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April 11, 2008

Future of Publishing, Part 5,271,009
Posted by Patrick at 02:38 PM * 34 comments

Matthew Yglesias:

The bad thing about bloggers writing books is that we torment you with nagging about the need to buy our book. But the good thing is that if you do buy the book, you’re also buying in to a vast interactive new-media experience.

Comments on Future of Publishing, Part 5,271,009:
#1 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 02:54 PM:

I'm guessing that Patrick posted this because he finds it
ridiculous. (Happy to be corrected, of course, in which I'd really like
to hear the extended-dance-mix version of Patrick's opinion.) But I
think there's something to it, although perhaps not what Yglesias meant.

When I buy a book by a favorite blogger, I am more aware than
otherwise that by doing so I'm supporting their lifestyle, which
includes creating free content and putting it on their blog. I consider
this a fair trade.

When I did strategy consulting, I'd call this a mismatch between
value creation and value capture. I'm not exactly paying for the thing
I like best, and the author isn't exactly charging for the thing that
makes them famous, but it seems to work out.

Of course, if MY had said "by buying the book, you're subsidizing my
blog" it wouldn't have sounded quite as interesting. Or ridiculous.

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 02:57 PM:

I don't remember being tormented by Our Moderators into buying their books. I feel left out. Sniff...

#3 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 02:58 PM:

What? I buy a book I have a book. It has no links, no streaming video, no ads down the sidebar.

It's a book. That a blogger wrote it matters only insofar as he manages to do what set out to do when he wrote it.

#4 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 03:26 PM:

Be fair to MY's self-deprecating sarcasm. He doesn't mean you will
get an interactive new-media experience. Or he means that interactive
new-media experiences are as ordinary as dirt.

#5 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 03:29 PM:

There are bloggers who I would equate with columnists of the old
days. In both cases, if they're interesting enough, I'll buy their
books. If not, I'm probably ignoring both their books and
blogs/columns. So, as for them mentioning their books, I see no problem
with it aside from the fact that it might grate slightly on some
readers of the column/blog who get tired of seeing the same advertising
message repeated.

#6 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 03:38 PM:

Wasn't the context ("Praise is always welcome -- send me an email --
but I'll also take on your criticisms and disagreements if you're
inclined to try to get a response.") a promise to actually interact
with people? The snark (I thought) was about the marketing language
applied to a perfectly ordinary correspondence, albeit in email.



#7 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 03:39 PM:

I've discovered several authors via blogs/livejournal (John Scalzi,
Cherie Priest, our own Jim Macdonald) and I concur with Alex's comment
that I'm more than usually aware of the connection between the book in
my hands and the person - or people - behind it. In at least one case
it's encouraged me to go to a bookstore and pay full price for a
second/third novel, rather than picking it up used.

Not entirely sure if that's germane, but I certainly find it interesting.

#8 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 03:44 PM:

I've bought books by bloggers a couple of times. None of them have
had ads streaming down the side, thank goodness, and links if any, were
ones I've had to type in myself. Books by bloggers are more like a
collection of newspaper or magazine columns than anything else.

On the other hand, books don't change, so that if a year later, the
writer has totally changed their opinions, or wants to try to change
what they said, they can't. The trouble with the modern reliance on
blogs and radio "commentators" is that when they are proven wrong,
wrong, wrong, they can go back and try to claim that they said
something different.

You bet I prefer books. Down with info-tainment.

#9 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 03:53 PM:

"I'm guessing that Patrick posted this because he finds it ridiculous"

Uh, no, I found it funny. Which is to say, partly ridiculous and partly true, which I daresay is how Matthew intended it.

We don't, in fact, know how all this new media is going to shake out
in the long run, so we tell ourselves a lot of stories and (hopefully)
adjust as "truth blows us an icy kiss." This is pretty much the
definition of a situation in which it's good to have some idealism,
some skepticism, and a sense of humor.

#10 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 03:59 PM:

Books by bloggers are more like a collection of newspaper or magazine columns than anything else.

Except that each chapter is maybe a page long.

#11 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Yeah, young Yglesias (hey, three words in a row starting with "Y"!)
has a fairly well-developed sense of humor; I'm pretty sure that
paragraph was tongue-in-cheek. I grinned, anyway.

#12 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 04:10 PM:

Vardibidian #6 This was the way I took it, too, that the post
suggested an interest in interacting with readers and there was an
ironic twist to calling that a "vast interactive new media experience."

So far the only book I bought that was basically a compilation of
blog posts, I found way too "slight" in print. But I do find that my
preference in author's blogs affects my fiction purchasing somewhat.
The Venn diagram of "Liking the blog" and "Liking the fiction" is a
pair of overlapping circles but with noticeable areas that don't
intersect. I have favorites whose books I buy regardless, some of whom
don't blog at all, and there are authors whose fiction I like but whose
blogs are just "meh" to me. But there are authors whose blogs I like
much more than their fiction. I can see that the fiction is, in some
theoretically objective sense, good - often award-winning - but it's
just not my cuppa tea. But I will sometimes lean toward buying one of
their new books anyway, because of enjoying the blog.

#13 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 09:05 PM:

if MY had said "by buying the book, you're subsidizing my blog" it wouldn't have sounded quite as interesting.

MY is paid to blog by the Atlantic Monthly, odd as the idea of being paid to blog may seem.

In context, the "vast interactive new-media experience" was posting comments on his blog about his book.

#14 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 11:11 PM:

I dunno, ever since I upgraded to Book2.0, I've been enjoying the vast interactive new-media experience.

Look! If I flip these pages really fast, the picture in the corner moves!

#15 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 01:35 AM:

I took Yglesias to mean that reading a book while reading a blog by the same person addressing the same subject is a kind of new media interaction.

Imagine an author writes a book on, say, the intensifying global
conflicts over resource scarcities. The author also has a blog, mostly
about the same subject. As new information emerges, the author comments
on how this interrelates with the material and ideas in his book. You,
as a reader, are invited to comment on the same material. That really
is a new form of author/reader interaction, isn't it? If you haven't
read the book, you'll be missing out on a lot of the conversation.

I haven't read his book, and I rarely read his blog, so I've no idea
if this is actually the case. Still, it seems like it might be a new
model--a hybrid between an ongoing book lecture and a constantly-update
preface. It would be neat: I often close a book thinking to myself,
jeez, I sure wish I could ask the author a few questions!

#16 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 01:42 AM:

Future looks remarkably like the past, so far.

#17 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 02:31 AM:

Greg London #14:

It also makes upgrades a cinch provided one observes the usual caveats about compatibility.

#18 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 03:08 AM:

Speaking of bloggers selling books, Jo Walton wants to go to Denvention so is selling signed Tooth and Claw and other things here.

#19 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 09:43 AM:

Speaking of vast, new multi-media experiences, how long before the
first e-book with a short movie or slide show with voice-over or
something similar as its "cover" treatment?

#20 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 09:35 AM:

Doug, it would have happened already if it was economically viable.
Alas, unless you're going to settle for the author sitting in front of
a webcam and saying "buy my book", the production cost of even a one
minute trailer will probably exceed the gross sales value of the
best-selling ebook ever.

TV production costs are measured in millions of dollars per hour (up
to six to ten megabucks per hour of a top-grossing show; down to
$1M/hour for soap opera). For a cheesy reality show, you can budget
$0.2-0.5M/hour. For a shoestring machinima production, you can probably
get it down to $0.1M/hour, or $2000 per minute. That's for something
like a space battle filmed in Eve Online and maybe a couple of jump
shots to actors animated in Sims 2 or some other entry level machinima
package. If you want to do something creative, the budget exponentiates

And ebooks don't sell well. Even Baen only shift a few thousand
units per book -- roughly comparable to their hardcover runs -- and
they've got a devoted regular audience and don't make any of the usual
customer-hostile mistakes.

#21 ::: Charles Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 02:31 PM:

Well, as an existence proof, I don't think anyone broke the bank
promoting Peter Watts's Blindsight, but it did have a net-based video
promo scientific lecture on vampires
which held my attention well enough. (Witness also the no-budget
political videos that are now crowding YouTube, or the promo
screencasts that are increasingly common for, e.g., MIT-licensed
freebie Rails plugins... but I digress.)

More generally, a lot of what you're paying for with professional
video production is knowledge of the tools, which don't have to be all
that expensive by themselves (viz. the credits list
for Final Cut Pro, including Cold Mountain, which was an Oscar nominee
for edting). But the cheap stuff isn't necessarily what expensive pros
know how to use, and that can result in, well... incongruities. My
favorite concerns The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, a full-length fan
tribute to '50s skiffy B-movies which was shot in video on the cheap,
and then bleached to black and white. This involved set construction
and location work, and still came in under $50,000. When the film got a
studio distribution deal, the first thing the studio did was produce a
quickie professional trailer --- for which they paid, as I recall,
something like double the cost of the movie itself.

So, while video is a field in which the unwary can blow huge amounts
of money very quickly, it seems to be possible these days to do
interesting stuff on the cheap...

#22 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 03:38 PM:

It is possible to do video on the cheap -- but you've got
to know what you're doing and do it yourself. If you don't, and don't
have friends who do, you're SOL.

#23 ::: Jesse ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:38 AM:

Blogs are free. Only worthless books are. For any blogger it's a step up to get a real paying gig.

#24 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 02:43 AM:

Re: #7

I don't recall how I first happened upon Making Light, but it has certainly acted as a gateway drug to several dead tree science fiction purchases.

1. read Making Light (a reward in and of itself)

2. read comment by John Scalzi, follow link to Whatever

3. read Whatever (another reward IAOI)

4. read, nay, devour, Scalzi's free online book Agent to the Stars (no
donation, as I am out of US, sorry John. I promise to buy it in dead
tree form when the TP comes out).

5. read ML (or Whatever) comment by Charles Stross.

6. buy Charles Stross books.

7. wait impatiently for Scalzi's book contract.

8. read Whatever comment by Justine Larbalestier. There is an
additional element here in that I knew a Larbalestier in my childhood
and the curiousity got me. Follow link to Justine's Blog.

9. on Justine's blog, note comments about her author husband, Scott Westerfeld (who also has a blog).

10. buy Scott Westerfeld books.

11. once Justine hits the trade paperback stage, buy Justine's books.

12. once John Scalzi hits the TP stage, buy his books.

13. Profit!!! (well enjoyment anyway)

I tried, when I was in NYC, to get a copy of Teresa's Making Book, but was unable to find a copy.

So I have, as a result of reading this blog, bought and read (mostly, still some in the queue) upwards of 16 books.

And that is not including the one's that were just mentioned here that I have also bought (Shaun Tan's Arrival comes to mind).

You people (ha!) are a dirty low down bunch of enablers.

#25 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 05:38 AM:

Doug, it would have happened already if it was economically
viable. Alas, unless you're going to settle for the author sitting in
front of a webcam and saying "buy my book", the production cost of even
a one minute trailer will probably exceed the gross sales value of the
best-selling ebook ever.

I think Charlie's being unduly pessimistic here. First, as noted,
Peter Watts' books are heading in this direction - and machinima
production costs and the cost per unit quality of web video more
generally are only going to go down.

Second, he's thinking too narrowly. OK, I agree, a one-minute space
battle is going to be pretty costly. But what about Matt's book and
non-fiction generally? Say he's interviewed, I don't know, John Nagl
for the book - why not video the interview and use parts of that for
the trailer?

Third, why not have online trailers? Why not have a minute of
William Gibson talking about his new book and narrating a tour of Tokyo
or wherever it's set? Authors do chat shows already...

#26 ::: Charles Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 10:45 AM:

Blogs are free. Only worthless books are.

Hmmm... are you aware that you're calling Charlie's Hugo-nominated Accelerando worthless?

#27 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 11:58 AM:

ajay: Online trailers, perhaps. A video bundled with the book, not
so much (as least for me). An interview would pall pretty quickly, and
I already dislike places where I have to sit through the same promo to
get to the new material.

I dislike games which have bits of "story" in them, mostly because
they aren't that interesting, and once I've seen them they just take up
time pushing the same (weak) "story" and acting at me.

They don't add value, they detract. I suspect I would feel much the same with video added to my books.

#28 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:41 PM:

I like the fact (and I wish it went on just a trifle longer) that
the cop is suddenly worried about the camera being on, but didn't have
the brains to try and remove it.

I sure as hell hope he gets grief for that.

Contempt of cop is always risky, because they as a group, are
possessed both of immediate power (resisting an unlawful arrest is a
crime), and, pretty much, are their own oversight authority.

Cheap video has changed that, somewhat, but as the cop abusing the
kid in the first clip shows, they don't have the sense that they have
to answer to anyone, and believe they have the right quash oversight by
the people they are supposed to be serving.

I'm not one to use the,"I pay your salary" argument very often, but
cops are one case where whom they serve is of paramount importance, the
fact they are supposed to serve the public, and the ideals of the
public they serve are (so we keep being told) against the sort of
arbitary instantiations of powe as are shown here matters.

I wish the idiot had called the kids mother; and that she was savvy,
because my mother would have handed him his lunch, at the precint, with
a lawyer, and a copy of the tape.

All hail YouTube.

#29 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 06:03 PM:

On the cost of media, and the possibility of video integration into an ebook:

I'm of the generation where short, consumable multimedia is both
cheap and easy to produce, and I have a huge appetite for 2-10 minute
vignettes I can show to my friends when we're bored. If some writer had
some keen web-available teaser, and it was of Strongbad or Ask a Ninja or Loading Ready Run quality... that would greatly enhance things for me, and attract me to that ebook pretty quickly.

Also, bear in mind that some of the communities likely to read online fiction or ebooks in the near future are likely to have the skillset to quickly and casually produce massive amounts of media with little to no money.

Example: I play in a small online RPG guild. There are something
like... 60-70 people in it, all between the ages of 15 and 37 (average
about 22). At least three have posted small 'joke' projects that
required extensive video and/or audio editing just to entertain the
other 60 people who read the guild website. These are not typically
people who have huge disposable incomes, though they do all have a high
end PC and a net connection. Also note that video quality/resolution
doesn't have to be as high for 'net or e-stuff, which cuts the costs
down significantly.

I originally planned on ending this post by referencing the successful free online work of fiction John Dies at the End, as an example of the kind of thing which has a fanbase that could hypothetically
create a cool video on the cheap. I didn't think I'd actually find a
real answer when I got there. Let's review our current main argument:

"Speaking of vast, new multi-media experiences, how long before the
first e-book with a short movie or slide show with voice-over or
something similar as its "cover" treatment?"

"Doug, it would have happened already if it was economically viable."

Well... go to John Dies at the End. They've got a trailer for their book
on its 'cover' (the front page of the website) and up on youtube. The
e-book is just the free text of the website, and the trailer is technically
for both the ebook and the print edition... but as far as the question
of whether or not a slideshow-movie-trailer for an ebook is viable?

It is economically viable, and it has happened.

Take that, future!

#30 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 11:05 PM:

Charles Dodgson, #26, I read Accelerando via my Asimov's subscription.

#31 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 02:05 AM:

Insert obligatory comment on writing becoming more and more a performing art.

#32 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:17 AM:

On movie/video production, I would say that the basic tools are
cheap enough that talent is the limiting factor. My ancient video
camera will do web-quality video. I can edit, composite, and add CGI.
Even pro-quality green-screen materials, of useful size, are comparable
to a good-quality filter.

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