Charlie Stross: March 2013 Archives

You might have noticed I'm not blogging right now, but Joan Slonczewski and Elizabeth Bear are.

That's because I'm in Perth, Western Australia, at an SF convention. And after it's over, I'm having a vacation — one of those weird hermetic retreats normal people go on, during which they refrain from working. I'll be back in late April. In the meantime, it's guest blogger time.

(As it happens, I do have an announcement to make next week, once I'm out from under an NDA. But apart from that, consider me AFK — Away From Keyboard.)

(I just felt the need to lift a comment I posted on an earlier thread up here where it belongs.)

Quoth a commenter, to whom I felt the need to reply:

Things change. Technology accelerates it. The only thing up for debate is the timing.

This is a statement of ideology, not of fact.

For most of the duration of the human species, change has not been an overriding influence on our lives. In fact, it's only since roughly 1800 that you couldn't live your entire life using only knowledge and practices known to your mother and father. We are undeniably living through the era of the Great Acceleration; but it's probably[*] a sigmoid curve, and we may already be past the steepest part of it.

In the previous thread, one of the commenters noted: 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...

Let me expand on that, in case anyone isn't convinced.

(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?

We get book covers. We even get new book covers! Lots of new book covers! Which gives us a chance both to show off new books and to examine just how different publishers in different markets approach the art of cover design.

First up is the UK paperback release of The Rapture of the Nerds, by myself and Cory Doctorow. Lovingly produced by Titan Books, they've gone and excelled themselves with this great cover:

Nerds cover

Second up, and exemplifying the way marketing strategies differ between the USA and the UK, are two covers for the same book — Neptune's Brood (coming on July 2nd, 2013; pre-order by following that link). Compare and contrast Orbit's kick-ass watery space opera (left) with the alternative design values implicit in Ace's US cover (right):

cover shots (Neptune's Brood (UK)) cover shots (Neptune's Brood (US))

Third and finally, Orbit have redesigned and are reissuing the earlier Laundry novels, with an all-new cover design to give the series its own distinctive visual identity:

Atrocity Archives new release Jennifer Morgue new release
Fuller Memorandum Apocalypse Codex

What do you think?

I am not amused. Yet another example of the impermanence of cloud services (especially services that you don't, ahem, pay money to receive).

What are the likely consequences if, after the next election (in 2015), Britain votes in a referendum to leave the EU? (As 53% of UK voters apparently desire ...)

I will be in Peters Brauhaus tonight, from 8pm; all welcome. (Cologne Pub Guide entry.)

I get to give talks. Here's one I gave to a seminar of engineering students at Olin College (south of Boston) last month, on the next thirty years:

On Tuesday I am heading out the door to Dortmund, for DORT.con. Between now and then I am embarked on a death march to the end of the edits on "The Rhesus Chart". If your guess is that this means I'm going to be scarce around here for a week or so, your guess would be right.

In other news, we're closing in on the deadline for Hugo award nominations—it closes on March 10th. If you're eligible to nominate works for the awards, I urge you to do so; all too often the Hugo shortlist hinges on a lamentably small number of ballots. (In case you were wondering, I have three eligible works this year: the short story A Tall Tail (on, The Rapture of the Nerds (novel, Tor, co-written with Cory Doctorow—free download via that link), and The Apocalypse Codex (novel, published by Ace)).

Finally, back in the real world, it looks like the second Dragon ISS resupply mission has docked with the space station, and Denis Tito's team has devised an innovative solution to the cosmic radiation shielding problem...



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in March 2013.

Charlie Stross: February 2013 is the previous archive.

Charlie Stross: April 2013 is the next archive.

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