplied them.

If you envision all or most of the other young women in her dorm getting them & starting to use them at almost the same time, with most of them experiencing a similar effect - that might simulate synchronization.

But since it's too early to just go wandering off to where ever the topic might drift, let me return to the subject of books & e-books.

As someone else noted, paper books don't require a battery. Nor, are they liable to fail if you have one in your rucksack & someone drops something heavy on it; no busted screens to repair.

If it's got to be an e-book, I like PDF files, because you can carry a bunch of them on a memory stick & they're pretty much platform independent. Almost any computer can display them, and most pad devices (assuming the pad has a USB port and isn't dedicated to a proprietary format like Kindel.

33:

As for uploading, I don't want my online presence to replace me as "me" in this world, especially if my uploaded persona is a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, but being forced to continue its existence as an "independent contractor" to minimize Google's taxes and deal with pesky laws against slavery in very jurisdictions. The only reason I'm picking on Google is that years ago they patented technology to do something like this. Uploading doesn't strike me as a terribly good option unless you imagine that having your successors explore new and interesting forms of virtual slavery is a good trade-off for something else taking on your identity (while you still die) thereby prolonging your life to some unknowable degree.

Ain't gonna' happen in my remaining lifetime. And even if it does, just remember - "If living were a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die."

34:

Also, we have public libraries which help in (at least) two ways: I can borrow books from there, so I don't have to buy them, and here they have a shelf on which people can put their unneeded books for others to take. I can both get new books cheaply there and leave the ones I have already read.

This is in addition to all other kinds of stuff the local libraries offer, from musical instruments to 3d printers and vinyl cutters, with people on hand to help using them.

Your public library has a lot more than our local public libraries have - i.e. books, ebooks & audio books. And if someone else has the ebook "checked out" you can't check it out yourself until your name comes up to the top of the waiting list.

They do also have computers with public internet access, but I don't feel like using them when I have internet at home & the school kids without need the seat more than I do.

I mainly use the public library to borrow books I know I can't afford to buy. I only want to buy books I know are going to be Keepers. There are just too many books I want and/or need to read, but won't need to keep forever.

I also use it to read Charlies' books before they come out in paperback. I buy Charlie's books in paperback because that's what all the previous ones I have are & it looks stupid to have a mix of hardback & paperback books from the same series on the shelf.

35:

Your public library has a lot more than our local public libraries have - i.e. books, ebooks & audio books. And if someone else has the ebook "checked out" you can't check it out yourself until your name comes up to the top of the waiting list.

Yeah, our (Finnish) public libraries are quite brilliant. They have all those books, but sadly they also have the "checked out ebook" principle - I think that's because the rights holders don't want it any other way. The point with all the other stuff is mainly because the libraries have wanted to be something else than book repositories. They have tried (at least in the greater Helsinki area where I live) to become gathering points for the local communities by offering also courses on things, panel talks with politicians, and all that kind of stuff.

Which I think is brilliant especially when most expenses I have to pay for this (except for taxes, obviously) is the library card which costs I think five euros. I think I've had my current one for something like fifteen years now... (One needs to pay for replacements, I've had a library card for over 35 years already.)

36:

If it's got to be an e-book, I like PDF files, because you can carry a bunch of them on a memory stick & they're pretty much platform independent. Almost any computer can display them, and most pad devices (assuming the pad has a USB port and isn't dedicated to a proprietary format like Kindel.

Disagree, very strongly indeed: PDF is rubbish for reading on multiple devices. It's not designed for text reflow, so if you scale it up for legibility on a small screen you end up overrunning the sides of the device you're reading on. PDFs are generally optimized to approximate the specific paper size of a print publication, so end up being utterly unreadable on a phone-sized screen (or even a smaller e-ink reader).

For me, the ideal format would be epub — a containerized format based on HTML5, CSS, SVG, PNG, and some metadata. Aside from the publisher demands for DRM it's basically open standards all the way down.

37:

I use Epub, and have little trouble with it (for fiction), and read the same book on multiple devices. The Epub readers I have found are pretty fair crap, though usable for simply reading, but PDF readers aren't much better.

38:

Hi Charlie, have you considered writing a story about an ENT doctor that gets abducted by aliens?

It would be the first work of sinus fiction

39:

We need someone with a nasal voice for the audiobook.

40:

Re: ' ... college girlfriend tell me that when she started taking the pill it regularized her cycle "like clockwork" '

Other OC timing story: when to start taking OCs can be worked backwards to avoid periods during exam week or holidays.

41:

How about a dentist? Could be a bridge to something new...😁

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostho_Plus

(I loved that book when I was a kid - now I've found a full scan I'm going to see if it still holds up!)

42:

"I recall reading about something like that happening during WWII. The production lines soldering VT fuzes (the first radar proximity fuzes for AA shells) were staffed entirely by women. Working together for so long their periods synchronised and the change in skin acidity meant that the number of solder-joint failures increased for a few days every month or so. They did extra testing and QA of the fuzes manufactured over that "period" for a few months until someone just bit the bullet and bought all the workers cotton gloves to wear while handling the electronics parts."

I'm not up on the latest results, but back in the 1990's, an professor of epidemiology (specializing in menstrual disorders) said that women's periods didn't really synchronize. What happened for the most part was that over time, a group of women will eventually all menstruate at the same time.

I also wonder about the skin acidity. If it was that finicky, whatever the women handled beforehand should make a huge difference.

43:

integrated circuits are sorcery? Not really.

As for uploading, I don't want my online presence to replace me as "me" in this world, especially if my uploaded persona is a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, but being forced to continue its existence as an "independent contractor" to minimize Google's taxes and deal with pesky laws against slavery in very jurisdictions. The only reason I'm picking on Google is that years ago they patented technology to do something like this. Uploading doesn't strike me as a terribly good option unless you imagine that having your successors explore new and interesting forms of virtual slavery is a good trade-off for something else taking on your identity (while you still die) thereby prolonging your life to some unknowable degree

Silly idea, but what the heck. Everyone needs more silly ideas, so long as they aren't being spouted by political leaders. To proceed:

We like to talk about uploading like it's a good thing, but as I noted above, the most likely first incarnation we will see will be episodes of identity theft combined with deep learning that will be a Turing Test--in other words, a computer will be able to be impersonate you, at least in all online interactions. Worse, the darned thing might be a philosophical zombie--it can give a perfect impression of you, but there's no way to demonstrate that it has any self-awareness. Not sure what that says about you...

What I'm wondering is whether this brave new world needs a new metaphor. We've been looking at it under the mythology of uploading be an otherworldly experience. I wonder if, instead, we could approach this experience using the trope of undeath. The ghosts of your online life linger after your death, haunting your friends and family. Perhaps your accounts and equipment are used as zombies in swarming cyberattacks, perhaps rendered infectious by viruses or similar automated subversion. Even worse, your online identity might be given its own volition after your death, used malevolently to harm your community, spreading dissension and preying on those rendered vulnerable by the knowledge you have of them. And there will be people who see using their online copies as ways of extending their existence at all costs, like the liches and wights of fantasy, who are interested more in a continued and continually morphing existence that gets more inhuman over time.

Presumably someone's already written these stories, but I wonder. Given that we're getting to the point where we expect everything we care about to get hacked, perhaps the dark tropes of undeath and dealing with it would be useful tropes to play with. Has the Rapture of the Nerds played out?

44:

Presumably someone's already written these stories, but I wonder. Given that we're getting to the point where we expect everything we care about to get hacked, perhaps the dark tropes of undeath and dealing with it would be useful tropes to play with. Has the Rapture of the Nerds played out?

The roleplaying game Eclipse Phase explores also these themes. In its history, the Earth was mostly destroyed, and most people who did escape the catastrophe did so by uploading themselves and beaming off the planet. There were some people living in the Solar system on other bodies, so not everybody died.

In the game's current time, there are more digital people than there are bodies for them. So, many if not most of these uploads are copied and used as cheap labour, sometimes giving them cheap robot bodies and working them until they die, then copying them again. There are stargates to other star systems so there are other places and sometimes even hope of escape.

The game also discusses the issues of copies and tries to accommodate players who try to do "strange" stuff. It's perfectly possible to generate characters by the rules and buy items like mind-imprint copiers and 3d replicators capable of producing human bodies from the start.

45:

There is always "Extreme Dentistry" https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1928011012/ only $2.99 on kindle, it was a fun read.

46:

Regarding womens menstual cycles syncing up, if they do, it's not simple and straightforward https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-women-who-live-together-menstruate-together/

47:

I'm not up on the latest results, but back in the 1990's, an professor of epidemiology (specializing in menstrual disorders) said that women's periods didn't really synchronize. What happened for the most part was that over time, a group of women will eventually all menstruate at the same time.

I kind of like the idea of all the female freshman starting to take the pill at about the same time and it affecting their cycles, because it also occurs to me that when they went home at the end of the year many of them would stop using the pill over the summer to hide from their parents that they'd become sexually active and that would suggest a reason why their cycles diverged again until they returned in the fall.

Likewise, it would suggest the reason there's less evidence to be found for it today are two-fold - pharmaceutical advances & changes in mores; today's incoming freshman women have probably been on the pill since high school, so there's no big spike of first use at the beginning of the fall semester.

48:

Really excited for the release of The Labyrinth Index!!

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