Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I know a little more about revolutions than normal people. My teen years were a festival of revolution and counter-revolution. To this day, I can’t hear the theme song to Green Acres without feeling unsettled and wondering who is in charge now. Green Acres? You say. Yes, indeed. You see, when the new revolution du jour took over the main television studios, the secondary – normally redistribution – studios in Porto were left to fend with what they had and avoid dead air. And what they had was ONE episode of Green Acres. So, before any announcement were made, we knew there had been a revolution and would sit around the TV, wondering what was going on and who it was who’d grabbed power this time.

(And before you decide to hum the theme song of Green Acres at me at cons, let me tell you it’s a very bad idea. So bad, in fact, my husband has stopped doing it. ‘Nough said.)

Meanwhile you’re wondering why I’m sitting here, telling you about my life. Well, I’ll explain. There is something leftover from this sort of thing. Something that longs for security – almost – at all costs and that dreads and hates unsettled futures. Something that had me in the car and buying a truckload of food an hour after the second plane hit the towers – because food in the pantry is security, you know? Something irrational and a bit feral. Something that makes me more than a little insane when I am out of contract for books, for instance. Something that perhaps hampers my career because the idea of going e-only or self-publishing anything makes me clench my hands on the seat like Athena in that flycar in Darkship Thieves.

Think of it as a psychological seismograph. I feel movements that will cause insecurity or turmoil long before most people do. And for the last five years, the publishing world has been driving me as insane as a cat on a hot tin roof.

I could feel the forces when no one else seemed to worry about them. Online buying; ebooks (I confess I expected these to take longer, mostly due to reader tech); self publishing made easy and perhaps profitable. I could feel the tremors no one else seemed to feel. I could see that bookstores were not stocking by and large what the reading public wanted. Oh, a segment of the reading public, sure. But readers are not theater goers (I don’t mean that literally. I know a lot of people read and go to movies. I’ve been known to.) There are no multitudes of them. You can’t do a “teen book” that appeals ONLY to teens and sell as much as a teen movie that appeals only to teens. Teen books, like Harry Potter, say, do best if they appeal from early readers onto elderly readers. Following the Hollywood model, where publishing – and especially distribution – pursued the new-new thing relentlessly was always part of it, but lately it had become obsessive. I could see that what I call the “name change dance” was turning readers off. (It was turning me off. It was no longer find a new author, make a friend for life. No. By the time I bought that book, my discovery was likely already unemployed or had changed names. Untraceable.)

Now the seismic shocks have become so obvious that everyone can feel them, except perhaps some publishing executives with hands over ears in the back room saying it's just the sound of running feet in the basement.

Is this good or bad? And what comes next?

Both and who knows? It will be good if publishing adapts, if publishers become brands, if they come up with creative models to shift their costs around so that it won’t matter if their print books aren’t selling and ebooks are. It could be very freeing, because readers could actually have a lot more control over what they get to read. And perhaps reading will become cool and hip and the profession of writing healthy again. It could be terrible if they don’t adapt quickly – remember most of them are giants – and fail, and nothing else grows fast enough to replace them. As readers we’ll end up having to wade through piles and piles of self-published slush to find a nugget of gold. And as writers... well... there will be no security at all.

Revolutions, after all, can be good or bad. (One of my after-effects is that I read about revolutions, compulsively.) Every revolution can be like the American revolution, the French, or even – shudder – the Russian. And the beginning is no guarantee of the end.

Right now, we’re in the middle of the revolution, and we can’t tell. Right now, we’re all sitting in front of the TV while that same episode of Green Acres plays again and again, and we’re wondering how it will all turn out and if we’ll be winners or enemies of the revolution. So we stay quiet, and we sit here, waiting, waiting. Sooner or later there will be an announcement. Will it be good for us? Or bad? Yeah, some of our colleagues are in the street, cheering on one or the other side, but they don’t know either, who’ll win out. They’re just betting their (professional) lives.

There’s a song by Chris De Bourgh I’m very fond of. (Indulge me, I was kissed for the first time to a Chris de Bourgh song.) Lately I’ve been listening to it a lot. Listen to the beginning “Wake up, boys, there’s a light at the window/I can hear someone knocking on the door/there are voices in the street and the sound of running feet/And they whisper the word revolution. ” and “Like a whisper in the wind/revolution.” And then: “Is anything changed at all/sweet liberty/sweet liberty is in our hands/it’s a part of the plan/or is it a state of mind/horses and men/horses and men are on the field/They didn’t yield/Many have fallen here/Never forget/Never forget what they have done/The time will come/When it will change again.”

There will be victims. There are in each revolution. Something will be lost that’s never found again. Other things will be gained that might not become obvious for years, perhaps for decades. Our own view on what changed and whether its for the best or not will change.

Right now, none of us can tell how it will turn out. We don’t have crystal balls. We can however get paranoid and scared and hurt ourselves and others. We can run our mouths and percipitate the fall of the regime, not knowing what will follow. Or we can support the regime and end up against the wall when the revolutionaries win. Either way, there's no safety anywhere.

I tell myself no revolution that brings me free books on the kindle, which has allowed me to discover countless new authors, can be all bad. I know in my heart it can’t be all good. I worry that we’ll become a splintered public, supporting so many niche authors that none of them can be a bestseller or even make a living. Yet I like getting what I want when I want. I like the fact that quite small niche authors can make a living on line. I like the choice. And yet Alvin Toffler's prosumer sounds like a lovely idea, until you realize that the prosumers have to live from something.

What do each of you think he or she will gain from the revolution? What do each of you think he/she will lose? What will the brave new world look like? An endless array of kiosks selling everything from sweet Amish Romances to Alien Porn? Exploding spaceships to pacifist, feminist literature? Or just by virtue of bigger bandwidth, an endless array of porn and true crime mags?

Sweet Liberty, Sweet Liberty is in our hands... It’s part of the plan.
Green Acres is the place to be/Farm living is the life for me..........


Ori Pomerantz said...

Sarah: I worry that we’ll become a splintered public, supporting so many niche authors that none of them can be a bestseller or even make a living. Yet I like getting what I want when I want. I like the fact that quite small niche authors can make a living on line.

Ori: Can you define "small" and "make a living"? It's arguable, for example, whether Dave Freer is a professional author who supplements his income by being a hunter/gatherer, or a professional hunter/gatherer, who supplements his catch by being an author.

Your most important point, IMHO, is this: "I like getting what I want when I want". Nobody will make any money except by giving you that. This means an even more fractured market, as you said.

However, one of the things people want is community. By tying your books into a community somehow, you might be able to overcome the fracturing. Baen's bar and this blog are good examples of this.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Arghh, Sarah. Now I can't get the theme song out of my head. We didn't have revolutions, but I think our local TV station must have been very stingy about buying new shows. They replayed interminable episodes of Green Acres, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched (I didn't mind) and Hogan's Heroes. Sigh.

We are interested in the idea of e-books here in Australia, but they are still a novelty. I saw someone reading an e-book on their i-phone today on the train.

C Kelsey said...

I have a friend who is very much on the Apple fan-wagon (to the point that he's developing apps for the iPhone just because he can). He is saying now that Apple's iBooks program is going to open it's library to anyone who wants to put something on it. No need for professional editing, no different/newer/better eyes looking at your work. Just write something and *poof* it's suddenly for sale to the masses of Apple lovers (and 7.3 million iPad's by the end of the year). When he told me that, I can only think of how many mistakes I make in my writing, and how many mistakes others make. Eek!

OTOH, I am imagining a well known author (or at least a author with many publications) who has written something not in his usual genre that nobody wants to professionally publish. The iBook think might be an interesting experiment to see of the general public would buy something like that.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, great post, even if you did stick that stoooopid song in my head. Is this my payback for sticking you with "feed my, Seymore, feed me" last night?

I think you are right on two main points. The public is going to see an increase in niche authors. But as Dave said earlier, the issue then becomes how to find them as a reader and how, as an author, to promote your book.

You are also right about how how nice it is to get what you like when you like. That's where, in my opinion, e-books will be so important. You don't have to wait for stores to open or for a book to be ordered and sent from the local warehouse. You simply go online, find the book and pay for it. Seconds later, it's on your e-reader of choice.

Frankly, I think the next "revolution" is going to be not the fall-out from the agency model and the investigations certain states and, if my info is right, the feds are now conducting but from the need for a common programming language for e-books and the final decision on DRM. I think we will soon see DRM go by the wayside for the most part (at least I hope so). But we will also see the final shakedown between .spub and .mobi and other formats until one becomes industry standard.

Finally, I think Ori hit the nail on the head about readers also wanting community. Baen's Bar is a good example. So is the kindle community forum at Amazon. Until publishers realize that readers want to "talk" to other readers and to authors, they will always be losing out on a major "branding" opportunity.

Mike said...

Since this was another mention of Amish Romances, I thought I should check... and sure enough, Dr. Google gave me several links. Bonnet books? Heck, the Wall Street Journal knows about them.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, what Apple is offering is really no different from what Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer now. The problem with that is, as Dave's said, getting folks to know you've put something up. I can't talk with much knowledge about the B&N program, but on Amazon, the kindle community encourages self-published authors and small press authors to let the "community" know about the new e-book. There are monthly threads to help promote your book. That said, if you start a thread announcing your new book, you'll get slammed. Worse, or better depending on your point of view, if the book is poorly written or formatted, it will be noted not only on the forum but also in the reviews. So, while the stinkers are there -- but let's face it, the big publishers have their fair share of them as well -- they don't tend to get sales as a general rule. This is also where the free preview comes in handy. For me it's like reading slush. If your first chapter or so doesn't grab me, I'm not going to spend money to buy the book.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Well, with some adjustments in how authors get paid (and there are a lot fewer middle men in epubs) it should be possible to "make a living" for a given definition from a tenth the book sales.

As for community, amen and not just for books. we're going to need communities on line. Blogs and forums are early forms, I think.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I suspect you're about five to ten years behind us in ebooks. Probably only five, to be honest. So, pay attention, it's coming.
Part of the problem is that ebooks were the "hot thing" in the nineties, until it became obvious they were only the hot thing top down because no one liked reading on their computers. So, when the real revolution came, the people on top had already dismissed the possibility by the same method they dismiss book ideas at times. "No, we tried a conductor-detective with this book, ten years ago, and it failed big. The idea is clearly bad. We don't want to read any." Even in books, the deffects in logic are glaring. In technology, they're fatal. But they're having trouble getting their heads out of their familiar mode.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Whenever talking to Apple heads, it helps to treat them as a small but fanatic religious sect. Yeah, the ipad will have some effect on ebooks, but I still suspect it will never be primarilly or even strongly used as an ebook reader.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Yeah, payback is a female dog! :)

And a common format is devoutly to be wished for. That and the ability to share between a number of gadgets registered as a "household." Right now, for ex. my younger kid reads on a nokkia 770. I want to lend him my PTerry which I bought on kindle. And there's simply no way to do that. And while I understand reservations on lending outside the house, in the house it should be on same terms as other books.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Cheer up. I didn't believe they existed when I first heard of them, either. And there are CONSIDERABLY more "niche" markets, too.

Anonymous said...

But we used to support all those midlist authors. And there aren't any fewer of us than there used to be.

I remember the wire spinner racks in the corner stores. I knew which ones to go to for the kind of stuff I wanted to read. The distributors didn't stock all the same thing in every rack. They knew the one by the college had different customers than the one by the beauty shop or the tobacconist. Give us the books at a decent price for a college student or a housewife who has to feed four kids, and we'll buy them again.

E-books need to clump up and be easy to search by genre and even subgenre. We readers will eventually find the e-stroes with the racks that stock our kind of book. It'll be tough starting from scratch, but we can do it.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, it actually needs to go a bit further, imo, than being able to share books in a household. Right now, publishers determine how many devices an e-book can be "licensed" to. In other words, if I buy an e-book from Publisher X, I can read it on my e-book reader (EBR). I can even download it to another EBR registered to my account. BUT, for Book A I may be able to download it to 4 devices while Book B can be downloaded to 6 devices but Book C can only be downloaded to 2 devices. AND the EBR has to be registered with the storefront I'm buying the e-book from. The problem -- DRM. Evil day, hopefully, publishers will realize they are only promulgating piracy instead of preventing it with DRM.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Ah, but midlist then is bestsellers now. Midlist now has small laydown. So small, in fact, that there is little room to grow. Hence, my often finding out about a series AFTER the third is out and the author has been given a pink slip through lack of numbers.
And there there's another twist -- would the numbers of "midlist" sales grow or fall with easier availability. I mean, the fact is, no one can buy what she doesn't know exists. If she knows it exists, she'll buy it. Often, particularly in mystery, it has seemed to me decrees come from above. Such as in the nineties cozies were determined to be "not valid forms of mystery" and "old fashioned" and no one accepted them. But I would still read them if I could find them, and so, I presume would the other hard and fast cozy readers. Same with historicals in the oughts. OF course market found a way. It does. We got fluffly craft-mysteries for cozies, and we got the cottage industry about tudor women. BUT I -- as a primary reader of both sub genres -- preferred the former, more unfettered variety.
And you touch on another thing. DST has been doing well in the stores, but I was shocked to find that the decisions on what to stock and for how long are made nationally. I already knew for some chains the decisions are made for "the tri-state area". As someone who spends considerable time both in Denver and Colorado Springs, I can tell you those markets are like oil and water. Heck, they are WITHIN Col. Springs too. Walmart stocks different things at the west, working-class end and the north, suburban store. But bookstores MUST by decree shelve the same books? Who thinks that's a good idea. No wonder people are buying on line more and more.
And in that sense, the distribution sense, it's possible that well... the same readers will support more authors. Because I used to read five or six books a day, before I got discouraged by the speed dating -- now here, then gone -- reading new authors had become and started mostly re-reading. If I could find the books I want to read, I daresay I would read a lot more. And if I were reasonably assured -- barring, you know, anvils from the sky or walking pneumonia -- there would be more in the series or from author.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I completely agree with you on the free preview. It's one of the reasons I love my Kindle, or as Dan told someone who asked him how I liked it "I never see her without it in her hands."
And by and large, I do just that. Look it over, not like it, delete. Very easy.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

It's not just DRM. I am convinced publishers are scared -- no blame on them, there, we are too. But instead of figuring out the best way to get around the new tech and make money, they think they can stop the flood by making everyone's life unpleasant.
As everyone who has studied revolutions knows, this is what makes a revolution turn unpleasant. Which is too bad, since I think there's much in the ancien regime to be admired and that this might get rid of those things that have impaired it these last twenty years.

Synova said...

The answer pretty much has to be e-books and back-lists, doesn't it? I would think that Amazon has been around long enough to provide some actual data on buying patterns and back-list availability.

Maybe I'm wrong but it seems to me that "finding a new author" is all about back-lists. No one, not even Charlie Stross or the most prolific category romance maven, writes fast enough to have it be about future publications. A reader ends up waiting. And while the internet and what-all could do a lot to provide notification of new publications for people who are fans it takes a person far more dedicated than I am to maintain the excitement about that next book for a whole year.

When I discovered Lois Bujold I read her whole back-list as quickly as I could find them. A friend of mine started reading Sukie Stackhouse, a book a day, until she'd read them all the way to the most recent, in one big chunk. When I read my first Georgette Heyer I read every single one I could find as quickly as I could find them. For my son I've bought all the "Myth" books in a mad rush, all the Piers Anthony Xanth up to about 14 or so all at once, and now he's only missing a couple of Terry Pratchet before he's read all that are available. When my husband finds an author he likes he wants whole trilogies or series. He'll go in spurts, not reading fiction at all and then reading everything from one author and then not reading again. My younger daughters do exactly the same.

I don't think that this unusual.

Maybe affordable print-on-demand is an option, and maybe it is more possible with computer tracking to warehouse regular paperbacks, and maybe e-book availability can take up the slack.

But this doesn't seem *difficult*. Do you know what I mean? Unless the readers I know and I are entirely abnormal, giving the customer what they want and making it as easy as possible for them to get what they want *and* making money doing it should be easier than ever.

Synova said...

If they're going to do DRM and lease the book to you perhaps the thing to do is make it like a video rental, like on-demand or netflix. Charge a small fee, small enough that there is little risk to the customer if they decide the book is a stinker, and then give them a week to read it and *poof*, all gone.

Make it really easy to "check-out" novels, read, but not keep them.

If the price of rental is low enough many people will check-out more novels than they will read or will get busy and have to re-rent. But they will feel like they're getting a good deal and they will be happy.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Synova, isn't it great when you discover an author you like and they have a whole back list you can devour!

Dave Freer said...

Ori - I'd like to move to being a professional hunter-gatherer, who suppliments his catch by being an author. Reason? That way around it's actually my own mistakes and my own inabilty that I KNOW are the problem - and I can do something about. I like being in control of my own destiny, and I like a little security.

Sarah, Amanda et al complaining about the narrowing of the offering - Eileen Gittins of Blurb

"The problem is that the cost of printing is a minor cost of publishing whereas developing work with an author and marketing it consume the lion’s share of costs.

That means, she said, that the book industry will become more like the movie business. “The book publishing industry is becoming more blockbuster focused,” she said." Read More

Remind me again how well hollyweird is doing (despite all the advantages it had)

for another classic quote from the same article (spew warning)...

Susan Petersen Kennedy, president of Penguin Group USA, said publishers will not make the same mistakes as the music industry, which had an epic struggle over electronic distribution and piracy and lost huge market share.

“It’s always treated as if the publishers are the Luddites,” she told Reuters in an interview. “The devices have not caught up with the content. Contrary to popular opinion, the book is actually so far more flexible.”

I'm hearing things... a faint echo of 'la la la';-)

Dave Freer said...

(smile) Synova, I am to blame for introducing Sarah and Kate to Georgette Heyer. Studying her repartee is my commendation to all would-be writers. Backlists are wonderful - if you have them. Publishing-at-present is trending away from that(outside of Baen who do run counter to many stupid 'trends'- this one in particular. Could this be because Toni Weisskopf is a Heyer collector? Does this indicate higher intellect? ;-)).

Amanda Green said...

Dave, perhaps she means that a book is physically more flexible than an EBR. After all, you can open it, fold the cover back, fold pages and, if the book is small enough, roll it so it will fit in your pocket. You just can't do that with an EBR without breaking it.

And that sound you heard wasn't "la, la la". It was the sound of buggy whips snapping in the breeze.

As for publishers not making the same mistakes as the music industry, well, sorry, they have. Plus they are making new ones as well. All I can say is I'm glad I've never been one to like the status quo and who has always loved bucking the system.

Synova said...

Obviously new authors aren't born with back-lists, but it seems to me (as an unpublished but hopeful person) that building a list is possible in the lower or midrange, probably more possible than writing a blockbuster.

I suppose that keeping stories "in print" dilutes the market since readers won't have to do with what is on the shelf in the bookstore or do without. But that's already the case.

Dave Freer said...

Synova - I hoping that POD (at an affordable, and fast-delivered rate) will make it possible to keep both paper and e-books availible indefinitely (although I would say this calls for are-write of contracts). I think it would only 'dilute' the market - if the market was saturated. But lets face it, we all read faster than our favorites write! And so many people just don't read anymore at all, and so many never start. The market for the right book/right person isn't even damp, let alone saturated. Good luck with the getting in. Perseverance is the most important thing - and I believe things are shaking out and there could be some great opportunities in the short/medium future.

Anonymous said...

Actually the Hollywood model - of sorts - might be what happens. Just as Hollywood takes bestselling books and tries to make movies out out them, traditional publishers may wind up picking what books to print by how well they sold as e-books.

The profitability of that will depend on how large the reading public is that won't e-read, and whether there is a difference in tastes in books between the e-readers and the print readers.

Chris McMahon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris McMahon said...

Well, the only thing I can be sure of is a good ride. I see all this a bit like rough surf.

I've turned up at the beach, ready to go in with the board, but the beach is rough. There have been storms in the night, and there are rips out there - unseen - that will drag you down. Every now and then I see big waves - good waves - but the surf is just too damn scrappy to get to them. I know I am guaranteed to get that board slammed into my face, to get dumped, to get pounded, to get seawater up my nose and down my throat and probably a cracked skull. I also know if I get out there I am guaranteed SOME sort of a ride.

Does it matter?

I've driven all this way to get wet. So in I go . . .

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Unfortunately at this moment the only back list I control are my short stories.

I too read everything I can find by an author I discover, and I did the same with Heyer and recently with another author whose book I first found by accident.

I believe the problem is inventory and its being taxed as "tools and supplies." Stupid laws strike again.

In fact, having an author's backlist out of print is one of the strangest things publishing do. Right now most books go out of print at the year mark or when they've earned the advance. Period.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Dear Dave,

You are so write on having control over the results of your work. let's not be stupid, most modern professions are NOT meritocracies. But there is some correlation between ability and result, between what you do and how well the product does. In writing these are almost completely divorced except on the final stage. IF your book gets an audience; IF it's picked up; IF it reaches enough readers, then the quality is important to please the reader. Not exactly complaining. It is the way it is. BUT it gives us very little control over our own success or failure.

As for the book still being better -- Oh, ARGH. The thing is everyone who thinks this and gets a reader as a gift changes opinions over night. Yeah, the readers ARE all that. Not only that, but they give me the opportunity to do something I always wanted to and haven't been able to unless I'm re-reading. Say I'm in the mood for a silly Romance. If I drive out to the store and buy it -- if they have one! -- I might not have time to read afterwards. And if I order from online it will be two days, and by then I might be in a mystery mood. Now, as I contemplate bed time, I can go "you know, I feel like a thriller" and have it in my hands in seconds.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


And I infected Amanda with Heyer. Also, my older son. And Toni told me to study Heyer for plot -- which I was already doing. She was right, too. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

"Actually the Hollywood model - of sorts - might be what happens. Just as Hollywood takes bestselling books and tries to make movies out out them, traditional publishers may wind up picking what books to print by how well they sold as e-books."
This is almost inevitable. However the truth is they picked the Hollywood model long ago, to an extent. They pursue authors for youth and looks for instance. This is beyond insane. Yeah, it can work for some books, for some audiences. But I for one, as representative of crotchety middle aged readers, couldn't give a rat's behind what an author looks like. I want to spend time in the same room with PTerry and listening to him read and talk because of what's in HIS MIND, not because of his looks, which I hope he forgives me saying are no great shakes. Growing up I had the greatest crush on Heinlein, who could have been my grandfather. Seriously, it takes effort to understand the kind of mind who thinks we care.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Actually there is a roll-up thin book reader. Dan was telling me about it, with that sort of look that said "I want that."

Actually what I saw was my mom, right after my husband proposed -- no, I am NOT making this up -- with hands over her ears screaming "I can't hear you." My dad had to tell her to stop being a toddler. However, Penguin is one of my publishers, so I'll say nothing.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


They don't keep our books in print and now, new wrinkle, they don't release our rights, either. It's not our choice. As for what they think they're gaining with this, it's beyond me. Perhaps it is that tax law.

As for new authors not being born with back lists, all I can say is that, yes, indeed, the world is VERY badly arranged.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

As Harry Potter proved, Dave, there is a market out there. now the problem is the kids that were brought to Fantasy by Rowling are running headlong into "serious" and "redeeming" and "literary" fantasy which -- beyond undead porn (though the book I just finished could be called that, mea culpa mea maxima culpa, the sad thing being I didn't even do it for lucre, it just MADE me write it) -- is all that's on the shelves. And they're deciding it's not worth it.
What fools these mortals be.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

(Like the new pic, btw) If you're a strong swimmer and mildly savvyy about not getting into vortexes of water, you'll survive. You might not get the perfect ride, but you'll survive.

If I can, anyone can.

Synova said...

Refusing to release books that are out of print is probably one of those publishing practices that would be improved by a hefty dose of light and air.

Stephen Simmons said...

I honestly think the answer to DRM is a hardware-based fix, rather than a software-based one. Order your e-book and you receive a chip, similar to those tiny GameBoy Advance games my son loves so much, or the memory card for your cell phone. Yes, it's less convenient than instant downloads or print-on-demand, but the compromise would come closest to pleasing everyone: the consumer gets transportability between all of their household's devices, while the seller gets a reasonable degree of assurance that they've only distributed a single copy. Unfortunately, I don't see this happening, even if all of the various hardware producers could agree on a standardized format ...

I clearly remember the first time I ever set foot in the tiny village library back home as a small child, and the overwhelming sense of "So many books! How will I ever find anything?" I see this happeneing to readers in spades if the publishing houses insist on trying to preserve their railroad monopolies in the face of Henry Ford's automobile assembly lines, prompting the writers to flow around them and leave their bones to bleach in the sun. The problem I see is the limitations imposed by Brownian motion in the online marketplace. The book I want will be out there somewhere, but the chances of me bumping into it through my random gyrations in the terabytes of available data will be vanishingly small, no matter how good the search engines become.

That is where the revolution will be defined, I think. In the evolution of a practical method of connecting the demand with the supply. That was essentially the market-niche filled by traditional publishers and bookstores under the existing model, after all. The people who develop effective mechanisms for filling that market need in the electronic marketplace - and those people will emerge, need-based market imperatives always produce them - will sculpt the topography of the industry's new landscape.

Kate said...


You've hit the topic of my post today, more or less :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I don't know if DRM is needed at all. Oh, yes, there will be pirating, but part of the reason things are pirated now, is the challenge. The other part is the sort of people who would never buy a book, but would lift it, buy it used at extreme discount, look being the dumpsters of bookstores for stripped books (I know those last people -- we've been that broke) borrow or get from library.

The thing the current bookstore model which is infecting the publishers' ideas, too, and the distribution system, etc. is completely wrong on is the nature of the book business.

You see, they view books as widgets. Or, as Kate puts it, cans of beans. Each one the same as the other. Other than a vague "field research" which isn't even that but a feeling, that says, say "Beans with meat are selling well" or in this case "Undead porn is hot" or "women want sex and shoes, look at Sex In The City, so lets have lots of mysteries with kicky heroines who are into fashion and have tons of sex" all books are interchangeable to them. They make broad assumptions based on what sold last or even what TV and Movies are doing. And then they stock every store throughout the nation -- or the tri-state area -- with the same books. Let alone that one city has as its main business the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and another Satan Industries and Sex Robots inc. (metaphorically, of course) which attract quite different types of workers to patronize the bookstores.
In the same way, and by the same process, they view readers as any other consumers. If you could replicate cans of beans and never buy one again... well... what percentage of people would do that? Enough to ruin the company, right?
But then no consumer has a particular relationship with Bush's Baked Beans (well, no sane one. I mean, okay, I do attend conventions) and no consumer imagines he knows the mind of the bean maker, establishes a one-side relationship with the bean maker and thinks of him in a proprietary way, so that he worries for the bean maker's health, wonders about his finances, before making a decision on a vote wonders how the bean maker is voting, and feels honored beyond his deserts by being in the same room with the bean maker.

Unless I'm abnormal, this is NORMAL for dedicated readers and author fans. We don't want to defraud the author. Heck, we tend to be downright protective of our favorites. And even those who aren't our favorites, we tend not to wish to hurt. For the longest time, when I was broke, (And I mean stone cold broke. $5 was a lot of money for me, back then) I would acquire books by picking up discards from used bookstores, or stripped books, but then, if the book was even mildly enjoyable, I would take a dollar and mail it to the author. (I wonder what the heck these people thought I was doing :) )

The closest thing to this relationship is the music one. But it's a little different. There's sex in the mix usually. (I love Pratchett. I don't wish to sleep with him.) And there's also the feeling they're all millionaires.

Provided the publishers make it clear they are straight with their authors, give them a fair share, and if the book is stolen the author suffers, I don't think piracy will be a big issue. Baen's model seems to prove that.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Indeed it would -- but if you're under contract to them for other books, you're fighting with your feet in a sack. As I suspect they know...

EvMick said...

"Five or six books a day".....!!!!!!!!!

My gawd !!!!! And here I've freaked people out by doing that in a week. I've always said that taking a speed reading course in High School was the most expensive thing I've ever done.

"If you could replicate cans of beans and never buy one again... well... what percentage of people would do that? "

I would. I suspect most people would.

And here you hit upon the curx of the problem. We are indeed in the midst of a revolution. But what you've all been talking about is the merest eddy among BIGGER things that are happening.

Right now we're neither fish nor fowl. We don't have the security of the Old NOR the security of "what's next".

What IS next? Folks at the ForeSight Institute have been talking about it for years. As are more recently The Singularity Institute and others.

You hit it. Replication. Molecular Manufacturing. People WILL treat beans, and automobiles, and clothes, like any other digital file. Replicate when needed and then stick it in the appropriate device. (put the book file in the reader, the song file in the player, the movie file in the viewer, or the automobile, clothes, food, etc file in the replicator.

We're not quiet there yet but we heading that way at mach speed.

The transisition is uncomfortable.

......and I refuse to Deal with any kind of DRM.