The plucky ‘bots

The plucky robot Philae – the comet lander — is back, and has sent a message to Earth!

At first scientists at the European Space Agency were puzzled at the ‘bot’s message that it was deeply affronted by Irene Gallo’s libelous nonsense about it being a racist, sexist neo-Nazi,* and that it was never going to buy another Tor book** until they took action. However, faced with a triumph of mad robotic programming skillz, a senior ESA scientist has been dispatched to Italy to offer one ‘Vox Day’ an Ellie Prizeman shirt, and matching trousers, and shoes and hat, to give up his publishing venture and work for them.

And that’s enough silliness for now. We’ll leave the puppy kickers over in File 770 to go on with their game of Calvinball. They have the mask. Really the single most important thing you need to know about the Hugos is you can vote, and you should. If you’re signed up and paid up for Sasquan, read the books and stories and vote, please. Having said that: Let’s talk about writing, publishing, making money. Let’s talk about the important stuff for writers – and readers.

What I wanted to talk about is faintly peripheral to the fuss, which is the pi… pie. Now the pie is a very important thing to consider, particularly if you’re fond of pie. You’re a writer, and you need to get a piece that’s big enough. You’re a reader, and you want a piece that isn’t Anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout flavor… or do you (yes, somewhere, someone would want it)?

Now according to semi-reliable sources (Publishers Weekly, drawing data from Bookscan) the pie got smaller. This of course is traditional publishing’s pie (which is historically almost the entire Hugo pie too.) (my apologies for not having the 2014 figures – my internet is being really slow and buggy. I’ve seen them, but couldn’t find them. It’s no change.) It’s shrinking year on year with less readers, less sales, and at this rate, will be a slightly smaller problem than the argument about the last slice of Pavlova at the Flinders Island Country Women’s Association tea in ten years’ time (Okay that’s a pretty serious dispute, but it’s got maybe 12 women eyeing it. Still, it’s only just thermonuclear, and not planet-busting)

Part of the reason the puppy kickers have been so particularly unpleasant, vicious and ready for ad hominem and attacks on the livelihood and reputation of anyone even vaguely associated with the Puppies has been because of that shrinking. Those are their pieces of pie, and they want to keep them, and as much as possible of what is left.

In a way, of course, that true in the award situation. There are a fixed number of final nominees, and only one winner in each category.

So what the Hades is going on here? What is causing this shrinkage? Have shoplifters been stealing all the literate people? Slipping them in their pockets and sneaking out of the world? The numbers should have increased (at least in theory) year after year. And the readers are slowing down in getting around to dying – retirement age to mortality was a couple of years, when book-sales were booming (and those folk have more time to read). And while things are tight… this down-trend is nothing new. Anyway there is good evidence that in the past, when money got tight, book sales, camping gear sales, seed sales and beer sales went UP. Now… all those are true except apparently for book sales.

It’s the hard question you’d think every trad publisher, every trad pub author, everyone in the support industries, from retail to reviewing, from agents to people running fan websites, would be investing in answering. In doing something about. In trying to fix.

Instead they’ve plainly bought shares in Shrug, Inc. If you really lean on people for answers they say ‘oh well. Movies. TV. The internet. Computer games’

And when you push still harder as to WHY they lose readers to these things you get more Shrug. If only I’d bought shares in Shrug back in 2000, I could be rich today. When you press harder they usually do a David Gerrold and block you. If, in the rare cases they can actually bear to talk about it, you will get Ms. Moonbat the Librarian, who told me we needed to cater more for tiny minorities (and the course we were on was dead right, we just needed more of it –like communism, which only failed because there wasn’t enough of it), or the rare honest fellow who will give you some more Shrug and say ‘entertainment’ and ‘price’.

I don’t even know if those are the right answers and, if they are, how much of each is a factor. But, coming down in their favor is the fact that outside of the traditional publishing industry, in the indy world… of e-books, the story is quite different. There, sales are growing. There have been claims these are leveling out – but the truth is they’re still going up. Some of that is being masked by the fact that Indies and indeed tradpub have given up on Bowker (who sell ISBN numbers). There are millions of authors venturing into Kindle who don’t make much money, who barely sell anything. But as Hugh Howey and his data guy have shown so ably, (start here, and work back, if you are interested in self- publishing) a lot of books are being sold and a lot of authors are making a good living out of it.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that this is combination of price (they’re cheaper, but the author gets more money per book 70% as opposed to around 20% – so he can afford to be cheaper) and the fact that they’re providing entertainment.

Entertainment for different people is different things. There are people who will swear blind they LOVE the recent Hugo winners. There are people who say the output of Tradpub is just wonderful. That’s just fine. There are people who insist that without a social justice message, books are worth nothing. That’s just fine too.

I’m totally disinterested in killing any of them. They can live or die by their own strength…

There is also very little of it I want to read, and it seems (unless it is the price) that increasing numbers of people share that opinion. But don’t worry, we’re all ‘bots. Or otherwise… they’re selling to a smaller and smaller segment of the market. A market they once controlled almost all access to – except Baen. They don’t any more.

So: I can hear the faithful puppy kickers squee in triumph. “See, see! The divine Irene, and her prophet Moshe, praise be his name, are right. He’s calling for ‘the end of social justice in Science Fiction and Fantasy.’ She told you, she told you. You should have listened, like we, the chosen, did.”

Yeah, reading comprehension. They’re good at it.

I’m doing no such thing.

I’m yelling for a bigger pie. Hell, maybe a dozen pies. Huge ones. Pies people love. (Which yes, is what the Sad Puppies are calling for with the Hugos. More people, bigger choice, more involvement.)

And not all anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout flavor, (pure poison, and mingy pieces of it too). I’m sure there’ll still be a little plate of anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout flavor. I’m sure there will be many that weave social issues into their stories. Mine do (which is why I just have to laugh at Irene Gallo. If ignorance is bliss she must be supremely happy). As, philosophically, I am the kind of guy who uses Robert Burns “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”*** as a touchstone (it’s been on website as part of my biography since I set up – about 15 years back), – “The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, Is king o’ men for a’ that.” And “The man o’ independent mind, He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.” I stand for exactly the same thing I always have, it runs like a thread through all my writing – that we are individuals. We choose our path. We are not stereotypes. We are measured by our deeds and thoughts. It means I have little or no time for ideas of ‘group entitlement’ or punishment. It makes me less of a racist or sexist than she is. As for her homophobe libel – I do suggests she reads Slow Train to Arcturus.

I should think she’d hate it, but I think if she had any courage she’d eat her words… anyway, moving on.

We need to compete with that other entertainment. We need to compete on price, on quality, and matching up to the readers own ideals, their own desire and wish-fulfilments. It’s barking insanity to assume that in the end the authors (the English writing ones) for that will NOT be more-or-less representative of modern America (it’s the biggest English first language market – with a few authors that fit better in the UK or NZ or Australia and thither scattered lesser markets.). Which means, if you’re a writer, looking at what you could write (have at least some experience/knowledge/ ability to learn about and write well enough for people to not TBAR your book) and what is badly served, and write that. If Tradpub had any common sense they’d do the same with their buying. Instead… they’re doubling down getting narrower and narrower. It’s fairly obvious that from the political spectrum there are less conservative – moderate outlook lead-character books trad-published (a point of view that nearly 80% of US consider themselves to hold) than for example gay ones. (no, I have no problem with them being published, and I don’t hate them. Or fear them. But it isn’t a major interest for 90% of the population).

Will there be less ‘social justice’ interwoven in those?

Well, IMO it will be more story first and less preaching, or they will fail.

But in real terms –as displayed by the fact that actually those conservatives (and moderates, but less so I gather – but liberals are lowest) give far, far more time and money to charity… and spend more actually doing voluntary community service (and not protests for their pet cause, but work, help, tangible things, often for people most unlike themselves) I just think it’ll be different targets.

Me, I hope it’ll be giving people a fair go, no matter who they are. And giving someone a hand up who needs it, not because they’re from a designated ‘victim’ group (possibly pampered from birth, given the finest education, the best perks – I think of one of the darlings of the puppy-kickers – who went to a very expensive – top 20 US College, could afford to be a stay-at-home mum, could afford/was a given a chance to attend Clarion West (meaning having 6 weeks free, and being able to afford it. It’s not cheap) and then making contacts on the inside of the publishing cliques to help smooth your way… as opposed to the female puppy nominees – who are more like proof of what women can achieve, despite every obstacle, despite having no breaks, perks or special advantage.)

The important thing for writers and readers to take away from this is that the pie is not shrinking outside of traditional publishing. It’s possibly not even true in traditional publishing. It is true in the little, ever-shrinking cell that most of the traditional publishers are choosing to stay in, despite the fact that the door is wide open, there is a whole planet outside. Yes, out there they will eventually run out of space and sales, but that point is very far from where they are now. But the larger publishers in cell-sf have been in control of the place, divided out the pie, year on year. They’re happy being the bosses of this small cell. They will try their level best to destroy anyone who goes out of the cell.

Stuff them. And their anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout pizza-pie, with no cheese. They can eat it. I want something tasty.

Oh on another subject – just a heads up – I had an attempt to hijack my twitter account – someone sent me a link to what looked like twitter –apparently to something someone was saying about me. It asked me to log into twitter, so I did… and it said file not available, try later… but my e-mail popped up a warning from Twitter that someone had tried to access my twitter account from elsewhere (like, not remote Tasmania.) I changed my password, and up to then there seemed no suspicious activity. But as I barely use twitter If there is suddenly a stream of stuff confirming the puppy-kickers accusations… you know what has happened. I’m inclined to suspect the anti-gamergater involved in sf who was bust faking attacks on herself, but it could be some other jackass. But just be warned. This is their latest trick.

*Some ‘bright spark’ on File 770 believes the thousands of complaints about Irene Gallo and the attitude to customers of some Tor staffers is due to ‘bots.
**For which the US postal service is devoutly grateful, and is thinking of begging other puppy kickers to try and initiate boycotts of other publishers.

***A Man’s A Man For A’ That
by Robert Burns

Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave–we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that,
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that,
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.
Notes for the Sasunnach and other strange folks:
aboon — above
birkie — a lively, young, forward fellow
coof — fool, ninny
fa’ — have as one’s lot
gree — prize
gowd — gold
hame — home
hing — hang
hoddin — coarse, woollen cloth
maunna — must not

93 thoughts on “The plucky ‘bots

  1. Hehe, amusingly enough my brain supplied “who couldn’t afford not to be a stay-at-home mom” for some of the puppies. (The difference is largely in how much of a job that is….)

      1. Just a bit of silly in the language– some folks stay-at-home as a luxury good, some folks stay-at-home because that’s the only way it makes financial sense.

        Not so much a value you got wrong, as two ways to doing it that have the same name.

        1. Hey Foxfier! Did I hear right that you had a little girl? If so, where are the pictures. [Smile]

  2. Bots. Goodness. We’re not the one with someone on their side known for his sockpuppets, stalking, ban-evasion, myriad usernames, and worse.

    The sad thing is if any of us wrote this up, people would complain about it not even being believable fiction.

    Fiction has to make sense!

    1. Some “ONE”?!?

      My dear lady, you know it’s a standard tactic– as common as the “I’m going to go over there and argue with them” is on ours! (Well, my best guess, anyways; the specific number is going to depend heavily on the blog-culture. I’ve never “gotten” the appeal of arguing with people after I know they won’t listen.)

        1. I got stuck in some kind of loop- It was the day you published. Then it seemed to want to make into an admin and asked me about your site decor… so I got out before i did unintended harm 🙂

  3. I’ve been reading SF and mysteries for a long lifetime. An increasing share of my book buying budget is spent with vendors who find, catalog, and offer for sale books that are out-of-print. Stuff I may have missed when I was in my thirties and working too hard to read. Stuff I didn’t appreciate when I was in my twenties. Good stuff, at least as good as what’s been printed now.

    Here again Baen is showing off a business understanding of how to serve an otherwise underserved market. New (not falling apart) books, of old stories.

    1. Like James Schmitz (edited by Eric Flint—and I know for a fact that he was working with someone of pretty much the opposite political persuasion, because he gives thanks to him in the afterword of the Telzey compilation.)

      1. Flint couldn’t resist writing addenda for some of the Keith Laumer stories reprinted by Baen. I don’t think they represent Flint’s ideology so much as they show how Flint completely failed to understand what Laumer wrote.

        1. I generally skip any introductions and stuff until I’ve actually read the story. I prefer making my own judgements to being led by the nose.

          1. I’ve found that a surprisingly large percentage of introductions don’t even make sense, unless you are already familiar with the story itself! Additionally, a handful of introductions just seem to be a repetition of what you will find in the first chapter or two, anyway…

    2. Firebird Press (with Sharyn November) tried to do that with older kids and SF&F. It went under a year or so after I left the board (entirely unrelated) so I’m not sure what went wrong, but for while there I was able to get superb copies of some great books.

    1. I dinna think it is a privilege to be in touch with reality, good sir, given how often reality tends to knock about and smack the people in touching range.

      To be able to stand far enough away from reality that one is mostly out of range of its blows, and need not touch it? Ay, now that’s privilege indeed. 😛

      1. Except reality always has a longer reach than expected, and if you dodge it for long enough when it does hit you it kills you. Dave may be battered, but he’s most certainly not dead.

        1. One of the cute things about all of this is how apparently Tor’s employees have told the upper management at MacMillan that all of the letters complaining are ‘bots sent by Vox Day.

          That is eliciting a response. Right now, Vox is starting a letter writing campaign to send to Tor and MacMillan. Strangely enough, John Wright has decided to do the same thing.

          Personally, being a moderate libertarian, I’m waiting to see what Peter Grant decides with his issue with Tor.

          You’re likely right. If certain employees of Tor told their bosses that the email servers were clogged with ‘bot messages, then reality is about to bite them in the ass.

  4. There is a priceless Dutch (maybe also Afrikaans) expression for their attitude to newcomers: “they begrudge them the light in their eyes” (zij gunnen ons het licht in de ogen niet).

  5. Went to B&N yesterday. First time in… maybe six months? (I had a gift card. Shrug.)

    Browsed around a bit. The amount of shelf space that was completely EMPTY in the SF section was astounding. Top to bottom, maybe 8 sectional shelving pieces had nothing in them but a very light coating of dust.

    Went over to the magazine section, looking to find Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF… didn’t spot them at first. Looked in the Media SF section again… and finally spotted them by what I DIDN’T see. They were three slots from the top, and the only reason I noticed they were there were that there weren’t visible magazines in the slot. Thought… hmm – stretched and looked, and there they were. I’m 6’2. For anyone shorter those magazines wouldn’t even exist.

    How are you going to sell digest-sized magazines when you hide them behind full-height stuff?

    How are you going to sell SF & F if you don’t have any in stock?

    I ended up using about half of a $25 gift card. Don’t know if I’ll use the other half or not – it was just… depressing.

    1. Fortunately, those B&N gift cards can be used in the Nook store. [Smile]

    2. “We don’t stock any SF because it doesn’t sell.”

      “You don’t sell any SF because there isn’t any on the shelf.”

      “We can only order what sells.”

      A friend’s wife was an assistant manager at B.Dalton, and she claimed that’s literally how their ordering system worked. Of course that was 20 years ago, but the publishing industry doesn’t change very fast.

      1. Speaking as a former bookstore employee, you *can* game the system, though it takes a while. We started having a monthly “game day” with free play in the cafe, and after a few months our game section (and SF/F section) mysteriously started expanding.

        Mind you, this is before Borders Corporate got upset that there was a store PLANNING EVENTS ON ITS OWN. Gee, cracking down on individuality really worked out well in the end, didn’t it?

        1. Weird. When I was at a W aldenbooks at the “green” level and we were doing business at the “grey” level (2x bigger store) corporate loved us. Though that was in the 80s. We had section specialists who custom ordered additional titles, including a military history guy who was on payroll for 1 hour a week and just put in orders for it. Special events (including the military guy who brought in his old buddy Tom Clancy) that spiked sales were expected.

          I wonder what piece of business school stupidity spiked that model?

          1. The concept that standardization across the stores will help cut your costs. And cutting costs with that standardization must have priority.

            Store A might be able to do Event X that’ll boost their sales, but if Store B through N can’t do the same event, it’s not worth the extra cost incurred by A.

            Rampant stupidity, of course.

            1. Oh yeah, got that A LOT when I worked at a convenience store. I think we reset the entire store five times in seven years as someone at corporate got a new idea. They’d come in and be absolutely confused why we could sell more merch than their ‘busy’ stores two states over and barely break even. It’s simple, people around here don’t buy X, they buy Y and W, which they can get down the street. We have to sub-supply from a local distributor to get Y and W because you refuse to carry it for us, so it costs more.

        1. Jerry, I live in L.A. I guess there are five within thirty miles of me, searching for their locations, but otherwise i wouldn’t know because all the locations I used to go to are gone.

    3. Fortunately, the B&N in my area has a very well-stocked SF&F section. Weber, Ringo, Flint, Butcher, et. al (plus a lot of paranormal romance drek, but whatever.) No sign of Analog, though.

      1. The last time I went in a B&N was for a signing/reading by an author whose stuff I like (also a friend). They seriously underestimated the chairs needed for the audience, which is excellent, and though they had clearly pore-ordered more for the author, it wasn’t enough; they ran out of some books, including the hardcovers and new releases.

        (My merchant heart wails when this happens, as I learned long ago that a perfect world results in having 1 of everything left after an event: you don’t have excess stock tying up capital, but you also don’t leave any money in customer’s wallets that they wanted to give to you. Yes, I used to be a boothie.)

        A quick perusal of their bookshelf revealed a roughly 30 percent stocking by Baen, which is highly interesting given the “move only what sells.”

      2. Look on the top magazine rack shelves for gaps. You won’t be able to see ’em from ground level.

        It’s all part of their cunning plan to eventually grow taller SF fans.

  6. Regarding the shrinking pie, I have a question: Do these sales figures include USED book sales? Thanks to Alibris, Amazon, Bookfinder, etc. I’ve been buying a lot more old books lately (and I’m sure other people who previously would have horded them ’til they died are making a little spending money cleaning out their attics). I just ordered a hardbound ex-library copy of Satan’s World for my next sci-fi read, for example. I’m sure places like would also be a factor in increasing the consumption of books that are not new-releases.

    1. I’m sure they don’t. Firstly, it’s a very hard number to track. There are a lot of small independent used book stores out there. Second, the whole used book thing is something the Tradpubs wish would just go away. It makes them no revenue whatsoever and is seen as eating into that fixed pie they’re so fond of.

  7. The reason they don’t sell is that they’re not selling the stuff I am willing to buy, plain and simple.

    Couple of examples, here: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden series. They were out of print and unable to get new stuff out, because the “geniuses” at the big publishing houses more-or-less decided they weren’t good sales prospects. Huh. I’ve bought everything they’ve ever written in the Liaden universe, and for the longest time, I thought they were dead or quit writing. Nope–Turns out, the dumb people they were publishing with made a deliberate decision not to buy more Liaden. Well, whatever they did buy in their place apparently didn’t sell very well, either, but they are going strong over at Baen–Despite their somewhat left-of-center politics. Go figure.

    Same-same with P.C. Hodgell. Some idiot decided she wasn’t worth publishing, back in the day. I’d buy anything she wrote, and have–And, thank God Baen picked her up.

    Those are two lines, right there, that I think are decent sellers for Baen, and which were abandoned by the “bigs”. Dumbasses. And, they wonder why the crap they are buying won’t sell, while they abandon proven authors. Publishing has become a lot like the music industry, where they are trying to “create” and manage new authors while abandoning the old, because as an author gets more experienced and “better”, they cost more. They’d apparently rather have a rotating stable of the “new”, than one filled with steady producers. So, screw the lot of them–I’ve just informed TOR and Macmillan that everything they publish is off my buying list until they’ve purged the company of these immature political idiots they’ve provided employment for. So, sadly, good-bye to Steven Ericson and the Malazan Empire, along with the other stuff of theirs I like. Hope the authors find other imprints, because so long as they’re at TOR, I’m done with their works.

    1. the music analogy fits well because there too, many are now going around the Trad industry and going alone, and making “less” while making more. Yeah, their over all sales $$s are down but total sales numbers are doing well, thus they keep far more of it and are doing better and the Trad places hate them for that

    2. Baen isn’t so much right wing as capitalist – if you make them money, they like you. You might be a red commie who’ll try to nationalize them as soon as the revolution starts, but until then, they’ll publish you.

      1. What? You’re saying that Baen publishes your work based on its marketability instead of your politics, your gender, or the color of your skin?
        How dare they!

      2. Hey, my intro to Baen was Mother of Demons, so thank g-d they’ll publish Eric!

  8. There has been push back from some folks in the anti-SP ‘verse that publishing is not down, that sales are fine, that SP’s statements that they are trying to invigorate interest are both false and unneeded.

    Has anyone posted metrics driven info other than AMZN sales rankings and some Bookscan numbers? I suspect that it is hard to get first hand industry data, so proxies have to be used (thus AMZN and BS), but this should be an easy issue to objectively prove or disprove.

    If this is already addressed, I apologize for the repeat. Any links to answers are genuinely appreciated.

    1. It is very hard to get industry figures -which is why the proxies. The proxies (particularly the erosion of the share of Amazon revenue) are hard to deny. However there is one measure which can be considered: are the trad pubs taking on staff or letting people go? I know of at least two prominent senior editors who have been ‘let go to pursue other interests’ (besides Frenkel) who appear to have done nothing wrong, particularly, in the last five years. I did read a PW piece saying there was quite a lot of attrition… aha. Search and ye shall find – – they had a bloodbath in 09 – but it has continued a steady decline since then. That’s not an industry doing well.

        1. And the first folk they let go at the newspapers are the copy editors and the local beat folk. Which is why my mom is wont to say, “It’s a pity we don’t have a local newspaper.” (Which I *don’t* say in front of the friend who works at said newspaper.)

  9. Here is the deep dark secret plan that anyone can follow to become filthy rich. Stole it off Toni W. when she wasn’t looking. It’s OK though, she stole it from Jim Baen.
    Create a product that people want.
    Set a price for it that people can afford.
    Most important, let people know that the product exists and how to get it.
    Sit back and watch the money roll in.
    Baen does this.
    More than a few writers are doing this as well through mostly Amazon.
    Tradpub seems to be following a slightly different path:
    Create products that support their long held beliefs and a progressive agenda.
    Charge all that the market will bear, and then some. Set e-book prices at or above paper, it’s just a fad anyway, and won’t be around much longer.
    Tell potential customers that what you’re selling is what they should be reading and they are bad people if they don’t like your products.
    Sit back and watch your industry crumble into dust.

    1. Set a price for it that people can afford.

      Ebook prices for regular books are maddening. I don’t know what they think they are doing, but if your kindle price for a 20 year old book is more than the paperback would cost at target? I am going to the library.

      Even more maddening are the books they won’t even bother putting on kindle because of licensing issues or laziness. I went looking for some old mary stewart and it wasn’t even available. Luckily, I realized I had an old hardback in my library.

      1. Assuming Target has a copy of the book. I’m no expert, but I suspect there’s just no perceived need to discount the ebook to move product, since it’s not taking up shelf space; people buy it or not.

        I agree completely on the books that are not available. As soon as McCaffrey’s Dragonsong and Dragonsinger are kindleized, I’m buying them.

      2. For some older things there’s a divide point… if it was never in digital, they actually have to re-do the type setting, quite possibly re-do the cover art and many other things. If it’s too old to have started digital (or who have no surviving digital copies), but too new to be public domain, I expect to pay a little more for the e-book, simply because of the work that had to be RE-done to get it on digital. Same reason I don’t mind paying a little for even some of the out of print stuff when it’s clear that effort was put into making the Ebook out of one (or often many) physical books and making it readable rather than just a quick scan and converted PDF. (Or unconverted.)

  10. Sigh. Data analysis and forecast in the absence of hard data is a dark art if you make an honest attempt at it. Here any data is hard to come by. We can, however, make the following observations:

    Literature for entertainment must compete will all other forms of entertainment.

    Literature distribution has practically collapsed from the days that every grocery store had a magazine and book rack on par with the smaller Wally Worlds of today. Circa 1970s, I could pick up the SF mag of my choice everywhere from drug stores to convenience stores, and I bought more than a few SF books from the latter.

    Even in the 1970s there was a pinch going on, a combination of rising print prices due to paper, ink, labor, and fuel costs. It’s gotten worse since then.

    As readership dropped due to rising print prices, distribution was cut back in response to falling sales. At this point all SF & F works had less exposure, and with less exposure you have less advertisement by association. Less advertisement and impulse buys (the later through lack of availability and increased costs) means a greater disadvantage in comparison to other forms of entertainment, which has glitter to spare.

    Now we’ve entered the broadband age, where people are sifting from entertainment that previously competed for Joe’s Beer Money to lower or no cost. Note that high-end video games for the PC isn’t doing all that hot in these days of Angry Birds.

    All this means is that the pie is shrinking as more people look for entertainment elsewhere to the point that the idea of reading for fun is downright alien.

    Now we get to the fight between ebooks and traditional press. The problem is that there’s a price barrier to ebooks in the form of the reader. Granted that barrier is a lot lower these days, and people who have other hand-held devices have the option of installing an app to read it on tablets or whatever. Yet that price for device represents a major hurdle for Joe’s Beer Money, and if Joe can’t afford a tablet, he’s not going to download an app.

    That’s also where traditional press has fouled up. Since the ability to purchase some form of reader translates into a certain income “floor,” they feel they can charge premium prices for ebooks. Here is where the indies are eating their lunch, for reader devices are cheaper these days, representing a lower “floor.”

    Yet even if Joe can afford a reader, he’s not going to shell out for one unless he already likes reading. That’s where the shrinking pie lies. Joe could spring for a fancy phone and spend his money to watch cat videos.

    And if you accept this as gospel, I’m got a dandy bridge I’d like to, ahem, I mean, I’m open to consultant work. The sad thing is absent hard data, this doesn’t even enter SWAG territory.

    What I do know from observation is two things:
    1. Fewer people are reading for entertainment.
    2. With any new campaign or product, adoption or sales tend to follow a logarithmic curve, with the greatest growth up front that tapers off..

    1. The entry cost is zero if Joe already has a smartphone, or if he needs one for other purposes, or has a PC and doesn’t mind reading at home. I think this has a lot to do with the failure of the premium pricing. E-book readers aren’t necessarily rich or even well off.

      1. I think this has a lot to do with the failure of the premium pricing. E-book readers aren’t necessarily rich or even well off.

        1. My kindle was 60 bucks.
        2. Even if I can afford 10 dollars for a paperback, if you price my kindle book too high I am going to balk, because it irritates me that I can get it cheaper in print. Guess what guys? The library is free.
        3. There are hundreds of fantastic classics available on kindle for free. I could read for ages and never pay a dime.

        1. Lea, my (by me) is that if I give good value at a relatively trivial price – less than coffee here, and people enjoy _MY_ books, I’ll still get customers. Especially if the first fix is free.

          1. I think I have a price set in my head for ‘paperbacks’ at target that I have extended to kindle books, and anything more that than for a book that should be in paperback (ie, not brand new) bugs me. I think that price point is around 6 bucks.

      2. Make that willing to read on a PC. The Baen Free Library predated all of this, and Project Gutenberg predated that. I never liked reading on a PC. As a result, I didn’t really sample the Free Library until I got a refurbished Kindle.

    2. The idea that non-casual games are in trouble is… silly. The issue is that EA and Activision think that games with a budget of over 250 million dollars should be regular moneymakers and all they should concentrate on in the AAA side of their business with everything else going free to play microtransactions. Which is insane for obvious reasons.

      1. This is a seriously ignorant person asking (I have no games on my PC, simply because I know I’d be really bad at resisting things I enjoy, and I need to work) but is there a split happening? Serious gamers in one region (and price bracket) and the rest in the cheap or free?

        1. I dunno. But video games before recent times already had a much wider variation than novels.

          I haven’t been able to get saves working on Shonen Idle, a game played using the Unity plug in in a browser, which is free and funded by ads. I’m losing interest in Billy Versus SNAKEMAN, a browser log in (no cookies or javascript) ad funded game that is a side job of a guy who runs a game shop in up state New York. This evening I looked up NetHack, and some other stuff, which is an open source free roguelike.

          I got ahold of Command and Conquer Renegade as a bargain pack, and played it years after it was current.

          I’ve looked up Kantai Collection, which is big now, and decided I could afford the money but not the time.

          I just saw a thread over at Moe Lane where folks discussing recent showings at E3 guessed that maybe there was a reason to switch to current hardware.

          Anyway, just a few anecdotes, poorly organized, which do not show or explain the range. There are people succeeding well enough doing stuff EA reportedly won’t touch.

          A lot of money is still in hardcore gamers, but not everyone selling to them is big money. Touhou is really big, and was essentially produced by an Indy. It is made by a guy known as ZUN, and I think he may have started out selling copies at comiket or something.

          Consoles and high end gaming PCs are still viable platforms for selling games whose market is too narrow to qualify as AAA.

          Then there is the innovation Vox Day is attempting.

      2. I always head for electronics in WallyWorld just to keep a heads up on prices. The PC games software has dried up, even the disks of cheap games. That’s rather interesting.

    3. > Literature for entertainment must compete will all
      > other forms of entertainment.

      Not precisely.

      I’m generally looking for a specific sort of entertainment. Not just “a book”, but a specific kind of book. Certainly not a comic book, a “graphic novel”, a movie, choral singing, skateboarding, deep sea fishing, Nintento, or dominoes.

      “Entertainment” isn’t a zero-sum system; most of the separate types of entertainment are independent of each other.

      1. You’ve already decided that this specific form of entertainment will get your dollar. You’ve budgeted for it out of disposable income, which is a set number. That’s not always the case. Someone who basically is looking for a fun time killer without a concrete idea as to what, books is only a potential if they think of it at all.

        Here’s a non-scientific survey you can do: The next time you’re in WallyWorld or the Bullseye, just notice the number of people in the books section, then compare it to those looking at DVDs.

    1. Test failed. There was something to see there. Your cloaking device appears to be inoperative. Reset and try again. (Might be a glitch in the visual-redirection interface. Or your battery was below threshold.) 😀

  11. Since it’s a bit quiet, can anyone recommend a forum where us ignorant newbs can ask annoyingly simple Indie questions? Yes, this is a great place to learn about Indie publishing, but it’s something like a conference devoted to a specific subject and you get to ask questions on that topic. Is there a good place that’s more of an open floor model?

    1. Good question. I know I’ve quoted from one. Anyone else got an address? At a pinch you can PM me on facebook with specific questions (please be reasonable. I have a business to run, books to write, too)

      1. All it was this time was an author’s profile. Rolling my own epub from HTML, XML, and CSS was a snap in comparison. This fills me with as much dread as triple checking my table calculations, and whether I should add a disclaimer. It’s non-fiction.

      1. A belated thanks. Went ahead and slapped together a short one-paragraph bio, and since then I’ve been pulling my hair out triple-checking calculations. I had them set up in a spreadsheet, but even so. And I resolve one thing: If I do another non-fiction book, I’m keeping meticulous index-cards notes and not just a bibliography of sources.

        1. This is undoubtedly a funny suggestion (and I’m biased, being a mathematician), but I’d suggest trying LaTeX, and suggest using AMSRefs instead of BibTeX for both bibliographies and references.

          For better and for worse, LaTeX is a different experience when it comes to typesetting. As a general rule, if you don’t mind LaTeX’s defaults for typesetting, it’s fantastic, but if you try to deviate from defaults, it can get very painful very quickly. Also, I’ve noticed that it can be a pain to create mathematical formulas…but compared to the various formula editors I’ve tried, it’s a world above them!

          Oh, and I love “beamer” far more than I do OpenOffice Presenter or PowerPoint…

          Of course, your mileage may vary, especially if you’re not a mathematician, but then, I’ve also discovered that if I’m writing something *not* mathematical, it’s actually even easier to use…

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