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April 4, 2008

Pity the Times
Posted by Patrick at 12:43 PM *

Yes, it’s another attempt to re-invent book publishing. A fine thing. Experimenting is good. Many things about this industry seem irrational; then again, many of those seeming irrationalities turn out, on examination, to be adaptations to intractable conditions, and thus not so irrational after all. Still, times change, technology changes, public desire changes, and it’s good to try new stuff. Brave new initiative? Evil power grab? Depends. Don’t know.

What I do want to know, however, is how Motoko Rich can be employed by the New York Times to, evidently, report on books and book publishing, and yet still write this:

Mr. Miller, who was most recently president of Hyperion, said he hoped to offer authors a 50-50 split of profits. Typically, authors earn royalties of 15 percent of profits after they have paid off their advances. Many authors never earn royalties.
Actually, as any 23-year-old editorial assistant could have told the New York Times, hardcover authors typically earn royalties of 15 percent of the list price of sold copies. Profits have nothing to do with it; the authors get the royalties whether or not the publisher made any profit at all. The claim that “many authors never earn royalties” is likewise a bit off; the author’s “advance” is in fact an advance payment of the royalties that the publisher expects the book will earn, usually in its first year of publication. But that’s a minor and defensible error, nothing compared to the eye-poppingly ignorant claim that authors are paid based on a percentage of profit.

It’s a shame that the New York Times has such limited resources that it can’t afford to hire reporters or fact-checkers who know anything about trade book publishing, an industry whose largest companies are, of course, headquartered in Tibet, Antarctica, and on the far side of the moon, thousands and thousands of miles from the 43rd Street headquarters of the New York Times.

(Thanks to Constance Ash for noticing this.)

Comments on Pity the Times:
#1 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 02:51 PM:

I got a chuckle from your last paragraph. It does amaze me the
number of people in journalism who are ignorant of publishing. I mean,
surely SOMEBODY in this guy's own newsroom has written a book or two...

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 03:03 PM:

trade book publishing, an industry whose largest companies are, of course, headquartered in Tibet, Antarctica

How are the yak butter and the penguin omelettes this year?

#3 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Serge @2:

How are the yak butter and the penguin omelettes this year?

I heard the polar bears got half and the kangaroos the rest, so no humans were able to report.

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 03:24 PM:

I can honestly say that I haven't read the Times in years, and that at this point anything I read there would require checking a credible source. They've completely pissed away all credibility as far as I'm concerned.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 03:39 PM:

If Dan Poynter doesn't already have those misleading and ignorant quotes from the Times prominently displayed on his webpage, it's because he hasn't yet gotten out of bed.

I know I'm going to be hearing them from vanity presses and self-publishing enthusiasts for years.

#6 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 03:43 PM:

You don't even have to be in the industry to know that, you just have to be generally interested in writing.

As a parenthetical note, is it childish of me to think that "adult
books division of the Walt Disney company" was an infelicitous choice
of words? Maybe its an age thing, but I remember when "adult books"
unambiguously meant SMUT. One would think they might have rephrased to avoid that.

#7 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 03:56 PM:

I can see why errors like this get into the discussion. Publishing
really can be so darned cryptic. When I try to explain the finer points
to people, it starts sounding like the poker game in "A Piece of the
Action." (But the royalties only get paid after the reserve against
returns has been taken out, otherwise the statements are issued twice a
year, December and June, but we don't actually see them until March or
September, or sometimes April or October...)

#8 ::: Jon Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:03 PM:

Yeah, I emailed them a letter to the editor to that effect earlier today.

One of the things highlighted by l'affaire Jayson Blair was that the mighty New York Times does not use fact checkers - it's entirely up to the individual reporters to get their facts straight.

#9 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:08 PM:

Er 15%? What authors get 15% without a good agent and rising
royalties that only kick in after the book has sold a gadzillion
copies, oh--and selling en masse to places like Wal-Mart and
Books-A-Million and B&N don't count as the publisher is getting
less than 50% of the cover price and therefore the author slips back to
8% or 5% or whatever.

I spit on your 15%.

Jane Yolen

#10 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:12 PM:

As a native New Yorker, I was raised on a steady diet of NY papers (a menu that shrank over the years). I clung to my NYT for years, forcing my family to send packages of the papers (week in review and the book review) to me in vet school.

Then I moved to the DC area, and discovered the Washington Post:
better than the NYT and with comics. It was no contest. I leaped and
never looked back.

I admit, I do peruse the Times online, mainly to see what the
"local" news is. They even mention my home town every once in a while.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:16 PM:

abi @ 3... I heard the polar bears got half and the kangaroos the rest

Those Tibetan preyer mills have been working overtime, eh?

#12 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:22 PM:

I'm under the impression that many publishers now base royalties on
net revenue--that is, the money actually received from books
sold--rather than retail price. Perhaps the reporter confused the
concept of net revenue with that of profit....

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:23 PM:

Ginger @ 10... the Washington Post: better than the NYT and with comics

Comics are a plus. (Mutt & Jeff still around?) Anyway, why does
anybody still take the NYT seriously? aren't they the ones who
published Judith Whatshername's rahrah BS support for going to war in
Iraq?

#14 ::: Sean P. Fodera ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:23 PM:

It’s a shame that the New York Times has such limited resources
that it can’t afford to hire reporters or fact-checkers who know
anything about trade book publishing

They wouldn't have needed to spend a penny to check this fact. The
New York Times Company has its own book publishing arm, so all they
needed to do was talk to the person in charge of their book operations,
located on the premises of the newspapers headquarters.

#15 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:35 PM:

That last paragraph is so Patrick that you don't need a byline.

As for this new re-invention attempt, the fact that they're talking
about a fifty-fifty split on profits raises enough danger signs to know
it's neither a power grab nor brave new initiative, but most likely
some sort of borderline legal scam.

#16 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:40 PM:

Now that I've read the article, it's obvious why no fact checking was employed. This was a rewritten press release.

I recommend Nick Davies _Flat Earth News_ for anybody still
harbouring illusions about the press. It's an insider account from a
veteran British journalist/editor that amongst other things exposes how
much this sort of thing happens.

#17 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:53 PM:

Re: the actual idea of the imprint:

How is not offering advances and not allowing bookstores to return
books any different when it's HarperCollins and not PublishAmerica?

#18 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:53 PM:

Good lord. I skimmed Rich's article so quickly when I read it online
that my mind just filled in the blanks, substituting sales for profits,
etc. Yikes. And this is the NYT, the one daily that still has a large
print edition staff. But it's just a shell of its former self in so
many ways. It's all Web 2.0 now, baby, and we're on our own.

#19 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 05:04 PM:

Is the 50-50 split of profits actually being proposed by Harper
Collins? Doesn't that open up that wonderful old Pandora's Box of
Hollywood accounting practices? It would seem the only authors to whom
this could possibly be advantageous would be mega-bestsellers with
large legal and accounting staffs on retainer. Wouldn't everyone else
be better off self-publishing and going for 100% of the profits, if any?

#20 ::: janni ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 05:29 PM:

Harper claims to be unhappy about paying large advances ... as if
it's someone else who decided, and not the company itself, to inflate
those advances.

I'm not seeing how an author who already can command an obscenely
large advance would agree to a contract under the terms of this new
imprint anyway. So it's the authors getting smaller advances, or not
yet selling at all, who are likely to be published there.

Which makes this look like another way of paying low-end writers
less, rather than of spending less on high-end writers as the article
tries to imply.

#21 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 05:31 PM:

#9, Jane Yolen: The "15%" seemed like an acceptable oversimplification. In fact hardcover
royalties in standard adult trade publishing are generally 10% of list
price for the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% for the next 5,000, and
15% after that. In other words, after you sell through 10,000 copies,
you're getting 15%.

#7, Carrie V.: Yes, reserves against returns are confusing, and open
to abuse, but the basic principle seems fair: publishers shouldn't have
to pay royalties on sold books which then, through the miracle of
returnability, become magically unsold. So publishers hold back
royalties for a little while to make sure that shipped copies are actually sold copies.

#22 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 05:33 PM:

#19, Madison Guy, re paying a percentage of "profits": "Doesn't that open up that wonderful old Pandora's Box of Hollywood accounting practices?"

Well, yes. Which is an excellent defense of the current system of
just paying a percentage of list price, regardless of the discount at
which the consumer purchased it.

#23 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 05:50 PM:

Scalzi @ 17 - Like iUniverse? Good question. One would hope that HarperCollins would actually like, edit the books and otherwise do some screening.

Not sure I should be holding my breath on that...

#24 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:07 PM:

May I respectfully point out — hell, none too respectfully at all —
that this isn't new? The "new" proposed program at Harper Collins is exactly
how the English publishing industry worked between the incorporation of
the Company of Stationers in 1566 and the final decision of the House
of Lords against the "natural right" theory of copyright in 1789. It
was often the same splits; it was the same concept of splitting profits
rather than proceeds; it included the absence of an advance; it was
based on nonreturnable goods...

... but there is one difference: accounting. In the early English
publishing industry, publishers didn't have the in-house expertise of
Twentieth Century Fox in creatively ensuring that there will be no (or
at least minimal) profits to share.* (Remember who owns Harper
Collins.) Neither did publishers have the industry "tradition" that
allows the publisher to hold money for 270 days with no penalty before
giving the author her miserly share; at least in theory, they paid up
every month. The six-month-plus-ninety-days-to-pay royalty cycle only
came into being around the time of the great battle between Sarjeant
and Macauley over extending the copyright term... in the 1830s.

"New." "Improved." And no surprise at all. [insert chorus here]

* Additional, disturbing note: A source inside the Newscorp empire
has indicated to me a preference for WFH for the new program.
Clarification today (or, rather, unclarification) made it murky whether
that means "contracts offered will assert WFH" or "we intend to acquire
works under a WFH basis." The difference is subtle linguistically, but
radical in practice and legally.

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:10 PM:

Patrick @ 21... That being said, Jane Yolen's I spit on your 15%
sounds like the title of a wonderfully cheesy 1970s movie about the
sordid world of publishing, with Pam Grier as the wronged author out
for revenge.

#26 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:10 PM:

You know, revolutionary change is truly, truly rare. What's much
more common is small, incremental changes year after year that
eventually trickle down into something that moves sideways and suddenly
appears revolutionary because everyone was looking somewhere else.

Want to observe revolutionary change in the way publishing is done?
Stop observing the publishing industry, and ignore related business
areas too, for a decade or so. Then come back, and if you're lucky
there will have been a revolution, but not of the kind you predicted if
you were so foolish as to predict what would happen ahead of time.

#27 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:14 PM:

janni@20:

"...I am prepared to offer £50 for the name and address of a
literary agent who is capable of getting the better of a publisher. I
am widely acquainted with publishers and literary agents, and though I
have often met publishers who have got the better of literary agents, I
have never yet met a literary agent who has come out on top of a
publisher. Such a literary agent is badly wanted. I have been looking
for him for years.
I know a number of authors who would join me in enriching that literary
agent. The publishers are always talking about him. I seldom go into a
publisher's office but that literary agent has just left (gorged with
illicit gold). It irritates me that I cannot run across him. If i were
a publisher, he would have been in prison ere now. Briefly, the manner
in which certain prominent publishers, even clever ones, talk about
literary agents is silly." - Arnold Bennett, 1908

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:15 PM:

CE Petit @24:

WFH = work for hire?

#29 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:21 PM:

Oh no, another dangling big-win carrot in front of writers with little business sense scam.

50% of *profits*? And who defines which expenses are written off before those profits?

#30 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:43 PM:

Interestingly enough, even when textbook publishers (or publishers
who have historically been textbook publishers) pay on the net
receipts, they are still not paying on the profits. Even (very
respectfully) taking C.E. Petit's point about accounting, I shudder to
think what authors would actually receive if the publisher's overhead,
calculated to minimize publisher costs and maximize profits, was
deducted before authors were paid.

#31 ::: Andrew Wheeler ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:04 PM:

The idea of not paying advances and splitting the proceeds isn't
even new in recent, big-company publishing: Vanguard (an imprint of
Perseus run by my old boss, Roger Cooper) has been doing exactly that
for several years. They even published the US trade edition of Greg Bear's novel Quantico.

I do detect a strong whiff of that ol' Internet snake oil about this
project -- that by selling mostly on the 'net, and selling a lot
directly to consumers, that magically things will be easier.

On the other hand, Miller is a major, incredibly respected figure,
and he presumably wouldn't jump ship from being the president of
Hyperion to reporting to Jane Friedman unless there was something solid
here.

I don't think this is either a wondrous new paradigm for all
publishing or a sneaky trick to steal from authors -- and I've seen
people saying both things.

On balance, it sounds like Miller thinks that he can publish a
certain kind of book (short, mostly nonfiction hardcovers at about $20)
in a certain kind of way (little in-store co-op, mostly on-line
promotions, unreturnable, possibly bundled with e- and audio versions)
strongly, and he wants to give it a try.

#32 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:24 PM:

Serge @ 13 : No, but we got Mutts
instead. They're cutting back on the amount of printed comics, but
luckily for me they're keeping all of them available online.

I hear the NYT makes excellent bird cage liner, so in that regard I'm sure someone has respect for the rag.

On another topic, I sure would like to see the Tibetan kangaroos. I
understand the thundering herds of wild kangas romping across the
Himalayas is a thrilling sight to behold, second only to the polar
bears racing across the Antarctic wastes. The Tibetan preyer wheels add
their deep thrum to the scene, presaging the onslaught of carnivorous
yaks. The nightly drama is played out for the milling throngs of
tourists with their digital cameras and their McDonald's coffees in
hand.

#33 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:40 PM:

abi@ #28 yes, generally WFH=Work For Hire, though in this case could represent "Work For Half."

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:42 PM:

Ginger @ 32... Frank Capra was wise to cut out the scene of
Ronald Coleman leaving Shangri-la and then being attacked by Tibetan
kangaroos amidst the desolation of the Himalayas..

#35 ::: zzatz ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:51 PM:

This appears to fit in with HarperCollins' Neil Gaiman freebie:

http://www.boingboing.net/2008/03/01/free-download-of-nei.html

I found their approach useless for the way I read electronic books,
and I read quite a few. The text needs to be formatted to fit the
device I have, which means it needs to be formatted at my end, not by
the publisher. Plain text works. HTML works. RTF works. There are other
formats that I can convert to something usable. PDF works but is too
painful to fight with to be worth the bother.

#36 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:58 PM:

“The idea is, ‘Let’s take all the things that we think are wrong
with this business and try to change them,’ ” said Mr. Miller, 51.

Like, for starters, paying those annoying freelance author contractors
for work that isn't even ISO 9000 compliant or performed to our
exacting specifications.

In next month's thrilling episode: in an attempt to focus on his
group's core competencies and cut overheads Mr. Miller outsources
everyone below his own level to PublishAmerica. After all, as we all
know, strong management is vital to running a successful business --
everything else is just peripheral fuss and bother that can be
dispensed with.

#37 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:00 PM:

Serge @ 34: But the remake by Roland Emmerich didn't...and some say
he went over the top with his slo-mo scenes of kanga slaughter.

#38 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:10 PM:

Ginger @ 37... Was that scene before or after the giant
flying saucer shows up over the Valley of the Blue Moon? No matter
what... I think I'd rather watch the 1973 musical remake. At least it
had Liv Ullmann and Olivia Hussey in its cast.

#39 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:29 PM:

Serge @ 38: It was after, because the reporter from the New York
Times was there to see it and scoop the rest of the world, remember?

You're right, though; anything with Liv Ullman is much better. I
loved her duet with the kanga prince ("Purple Kangaroo in the Rain") --
of course, it was really Marni Nixon singing.

I hear Peter Jackson's up for making the latest version though, and he promises to film it entirely on location in Tibet.

#40 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:31 PM:

meta:

I'm noticing that icerocket and technorati* are weak sauce for keeping
track of this discussion. Thus far the fruits of my searching: NZ
blogger Beattie reprints the Times press release article and the Publisher's Lunch more detailed report. Useful for those of us who don't have a sub for that listserv.

Second fruit: Daily Pundit quotes Roger L. Simon (mystery author? original here, anyway) and comments on it.

Andrew Wheeler, 31,

I have to agree with your assessment: it's a press release saying that
he intends to target a really specific niche with a pre-existing
audience with extruded non-ficition product, branded and marketed a
specific way at a set price.

It's almost as though he's woken up to the direct sales model that
the webcomics/cartoonist types** are exploiting. Briefly: self-financed
printing/manufacturing of pre-ordered objects for a dedicated fanbase,
with limited to no distribution through Ingrahm/B&T, leaving the
vast majority of cash inflow untouched by parasites middlemen.

In the case of Mr. Miller, authors are the superfluous
middlemen in the cash flow diagram, mucking up the nice clean equation
with messy reserves against returns and royalties that fluctuate all
over the place. It's no accident that C.E.Peit is talking about
work-for-hire clauses: that would be the ultimate solution for
maximizing the amount of coin that lands in his pockets.



*sux, btw. No filter for articles only appearing in the last x number of days.

**e.g. The Foglio's Girl Genius, The Gallagher's Megatokyo, Penny Arcade, & Alpha-Shade.

#41 ::: Pat Cadigan ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Actually, as any 23-year-old editorial assistant could have told
the New York Times, hardcover authors typically earn royalties of 15
percent of the list price of sold copies. Profits have nothing to do
with it; the authors get the royalties whether or not the publisher
made any profit at all. The claim that “many authors never earn
royalties” is likewise a bit off; the author’s “advance” is in fact an
advance payment of the royalties that the publisher expects the book
will earn, usually in its first year of publication.

Which I guess makes me a very atypical author, as I have never
received any royalties on any of my books, ever. There. I admitted it
in public.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:38 PM:

Now, just who owns HarperCollins?

#43 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:47 PM:

Speaking of WFH (and in the spirit of AKICIML), what's with this,
er, thing I've recently been noticing in some books* wherein the
copyright page info reads "an (IMPRINT) book/published by arrangement
with the author", and then says "Copyright (year) by (PUBLISHER)"
instead of copyright by (author)? Is this an indication that the
publisher has the author in some sort of WFH stranglehold, or that the
book is likely some sort of formula/series/tie-in book where the writer
is not the concept creator, or what?

And what does "published by arrangement with the author" mean anyway?

As a mere reader and book-buying consumer I don't usually peruse the
copyright pages of every book I open, thus hadn't noticed this (trend?)
before, and only spotted it in a new book from a friend of an
online-acquaintance author, and then started noticing it in other
titles.

*thus far, they've all been imprints of THE BERKELEY PUBLISHING
GROUP, and the Ace books have actually been copyright by (authors)
while the new Penguin mysteries have been (c)pub.

#44 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 09:29 PM:

Patrick @ 21, do you know offhand what percentage of books make it to the 15% royalty rate?

Pat @ 41, you are my hero of the day. I wish my finances were better
organized so I could step up also. I know I haven't gotten any
royalties on my last couple of novels.

#45 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 09:32 PM:

On the other hand, Miller is a major, incredibly respected
figure, and he presumably wouldn't jump ship from being the president
of Hyperion to reporting to Jane Friedman unless there was something
solid here.

cf Charlie's comment; Miller is now 51, and may be looking to make a
retirement pile on the Chainsaw Al (Dunlop) model -- or even on the
not-so-different standard U.S. executive model (how many hundreds of
millions did the former chief of Home Depot get when he was squeezed
out of the mess he'd made?). Hollywood at least has to fake up numbers;
the modern executive just gets his off the top, even if there is no top.

I heard this on PRI's business program this evening, and it sounded
a bit strange even without being able to go over it again (my \next/
commuter car \will/ have a TiVo (and a pony, and get 60mpg...)),
especially since they didn't explain how they were going to get
bookstores to take non-returnable books.

Are the Tibetan preyers allied with the Slayer?

#46 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 09:53 PM:

Will @44, Pat @41: Do you mean that you did not get any royalties
above and beyond those contained in the original "advance" payment, or
that you did not get any at all -- in which case, did you get paid for
the books, and what sort of payment was it?

#47 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 10:08 PM:

Brooks, you can safely assume that any writer published by a major
publishing house got an advance—when a bestselling author does a promo
stunt like taking a $1 advance against an exceptional royalty rate,
it's big news.

I would have to haul out my contracts to check my advances. For
novels, I get around $10,000. (Not trying to duck this. I just make it
a point to think as little as possible about money, a subject that
inspired Samuel Johnson to say something that's often repeated because
it's gloriously ludicrous. I'll be doing a post on my blog with as many
hard figures as I can find around April 15, when my taxes are done.)
(For the record, Emma's advances are larger than mine, and I'm
perfectly happy being a kept man.)

#48 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 10:23 PM:

Reporters and fact checkers? Who has the money for those? Not enough
people read newspapers now, so such inessentials are tossed overboard,
along with idle fripperies like comics (smaller! make those comics
smaller and fewer!), editorials, and maybe sports will be next. (Why,
oh, why do they stop reading our newspapers?) They have to stick to the
core mission, which is receiving press releases and deciding whether to
rephrase them or print them verbatim.

#49 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 12:00 AM:

Clifton, #6: Oops, you just hit one of my pet peeves -- the fact
that there is NO WORD OR PHRASE in English that one can use to indicate
a book that's written on an adult level which has not been co-opted to mean SMUT. (and nothing but... a dirty novel I can't shut... sorry!)

Seriously. "Adult"? Smut. "Mature"? Smut. "Not intended for
children"? Smut. And so on. How can I briefly describe a book that has
too much violence and gore for the average 10-year-old, or one that
deals with deep questions of ethics that would bore most 14-year-olds
silly, but which doesn't contain graphic sexual material?

[/grump]

#50 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:14 AM:

This thing got a lot of play on Marketplace (public radio business
show). It was even worse when it was done as interviews. Lots of
snake-oil style phrasing, with one, still small voice, saying it might
not be so good for the average writer.

#51 ::: RobT. ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 02:21 AM:

Lee @ #49: How about "grown-up?" As a term used to denote adults
when talking to kids (e.g., "Let the grown-ups handle this."), it may
feel a little juvenile for adult-to-adult usage, but the meaning
("adult-level") is unmistakable and it lacks the connotations attached
to "adult/mature/not-for-children" entertainment.

Because "grown-up" carries the overtones of talking to children, I would have no problem describing, say, Ulysses as a "book for grown-ups" but would feel dirty describing Deep Throat as a "movie for grown-ups" (except in a meta-description like this one).

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 02:31 AM:

No facts were disturbed in the writing of this story.

#53 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 03:39 AM:

Bruce Cohen (StM) @52: That's good. Those facts are vicious beasties when they're provoked.

#54 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 03:46 AM:

All these responses, and no one has pointed out that the New York
Times headquarters is no longer on 43rd St.; it's in their newly built
building at Eighth Ave. & 40th St.:

http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=3044

#55 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 04:38 AM:

But why shouldn't Disney publish Smut through a subsidiary company. It's just another way of making money.

And see this: The money to be made writing porn.



Yeah, it's the share of profits that looks dodgy. It's not unknown--wasn't that a feature of the deal on The Lord of the Rings--but
Hollywood Accounting and the music industry have given such things a
bad reputation. What works when you can have a personal relationship
with the guy in charge doesn't seem so reliable with the corporate
MBA-style of management.

#56 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 06:51 AM:

I'm almost certain a reporter from the Times could have gotten a quote from these people.

You'd've thought she'd want to be in touch with them anyway. Her contract says they have the right of first refusal if she writes a book

Granted they work in a dicey neighborhood :)

#57 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 07:09 AM:

PNH: Not all major (or minor) publishers offer rising royalties on
hardcovers automatically. It has to be asked for, one has to have had
an agent or not be a first time author or be a favored and well known
writer.

AND the moment at which the royalty rises varies dramatically from
publisher to publisher. Varies also depending upon both author and
editor's assumptions about the viability of the book.

AND major publishers--like Putnams and Harper to my certain
knowledge--lower the advance for sales to major cut rate outlets
(B&N, Amazon, Wal-Mart etc) if the rate of sale to these places is
below 50% of the cover price.

Authors and their agents (if they have them) fight these fights
every day. If they do not have to do this at Tor, it is to Tor's
credit, and its editors.

Jane

#58 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 08:51 AM:

RobT @ 51... How about "grown-up?"

I certainly hope not. Remember that, when the current bunch moved
into the White House, it was said that, this time, grownups would be in
charge.

#59 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:38 AM:

Speaking of fact checking, I notice the link in Patrick's sidelights
to the Guardian article on disemvowelling has some difficulty with it
as well...

#60 ::: Alice Bentley ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:22 PM:

don delny @ 40 writes "It's almost as though he's woken up to the
direct sales model that the webcomics/cartoonist types** are
exploiting. Briefly: self-financed printing/manufacturing of
pre-ordered objects for a dedicated fanbase, with limited to no
distribution through Ingrahm/B&T, leaving the vast majority of cash
inflow untouched by /parasites/ middlemen."

While many (almost all?) webcomics do indeed self-finance the
printed versions of their work to sell directly to their fans, I don't
think it's by choice. Especially if they've been doing it for a while.
Both Penny Arcade and MegaTokyo signed up with major publishers, and
Girl Genius *is* available through Ingram and B&T even though it's
small press.



#61 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 03:30 PM:

in #60, Alice Bentley quotes me*, and says:

While many (almost all?) webcomics do indeed self-finance the
printed versions of their work to sell directly to their fans, I don't
think it's by choice. Especially if they've been doing it for a while.
Both Penny Arcade and MegaTokyo signed up with major publishers, and
Girl Genius *is* available through Ingram and B&T even though it's
small press.

Thank you for clarifying my comment. You are absolutely right about the publishing deals you mentioned.

I might quibble with the "by choice" bit. For webcomics with smaller
audiences, or niche topics, there's little point in sharing revenue
with a publisher who won't be able to market the book effectively to
the corporate book buyers.** I'd have to say the Foglio's are lucky (in
the sense that 30+ years
of hard work is luck) to have been a self-publishing small press before
webcomics were invented. ³ Likewise with Megatokyo & Penny Arcade:
those fellows have such a huge audience that it should be impossible
for a publisher to not make money on them †. Likewise, since they have
such huge audiences, they have a lot of bargaining power, and are able
to get pretty good deals. ‡

As a counter example, the brother Brudlos self-financed, printed and
ship the Alpha-Shade books, but they also both hold down full time
jobs. Or Greg Dean's Real Life Comics, which has languished with only
volume one printed up until recently, when he released a cliff notes type version via Lulu.

I didn't exactly choose the best possible examples, did I?

*thank you!

**though there was the interesting case of Kurt Hassler, who worked as
the graphic novel buyer for Borders, who also co-authored a webcomic
that was subsequently published by Tokyopop.

³ probably not strictly true, but close.

† not that people haven't screwed it up. Megatokyo couldn't keep Studio
Ironcat afloat, and the first guy who the Penny Arcade guys signed on
with took their print rights and fled the country.

‡ interesting news for Penny Arcade: they have a partnership with a
newly formed gaming distribution company to distribute their first
video game "On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness" which seemingly
will be filled with squamous goodness. Oh, and the company will also be
distributing games hand-picked by the guys.

#63 ::: rams ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 06:02 PM:

Um? Guys? That was JANE YOLEN.

Okay. I'm geeked.

Gonna go take a wee lie-down.

#64 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 06:14 PM:

rams @63:

You'd be surprised how many authors hang out here. Who better to tell
us how book publishing works than authors like her, or editors like
Patrick (who won the Hugo for his work last year)?

Despite the fact that I made an arse of myself when I met her at the
Worldcon in Scotland*, I know that Jane is a real human being, and is
allowed to do ordinary person things like post comments on blogs.

In other words, play it cool.

-----

* sorry about that, Jane. I hope you liked the programme binding anyway.

#65 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 08:38 PM:

Neil Gaiman has put his tuppence in. He also points to the Guardian column, here.

I won't speak for him, but I think he's implying that there's no cosmic conspiracy at HC.

I'm actually a little disappointed. Maybe we can still blame the Illuminati?

#66 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:23 PM:

rams @63: *waves*

#67 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:54 PM:

rams: I know how you feel. Neil Gaiman once linked to something I'd
written here, and said it explained things about his grandfather to him.

I was croggled.

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 12:13 AM:

Translation of Charlie 66: "What am I, chopped liver?"

#69 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 02:15 AM:

Xopher @#68: I read Charlie's wave as just a friendly indication
that ML is a veritable nest of authors, not as a demand for
recognition.

#70 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 02:59 AM:

I know there are all sorts of authors here. What gave me warm
fuzzies was when I was in Borders tonight and looked down and right at
hand was a Jane Yolen box set. "I know her... indirectly..." Same
feeling I get when I hear about people I did summer theatre with
starting a cappella groups which then end up with one member on
American Idol. My brush with greatness, such as it is.

I'll throw out a thank you to all the authors who are reading, even
those I've never personally read, because you give us places to escape
to. I appreciate that immensely.

#71 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 03:08 AM:

Xopher, #68, he has chopped feet -- he and Feorag have been
sightseeing DC, including pushing me around in a wheelchair at Udvar
Hazy on Friday. (Which I'm very thankful for.)

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 03:25 AM:

rams @ 63... I'm not likely to forget the time she and I
exchanged posts here on the subject of Bugs Bunny's cross-dressing
proclivities.

#73 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 06:25 AM:

Fragano #42: Who owns HarperCollins? News Corporation, the Murdoch media empire.

#74 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 07:06 AM:

What I find interesting is the almost throw-away nature of the "And
we might also include download/audio access with purchase" comment.
This, to me, is potentially big. It's perhaps the first sign of a major
publisher taking serious consideration of the many ways that each
individual consumer partakes of their product (although I might be
totally wrong on that--Tor guys?). People who buy the object (book) are
also now buying the data (DL or Audio) and can actually choose how to
enjoy it. I, personally, would love it.

Side note:

#49 Lee, and #51 RobT...I've had the same thoughts many times, and then
reading RobT's post, I thought, why not "Adult-Level"? Seems clear and
without the connotative baggage.

You done real good!

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 08:31 AM:

Jim @ 74... How about 'mature'?

#76 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 11:03 AM:

I don't see a conspiracy, no. As Patrick does in his commentary at
the top, I see an experiment, and a potentially interesting one --
although it's the giving away audio and e-book versions with the
hardback I find most interesting, as it simultaneously divorces the
object from the content, while giving you a reason to buy the object.

(The last time I saw a "no royalties-profit sharing" attempt crash
and burn it was in the late 80s with Tundra Publishing, Kevin Eastman's
ill-fated venture. But they also handed out huge -- for comics at the
time -- advances, large enough that many of the creators who got the
advances saw no advantage in actually producing the comics they'd been
paid to make.)

#77 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Hm, I suddenly have the weird sensation that Patrick's feelings
towards Magical Publishing Handwavium Technology (tm) are in the same
vein as how I feel about Magical Electrical Engineering Handwavium (tm).

That would mean that "POD will revolutionize Publishing" is
somewhere in the same ball park as "Nanotechnology will create
Self-Replicating ASICs".

or something.

#78 ::: The King in Yellow ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 03:31 PM:

Having negotiated a book deal without an agent, I'm receiving a
pitiful percentage of net profits, something like that described in the
Times piece.

#79 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 04:27 PM:

Pat Cadigan, Will Shetterly--My point was that advances are
royalties; they're just royalties paid in advance. Which makes the
statement "Many authors never earn royalties" a little dodgy. I also
referred to it as "a minor and defensible error," because colloquially,
many authors (like both of you, as you've shown) use the term
"royalties" to mean only those royalties which are paid once the
advance has been "earned out."

(Literally, of course, "many authors" actually and truly "never earn
royalties," because there are always lots of work-for-hire deals where
authors are paid a fee rather than a royalty. But that's not what the Times article was referring to, and that's why their statement is still an error, even if a minor one.)

#80 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 04:38 PM:

Jane Yolen writes in #57:

Not all major (or minor)
publishers offer rising royalties on hardcovers automatically. It has
to be asked for, one has to have had an agent or not be a first time
author or be a favored and well known writer.
I'm sure
that's true, particularly in YA publishing where, while the unit costs
are the same as they are everywhere else, the cover prices have to be
lower. That said, our basic boilerplate for an adult trade book offers
10% on the first 5000 hardcovers sold, 12.5% on the next 5000, and 15%
after that; it's pretty much bog-standard.
AND the moment at
which the royalty rises varies dramatically from publisher to
publisher. Varies also depending upon both author and editor's
assumptions about the viability of the book.
We have some
variation in our mass-market and trade-paperback royalty rates, both in
the actual rates and in where they go up, but rarely in hardcover.
AND
major publishers--like Putnams and Harper to my certain
knowledge--lower the advance for sales to major cut rate outlets
(B&N, Amazon, Wal-Mart etc) if the rate of sale to these places is
below 50% of the cover price.
I suspect you mean they lower the royalty paid,
not the "advance." (Although an expectation that the bulk of sales
would be via deeply-discounted channels would of course be reflected in
the amount of the advance.) Everyone has some kind of clause for paying
lower royalties on sales that cost us the earth to accomplish; we have
to.
Authors and their agents (if they have them) fight these
fights every day. If they do not have to do this at Tor, it is to Tor's
credit, and its editors.
We have arguments with authors and
agents every day, just like anyone else. We're trying to stay in
business just like you're trying to earn a living. To the extent that
we try to be reasonable (and I'm sure you can find plenty of people
willing to say that we're not), the credit goes to Tom Doherty, who's
always had a deep understanding of the fact that being decent is a
better long-run strategy than being a bastard.

#81 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 04:43 PM:

#78: Wow. I don't work in current-affairs nonfiction book publishing, but given your eminence on this important story, I'm shocked that you don't have a better deal with a larger publisher.

Sometimes I want to clone myself and open up shop as an agent. If I did, you'd be a client I'd try to recruit.

#82 ::: The King In Yellow ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Thanks. Oops, I should have said that it was a little publisher, not
a big one. (I just wanted to get the book out of my hair after years of
trying.)

#83 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Many academic authors never earn royalties, period. I have earned
zero royalties on academic publishing (I have been paid in copies -- as
little as one copy of a journal in which an article appeared.)

This has led to the paradox that I have been paid money for poetry,
but not for a full-length monograph. In both cases, though, I retained
the copyright. In recent times, I've had to hand over copyright in
exchange for the mere fact of publication (plus copies of the journal).

#84 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Without actually extending the metaphor too far (not accusing anyone of messiahship or anything) Neil Gaiman's #76 rather made don delny's #65 a sort of "John the Baptist" moment, didn't it?

I had a squee moment like rams's about five years ago on a usenet
newsgroup (is that a redundant phrase?) when I realized that the person
posting as Diane Duane might well be that Diane Duane. I very
tentatively asked, in a textual representation of a nervous,
Piglet-like voice, whether this was in fact the case, murmuring
something about really really liking the Young Wizards
trilogy very very much; and she assured me that it was, and that, by
the way, it was no longer a trilogy. So I ran off in a fan-struck haze
to find books four through six.

I am still quite prone to squee moments, mind you. It's just harder
to tell online, when I have time to turn my squeemishness into
something vaguely literate.

#85 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 07:47 PM:

Patrick #80

Arrrrgh--of course I meant royalties, not advances drop in big companies when they sell to the Big Chains.

Fingers--meet brain. Brain--meet fingers. I had so hoped they knew one another but obviously not.

Jane

#86 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 07:54 PM:

Patrick @ 79 and 80, sorry 'bout confusing things with my response
to Pat. But if it's not a nuisance, I'm still curious about the
"typically earn royalties of 15 percent of the list price" you
mentioned earlier. Any idea what percentage of hardcovers sell 10,000
copies?

#87 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 08:58 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @#83:

Many academic authors never earn royalties, period. I have earned
zero royalties on academic publishing (I have been paid in copies -- as
little as one copy of a journal in which an article appeared.)

When I was a kid my dad showed me one of his royalty checks...it was for something like 7 dollars.

He told me recently that the way he gets paid for his writing is
that the dean says "oh, I see you wrote another book" and gives him a
raise.



#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 09:12 PM:

Mary 68: I read Charlie's wave as just a friendly indication that ML is a veritable nest of authors, not as a demand for recognition.

Me too; I was teasing.

#89 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 09:21 PM:

Xopher @#88: oh. Sorry, should have realized that. When there's no
pun, it's harder to tell (puns, the emoticons of Making Light).

#90 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 09:48 PM:

Rereading the article, I guess I have a question...

In the article, this Miller guy says "The idea is, ‘Let’s take all the
things that we think are wrong with this business and try to change
them'". As someone who is completely outside of the publishing
industry, what exactly is wrong with it? He mentions book returns and
high advances...are these really the biggest problems in the industry?

#91 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 09:57 PM:

Mary Dell @ 89... When there's no pun, it's harder to tell

You rang?

#92 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:01 PM:

#90: Good question. I personally think the biggest problem in the
industry is that, as a result of the immense consolidation of the ID
market in the 1990s, supermarkets and drug stores no longer stock the
kind of extremely diverse selection of mass-market paperbacks that they
used to. Instead of selling 144 different current titles, your average
144-slot supermarket rack now offers just two or three dozen different
titles.

The immense diversity once offered by the ID system was an important
mechanism for making smart kids from non-bookstore-shopping families
into habitual book buyers. That's gone now, in the name of big-box
retailer efficiency. It's a huge loss. Meanwhile, the idiots of SFWA
worry about some kid in Estonia "pirating" their e-texts.

#93 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:03 PM:

Will, #86: I have no idea. But I'm still going to insist that the "15%" thing is the New York Times article's lesser error.

#94 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:12 PM:

#92, Thanks for the explanation. I remember those supermarket
shelves, as I reckon I was one of those kids you mention. I was really
sad when I realized that they no longer shelved classics like The Hitch Hiker's Guide at my local A&P, just big name current bestsellers.

Boy, the SFWA just doesn't seem to get much love. Is it really that
bad? The whole Burt/Doctorow bruhaha is all I know about the internal
politics of the group, but it certainly doesn't paint a pretty picture.

#95 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 11:02 PM:

I'd wave again, but after reading #81 I need both hands to type and
staunch the nose-bleed from my dessicated sinuses. And I'm afraid I'm
not a motie.

Jim @94, the SFWA situation is much worse than you can possibly
imagine. Luckily there's an election going on right now, so in two
weeks or thereabouts we'll know whether to send a burial detail or a
"get well" card.

#96 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 11:15 PM:

Serge @#91: Oh, no, you are the model of punly restraint these days. You haven't even linked your photo to the sewing discussion over on the deep value thread.

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 11:25 PM:

Jim, #74: Maybe. To me, "adult-level" carries most of the same baggage as "adult". Can we have a straw poll?

Serge, #75: "Mature" (or, as sometimes seen, "intended for mature audiences") = smut.

#98 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 11:32 PM:

Lee@97, how about "intellectual"? It keeps out the riffraff, and
shouts "no sex here, we're thinking" unless you get it translated into
French.

In which case, perhaps American Intellectual would work.

#99 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 12:06 AM:

Come to think of it, it was reading serialized novels in the
SF&F magazines at our local Krogers which completed my addiction. I
seem to remember saving my nickels to buy Sign of the Unicorn and The Gods Themselves as they came out in monthly installments.

...

"Adult-level" works for me without the connotations. I'm sure for
someone younger than I, "adult book" doesn't have the same meaning it
once did. Why would you want to read a book when porn is available on
video?

#100 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 12:12 AM:

Dena Shunra @#98: That sounds good in theory, but I challenge you to
say "the intellectual books division of the Walt Disney company" with a
straight face.

#101 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 12:22 AM:

Mary @100, I was *just* coming to my desk with a nice hot cup of tea when I read that.

::sputter::

It does indeed sound a bit like Mickey Mouse intellectualism...

#102 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 12:30 AM:

Clifton Royston @#99:

Why would you want to read a book when porn is available on video?

Video packs a wallop, but the written stuff has its own particular
pleasures. Particularly when read out loud to a listener. I don't know
if today's young porn fans have the dedication to bother with the
classic texts, though. Kids today, sigh.

#103 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 02:28 AM:

Patrick: Yeah, the ID change happened so thoroughly that I'd sort of
forgotten when the suermarket had lots of books. I don't know that I'd
ever have read (heck, known of) Haldeman's, War Year without it.

At this point I don't recall if that led me to read The Forever War or the other way 'round.

That's hurt my folk's used bookstore, because we they don't get as
many people walking over from the supermarket to look for books as they
used to when there were lots of different titles.

#104 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 02:33 AM:

Mary Dell: I think the success of slash, and the size of Literotica
implies a large group of people who are interested in reading isn't
trivially small.

That and the link (I think it was somewhere around here) to the guy
who is making more money (by large factors) with his porn, than which
his non-porn.

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 02:56 AM:

Patrick @ 97

Instead of selling 144 different current titles, your average
144-slot supermarket rack now offers just two or three dozen different
titles.

And at least 2/3 of those are long series or house titles ("Star Wars" or sharecropper series). The diversity is very low.

It's a shame. I had started reading sf in the library, but
discovering the local non-chain drug and sundry store was what really
got me going. Ace doubles and other paperbacks on two revolving wire
racks, only a block and a half from my house. Mid-20th century
paperbacks ... mmmmmmmmm ...

#106 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 04:52 AM:

Lee @ 97... In other words, every word that one can use winds being equated with smut. That's the bottom line.

#107 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 04:56 AM:

Mary Dell @ 96... you are the model of punly restraint these days

Well, I did take an oath.

#108 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 06:37 AM:

Mary Dell #87: That doesn't always work, alas. I've had colleagues publish and perish.

#109 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 06:52 AM:

Dena Shunra #101: I'd say you were making yourself Kristol clear,
you needn't hit anyone on the head with a Krauthammer, but I would want
to note that Hanson is as Hanson does.

#110 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 09:01 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @#108:

Mary Dell #87: That doesn't always work, alas. I've had colleagues publish and perish.

Absolutely--that's happened to friends of mine, too, and certainly
would have happened to me, if I hadn't washed out early. Dad's an
unusual creature.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 10:42 AM:

Mary Dell @ 110... Dad's an unusual creature

That sounds like the title of a sitcom of the 1950s.

#112 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:50 AM:

Serge @#111: He occasionally does Know Best. And we generally Make Room for him. And he has Three Sons.*

*And two daughters, and two additional sons.

#113 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:58 AM:

Mary Dell @ 113... And his name is Steve?

#114 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 05:00 PM:

Mary Dell #110: He certainly sounds it. Some of us hold on by our fingernails.

And some of us contemplate monasticism (or would were we not happily
married) at the sight of effusions of this kind: "For the men who know
this true fact, I believe they are holding on to their manhood by,
thinking they are the dictators in today’s society."

#115 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 05:01 PM:

Serge: #113: Having Three Sons would give him the canonical name Fred.

#116 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 09:06 PM:

Serge, Fragano:

He certainly sounds it. Some of us hold on by our fingernails.

Yeah--I always dreamed of having a career like his* and then
discovered, once I was grown up, that hardly anybody has a career like
that. I imagine that children of bestselling authors get a similarly
skewed view of the writing life. Oh, his name is Bob, which is a good
sitcom-dad name.

*50+ years teaching (so far); endowed chair, etc.

#117 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 09:07 PM:

Fragano writes in #115:

Serge: #113: Having Three Sons would give him the canonical name Fred.

Contradicting you, just to be polite: An actor named Fred played a father named Steve.

As a wise Sicilian once said: "Never go in against Serge when an old TV show is on the line."

#118 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 09:56 PM:

Bill Higgins @ 117... I wouldn't go that far. It's true that
I have a good memory for trivia, but my knowledge was helped by TVland,
when they used to rerun the likes of Dobie Gillis and My Three Sons. That's how I caught a episode of Father Knows Best
that poked fun at his patriarchal figure. It begins with the whole clan
watching a sitcom where the main character is a father who's easily
manipulated by his family. Everybody is quite amused by the show,
except for Dad, who starts getting it into his head that everything
that's going on in his family (like his son falling sick just when he's
about to leave on his fishing trip) is an attempt to manipulate him
into not going. Which it's not.

#119 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 10:39 PM:

I..have a shameful confession to make.

I've never watched a single episode of Father Knows Best (even
though I had the lunch box). I really tried, I did. I'd start with the
opening montage, and the opening scene, and then...either I blacked out
or I got up and changed the channel. I'm not sure which. I was so
young.

My Three Sons..the same thing happened. Dobie Gillis? Ditto.

About the only shows on at the time that I could actually watch were the Mouseketeers and things like Bewitched.

I'm a bad, bad child of the 60s, I know. At least I watched Star Trek, religiously!

(Best title while simultaneously being the worst screenplay? "For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky")

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:22 PM:

GingerI'm a bad, bad child of the 60s

Bad Ginger, bad, bad!

I'll confess to even watching The Donna Reed Show. How sick is that? But I also watched stuff like The Naked City.

#121 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:54 PM:

Serge, #107: Did you put it back?

#122 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 01:53 AM:

Ginger @ 119

(Best title while simultaneously being the worst screenplay? "For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky")

You have to remember that in the 60's it was considered de rigueur
to copy anything that Harlan Ellison did. Of course, he always did it
better. So, since he used long, poetic titles like "The Beast that
Shouted Love at the Heart of the World", everybody else did too. This
resulted in titles like "When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal",
"We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line", "For
Every Aspect of the World There is a Gift", "The Man Doors Said Hello
To", and “I See A Man Sitting On a Chair, And the Chair Is Biting His
Leg”.*

* Actually, I made up one of those. Can you guess which one? Extra credit for naming the authors of the other titles.

#123 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 02:08 AM:

Mary@102: I don't know if today's young porn fans have the dedication to bother with the classic texts, though.

"bow chicka bowwow" is a classic?

#124 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 05:54 AM:

Bruce@122: I recognize two of those titles: The second is Delany,
while the last is Ellison & Sheckley. I'm going to guess that the
made-up one is the fourth, although it is only a guess.

#125 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 06:31 AM:

Lee @ 121... Alas no. I am an oaf, for I kept the oath, but not such an oaf that I'd not give back an oath of filthy.

#126 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 06:36 AM:

Ginger @ 119... Bruce Cohen @ 122... It has been a long time since I've seen For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky, but I remember it as being one of the better ones of Star Trek's third season. (My favorite of that era remains Requiem for Methuselah, and there's a very soft spot in my heart for The Empath.)

As for Ellisonian titles, can anybody guess, without googling, th author of Th Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World?

#127 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 07:28 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 124

Lbh'er evtug nobhg gur frpbaq naq ynfg, ohg abg nobhg gur sbhegu bar: gung'f ol "Wnzrf Gvcgerr, We." nxn Nyvpr Furyqba.

Serge @ 126

Um ... I already gave that away in 122.

#128 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 08:02 AM:

"You have to remember that in the 60's it was considered de
rigueur to copy anything that Harlan Ellison did. Of course, he always
did it better."

This is, of course, nonsense on stilts, most particularly the
imputation that writers like Delany or Tiptree were so lacking in
inspiration that they had to "copy" Harlan sodding Ellison.

#129 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 08:37 AM:

#123 - Greg London -

I walked up on a rather raucous conversation at work once. It turns
out that "bow chicka bowwow" had come up in conversation and half the
people standing there didn't know what it was, so they'd had to
explain. I made the mistake of saying the conversation reminded me of
the day I casually dropped "use a safeword" into a joke at my parents'
house, and ended up having to explain what a safeword was. To my
mother. On Christmas morning.

Unfortunately, no one standing there knew what a safeword was, and I had to explain to them too. Ouch.

#130 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 08:54 AM:

This is, of course, nonsense on stilts, most particularly the
imputation that writers like Delany or Tiptree were so lacking in
inspiration that they had to "copy" Harlan sodding Ellison.

Plus, titles of stories don't always come from their authors.
Editors (or, in the case of screenplays, others) often change the title
the author came up with. Just ask the author of "Prometheus Passes the
Torch," "Vine and Fig Tree--," "The Patterns of Possibility," and
"Shadow of Death" (a.k.a. "While the Evil Days Come Not.")

#131 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 09:04 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 127... Oops, or, I Am Embarassed And I Must Blush. That being said, I wonder how many people will recognize that story.

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 09:06 AM:

Mary Dell @ 102... Ever seen Catholic High-school Girls in Trouble ?

#133 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 09:07 AM:

R@129: ended up having to explain what a safeword was. To my mother. On Christmas morning.

ow. ow. ow!

Everything is ruined forever.

#134 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 09:14 AM:

@#128, Does it make me a bad SF fan if I took Gabe's side in the little Penny Arcade, / Harlan Ellison tiff?

Ellison does usually come off as a bit of a dick.

#135 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 09:34 AM:

Bill Higgins #117: I hang my head in shame.

#136 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 09:47 AM:

#133, Greg London -

Hee! Though it makes a wonderful train-wreck of a story, the
situation wasn't that terrible. I explained, she said, "Oh, okay," and
we moved on. One of the reasons my mother is quite wonderful. She's
pretty good at being a grownup.

#137 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 09:49 AM:

Patrick @ 128

Yes, of course it's nonsense on stilts. Sorry, I clearly should have
put a smiley at the end of that post. There was in fact a time when a
lot of fans were convinced that Harlan Ellison was nigh unto God; I was
(clumsily) trying to lampoon that time, as it rather annoyed me then,
and still does in retrospect.

#138 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 12:33 PM:

I just tell people "A safeword is how you say no when 'no' means 'oh, please don't throw me in the briarpatch!'"*



*Or, for those unfamiliar with Frère Lapin, "how you say no when no means yes." Succinct, but not as witty.

#139 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 01:13 PM:

R. M. Koske #129: Something similar happened to me recently with bukkake. Er, the word bukkake, that is.

#140 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 01:22 PM:

For anyone curious about #130:

"Yrg Gurer Or Yvtug," "'Vs Guvf Tbrf Ba--'" (somehow the dash
survived the title change), "Ryfrjura," and "Zrguhfrynu'f Puvyqera."
All early stories by Eboreg N. Urvayrva. Chosen because they were
examples I had near to hand.

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 01:24 PM:

Oh, ethan, good clarification. "I suddenly found myself having to explain 'safeword' in the middle of a bukkake session" is otherwise a possible reading...a somewhat bizarre one, admittedly.

#142 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 02:19 PM:

Greg London (#133): I think this QC strip is even more "all is ruined forever" than that one.

#143 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 08:29 AM:

Greg London @123 and especially R. M. Koske @129: I am not
acquainted with classical pornography nor current American slang, so
could you explain what "bow chicka bowwow" means also to me? Googling
just hints at the general ambience, but does not reveal particulars.

PNH @128: Well, AFAIK/IIRC the early Tiptree was rather unsure about
the whole business of writing SF and worth of "his" own inspiration,
very impressionable and counting Ellison among his heroes. But I agree
it hardly went as far as that particular title.

AKICIF: Does anybody know of a Firefox extension (or perhaps just a
bookmarklet?) for easy ROT13ing? I found Leetkey, but that completely
messed up use of function keys on my keyboard.

#144 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 09:07 AM:

#143 - Jan*

"Bow chicka bowwow" is a verbal rendering of the sound of the music
from a particular type of porno. It's generally said (among my circle
at least) with a slightly sung inflection to make it sound more like
the music in question. It becomes a shorthand reference to porno in
general.

I think it is most often used to make a joke where you are pointing
out a potentially sexual connotation of something, but you're also
mocking yourself for noticing the sexual connotation because it is
particularly slender or cheap.

(And the funny thing about me trying to explain is that I've never seen the type of porno that has this kind of music.)

*Apologies for leaving off the rest of your name - because it is a
link, I can't copy and paste, and I'm trying to post quickly so I don't
have time to sort out how to get the proper characters. I'll do better
next time, I promise.

#145 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 09:27 AM:

http://rot13.com is the easiest for me to use. There may be others out there as well.

#146 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 11:07 AM:

Jan (143): I use a bookmarklet that was pointed to here on Making Light a while back. Try searching for it.

#147 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 01:15 PM:

R. M. Koske @ #144: because it is a link, I can't copy and paste

Why not?

(If it's because Stuff Happens when you click on a link, it might
help to consider that selecting text usually doesn't involve clicking on the text in question so much as slightly to one side of it.)

#148 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Jan Vaněk jr. @ #143: I found Leetkey, but that completely messed up use of function keys on my keyboard.

Persistently?

I remember when I first set up Leetkey, it did weird things to my
keyboard, but after I closed and re-started Firefox it behaved itself.

#149 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 01:53 PM:

Jan, Leetkey is what I use, and I haven't had any trouble with my
function keys or any other keys on my laptop. Is it possible that you
used a Toggle Editors command when you meant to use a Text Transformer
command?

To my knowledge, http://www.rot13.com/ doesn't have bookmarklet or
Firefox extension functionality. It's just a really simple web page
form into which you can past text for Rot13 transformation.

#150 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 04:16 PM:

#148, Paul A -

My trouble was that I could type in "Jan" and "jr." and was trying
to only cut and paste "Vaněk". I should have thought of that trick.
(It's been a very long week, here. Is it Friday yet?)

#151 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 07:40 PM:

Jan@143: what "bow chicka bowwow" means

Imagine a 70's guitar riff, kind of a funky

little ditty, but at the same time, cheesy,

because it's a sibling of disco. It requires

the use of a whammy bar on the guitar so that

you can strum the strings and then bend them

all at once. A minimalized version might be

one or two strings and finger bending to get

the "wow" effect.

If you were to try and verbalize it, it

might sound something like

"bow chicka bow wow".

It became the seque soundtrack inserted

between scenes in cheesy porn videos.

It's become sort of a cultural thing. I've

heard stand up comics have stand up routines

using 'bow chicka bow wow'. It can be used

in conversation to imply sexual connotations

to otherwise non-sexual text. Or to twist

someone's previous comment and turn it into

something sexual. (if you ever read a

fortune cookie, you can do something similar

by appending the phrase "in bed"

to the end of the fortune.)

My favorite use of the phrase was in a

"Red vs Blue" video. I googled around and

couldn't find the whole episode, but

I did find a clip of it

here.

Warning: Red vs Blue can become addictive.



#152 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 07:42 PM:

Ah, direct link to youtube here.

#153 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 09:27 PM:

Greg London @ 151: It requires the use of a whammy bar on the
guitar so that you can strum the strings and then bend them all at
once. A minimalized version might be one or two strings and finger
bending to get the "wow" effect.

I'm pretty sure the canonical sound is done with a wah-wah pedal
rather than a whammy bar, modulating timbre rather than pitch. See
about 1:28 in this demo, or this mp3.

Not that strings don't get bent, mind, but the wah is the signature.

#154 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 11:34 PM:

Tim@153: done with a wah-wah pedal

Ah, you're probably right. That would make it more 70-ish. I don't
have a wah-wah pedal, so I'm not as familiar with the tone. I'd
probably spend a weekend trying to do "bow chicka bow wow" on my
gibson, wondering why I can't get the right sound.

I don't have a talkbox, either, or a drum kit, or... oh, poo. irons, fire, multitudeness.

#155 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2008, 03:17 PM:

With all the hub-bub on this topic, I'm surprised no one's brought
up agent Richard Curtis's alternate plan: half the standard royalty
rate, but payable on copies printed at the time of printing rather than
X months/years later, at the price printed on the book.

Cash in hand, on a semi-predictable timetable, and simplified accounting.

#156 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2008, 03:51 PM:

Glenn #155:

To my eyes, that looks distressingly close to ink-stained
wretchedness; the idea that it's OK to accept less money for the
privilege of being paid on time is somehow offensive. Not to mention
that it's an upfront statement that (somebody) thinks it's a dead cinch
your book isn't going to sell well. Speaking as someone whose husband's
technical book earned out its advance in the first quarter, and which
still provides some royalty income, the prospect of accepting only half
that money is, in retrospect, nothing short of demented. I suspect that
this also is not the most effective encouragement for the publishers to
produce a large print run at any stage of the game--there simply isn't
enough incentive. Raising the stakes, on the other hand, should
motivate everyone involved.

I admit that the accounting problems are enough to make even a
seasoned CPA blanch, but I'm not at all sure that Curtis' proposal is
the solution, except perhaps as some sort of Literary Agent Paperwork
Reduction Act.

#157 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2008, 04:40 PM:

It's not an issue of being paid on time per se. Because royalties
are calculated up to 6 months after the given sale of a particular
book, plus the extra time for books to actually sell, and then there's
the amount held back as a reserve against returns from the publisher,
and then there are the special sales that are at a lower royalty rate,
and on and on and on... and that's assuming a complete sell through, of
course. It's probably closer numbers than you think, and certainly
easier to audit copies printed than copies sold.

#158 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 12:00 PM:

Glenn Haumann (and Patrick, or Teresa will correct my errors), most
books never make it past the first print run. The secondary markets,
and all the other reduced rate sales never apply.

I suspect the publishers would just make shorter print runs, and not
take flyers on book club sales (which, I am guessing) get a lower
roayalty because sales are guaranteed in advance, something like the
half-rate).

But you know what, if I have a book going into multiple printings, I
am losing on that deal. If I'm not earning out my advance, I'm losing
on that deal.

I'm trading half my income for the promise of a more regular
payment? No. That means a fifty percent pay cut. And I don't think it
means a more regular paycheck (unless the publishers get to string me
along, reaping the interest on all those delayed royalties), what will
happen is I get paid a lump when the print run is done, and then I
won't see a penny until the next print run (or next book).

Thanks, but no thanks. My dad saw an unexpected royalty check when
one of his (oop) books was suddenly selling out of Ingrams to India.

#159 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 05:48 PM:

The Curtis Plan kind of ran out of steam when everyone, Curtis
included, realized that it amounted to the author betting that fewer
than half the distributed copies would sell.

#160 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 06:39 PM:

I'm pretty sure the recent popular use of "bom chicka wah-wah" is due to a series of ads for Axe cologne.
And yes, most of Axe's ads are based around the idea that men's use of
the product will cause them to be sexually harassed by women.

#161 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 10:28 PM:

Avram: ...most of Axe's ads are based around the idea that men's use of the product will cause them to be sexually harassed by women, but only by women who they happen to think are Really Hot.

FTFY. :-)

#162 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 11:39 PM:

All right, I have to actually show the work in math class. I always hated this part...

Let's take a paperback book with a print run of 100,000 that sells
for $10, for maximum gross sales of one meeeeeelion dollars. I'll use
the royalty plan from my last book, doubling the numbers because it was
a tie-in work:

3% of the retail price of the book, and 2% of the net of all special sales, book clubs, foreign sales, etc.

For the Curtis plan, we'll use 1.5% royalties for every copy printed. That's easy to figure: $15,000, minus any advances.

For a traditional royalty structure, it gets complicated.

You're paid on the number of units sold, so with double the
royalties, you only have to sell half of the books-- in this case,
50,000 copies. Publishing, however, is one of the few businesses in
which "sold" does not mean "sold", because books are merchandised on a
fully returnable basis -- that is, the bookseller may return them to
the publisher for a refund, usually in the form of credit toward the
purchase of other books.

So although your royalty statement may show 50000 copies sold, some
of those copies may well show up unsold (returned) on a future
statement, after booksellers or distributors have shipped back the
stock they couldn’t dispose of. Until it is clear to publishers that
the copies they’ve shipped will not be returned, they hold some or all
of your royalties in reserve.

Because books are sold on a returnable basis, publishers are
entitled by contract to withhold a "reasonable" percentage of an
author’s royalties as a reserve against returns. If a publisher knows
that 50 percent of the copies of every novel in his romance line come
back no matter how good the book, he will hold back at least 50 percent
of the money he collects from bookstores and distributors, knowing he
will eventually have to refund that much. Publishers frequently hold
money in excess of the figure their experience tells them is normal and
reasonable, however. For instance, for the above line of romances, the
publisher may reserve 60 or 75 percent or more. Though they have been
paid for the books sold, they keep the money (which earns interest for
the publisher, of course, not the author) until they see whether the
books are going to come back. Some of them do; some of them don’t.
After a while, publishers are supposed to release some of the reserve
money as it becomes clear that many of the books out there are never
going to come back. But there's no way of telling if or when that will
happen.

Now add in the discounted value of cash, which is to say that cash
that comes in two years from now isn't worth as much as cash you get
today. Think of it as interest in reverse. Your royalty payments will
come in six months after the sale of the books at the earliest; with
longer sales times and the slow release of reserves against returns.
Which means that you'll get paid-- let's say a year after your initial
sales. That can be a discounted value of 5-15% a year, depending on
inflation and whether you have to borrow money to live in the meantime.
Now you're talking about 60,000 in sales just to match the Curtis
royalty-- and there's no way to predict when or if that money will
actually come in.

So, to take one hypothetical sales scenario, your book has a sell
through of 66% over the course of a year, which is respectable. A year
after your book is printed, you get a royalty statement for $20000,
with 50% held in reserve against returns. So that's $10,000, minus 10%
for discounted cash value, for $9000 in money today. After the reserves
are all released four years later, that's about $6500 more in today's
money. Maybe. Change any of those percentages, like sell-through, and
watch the numbers change, and uncertainty is the name of the game here.
If you like a predictable cash flow, the Curtis plan is for you. If you
want to gamble on what you'll get a few years down the line...

#163 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 11:58 PM:

Patrick, the numbers even up at about 36% of the printed books not
selling. But your point is well taken. If the Curtis Plan was a royalty
of two thirds of standard instead of a half, it would be break even at
75-80% sell through, which sounds about right.

#164 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 07:47 AM:

Glen, at risk of wandering off-topic, I find your numbers
disturbing. Are you telling me you only get 3% on cover price for mass
market paperbacks when you're writing tie-ins?

(Because, speaking as someone who doesn't write tie-ins, it sounds like you're being raped.)

#165 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 05:20 PM:

3 percent? Yoicks!

For technical books on computing and photography we get 15 percent.

3 percent? I can see where a 1.5 percent of total cost might seem
acceptable, at that scale. But giving up 7.5 percent, that's a horse of
a different color.

I think I'm with Charlie Stross, that's disturbing.

#166 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Yep, the royalty percentages are lousy on tie-ins, but you make it
up on volume. Really. Tie-in works usually do twice the business of
originals.

#167 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Glenn Hauman: If tie-ins do so well, then I think the arguments for the 1/2 rate scheme fall apart again.

#168 ::: Jon Meltzer sees Dostoyevskyan spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 07:25 AM:

Raskolnikov!

#169 ::: Ambar sees old and new spam probes ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2008, 05:35 AM:

(too tired to be witty, sorry)

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