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February 5, 2010

The “agency model” as I understand it
Posted by Teresa at 09:43 PM * 681 comments

I’ve been seeing a lot of confusion about the “agency model” for publishing ebooks, which is what Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Apple are on record as preferring to Amazon and its Kindle program. Please understand that I am not speaking on behalf of Macmillan or any of its subsidiaries, and I don’t have any inside information on what exactly John Sargent had in mind this past week when he wrote his statements.

Anyway.

Under the agency model, online retailers will sell a publisher’s ebooks in return for 30% of the gross. It’s not tied to a specific price structure or publication schedule. Publishers will set their own prices for the titles they publish, and decide when their own editions will come out.

The model isn’t newly hatched. Tom Doherty* came up with something like it a few years ago. (I distinctly recall him saying “We are not going to license ourselves out of our own business,” and hearing from Patrick not long after that that Tom had decided that online ebooksellers were distributors, not publishers.)

At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books. Ebooks are just another repro technology.* Furthermore, online ebook sellers like Amazon aren’t publishers; they’re distributors or booksellers.*

The difference between the agency model and Amazon’s plan for world domination is that Amazon wants to license* the ebooks in its Kindle program, control their content, and set their prices. That is: it wants to be the publisher, not a distributor or seller. This might be doable if Amazon were out there negotiating to buy rights at market prices. It isn’t. Amazon expects to have the rights just handed over, as though it were doing the conventional publishers a favor.

Amazon also wants to have the Kindle edition go on sale at the same time as the hardcover, and it wants to set a single price for the Kindle edition that undercuts the new hardcovers like crazy. This is a major problem. The revenue from hot new hardcovers is what keeps most conventional publishers afloat. It enables them to buy odd books and small books and first novels, and to put real effort into editing and packaging and promoting their books, and to pursue long-term projects like developing their authors’ careers.

In the long run, the Amazon model turns publishers into unfunded R&D labs that are obliged to turn over everything they develop to other companies at rock-bottom prices. It isn’t viable, and it’s not author-friendly in six different ways. Have you ever seen a discussion of how badly messed-up Kindle texts are? Amazon’s business isn’t about books and authors; it’s about selling units at a discount.

I like the agency model. Publishers keep doing what publishers do well. Online retailers step into something very like the role of the bookseller. Market forces continue to exert themselves in normal ways. And after decades of theories and models and way too much discussion, the ebook settles into being what it always should have been: just another repro technology, with its own strengths and weaknesses and price points.

The agency model is a good illustration of how publishing can constantly be going through (supposedly) cataclysmic changes while continuing to putter along as a recognizable entity. The specific mechanisms and technologies change, but they’re assimilated into existing roles, relationships, and areas of competence and responsibility. It’s not unlike the way the military turned cavalry into mechanized units in the first part of the 20th century: tech changes faster than the roles of the people who use it.*

From that standpoint, the agency model is a suitable and fitting development:

  • Responsibility for essential tasks stays with the people who already know how to do them.
  • The power to determine how work gets done stays with the people who are doing the work.
  • Rewards for creating value flow back to the people and organizations that are creating it.
Which is as it should be.
Comments on The "agency model" as I understand it:
#1 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 10:59 PM:

Do you have links for this? Because this is seriously at odds with what I've read about Amazon's approach (which is basically to treat e-books exactly like paper books: buy them at wholesale prices negotiated with the publisher, sell them at retail prices they set). That's been the assumption behind all the comments I've posted here, anyway.

#2 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:00 PM:

I think trying to reproduce the print model in ebooks is a losing strategy that ultimately screws everybody in the process except for the megacorporations who essentially own the publishing industry right now.

My credentials: I'm one of the technical brains behind EPUB.

Here's the ideal world as I see it:

Paper books become what they ought to be -- a collectible for enthusiasts. Ebooks are purchased for the large majority of people, the consumers who don't give a crap about good typesetting anymore than they care about illuminated manuscripts..

Ebooks are bought and owned by the end user. They are exchangeable via devices easily. You can loan them, sell them used (and in this brave new world, content providers *aka publishers and authors and others* can get a piece of the used book market), give them away, whatever. Note that when I say ebooks, I don't mean the ludicrous doohickeys. I mean the files with the content.

The publication world takes on three tiers:

1 - Self-publishers.
2 - Streams of content -- newspapers, magazines, and otherwise, often built and rebuilt using mashup technology so that I get -exactly- the information I want, and don't spend $10 buying a magazine for two articles.
3 - Publishing houses, with all the attendant editing and marketing forces that entails.

Print books are provided on demand by POD houses. Publishers no longer engage in the business of storing, shipping and manufacturing paper books. Distribution and selling become the same thing - content providers simply upload their books to a store, set their price, and go to town.

In this brave new world, because we've largely offset the cost of printing, storing, shipping, returns etc., publishing houses are left shouldering editing and marketing costs, and price accordingly, giving a vastly higher percentage to the author.

Eventually, we start to see publishing houses as contractors who work for the authors, providing them with editing and marketing services, rather than the current model, where they view themselves as owning authors and their work.

In the meantime, we see books that are available to anyone, anywhere, in the format of their choice, whether that be speech-enabled (goodbye, separate audio book industry), print, on your laptop, on your phone, or on some dedicated device you've spent fool's money on.

Consumers first; authors second; publishing houses third; vendors of ebooks last and distributors can disappear.

Pardon the somewhat stream of consciousness commentary on this. It's all off the top of my head. I look forward to being torn to bits by the crowd. :)

#3 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:01 PM:

Also, I think you're too optimistic about this "agency model." If this had been in place in 1992, then Amazon would not exist as a business today, because publishers would have insisted that Amazon sell hardcovers for $25, the same as their existing brick-and-mortar "agencies." Readers would be worse off, publishers would be worse off, and writers would be worse off. B&N and Borders would be fine, though.

#5 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:16 PM:

"No" to having links or to being too optimistic?

#6 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:22 PM:

Mike, given that brick-and-mortar bookstores sell remainders and best-sellers for discounts all the time, I don't see your point.

#7 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:40 PM:

A thing I'm curious about: Where does the publisher setting the price for the ebooks fit into this being essentially the same as with hardcopy books? With hardcopy books, the publisher sets the wholesale price (with discounts or whatever for some bookstores), and the bookstores then sell them for whatever markup they see as appropriate, regardless of what price the publisher suggested on the spine.

I assume there's a reason for this difference; what is it (if you know)?

#8 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:55 PM:

Why not save readers the 30% and just have publishers sell the ebooks directly to readers?

(yes, it wouldn't really save all of the 30%, since publishers need to pay for things like servers and tech support, but it would probably save most of it).

#9 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:57 PM:

Ben @2: I'll start the good-natured "tearing to pieces" with your throwaway about eventually seeing the publishers as contractors to the authors, rather than the current model. I don't think that's going to happen, because I don't think the change benefits anyone.

In particular, I don't think it benefits authors. Authors are, in general, authors because they are good at writing books. This does not imply that they're good at the sorts of managerial decisions that are required to run the process -- that is, the decisions about which books are worth publishing, how much editing they need, which sort of marketing they should get, and so on. This sort of thing is a lot of work, requires significant skill, and getting it right makes differences between successes and failures. Publishers have people who make their entire career doing this, whereas an author would only be doing it once a year or so when they finished their book. And, because they have a direct stake in the book's success, publishers have the incentive to make the decisions that will make for the most successful book (and the most successful series of future books by the author), which is reasonably well aligned with the author's own incentives. And the author gets to just do what they do well and write the books.

(I've been both a programmer and a programming manager; it's a similar dynamic in some ways. Making managerial decisions is not trivial, and it really takes away from the programming time.)

Similarly, it's not good for the readers. I generally buy books from bookstores that stock books from the standard major publishers, because I know that if I walk up to their shelves and pick something at random that looks interesting, it's generally not going to be dreck, and what's not to my taste I can weed out by reading the back cover. That gives me the freedom to experiment and try things by people I haven't heard of. If it were just a wall of names, all of whom were managing their own publications, I'd percieve that useful filter as missing, and would probably stick only to names that I'd already heard of.

So, the publisher-as-process-owner model is giving the author lots of value, and giving the reader value, such that both of them are likely to select a publisher of that sort over one that viewed things as a contractor-for-hire. Why, then, would that model go away?

#10 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:59 PM:

novalis @8: I expect Amazon would really like to know that answer. And that this is probably also why they want to be the publisher.

#11 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:59 PM:

I'm confused, Teresa. Isn't setting prices generally something done by the retailer, not the publisher? If a bookseller wants to knock 30% off the prices of all their wares, don't they generally have the power to do so, even if it means they take a loss?

#12 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:03 AM:

novalis @8: One reason is that many readers prefer to buy their books from a bookshop which stocks books from many publishers, rather than going around each publisher's website. This already happens in the existing ebook market -- and I speak from experience as someone published by one of the existing small press epublishers.

My publisher runs on a model of releasing the books initially only through their own site, and then releasing them through the distributors a couple of months later. I see my books selling around 75% direct from the publisher, and 25% through distributors, primarily but not only Fictionwise. (Other authors, and other publishers, have different numbers.) Some of those latter copies are being bought by readers who explicitly state in online conversations that they do not want to go round each publisher, but would rather simply hit Fictionwise on update day and skim through *all* the week's releases in their preferred genre.

#13 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:24 AM:

Julia Jones, that's a technical problem that both readers and publishers have an incentive to solve. I don't think it's a technical problem that costs 30% (or even 5%) of the price of each book. It's also, apparently, a problem that only affects 1/4th of your readers. Is your publisher also 25% cheaper than Fictionwise?

#14 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:28 AM:

Avram #11: I'm confused, Teresa. Isn't setting prices generally something done by the retailer, not the publisher?

Indeed it is. But the retailers set the retail price, not the wholesale price. The wholesale price is generally set by the publisher.


If I understand it correctly, the root of the problem was Amazon saying to Macmillan, "You're going to set the wholesale price to $X," where $X was less than $9.99 so Amazon would no longer be selling e-books at a loss.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:36 AM:

Ben Trafford @2:

I think trying to reproduce the print model in ebooks
Have you noticed that no one's proposing to do that?
is a losing strategy that ultimately screws everybody in the process except for the megacorporations who essentially own the publishing industry right now.
Could you please be more specific? How would this business plan that no one's proposing have that effect if it somehow got adopted anyway?
My credentials: I'm one of the technical brains behind EPUB.
An open-source ebook format. I'll assume you're an expert in that field. Unfortunately, what I'm talking about is commercial publishing and bookselling.
Here's the ideal world as I see it:
Ideal world? You're definitely not talking about commercial publishing and bookselling.

Do you know how many times I've had to listen to imaginary notions of how publishing ought to work, explained by people who've never acquainted themselves with how it does work?

Granted, most of those were during the first dotcom boom. This is like a blast from the past.

Paper books become what they ought to be -- a collectible for enthusiasts.
Ought to be? Says who? That's for the readers to decide.
Ebooks are purchased for the large majority of people, the consumers who don't give a crap about good typesetting anymore than they care about illuminated manuscripts.
Okay, now you're being ignorant. Illumination is ornamental, aside from colored capitals that mark section breaks. Good typography and type design are functional. They make it easier to read and comprehend text.

Again, this feels like a blast from the past. I associate "Who gives a crap about typesetting?" arguments with the years when onscreen type displays were far less readable than they are now.

Ebooks are bought and owned by the end user. They are exchangeable via devices easily. You can loan them, sell them used (and in this brave new world, content providers *aka publishers and authors and others* can get a piece of the used book market), give them away, whatever. Note that when I say ebooks, I don't mean the ludicrous doohickeys. I mean the files with the content.
That's nice. Let us know how that works out for you.
The publication world takes on three tiers:
No. They're tiers if they're a hierarchy. You're describing three non-hierarchical divisions. Also, you're short a bunch of categories.
1 - Self-publishers.
2 - Streams of content -- newspapers, magazines, and otherwise, often built and rebuilt using mashup technology so that I get -exactly- the information I want, and don't spend $10 buying a magazine for two articles.
What does this have to do with my entry? Are you doing cut-and-paste from something you wrote on some other occasion?
3 - Publishing houses, with all the attendant editing and marketing forces that entails.
Name three of those attendant editing and marketing forces.
Print books are provided on demand by POD houses.
POD? Weren't you proposing to get rid of hardcopy books? I ask you again: are you doing cut-and-paste here?
Publishers no longer engage in the business of storing, shipping and manufacturing paper books. Distribution and selling become the same thing - content providers simply upload their books to a store, set their price, and go to town.
"Step 3: PROFITS!"

POD is a repro technology, not a sales and distribution system. Your ghost is not connecting with my robot.

In this brave new world, because we've largely offset the cost of printing, storing, shipping, returns etc., publishing houses are left shouldering editing and marketing costs, and price accordingly, giving a vastly higher percentage to the author.
I am now sure that you have no idea what you're talking about. Just for starters, do you have any idea what the economies of scale are in conventional printing and binding?

...Sorry, dumb question. Of course you don't. You're making it all up, like a rocketship designer who doesn't have to account for gravity.

Eventually, we start to see publishing houses as contractors who work for the authors, providing them with editing and marketing services, rather than the current model, where they view themselves as owning authors and their work.
Er. Publishers provide those services for authors at the publisher's risk and expense. The authors wouldn't thank you for instituting a system where they had to pay for it. If you want to see an industry that does that to its artists, check out the music business. And as for thinking we own the authors, we don't.
In the meantime, we see books that are available to anyone, anywhere, in the format of their choice, whether that be speech-enabled (goodbye, separate audio book industry), print, on your laptop, on your phone, or on some dedicated device you've spent fool's money on.
Audiobooks get sold separately because they have a separate audience. In the meantime, out of what thin air are you conjuring this talking book technology?
consumers first; authors second; publishing houses third;
That's business as usual.
vendors of ebooks last and distributors can disappear.
Sales and distribution structures are an essential part of the book business. You can change them, but you can't dismiss their existence.
Pardon the somewhat stream of consciousness commentary on this. It's all off the top of my head.
That's okay. I just figure you're like one of those people who has no sense of smell, only in your case what's burned out is the ability to feel embarrassed.
I look forward to being torn to bits by the crowd. :)
I'm afraid you can't count on getting that much attention. I felt obliged to respond because it's my entry and my weblog.

#16 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:43 AM:

James MacDonald @ 14: If I understand it correctly, the root of the problem was Amazon saying to Macmillan, "You're going to set the wholesale price to $X," where $X was less than $9.99 so Amazon would no longer be selling e-books at a loss.

I have the opposite understanding: that Macmillan is saying to Amazon "You're going to set the retail price to $X," where $X is considerably greater than $9.99, so that Amazon will no longer be able to sell e-books at a significant discount from the hardback price.

#17 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:45 AM:

My publisher is not 25% cheaper than Fictionwise. What it is is a small press that manages to sell small press ebooks at the same cover press as a mass market paperback, even though their sales figures are an order of magnitude less than a mid-list MMP. But Fictionwise wants a very big bite out of the cover price for the privilege of listing with them. My publisher has a strong incentive to sell as many copies as possible directly, so I would imagine the owners and their bean counter think they're getting *something* in return for Fictionwise's bite of the takings.

I DO Not Speak For My Publisher. But my take on what they're doing is that it's similar to Macmillan's problem -- get the full cover price from the people who want it nownownow, and that helps to cover the the initial cost of getting the book into print. Take a reduced amount per copy from sales a couple of months later, when you can actually afford to do so.

(Said ebooks are DRM-free and priced at $4-$8 depending on length. The authors and publisher still get harangued by some readers about how greedy we are for charging as much as a MMP, since it costs nothing to create an ebook. Trying to explain that there are fixed costs per title and that the economies of scale work differently on 1,000 copies to 25,000 copies Does Not Work.)

#18 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:47 AM:

Gah. Cover *price*, not cover *press*. (And this is why my own blog does not have much comment on the topic -- it's hard to write coherently when right now I don't get the chance to pruf-reed before posting.)

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:50 AM:

Does anyone here feel like explaining what long-term strategy Amazon is pursuing when it prices ebooks so far below the publishers' prices that it sometimes loses several dollars per copy? And if you can do that, want to take a crack at why they strongly object to not getting to start losing money with each copy sold from the day the hardcover is released?

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:51 AM:

Can someone point me at this strange universe where publishers don't set prices, booksellers don't discount, and book production costs nothing?

#21 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:52 AM:

Here's a question I've been pondering - Amazon's loss leader policy for ebooks is simply unsustainable if the ebook market grows to even 1/3 the size the MP3 player market has grown to. At some point, they have to turn off the cash nozzle and stop loosing money on these sales.

So, at that point, what's Amazon going to do to deal with hordes of buyers who've grown to expect an ebook to cost $9.99 max, instead of what the publisher needs in order to make back an investment?

#22 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:55 AM:

Damn, Teresa, you beat me to it.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:57 AM:

Julia, that sounds right to me.

===

On the general subject of readers buying ebooks from publishers:

Let us hypothesize a system where readers buy all their ebooks directly from the publishers. My guess is that it would take about a week for someone to come up with the bright idea of combining lots of publishers' books on one pleasant and attractive retail website, and getting publishers to give them a small cut of the take on each book in return for the increased sales and exposure such a site could bring.

===

Raise your hand if you hate bookstores.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:59 AM:

Josh, that's an impressive piece of synchrony.

#25 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:08 AM:

James MacDonald @14: If I understand it correctly, the root of the problem was Amazon saying to Macmillan, "You're going to set the wholesale price to $X," where $X was less than $9.99 so Amazon would no longer be selling e-books at a loss.
Yarrow @16: I have the opposite understanding: that Macmillan is saying to Amazon "You're going to set the retail price to $X," where $X is considerably greater than $9.99, so that Amazon will no longer be able to sell e-books at a significant discount from the hardback price.

If you're both right, then Macmillan and Amazon are having two different conversations at once, informed by terminal terminology definition dysfunction, which would mean that they're not actually negotiating at all. They may not be self-aware enough to realize it, too.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:08 AM:

Mike Kozlowski @3: Sorry for getting distracted and not responding earlier.

I think you're too optimistic about this "agency model." If this had been in place in 1992, then Amazon would not exist as a business today, because publishers would have insisted that Amazon sell hardcovers for $25, the same as their existing brick-and-mortar "agencies."
This is a model for selling ebooks. What do hardcopy books have to do with it? And anyway, do you recall that there were (and are) plenty of brick-and-mortar bookstores that offered discount prices on new releases?

#27 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:11 AM:

I'm 99% sure that Teresa@19 is asking a rhetorical question, but I'm a little less sure exactly what the argument is. Or to put my confusion a little more clearly: I don't know whether Amazon was demanding that Macmillan set its wholesale price for all ebooks to something less than $9.99, or whether Amazon wanted to set its retail price to $9.99 regardless of whether that meant losing money on sales.

I can certainly speculate on why Amazon might want to have a loss-leader strategy for ebooks, and it's even easier to see why they would want to use monopsony power to bring their wholesale prices down, but I'm still unclear which of those things they were trying to do. (Possibly nobody outside those two companies knows for sure?)

Anyway, consider this the moral equivalent of a [*].

#28 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:14 AM:

THN @15:


I think trying to reproduce the print model in ebooks

Have you noticed that no one's proposing to do that?

That is exactly what they're trying to do, right down to the use of terminology. Publisher, distributor, wholesale price.


is a losing strategy that ultimately screws everybody in the process except for the megacorporations who essentially own the publishing industry right now.

Could you please be more specific? How would this business plan that no one's proposing have that effect if it somehow got adopted anyway?

No one needs to propose it. It's the defacto model.

Look -- Macmillan treats ebooks like "yet another repro," in your own words. Ebooks are a sideline to the print model, and they're applying print model dynamics to it. There's your example.

Ideal world? You're definitely not talking about commercial publishing and bookselling.

As it's done today? No. I think the model today is quite broken.


Do you know how many times I've had to listen to imaginary notions of how publishing ought to work, explained by people who've never acquainted themselves with how it does work?

Many times. Good things I'm not one of them. Just because I don't think you're right doesn't mean I'm either stupid or ill-informed.

Granted, most of those were during the first dotcom boom. This is like a blast from the past.

And so it should be. I made several predictions a decade ago, and wonder of wonders, they've all come true. Every. Single. One.

I had a lot of ideas about how things could work back then, and they got summarily shot down by people like yourself. Ten years later, I'm coming to the conclusion that they were actually pretty good ideas, all along.

Paper books become what they ought to be -- a collectible for enthusiasts.

Ought to be? Says who? That's for the readers to decide.

You're presuming that the readers are capable of making that choice, which presumes they have sufficient information. You talk to the average person about ebooks, and they think of having to spend $400 on yet another gadget so they can spend roughly the same thing they spend on paper, except they don't own the book and they think it'll expire when the gadget fails. Talk sometime to the folks who bought Rocketbooks and ask them how pissed off they are that they didn't really own what they bought.

The readers don't realize that there could be a better way of doing things, because they're being indundated by marketing from Big Publishing and Big Tech telling them the Way It Is.

okay, now you're being ignorant. Illumination is ornamental, aside from colored capitals that mark section breaks. Good typography and type design are functional. They make it easier to read and comprehend text.

I did a study six years ago, in which I took the same material, and presented it with all the elements of good typography (being a bit of a typography nut myself), and then presented it in four other formats, with steadily worse typography until we got down to a fixed width font with no typography but what the text editor provided by default.

The difference in terms of their responses to readability and usability was barely noticeable.

No one cares but people who are in the field.

No. They're tiers if they're a hierarchy. You're describing three non-hierarchical divisions. Also, you're short a bunch of categories.

Really? Okay. What are they?

What does this have to do with my entry? Are you doing cut-and-paste from something you wrote on some other occasion?

You're talking about models for publishing ebooks. I'm talking about different models.

Name three of those attendant editing and marketing forces.

Off the top of my head? Professional editors, author tours, press releases.

POD? Weren't you proposing to get rid of hardcopy books? I ask you again: are you doing cut-and-paste here?

No. If you were reading what I wrote instead of gearing up for utter, condescending dismissal, you would've note that I said:

"Paper books become what they ought to be -- a collectible for enthusiasts."

POD is a repro technology, not a sales and distribution system. Your ghost is not connecting with my robot.

Many POD houses (Lulu, for example) provide all of the above functions.

I am now sure that you have no idea what you're talking about. Just for starters, do you have any idea what the economies of scale are in conventional printing and binding?

...Sorry, dumb question. Of course you don't. You're making it all up, like a rocketship designer who doesn't have to account for gravity.

Actually, I know quite a bit about it.

Er. Publishers provide those services for authors at the publisher's risk and expense. The authors wouldn't thank you for instituting a system where they had to pay for it. If you want to see an industry that does that to its artists, check out the music business. And as for thinking we own the authors, we don't.

Really? Publishers I've spoken to refer to "their stable of artists" and when I've read standard publishing contracts, they tend to err on the side of "we own your work," e.g. rights of first publication in differing formats.

What we've seen with Cory Doctorow (who I don't agree with on many issues) is that an author can self-promote quite effectively. I know a number of writers who procure the services of freelance editors for their work before they ever go to a publishing house.

I also know a lot of authors who are frustrated with dealing with publishers for a variety of reasons, but feel they lack the avenue to go it on their own. They're starting to wake up to the possibilities of ebooks as a means for bypassing the publishing houses, entirely.

That said, your point is well-taken. I suppose when I think of contracting publishing houses as service providers, I see -that- aspect, at least, working similarly to the current model, where both parties take on a certain amount of risk (the author's risk of losing profits for services of questionable value and the publisher's risk in expending dollars to promote work of questionable value).

Audiobooks get sold separately because they have a separate audience. In the meantime, out of what thin air are you conjuring this talking book technology?

This one: http://www.daisy.org/

Scroll down to the DAISY marketplace about halfway down the page for more of my thin air.

consumers first; authors second; publishing houses third;

That's business as usual.

I'm sure the shareholders of the big publishers would disagree. I'm also reasonably certain a goodly chunk of consumers would.

Sales and distribution structures are an essential part of the book business. You can change them, but you can't dismiss their existence.

There's zero reason why, in an electronic marketplace, distribution would need to be handled by separate entities. They should be folded together. You buy a piece of software that handles it, install it, and go to town. It works in other markets. I don't see why publishing would be any different. It's just content.

That's okay. I just figure you're like one of those people who has no sense of smell, only in your case what's burned out is the ability to feel embarrassed.

Honestly, is there any particular reason for the stream of invective? I mean, really? Can't we have a reasonable discussion without the insults?

#29 ::: Mike Scott ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:19 AM:

What model do you propose using for ebook sales in jurisdictions where retail price maintenance is prohibited under anti-trust legislation?

#30 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:21 AM:

Brooks@9:

So, the publisher-as-process-owner model is giving the author lots of value, and giving the reader value, such that both of them are likely to select a publisher of that sort over one that viewed things as a contractor-for-hire. Why, then, would that model go away?

For a few reasons:

1 - Publishers who play in the print world have a massive amount of overhead that purely electronic publishers would not. Thus, book prices could fall and authors could get higher percentages.

2 - Publishers are not necessarily interested in the quality of the book -- they're interested in their view on its ability to make money, which is highly questionable.

How many times have we heard the stories of "I submitted this book to twenty publishers before one took it?" And how many good books are being lost to the whims of a greed-centered machine?

Lots, I bet. I walk into a typical bookstore and most of what I see is crap designed to be as much like previous bestselling work as possible.

I don't blame the publishers -- why take the risk when you can have a slam dunk by publishing Barry Botter and the Wizardly Woozers and be pretty certain you're going to get some chunk of people who are starving for a Dumbledore ripoff?

3 - I think that the situation that existed even twenty years ago for authors is very different than it is now. We see that authors can use the web to self-promote in a way that can be highly effective, for example, and thus, don't need to sacrifice their revenue to publishing houses.

Others, of course, will sacrifice that revenue because they like what publishing houses can give them.

#31 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:26 AM:

A small cut, sure. 30%? Maybe. But publishers, in order to rationally not start selling ebooks directly, have to believe that they would somehow sell few enough ebooks at a 30% discount to buyers (and none to publishers) that they would *lose* money.

I'm not saying there's no room for non-publisher ebooksellers. I'm wondering why publishers who sell ebooks using the agency model won't sell ebooks directly and at a discount. Julia Jones's publisher isn't using that model, so of course they're not offering a discount. The discount is market segmentation -- people in a hurry go to a bookseller and pay more; people on a budget go direct and pay less. And if the lower-priced version sells more, the publisher loses nothing, because their net is the same either way.

#32 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:49 AM:

Novalis @31: One of the previous iterations of AmazonFail involved Amazon telling a publisher that it was not allowed to do what you have just suggested, with regard to print books. Amazon used its leverage to tell that publisher that the buy buttons would go away and not come back until the publisher signed a contract that amongst other things said that should the publisher sell books at a discount from its own website, that discounted price became the new cover price from which Amazon's wholesale price was calculated. That publisher blinked first.

This is one of the reasons why so many authors and publisher staff members reacted the way they did to the current "do what we want or we remove your buy buttons".

#33 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:53 AM:

My conjecture is that Amazon as an enterprise is very vulnerable and there will be at least two big ebook sellers, Google and Books-in-Print.

1. Paper books (hard and soft) will virtually disappear for whole classes of books and it's not just bricks-and-mortar book stores but Amazon too which has its own bricks-and-mortar vulnerability i.e. warehouses.

2. Amazon is afraid of getting squashed. It knows that it cannot maintain any sort of commanding market share of ebooks once the market starts, which I believe will mark the introduction of the iPad.

3. While it is not efficient for an individual publisher to find customers, it seems to me that there are at least two more existing databases which can sidestep Amazon: Google and Bowker's Books-in-Print. Both can provide access to publishers or direct downloading of ebooks. Bing, too. Others as well.

Amazon knows that it has to expand its mail order business into many many other products because its own market share of books will decline. (I think they will do do well with other physical products and ebooks as well, too..)

Therefore I believe that the intense discussions about Amazon as the big ebook giant will shortly be a thing of the past.

That's my theory.

#34 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:55 AM:

Teresa @ 19:
Does anyone here feel like explaining what long-term strategy Amazon is pursuing when it prices ebooks so far below the publishers' prices that it sometimes loses several dollars per copy?

Sure. It's a standard monopoly-creation strategy. You start out with a lot of cash, so you can operate at a loss for long enough for your low prices to drive all your competitors out of business. Then when you've created your monopoly you can push prices up to where you recoup your initial losses and make a bundle besides. What Amazon doesn't seem to understand is that this is not necessarily an effective strategy if a) you're selling something the customers can afford to do without or b) there is another market from which they can get a substitute or c) the pain of high price is greater than the pain of committing piracy. In other words, for this strategy to be successful Amazon would have to monopolize all forms of text distribution, and even then would probably be the cause of florishing gray and black markets.

#35 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:09 AM:

Teresa,

umm , sorry, that was a rhetorical question, wasn't it? Embarassed again by my literal-mindedness. Still, I think it needs to be pointed out that that is likely Amazon's strategy, and that is not likely to work the way they think it will.

#36 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:57 AM:

If the heart of the agency model is that "ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books", why is it okay for Amazon to sell an $18 hardcover for $12.24 with free shipping, on release day (Diane Duane's upcoming A Wizard of Mars, for instance), but not to sell it as an ebook for $9.99, possibly even weeks or months after the dead-tree release?

From what I've been reading over the past week, the agency model sounds a lot like Japan, where the publisher thinks $60 is the right price for an eight-year-old DVD with only 60 minutes of video on it, and Amazon can't sell it to me for less. Not new, anyway; marketplace dealers will cheerfully sell me a used copy for $2.80 plus $3.80 shipping (plus another $10 or so to get it reshipped to the US through Tenso, if I can't find anything else to bundle with it). Same for books: tiny little discounts years after release, while marketplace dealers unload used copies for ¥1 plus shipping.

Net result? Massive piracy. Want the latest light novel from a hot author? Download the high-resolution scanned pages a few days after release, or wait another week or two for the crowd-proofread OCR'd version with de-facto-standard Aozora Bunko markup. DVDs? When I was in Tokyo two years ago, I found an absolutely pristine 10-disc box set of a drama series, that had been opened once, ripped, and resold. I was delighted to buy it for only $100 (just checked Amazon: $402.50 new, or $447 if you buy the discs separately).

I don't hate publishers. I certainly don't hate editors (in fact, I eagerly look forward to the day when a real editor gets ahold of my friend's first novel, because he does not believe us when we tell him how much work it needs). My walls are covered in bookshelves, and even my bathroom has more books in it than my Sony Reader does. I currently have no incentive to stop buying physical books.

But I won't pay more than $10 for a typical ebook, and the company that thinks I should has failed to articulate why their costs should increase my perception of an ebook's value. Even without DRM, I'm getting less than a paperback buyer gets, so why should I ever pay more than that?

Having said that, I actually did pay more for an ebook once, or, more precisely, a novel that was to be serialized electronically with a printed book delivered at the end. That was four years ago, and it's still not finished. While there's a lesson in there about the value of publishers and editors (for hounding the author, if nothing else), there's also the odd result that the remaining half of the book is now worth more to me than what I already paid for the whole thing.

-j

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:37 AM:

Ben Trafford @28:

As an enthusiast of paper books, let me tell you that POD editions (as they currently exist) do not scratch my itch at all.

If I'm going to be relegated to the antiquarian ghetto, my price is—at the very least —a signature-sewn clothbound hardcover edition on good-quality paper. Which is not on the POD horizon.

(I don't know why Teresa is being dismissive of you. I could guess, but that's not helpful to anyone.

But I have to say that you got my hackles up and my suspension of disbelief down with your casual dismissiveness about paper books, which are going away a lot less slowly outside of your neck of the woods than you think. Most of my neighbors on this suburban street in a village outside of Amsterdam are not ready for your brave new world of ePublishing as the new king, and I suspect that in this they are not unrepresentative of their peers in America.

I'd also note that much of this discussion is inflamed by a long-simmering anger from many eBooks folks. There's a vindictive glee in many of the predictions of The Death of Paper Books, which gets wearing after a time. I've encountered it before when I was so foolish as to describe the parts of a physical book on another website, and I confess that I'm now sensitized to it and geting an allergic reaction. Y'all feel ghettoized and marginalized, which is understandable, but taking it out on this discussion is not helpful.

And my eBook credentials? Been reading them since I had a Palm Ve back in 2000. I read them on my iPhone now. They work for me, but I still buy paper books because I like them, I can hand them to people, and I bind them in my spare time.)

#38 ::: Mike Scott ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:39 AM:

J Greely @36

When you buy a hardcover for $15 more than a paperback, you're paying about $3 for the better physical format, and $12 for getting it now, rather than having to wait. If you buy an ebook upon first release, you're therefore getting more than a paperback buyer gets, not less.

And Macmillan are proposing to reduce ebook prices over time with their agency model (although their track record on actually doing so has historically been very poor, so they don't have much trust on this; it would help a lot if their first ebooks priced under the new model were a few hundred books that are currently available in paperback, for $5.99 each).

#39 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:47 AM:

Ben Trafford @2:

Ebooks are bought and owned by the end user. They are exchangeable via devices easily. You can loan them, sell them used (and in this brave new world, content providers *aka publishers and authors and others* can get a piece of the used book market), give them away, whatever.
Will it rain on your parade if I remind you that depends on DRM, and it's impossible to make an uncrackable DRM (barring something like Trusted Computing, which it's already been proven nobody would go for) given that your recipient is also your attacker? Once the DRM is cracked, people can buy an e-book, crack it, dupe it, then sell the DRM'd copy to the next guy (who could very well choose to do the same thing). You can do the same thing today with the auto-expiring Overdrive Mobipocket books you can check out from libraries.

TNH @19:

Does anyone here feel like explaining what long-term strategy Amazon is pursuing when it prices ebooks so far below the publishers' prices that it sometimes loses several dollars per copy? And if you can do that, want to take a crack at why they strongly object to not getting to start losing money with each copy sold from the day the hardcover is released?
I think this guy could. He seems all economist-like, with charts and everything. Also, Tobias Buckell (why do I want to keep spelling it "Bucknell"?) has a great analysis of Amazon's pricing scheme, but since that was already linked in the thread about the music exec's article I guess you've seen it already.

It was interesting to me that, as Tobias points out, even if Amazon loses money on bestsellers, it makes it up in spades on the backlist titles. This suggests that Amazon wouldn't necessarily need to "push prices up to where you recoup your initial losses and make a bundle besides" as Bruce says in #34 because they're not actually losing money overall. Of course, they could still do it anyway just to make more money.

(Yes, I know, rhetorical question. I felt like throwing the links in anyway.)

Ben Trafford @28:

What we've seen with Cory Doctorow (who I don't agree with on many issues) is that an author can self-promote quite effectively.
I don't know that I'd really use Cory as an example of self-promotion. He "self-promotes" by giving his work away free electronically, but at the same time it's also published by a major publishing house who I have little doubt does its own promotion of him through trade shows, industry publications, etc. just because they have as much or more stake in seeing his book sell well as he does.

If you're looking for examples of people who strictly self-promote, I suggest self-published writer Henry Melton, whose YA SF is the most awesome thing I've seen in self-pub. I've written reviews of his books here, here, and here, and they're all awesome. And he got those reviews written by sending me free e-copies of his stuff, so I guess you could call that self-promotion. (Aw crap, I'm nearing the moderation threshold for links.)

J Greely @36: I'm guessing that serialized e-book to which you refer is Diane Duane's The Big Meow, right? I chipped in, too. :)

Though to be fair, I also chipped in for Sharon Lee & Steve Miller's Fledgling and Saltation projects, to the tune of $25 each, and did indeed get my hardcover for Fledgling (and will get it for Saltation when it comes out).

abi @37: Palm IIIe & Visor Deluxe, late '90s here. :) I love e-books to pieces and buy more of them than print these days, but I don't think print is going away any time soon. Too much legacy paperware in the system.

It's hard to blame e-book people for being angry; I'm a bit ticked myself over the way the e-book marketplace has unfolded so far. But I've long since learned there's no point in being "gleeful" about the "death" of print. It'll happen when it happens, and I'll probably be in the ground already by then. Unless they've come up with immortality by that point. :)

#40 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:00 AM:

TNH @ 0

At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books. Ebooks are just another repro technology.* Furthermore, online ebook sellers like Amazon aren’t publishers; they’re distributors or booksellers.

It seems to me that the agency model is essentially different from the hardcopy sales model, though. Under the agency model, the publisher sets the retail price; under the hardcopy model, the publisher sets the wholesale price, but the bookseller sets the retail price.

Under the hardcopy model, I'm free to buy wholesale at $X/book and sell at $X-5/book. Under the proposed agency model, the seller has no flexibility in pricing--the price is what the publisher says it is, and no bookseller will sell for more or less than any other.

Am I missing something here?

#41 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:05 AM:

Abi@37: Thanks for your thoughtful reply, and point taken.

It's not my intention to be dismissive of paper books -- to the contrary, my library's got about 6000 of them. I love paper books. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone in the ebook industry who doesn't.

You may note that I don't actually think things will end up as I've described them, not anytime soon, anyhow. I described my ideal world.

Personally, I think the forces of greed and inefficiency coupled with the myopia of well-meaning people in the print industry will keep this from happening. And when I think about every visually-impaired reader who loses out because the book they want isn't available in the right format for them; every child who won't be able to have a plethora of textbooks on hand because the prices are ridiculously high (due to the economy of scale Teresa mentioned earlier), every author whose worthy book ends up on one too many slush piles for them to bear...well, I'm saddened that my ideal world isn't here.

I guess that's why I'm so passionate on the topic.

#42 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:05 AM:

Ben Trafford @2

In this brave new world, because we've largely offset the cost of printing, storing, shipping, returns etc., publishing houses are left shouldering editing and marketing costs, and price accordingly, giving a vastly higher percentage to the author.

What is the cost of printing, storing, shipping, etc. a hardcover book? You seem to be asserting that it makes up a "vastly high" percentage of the cost of producing a book. I'm curious exactly what you think it is, and on what evidence you base that belief.

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:45 AM:

Ben @41:

Personally, I think the forces of greed and inefficiency coupled with the myopia of well-meaning people in the print industry will keep this from happening. And when I think about every visually-impaired reader who loses out because the book they want isn't available in the right format for them; every child who won't be able to have a plethora of textbooks on hand because the prices are ridiculously high (due to the economy of scale Teresa mentioned earlier), every author whose worthy book ends up on one too many slush piles for them to bear...well, I'm saddened that my ideal world isn't here.

Wow, man, change a few words here and you have the Supervillain's Rant, which does traditionally happen either just before or just after the revelation of the Grand Plan for a Better World.

More in sorrow than in anger, check. Fools! They know not what they do! Check. Won't someone think of the children? Check.

I know you mean well, but I'm beginning to understand Teresa's reaction. She's always been much faster on picking up on and responding to contempt than I am.

#44 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:52 AM:

Yarrow@16: Just to put numbers on things, $X is a number between $5.99 and $14.99, inclusive depending on the book. I suspect reasonable people can differ over whether that's "considerably greater than $9.99."

J Greely@36:But I won't pay more than $10 for a typical ebook

Ultimately, this is what is most important, not what model by which Amazon (re)sells books. Whether the $10 cap is an expectation that Amazon has established or it's a ramification of us not placing much value on a bunch of bits on a hard drive, the expectation is still there. Like I said on another thread, the cost of printing and binding the book may be small relative to the cost of acquiring, editing etc. the book. However, the value of printing and binding the book is still enormous to people. Until the value of a book shifts from its existence as a physical object to its existence as information, it's hard to see why ebooks will be successful. To produce that very first copy of an ebook, it incurs all the same costs as a hardcover (up until printing), but customers have decided they simply will not pay nearly as much for it.

BTW, the agency model Macmillan espouses is the model used in Apple's AppStore, the market where developers regularly complain that the market driven retail prices are too low. I think that may be a better harbinger of things to come than Japan.

#45 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:13 AM:

Damien@42: That's a question whose answer depends on many variables. What is the size of the book? What is the size of the print run? How far are you shipping it? What sort of discount is the publisher getting from the printer due to the amount of material they put through? Are you counting the cost of shipping and storage just from publisher to distributor, or from distributor to bookstore, or from bookstore to end buyer?

All that said, I've heard percentage of cover price ranging from 20% on the low end to 45% on the high end, in asking publishers what this costs them. And that's not including any of the costs incurred by the bookstore or end buyer for storing and shipping the hardcopy merchandise.

Abi@43: I'm aware that it's terribly in vogue to be jaded and world-weary, but I just can't seem to let go of my idealism. If that makes me contemptuous of people, well, then, so be it.

I have seen the publishing industry from the outside in for the past fifteen years, and yeah, I'm not shy about saying I'm underwhelmed. I remember fighting with them about their fears on piracy (it was easier, at that point, to chop the binding off a book, scan it en masse, and post it to Usenet than it was to break the security on a given ebook platform), pushing back on their insistence that ebooks follow exactly the same model they were using at the time, and so on and so forth.

I spent a long time being quiet about it because, well, heck, maybe they were right, and I just didn't get it.

Well, it's ten years later, and all we've gotten for our trouble is a retread of the same hijinks that were happening ten years ago, except with bigger players and more money.

Seriously -- are you going to tell me that the few conglomerates who own the vast majority of the publishing world aren't out to make a buck, and don't give a toss for the consumer or the authors? I mean, really? Are you going to tell me that every frustrated author or print production person or blind person I've talked to over the last ten years is crazy, and everything's just a-okay? That publishing as it stands provides the best benefit to consumers and authors and the environment? I mean...really?

#46 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:28 AM:

Damien@41: Oh, and just for fun, let's think about the extremely variable cost of returned merchandise, the whole "I send you 1000 books, you send me back 200 to be pulped." Removing that from the equation would, in and of itself, change a lot about the publishing world for the better.

#47 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:31 AM:

In response to various folks curious about Amazon's discounting policies on print titles:

Providing that the author's royalty on a print book is based on a percentage of cover price, in most cases the author will get that royalty on any retail sale irrespective of what the seller's price is. That is, if a hardback's cover price is $25 and the author's royalty is 10% of retail, the author (usually) gets $2.50 per copy sold regardless of whether that copy was sold by Powell's for full price, B&N for 20% less, or Amazon for 35% less. To break down more specifically, let's assume each bookseller has paid 50% of retail per copy of its stock of a given title, then sells at the above price points. This is somewhat oversimplified, but not excessively so.

Powell's ($25 cover, $25 sale price):
$2.50 (author) + $10.00 (publisher) + $12.50 (seller) = $25.00

B&N ($25 cover, $20 sale price):
$2.50 (author) + $10.00 (publisher) + $7.50 (seller) = $20

Amazon ($25 cover, $16.75 sale price):
$2.50 (author) + $10.00 (publisher) + $3.75 (seller) = $16.75

This is a traditional retail model, in which the retailer's profit is based entirely on "markup" from the wholesale price.

Under an agency model for e-books, the shares look markedly different. For the sake of an example, I'll use invented numbers, but here's what the shares might look like in an agency model if the author's royalty on a given e-book was 40% of net (which in this case works out to 28% of retail):

E-book, $15 retail price
$4.50 (Amazon) + $4.20 (author) + $6.30 (Macmillan)

E-book, $10 retail price
$3.00 (Amazon) + $2.80 (author) + $4.20 (Macmillan)

E-book, $6 retail price
$1.80 (Amazon) + $1.68 (author) + $2.72 (Macmillan)

But there are other key differences. Under the agency model, the accounting process changes dramatically. Under a traditional retail model, Amazon buys its stock from the publisher, then turns around and sells that stock, collecting money from consumers. Under an agency model, when Amazon sells a copy of an ebook, the money technically belongs to Macmillan, which pays Amazon a commission for the sale. This undoubtedly has all manner of interesting tax implications and might involve significant changes in bookkeeping.

(And note that in many cases, especially where small-press ebooks are concerned, Amazon presently takes a Very Large Chunk off the top, so that the publisher's chunk -- from which the author gets paid -- is a lot smaller than in the example above. (I have a couple of ebooks with a small press, which can be bought in Kindle editions. The royalty I get per Kindle sale is minuscule compared to the royalty I get from a sale via my publisher's Web site....)

#48 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:40 AM:

Ben @45:

Seriously -- are you going to tell me that the few conglomerates who own the vast majority of the publishing world aren't out to make a buck, and don't give a toss for the consumer or the authors? I mean, really? Are you going to tell me that every frustrated author or print production person or blind person I've talked to over the last ten years is crazy, and everything's just a-okay? That publishing as it stands provides the best benefit to consumers and authors and the environment? I mean...really?

Nice strawmen. Nothing to do with what I was saying.

What I was saying is that the world is complicated, and idealism, while wonderful, doesn't turn into anything more practical than a supervillain's grand plan if it doesn't include a way forward from where we stand right now. It's a great engine—a source of energy—but like fear and fire, it makes a very poor master.

Part of the way forward is treating the people whose minds you need to change like rational beings, and recognizing that they do the things they do for actual reasons. Those reasons may, in fact, require you to change your plans to reach your ideal.

That's not the same as jaded world weariness. A more realistic term for it is being an adult.

You've described an ideal world that not everyone finds ideal. I've explained one element that I find less than perfect. Teresa's talked about some of the obstacles to that ideal world. And your response is, as I said above, an idealist's rant complete with pleas to the heartstrings. Don't bother you with trifles like how we get there.

I don't know why we're in this discussion, to be honest. There's no way you've gotten where you are by being dismissive of real obstacles and people you want to convince in your ordinary life. Why is it somehow different on the internet?

#49 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:44 AM:

John@47: See, this is what I mean by the idea that it's business as usual in the publishing and bookselling industries. Why would Amazon take a bigger comparative chunk from smaller publishers? It doesn't make any sense to me, unless they're applying the same wisdom of scale that they do to print books from the same people, i.e. they charge them more because they do less business with them and have higher associated costs to support them.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:48 AM:

Ben @49:
*Why* would Amazon take a bigger comparative chunk from smaller publishers?

Probably because they can.

Amazon is big and smaller publishers are small. The big publishers have the leverage to push back against Amazon's demands. But the threat of delisting from Amazon means bankruptcy for a smaller press.

I would have thought that was obvious after last week? Is there some extra subtlety to your question that I am simply missing?

#51 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:54 AM:

Abi@48:

Nice strawmen. Nothing to do with what I was saying.

Then I must be misunderstanding what you're trying to say. Can you try re-phrasing?

What I was saying is that the world is complicated, and idealism, while wonderful, doesn't turn into anything more practical than a supervillain's grand plan if it doesn't include a way forward from where we stand right now. It's a great engine—a source of energy—but like fear and fire, it makes a very poor master.

I couldn't disagree more. Discussion and debate purify ideas and promote pragmatic solutions and compromises. I'm putting forth statements of principle, and explaining how I know they're unrealistic, not because there's anything intrinsically wrong with them but because people are resistant to change.

Part of the way forward is treating the people whose minds you need to change like rational beings, and recognizing that they do the things they do for actual reasons.

Just because people do things for reasons neither makes those things wise nor the reasons good.

And your response is, as I said above, an idealist's rant complete with pleas to the heartstrings. Don't bother you with trifles like how we get there.

Actually, Teresa didn't provide me with any substantive objections beyond accusing me of being ill-informed and making things up.

You may note that I responded pointing out where I didn't make things up and suggesting that I may not, in fact, be entirely out of touch with reality.

I don't know why we're in this discussion, to be honest. There's no way you've gotten where you are by being dismissive of real obstacles and people you want to convince in your ordinary life. Why is it somehow different on the internet?

I've spent a lot of time tilting at windmills in my life. You might be surprised at how far it's gotten me. It is, for example, why EPUB uses real XML instead of a hack-job version of dumbed-down HTML, and is a large part of the reason why EPUB supports all sorts of things to enable ebooks for the disabled.

The people on tech side called me ill-informed and naive and much, much worse when I refused to budge on both those points. And now nobody could envision the technology without them.

So, actually, in real life? This has gotten me quite a ways.

As for not answering you -- well, so far you've said I'm condescending and dismissive (which we've discussed) and that you don't think ebooks will be adopted in the idealistic manner I've portrayed, and I've agreed. So, yes, I'm addressing what you're saying, unless there's something I've missed.

Anyhow, we're meandering off topic into what amounts to a discussion of netiquette. I'm not really hearing any substantive answers as to why my ideal world is so outlandish.

#52 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:57 AM:

Abi@50: It was a rhetorical question, because I already know the answer. Amazon's approach to ebooks mirrors their approach to physical books -- I know this because I've asked them. They habitually charge smaller publishers more on many front because of the perceived higher costs in dealing with them. It's not a "because we can" it's a "because it's the way it's done" approach.

#53 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:03 AM:

Teresa @15: glad you got to him first; I've been responding to drive-by effusions like this for the past week on my own blog, and I am so tired of teh stuupid ...

@19: Does anyone here feel like explaining what long-term strategy Amazon is pursuing when it prices ebooks so far below the publishers' prices that it sometimes loses several dollars per copy?

Sure, let me take a crack at it (taking it at face value, not as rhetoric):

Here in the UK, we used to have lots of little local bus companies, and by and large things worked well. Then a couple of them decided: why stay small?

The two companies that focussed on growth, FirstBus and Stagecoach, pursued a simple strategy. They'd set up shop in a new area where a local incumbent ran bus services. They'd put shiny new vehicles on existing routes, running at high frequency, undercutting the incumbent's fare structure by around 50%, with inevitable consequences. The incumbent would pull out, sell out, or go bust. The big bus company would then replace the shiny new frequent buses with rattling old bangers, quadruple their fares, and cut services to the minimum necessary to service the market. (The shiny new buses and frequent service would move on to the next town.)

Today, FirstBus and Stagecoach between them run most of the local bus services in the UK. Their price gouging is notorious, their service is shoddy, and in general they're not good public citizens. But they don't have to be: they've got a de facto monopoly, and the cost of entry -- setting up a new bus network and then fighting a ruinous discount war against a deep pocket monopoly incumbent -- successfully excludes competition.

Now, Amazon: Amazon is rather large, highly capitalized, and spent its first eight years or so growing turnover but making no profit whatsoever -- all income was turned into investment for growth. Their ebook strategy is a dead ringer for those nasty British bus companies, and the small print in their new contracts -- thou shalt not sell ebooks via any other channel for less than the Kindle price, whatever we decide that shall be -- says it all: they're wanting to set up a price war with the likes of B&N, Fictionwise, and Diesel, and drive them out of ebook retail sales entirely, leaving Amazon as a controlling monopsony.

Ben @28: if "no one cares" about typography and good design, can you explain to me why Apple -- a CE/PC vendor with no other distinguishing features than a fanatical devotion to good industrial design and usability -- is a $50Bn corporation that has a lock on 90% of high-end (over $999) PC sales?

That's kind of a large group of "no one" they're selling to.

As for authors doing self-promotion via the web, that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. (I speak as an author with one of those new-fangled blawg things that is currently averaging 19,000 visitors per day and around 130-160,000 unique readers per month.)

Ben, apropos @46: the pulping-and-stripping thing is part of the mass market distribution model in the USA. (It went extinct in the UK over a decade ago.) Believe me, the publishers would love to kill it and switch to 100% trade sales. They'd print fewer, more expensive paperbacks but they'd be more profitable on a per-unit basis.

#54 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:14 AM:

Charlie@53 (and then I'm really going to stop this and go to sleep, because I'm watching myself transform into a troll by the moment):

Ben @28: if "no one cares" about typography and good design, can you explain to me why Apple -- a CE/PC vendor with no other distinguishing features than a fanatical devotion to good industrial design and usability -- is a $50Bn corporation that has a lock on 90% of high-end (over $999) PC sales?

90% of the high end PC sales = catering to a very specific audience. It's also an illusory claim to place Apple as having better design and usability than other companies -- I'm sure several folks at Ubuntu and Microsoft would claim the same rabid devotion to usability, and for my money, the former got it right.

Arguing that typography is important to the mass consumer audience by comparing it to the elitist market of "high end PC" buyers proves my point -- typography matters to people who notice it, which isn't most people.

I saw a market report two years ago stating that most people in North America do eighty-some odd percent of their reading on a computer, whether it be blogs, news sites, email, work-related, etc. And they don't complain about the utterly crappy typography they find there. In my experience, most barely notice it.

As for authors doing self-promotion via the web, that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. (I speak as an author with one of those new-fangled blawg things that is currently averaging 19,000 visitors per day and around 130-160,000 unique readers per month.)

Yeah. I'm going to have to backpedal on that one a bit, since the only substantive example I can think of is Cory Doctorow.

Still, the thrust of my argument is that taking paper out of the equation is an unabashedly good thing that could lead to serious improvements in the efficiency of the publishing industry. Personally, I haven't read anything here that dissuades me from that belief.

I also believe there are ways for authors to function outside of the corporate publisher arena, but I will gladly admit I'm sketchy on that stuff at best.

Oh, incidentally:

so tired of teh stuupid

Why is that publishing industry people get up in arms when people outside their industry question the way they do things and tell us we have to be nice and willing to compromise and accommodate their viewpoints, but it's perfectly fine for them to call us stupid, ignorant and accuse us of making things up?

And y'all wonder why tech people occasionally lose their cool and respond in kind.

#55 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:16 AM:

#49/#50:

I see I ought to have noted a significant detail with respect to my own e-book titles: there are no print editions. My publisher is almost entirely electronic-only.

As such, while it's certainly useful for my publisher to have an Amazon presence, it is by no means the primary venue for most of the press's sales (it releases titles in a good half dozen formats for a variety of platforms), and its economics are not the economics of a print publisher for whom ebooks are an adjunct of its print operation.

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:23 AM:

Ben @51:

I can't believe you said Can you try re-phrasing? just before quoting a paragraph that starts What I was saying is that...

But I don't think we're actually going to get anywhere because you're so strongly invested in the notion that the big six publishers are a greed-centered machine while the rest of the players in the market somehow aren't. (Of course Amazon say that differential pricing is a factor of scale; in reality, "the way it's done" is created at the intersection of "we can" and "it makes us money".)

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:26 AM:

I wish I could dig up Sam Cogley's exact comments about books up. That being said, one can think of books as low-powered reading devices, of which I have many although not as many as some people, and which, if they fall on the ground or in water, might still function afterwards. I once dropped a pager - once the nec plus ultra of modern communication, now not so much - in a toilet bowl. Accidentally of course.

#58 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:55 AM:

Ben @54: the folks at Ubuntu are doing interesting stuff. Largely because they've gotten past the deplorable inferiority complex so much of the open source community has about Microsoft and want to do something better (Microsoft's idea of usability, in my opinion, generally sucks giant boulders through a drinking straw).

Yes, typography matters to people who notice it, which isn't most people -- but that's only because good typography and design is widespread! Overall standards in the visual media have been advancing for the past century; if you don't believe me, take a look in some books on the history of advertising, look at ads from the 1930s, or 1950s, or 1970s. The pitch is progressively more subtle, more elegant, and more convincing. The history of typography and graphic design throughout the 20th century has been that of a rising tide beneath the keel of all boats in the harbour -- ignoring it, if you're in the business of making things that people will pay attention to with their eyeballs, is a bad idea.

On self-promotion via websites: I've only written half a novel or so in collaboration with Cory. I think I've got a handle on him. Cory is a very special animal, almost unique: how many early-twenty-something university drop-outs can you think of who could raise $20M for a dot-com? Who get a position as a director of a major political pressure group before they're thirty? Whose blog is a corner of an online publication that gets more hits than many major newspapers?

Expecting authors in general to take after Cory is a bit like expecting a random sample from a downtown shopping mall to compete against Usain Bolt.

Finally, you seem to be working from an interesting axiomatic assumption: that efficiency is desirable above all else. This strikes me as being one of the besetting shibboleths of our age, and a very damaging, toxic belief when it's allowed to creep outside certain highly restricted areas. Not only does efficiency have no place in human relationships (any more than grief has a place in software design), when applied to business practices efficiency tends to result in brittleness and an inability to cope with demand surges or supply shortages.

The pursuit of efficiency kills companies. The publishing industry is a very old business: its working practices, however bizarre they appear to an outsider, are the collective subset of those practices that have been tried over the past 200 years and which did not cause the experimenter to go bust. Throwing it all over in pursuit of efficiency, a priority we haven't even seen an adequate justification for, seems ... "brave" would be the charitable term for it.

#59 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:05 AM:

publishing industry people

Hmm, Charlie Stross is only "publishing industry people" if you include authors in that definition. And if your theory is getting complaints from authors, then maybe it isn't so brave a new world as you might think.

Isn't it in fact the vanity press argument all over again? Surely there is nothing currently stopping authors from uploading their work to the internet, and nothing stopping me from downloading it and reading it. What discourages me from doing that is that the vast majority of self-published fiction is of low quality compared to professionally published work: and when it is any good, it could almost invariably have benefited from professional advice, editing, copy-editing and proof-reading. The idea that there are many more great books out there than are currently being published seems a misguided one to me. I like the fact that there are people whose job it is to assess and improve the quality of authors' writing before it gets to me. Ben Trafford's model seems to assume that the market is for text, when the market is surely for good writing.

#60 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:33 AM:

(I'm going to be skipping around, here. I apologize.)

Ben Trafford, #28:

Honestly, is there any particular reason for the stream of invective? I mean, really? Can't we have a reasonable discussion without the insults?

If Teresa's replies seem a bit short, I suspect it's because, for people who have expertise in some area, it's insulting in and of itself when someone who does not have that expertise comes, armed with a grand impractical theory, to tell them how they ought to do their job.

For example:

I did a study six years ago, in which I took the same material, and presented it with all the elements of good typography (being a bit of a typography nut myself), and then presented it in four other formats, with steadily worse typography until we got down to a fixed width font with no typography but what the text editor provided by default.
The difference in terms of their responses to readability and usability was barely noticeable.
No one cares but people who are in the field.

When Teresa says good typography makes text more readable, that's based on hundreds of years of experience and experimentation by people who've spent their careers working in printing, publishing, and design. Your single study does not blow all of that out of the water. (Even if we assume that it was a large and well designed study, which, given the lack of detail here, is not a sure thing.)

I can tell you as someone who is not in the field that the design and typography of text does affect how easily I read it, and how willing I am to try to read it.

The tone of this discussion reminds me of the letters that well-known scientists tend to receive from nonscientists who are certain they've come up with an utterly new proof that the earth is hollow, or disproof of evolution... people who don't quite know enough to realize how little they actually understand.

I don't work in the publishing industry--I'm just a reader--but you haven't convinced me that you know what you're talking about.

What we've seen with Cory Doctorow (who I don't agree with on many issues) is that an author can self-promote quite effectively.

It works great for Cory Doctorow. But not every writer is Cory Doctorow, and "can" is not synonymous with "will." What would J. D. Salinger have done in your brave new world?

You're presuming that the readers are capable of making that choice, which presumes they have sufficient information. You talk to the average person about ebooks, and they think of having to spend $400 on yet another gadget so they can spend roughly the same thing they spend on paper, except they don't own the book and they think it'll expire when the gadget fails.

I think most readers know enough to realize it doesn't have to be that way.

One thing you're overlooking is that many readers who can't spare the cash for a gadget to read books with in the first place. Some buy a few books every year; others depend on libraries. These people are another reason there will be a strong market for paper books for some time to come.

#30:

Publishers are not necessarily interested in the quality of the book -- they're interested in their view on its ability to make money, which is highly questionable.

Publishers often put out books they know aren't going to turn much of a profit because they believe these books deserve an audience. They love bestsellers, of course, but they love them not just because of the profits, but because the profits from the bestsellers subsidize those labors of love.

How many times have we heard the stories of "I submitted this book to twenty publishers before one took it?" And how many good books are being lost to the whims of a greed-centered machine?

Virtually none. People who can't get a publisher to touch their books are, more often than not, bad writers.

If a book is actually any good, though, there's a publisher for it. Some of these books do have to make the rounds before they're sold. Sometimes they were written by good writers who are less good at choosing which publishers to send their manuscripts to. Sometimes they're just unlucky--not every publisher can take every good manuscript that comes their way.

Others, of course, will sacrifice that revenue because they like what publishing houses can give them.

They like what publishing houses can give them because what publishing houses can give them includes "someone will read your book beyond five or six of your closest friends."

#61 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:40 AM:

So much for sleep!

Abi@56: And you call me naive? Tell you what. Walk into the boardroom of any of the big six and tell them their primary, overriding goal isn't maximizing profit. Hell, walk into any corporation and say that.

Candle@59: Hmm, Charlie Stross is only "publishing industry people" if you include authors in that definition. And if your theory is getting complaints from authors, then maybe it isn't so brave a new world as you might think.

I will note, again, that I haven't said it's a brave new world. I've just said that I wish it was.

And yes, I do include many authors as part of the publishing industry people. They're insiders -- and like all insiders in any industry, they see things through a particular microscope, as a general rule. I'm in the business of creating new ideas that will meet resistance. And that occasionally means I'm going to butt heads with people who have a stake in things, and it just as often means I'm going to be dead wrong.

Incidentally, I'm obviously presenting my ideas in an abbreviated format here that is as influenced by toddler-induced sleep deprivation as anything else. When I've detailed the full ideas to publishing industry people in person, most of them say, "Wow, that'd be great! Too bad x segment of the industry would never go for it!"

Charlie@58: Yes, typography matters to people who notice it, which isn't most people -- but that's only because good typography and design is widespread!

I can agree with this, with a caveat: reasonable typography is widespread. But I've spent a decade hearing complaints from publishing industry people that unless the electronic version looks exactly like the print version, their art has been sullied, and it's all terrible and bad and surely the apocalypse is nigh.

My point on the typography issue (which is a bit of a lark, but obviously close to peoples' hearts) is that most people will read. They will not necessarily read because of good typography or any of the other factors in a book that people think are the be-all and end-all -- they'll read because they like the content. My wife goes to sleep reading books on her iPhone, every night. And let me tell ya: the typography on that makes me cringe. But she reads faithfully, because she likes the content.

you seem to be working from an interesting axiomatic assumption: that efficiency is desirable above all else

Then I've misrepresented myself, with apologies. I view efficiency as a means to an end.

Some time ago, I sat with a senior, cheque-writing decision-making publishing professional. A money guy. And the money guy's comment that struck me was this:

"If I could increase our profits, then we'd be able to take chances on new writers, instead of churning out crap. You know, the books that read just like Stephen King or the new Dean Koontz! But we have to sell that stuff, because otherwise, this business won't float."

Improving efficiencies means there's more money to do interesting things. It also means the author can make more money. It also means the consumer can get more content for their buck.

The pursuit of efficiency kills companies.

This is hyperbole that certainly isn't supported by my experience.

Your argument comes down "well, it's worked so far, so don't mess with it." That same argument has been leveled at me to explain why ebooks are a bad idea, in general; why we didn't need XML; and why gay marriage is just a terrible concept, to name a few.

Just because something works doesn't mean it works as well as it could be. Just ask the visually impaired guy who can't read a book because it hasn't been made available for him, or the college student who can't afford a textbook that has $100+ price tag because the economies of scale require it to be priced that high.

The essential problem with ebooks, today, are pretty simple:

1 - You shouldn't have to buy a stupid gadget to read them.

2 - You should own the book you buy, not just license it for some indeterminate amount of time.

3 - You should be able to lend, sell, trade, or move the book to any device you like.

4 - Ebooks should do more than paper books.

Until those things happen, I think the ebook industry will be little more than a sideline. Which really sucks, but the forces arrayed against doing ebooks properly are just too entrenched.

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:50 AM:

Ben @61:

Walk into the boardroom of any of the big six and tell them their primary, overriding goal isn't maximizing profit. Hell, walk into any corporation and say that.

Reading comprehension fail. I'm not calling you naive for thinking big publishers are profit-focused. I'm calling you naive for (a) ranting against it as though it's a surprise, and (b) assuming that Amazon—or any other player in the market—isn't.

But I've spent a decade hearing complaints from publishing industry people that unless the electronic version looks exactly like the print version, their art has been sullied, and it's all terrible and bad and surely the apocalypse is nigh.

You do love your strawmen, don't you? This is one reason everyone in this thread keeps giving up on discussing your reasonable points; either we have to let this stuff go (and do you then think we agree with it?) or get bogged down challenging it.

You want to have a discussion? Drop the dramatics and the handwaving and get down to brass tacks. Talk about realities. Explain, or ask, how to get around or over practical difficulties. Ask why publishing doesn't do this, that or the other thing, and then figure out how to change that.

Because right now, you're just being an gumption trap.

#63 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:55 AM:

Wesley@60: If Teresa's replies seem a bit short, I suspect it's because, for people who have expertise in some area, it's insulting in and of itself when someone who does not have that expertise comes, armed with a grand impractical theory, to tell them how they ought to do their job.

The essential problem with this response is that it creates self-destructive myopia.

I'll share a brief story:

A friend of mine worked in a semiconductor facility. He's a human resources guy. And they had this problem. They couldn't get bubbles out of the silicon. They'd melt it down, pour, and they'd still get these bubbles. They had scientists and engineers working overtime on the issue. And my friend said, "Maybe you should stir it. That's how my mom got bubbles out of her candy." And he was scoffed at by everyone but the floor manager, who figured, what the heck? It can't hurt to try.

Stirred. No more bubbles. But if it had been up to the people who ostensibly knew better, they'd never have tried his solution.

One thing you're overlooking is that many readers who can't spare the cash for a gadget to read books with in the first place. Some buy a few books every year; others depend on libraries. These people are another reason there will be a strong market for paper books for some time to come.

Yes, but most of them have access to a computer, and most of them read on that computer fairly regularly. My whole point on the "gadgets are a bad idea" thread is precisely your point. People shouldn't have to spend obscene amounts of money to buy ebooks. They have a gadget they use to read electronic text, already.

Virtually none. People who can't get a publisher to touch their books are, more often than not, bad writers.

Publishers often put out books they know aren't going to turn much of a profit because they believe these books deserve an audience.

Have you ever actually sat in on a meeting with a publisher and listened to them pick their crop of new books? Trust me when I say that you have a very rosy picture of what the process looks like.

Or, heck, walk into a bookstore, and look around at how many books and series are clones of other series. Yes, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of what you see on the shelves fits a formula for selling.

I've seen a whole bunch of very fine writing in my time that just didn't make the cut with any publisher because of a variety of reasons that have zilch to do with the quality of the writing, and lot more to do with the way the publishing industry operates today.

I've read the regretful, personalized rejection letters from publishers that say stuff like, "We really love your book, and we agonized over it, but we don't think the audience for it will be big enough to justify our risk."

Well, I say, cut out the costs associated with paper production, and the publishers have more room to assume the other risks associated with production and marketing of a title.

I'm really unclear as how this simple equation is deemed so terrible to consider.

#64 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:56 AM:

Ben, 61: Your four numbered points are all about DRM. Nobody here will argue with them. Is this really the essential truth you've been trying to express?

#65 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:57 AM:

Ben Trafford, #54:

Why is that publishing industry people get up in arms when people outside their industry question the way they do things and tell us we have to be nice and willing to compromise and accommodate their viewpoints, but it's perfectly fine for them to call us stupid, ignorant and accuse us of making things up?

Because they actually know more about it than you do. On this particular subject, they're speaking from a position of authority.

There's an expression: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Some people think it means knowledge is dangerous, but that word little is key. People who know just a little about something often don't understand just how little they know. Which can be dangerous when they're put in a position to make decisions. That's why, as convenient as I find Amazon for buying books, I hope it doesn't end up with the kind of monopoly power that would let it make decisions for the publishing industry.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:02 AM:

Ben @63:
Well, I say, cut out the costs associated with paper production, and the publishers have more room to assume the other risks associated with production and marketing of a title.

It sounds like a great business idea. Go for it.

Seriously, who's stopping you? Find these authors whose wonderful work is not getting published. Line up some venture capitalists, or raise funds any of the other ways that small tech start-ups do. Set the standards of copyediting and editorial work that you think the market needs. Produce the books for the platforms you think are going to sell well. Use the brave new marketing models you've proposed.

Go, go, go! Come back and post a link when you have; I'll happily check it out.

#67 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:03 AM:

Ben Trafford, #63:

Yes, but most of them have access to a computer, and most of them read on that computer fairly regularly.

There are plenty of people in our society who do not have their own computers, and have very little access to computers. I think they should have the same access to books that I have. In a mostly-ebook world, they won't.

#68 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:08 AM:

Charlie:"brave" would be the charitable term for it.

Maybe 'courageous' (in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense).

#69 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:11 AM:

TexAnne@64: No, it's not the crux of the discussion, it's just my list of things wrong with ebooks.

The rest of the discussion has essentially been about making the publishing industry ebook-focused instead of paper-focused. The reason I listed those things is because I don't believe that focus shift can happen until ebooks cease sucking.

Wesley@65: Because they actually know more about it than you do.

A very smart person I know once said: "If does take any reasonable human more than three years of intense study to learn enough to speak competently on a topic."

I've been doing the ebook thing and interacting with the publishing community for fourteen years now. I think I've got a pretty good handle on the way it works.

Abi@66: Seriously, who's stopping you? Find these authors whose wonderful work is not getting published. Line up some venture capitalists, or raise funds any of the other ways that small tech start-ups do.

What's stopping me is the deplorable state of the ebook world. I'm not going to a party to the cyclical rise and fall of the ebook format of the moment. See the previous four points on "what's broken with ebooks." And trust me when I say that no VC is going to give anybody money to go up against Amazon. So, in the meantime, I work on the tech side of things, trying to solve the extant problems with ebooks. My current goal is a DRM and interchange format.

Wesley@67: There are plenty of people in our society who do not have their own computers, and have very little access to computers. I think they should have the same access to books that I have. In a mostly-ebook world, they won't.

The people in our society who don't have access to computers also aren't blowing $15 a pop on paperbacks. They're getting books out of the library, and libraries today have ebooks they can access and read.

And if they're not in a place where they have libraries, then I suspect they have bigger problems to worry about than whether or not they have books to read. People operating at the level you're talking about are generally more concerned about eating.

#70 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:36 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 58... efficiency is desirable above all else. This strikes me as being one of the besetting shibboleths of our age

And what looks inefficient and/or messy to some people may actually be very efficient for the person doing it.

#71 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:41 AM:

Ben, fair enough. But I'd like to mention that despite my provable ability to understand complex arguments, I had no idea that that was your point.

#72 ::: Rich Warren ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:46 AM:

Ben Trafford 69:

As a former Bookseller, I can tell you many people without computers spend a great deal of money on books.

Plenty of people do not have computers, many do not care to have them.

Why do you assume that if people don't happen to have easy access to libraries, that they are at some barbaric level where they would be on the breadline concerned about food?

#73 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:53 AM:

TexAnne@71: I plead sleep deprivation for a lack of clarity.

Rich@72: Really? That's surprising. I'm basing my assumption on research that shows 76% of Americans own a computer. I am working off the (admittedly questionable) assumption that the 24% who don't are generally motivated by financial concerns that would preclude extensive book-buying.

As for the libraries/food assumption, I'm basing it on extensive international travel. When I've been to a place that lacked libraries, they was a massive amount of poverty.

#74 ::: harmonyfb ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:59 AM:

Re: treating e-books as essentially the same as a hardcover

E-books are very different from hardback books. When I buy a hardcover, I own it. I can lend it to whomever I choose, however many times I choose. I can alter it and use it in artwork (my daughter's art school has done altered books in the past.) I can sell it, I can donate it, I can pass it on to other readers by setting it free.

Supposedly, I don't own whatever e-book I purchase. So publishers want me to pay full price for a file that they can snatch back whenever they choose, which I'm not allowed to lend out or give away, and definitely never allowed to sell?

I think not.

I'm not against publishers making money. But I am against getting charged full purchase price for something that I'm apparently renting.

#75 ::: Rich Warren ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:08 AM:

Ben Trafford 73:

Please link to the research, I would like to know whether it was households or individuals?

There may be several adults in a household who do not use a computer even though there is one.

Yes you are correct, it is questionable to make that assumption about the other 24%.

I've visited rural areas which do not have easy access to library services, but they were certainly not in poverty.

As well as a former bookseller I am a qualified librarian, and have worked in public Library services in the U.K.


#76 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:14 AM:

Rich@75: The research is here:

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=6094

It's admittedly five years old. I've little doubt the figure is higher now.

Since they specify "three out of four adults," I'm guessing that it's an individual rather than a household figure.

And while I'm surprised by your assertions, I don't doubt them. I guess I'm ruined by being a resident of Red Canuckistan. Our state of deplorable socialism ensures that even very rural areas have libraries with computer areas for residents.

Thanks for setting me straight!

#77 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:30 AM:

I've lived in areas where more people than you would expect had computers, but not necessarily Internet access. They'd go to a library for that.
Also, there are a surprising number of homeless people who use computers at libraries - they're not going to have readers, they don't have desktop computers, and they're not going to be buying a lot of books in any form.

#78 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:35 AM:

Yes, Teresa, but what about the cheese?

#79 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:43 AM:

If we're talking about what we'd like to see in an ideal world, I'd like a system when the day a new book comes out I can choose to pay $35 for the hardback (like now) or $35 for a paperback, or $35 for an ebook -- and the author would get 10%. Or I could order it from the library and wait and get a temporary use of a hardback in six weeks or a couple of months for nothing, and the author would get 10% of the copy the library bought and their public lending payment.

And then a year later, I could pay $10 for a hardback, or $10 for a paperback, or $10 for an ebook and the author would get 10%.

And many years later I could pay 50 cents for a hardback or a paperback used and the author would get nothing, or 50 cents to download the ebook and the author would get 10%. And maybe if I bought the book for 50 cents in a sale and it turned out I liked it I'd spend another 50 cents to get an ecopy so the author would that get 10%.

If we had that system I'd buy the $35 paperback on day one, because you wouldn't believe how often the true price I pay for a book is $45 -- $35 for the hardback when it comes out, and then $10 for the paperback a year later. (I *like* paperbacks. They are my format of choice. I could get just as fanatical about this as ebook people are.) Other times I pay $10 because I order from the library and then buy the paperback.

Oh, prices in Canadian dollars, but they're the same as US dollars anyway, so I expect the prices would be the same too -- in an ideal world.

#80 ::: Silence Dogood ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:50 AM:

The revenue from hot new hardcovers is what keeps most conventional publishers afloat. It enables them to buy odd books and small books and first novels, and to put real effort into editing and packaging and promoting their books, and to pursue long-term projects like developing their authors’ careers.

As an mid-list author who's recently been dropped by his publisher because his last submission wasn't (and this is a direct quote) the "big book they were looking for," and who's getting rejection after rejection from others because, though they say the writing is great and they love the plot and the characters, it's "not the big book they're looking for right now"--can you tell me which publishers are actually doing this? I'd like to give their name to my agent.

#81 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:52 AM:

Something I've been wondering about. According to Amazon v. Macmillan: Authors, Are You Backing The Right Horse?, "Macmillan cut their standard author royalty on ebooks from 25% of the list price to 20% of the list price last October."

True?

#82 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:05 AM:

@ Ben #63: Your anecdote is interesting and hightlights the value of outsider input, but in the context of this discussion, it's an invalid analogy. The person in the story offered a simple but effective suggestion on how to achieve one particular step of a complex process, he didn't began by sketching in front of the engineers a complete alternate (and equally complex) process for making microprocessors.

#83 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:11 AM:

Ben @28: It's almost impossible to keep track here of who is saying what. This is one reason typography matters -- it makes text readable.

There are ways of setting off quoted text, said Tom, typically.

#84 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:18 AM:

Supposedly, I don't own whatever e-book I purchase. So publishers want me to pay full price for a file that they can snatch back whenever they choose, which I'm not allowed to lend out or give away, and definitely never allowed to sell?

I'm not clear how $35 for a hardcover (the price of the latest Steven King book) is the same price as Macmillan wanting $12-15 for its ebooks.

#85 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:22 AM:

84
Missing the point there.
It's that you're actually only renting that e-book, and that means it's more expensive over time than a physical book. You can't resell the e-book, you can't legally give it away, and it's possible for the vendor to remove it from your reader without your permission.

#86 ::: JD Rhoades ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:29 AM:

I'm not clear how $35 for a hardcover (the price of the latest Steven King book) is the same price as Macmillan wanting $12-15 for its ebooks.

It isn't. 12-15 dollars is way below the price of most hardbacks.

But apparently, the dedicated e-book aficionados have decided that a penny above 9.99 is an outrage, a price gouge that makes OPEC look like a bunch of Girl Scouts.

#87 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:37 AM:

Have you ever seen a discussion of how badly messed-up Kindle texts are? Now this makes Baby Kip cry. As regular readers of my few and scattered comments here have already forgotten, I've been obtaining texts (and ebooks) from several sources. From the most expensive to least, they are: (1) Sony's ebook store at prices from two dollars up, (2) Sony's ebook store at 98 cents and a dollar ninety-eight (which comes from a stratum of publishers who specialize in tidying up PD texts and selling them cheaply), (3) free books from Google Books and archive.org, (4) free sources that include Project Gutenberg, , various other reputable free PD sources, and somewhat iffy sources that I go to for books I've already paid for on paper at least once (or which have never been offered in ebook format).

In cases (1), (2), and (3), the books are formatted for my reader, more or less. In case (3), the formatting and OCR quality is often so low, I end up discarding the book and going to (4) for a text that I then format myself in InDesign. Having done so, I then find myself either going back to the book and spending an extra evening fixing typos that I've found, or I reconcile to the wonderful world of incontinent typos:

• inconsistent proper names,
• 'rn' becoming 'm' and vice versa
• interchangeability among i, I, l, 1, and other such substitutions,
• strange line returns,
• nonsensical tabs and inconsistent line spacing,
• bizarro typographic symbols tossed in touretically for no apparent reason,
• footnotes mushed into the text,
• page numbers mushed into the text,
• loss of italics,
• missing spaces between words,
• words broken up,
and so on.

Usually, I can tell what was intended and I keep going. Sometimes I have to go get my paper copy of the book and search through it to find a word or name so badly munged that my powers of deduction failed entirely.

Up to now, I was hoping that books in the (1) category, books that I had paid something other than a bargain basement price for, would have been scanned and checked over by a competent human, or better yet, set from an already-edited and well-groomed text file. I already found out that books in the category (2) were generally not badly mangled but still had enough typos to provide adequate breeding stock if OCR errors somehow went extinct everywhere else. (The copies of non-PD books in Russian online libraries fall somewhere between (2) and (3) in this area. Some of the cleanest texts come from Project Gutenberg, but it's luck of the draw.)

As Teresa said, way up there in the original post, this isn’t about books and authors; it’s about selling units at a discount. Would it kill them to hire a copy editor? Have they advertised the position, and nobody applied? Where can I sign up? I'd like a regular gig.

#88 ::: MoXmas ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:38 AM:

Hi, I know that this won't actually stop any discussion, not should it. But having witnessed these kind of arguments lots of times between coders and designers, I would just like to point out what seems to be an error of language.

When Ben writes "books", he primarily (though not exclusively) means "content".

When most everyone else in this thread writes "books", they mean "good books".

"Content" discussions are purely about distribution and efficiencies of systems.

"Good book" discussions are about layers of professionalism to ensure quality. Or at least a system that allows people to find the books they like, relatively easily.

During years of of usability testing, I have seen coders denigrate design/typography/etc. either explicitly ("I don't need something pretty") or implicitly ("Don't market to me!"). But when push comes to test, they always react better to the designs, the interfaces, to the products that look better, as well as work better -- though of course those two concepts are usually inextricably linked.

(It's why I trust Charlie Stross when he talks about books, for example, but take his dismissive attitude toward Microsoft usability -- which is actually quite good, even if their products have issues -- with a grain of salt.)

(Even though I enjoy it.)

(OK, I go now.)

#89 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:40 AM:

Ben Trafford @61 -- Improving efficiencies means there's more money to do interesting things. It also means the author can make more money. It also means the consumer can get more content for their buck.

Theoretically. In other industries I've observed (software and hardware, energy), in practice, "improved efficiency" means slashing/outsourcing personnel, and cutting corners in other places. Short-term, this can result in higher share dividends. But over the long term, the company's ability to innovate is often hobbled by its self-imposed restrictiveness in the name of 'efficiency'. I am skeptical about the benefits of efficiency necessarily trickling down to employees, consumers, or authors. Not saying it's impossible, just unlikely.

Also, as Serge @70 and others have pointed out, efficiency is a relative term, and apparently roundabout processes may be very well justified indeed.

#90 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:48 AM:

I wonder if the people claiming that non-electronic books are going to become collector's items/high-end luxury goods/extinct have ever had small children. While I can perhaps see reading a child to sleep from an ebook reader--I suppose the assumption is that illustrations will have to go away until the readers are able to handle color, or at least better graphics than they currently seem capable of, and parents just won't mind, nor will their children--I have a hard time seeing even well-funded middle-class parents wanting their toddlers gnawing on the corners of a $300 electronic device with crunchy bits inside.

Or, for that matter, wanting their seven-year-old to haul the ereader off on a camping trip where it might suddenly start raining. Or the child might drop the reader in the mud. A lot of the situations in which a responsible adult who had to spend the money personally could take good care of an expensive electronic device don't work so well for children, who with the best of intentions are careless, less coordinated, and not fully aware of just how pricy very pricy things are.

Even my niece, who took her mother's netbook to bed and treated it like a stuffed animal (until all the keys on the keyboard came off, poor thing) is given nice shiny new physical books, and it's not because of a lack of Dora The Explorer titles in ebook format. It's because you don't put your expensive electronic devices through a preschooler's hands when you're offering reading material to kids. A lot of the "physical books are going away!" assumptions seem to be based on the premise that all readers are well-off adults who are comfortable with computers and the internet.

(And savvy about it, for that matter. The last time I did a casual search for an ebook I wanted, the first results were for sites selling PDF bundles of popular series. I know they're all pirated copies, but it had the facade of a legit online store. "Able to accurately navigate to the appropriate location where a legitimate copy of the book is being offered for sale in a format compatible with the current ebook reader" is a skill that not everyone has. Making everyone use proprietary devices with proprietary formats that only sell ebooks through a specific store doesn't seem like a good solution to this problem.)

I, for one, would welcome our New EBook Overlords when it comes to my college textbooks, if only for the sake of taking some weight off my shoulders. But all books except those that are luxury items? I'm not seeing that happening any time soon.

#91 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:03 PM:

Answering my own question: Macmillan has backed down on the 20% royalty plan. See the Authors Guild's Macmillan E-Royalties at 25%.

#92 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:24 PM:

And Sargent claims they're going to be raising the e-royalty percentage further to make up for the lower sale price.

As with the promise of "variable pricing," I'd take it with a grain of salt. (Not that it really affects me either way, me not being a published writer and all.)

#93 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:36 PM:

tnh@19 (and to some extent Charlie$53): It seems to me that with this loss-leader pricing Amazon is doing what Texas Instruments did in components in the 1960s and calculators in the 1970s: price down the learning curve. It's more the volume curve in this case, but the base is the same: per-unit cost for e-books will be less in the future, when e-book volumes are greater. So the strategy is to price according to an estimate for what the costs will be later, when most of the sales take place; this grows both market share and the size of the market.

It's true, as in Charlie's bus example, this ends up with a market with a few big suppliers. Whether that necessarily means bad product depends on what you think the barriers to entry will be. Based on Amazon's behavior, I think Amazon believes this consolidation is going to happen anyway, so it's imperative to do the loss-leaders now to ensure Amazon is one of the survivors.

I think there are actually three models under discussion, which is confused by Amazon using the first two right now:

1. The traditional publisher-retailer model. The publisher sets wholesale price, the retailer sets retail price.

2. Publishers go away. Authors sell rights directly to the retailer. All the things publishers currently do occur somehow by magic. Prices set entirely by the retailer, since individual authors have little leverage and extremely limited competitive information.

3. Agency model. Publishers set the price.

My worry about the agency model is that it could lead to another model about as bad as #2: retailers go away. After the agency model is established industry-wide. There is no price competition among retailers, and very little selection or service competition; after all every retailer can afford to "stock" every e-book since they pay nothing, and delivery is effectively instantaneous for all. Some clever publisher realizes they now have a competitive advantage: they are the only people on earth who can sell their own e-books at a discount. So they set up their own captive retailer; if they're paying a 30% commission to retailers, they can cut prices up to 30% and still get the same price (minus negligible delivery costs and the cost of running the store.) Eventually retailers all die, with I think obvious bad consequences. For example, authors are now indentured to a single publisher for life; if they sell a new book to a different publisher, their existing readers will have trouble finding it.

#94 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:41 PM:

Mike @ 38: If you buy an ebook upon first release, you're therefore getting more than a paperback buyer gets, not less.

No. Except for a very short list of authors, instant gratification has no value to me at all. And that also happens to be the list of authors whose work I want to share with friends. Scalzi's The God Engines is sitting at the front door right now, waiting to go out on loan; it's on top of a large stack of Harry Dresden novels that just came back.

I can't do that with most ebooks (obBaen), at any price, so they have less value to me than a paperback. They certainly don't have value approaching a hardback.

@43 John Chu: Until the value of a book shifts from its existence as a physical object to its existence as information...

This is where the publishers have failed. The customer sees the physical object as a substantial portion of the cost, so that without the object, the cost of the content appears to be significantly lower. The fact that this is wrong is simply irrelevant; the correct cost model is invisible to the customer, so the only thing that matters is "how much will I pay to read this".

Amazon guessed that $9.99 was about the limit. I think that's still too high for a lot of people, even for a brand-new blockbuster must-read new release. I don't see a way for publishers to increase perceived value to match their cost.


John Chu: BTW, the agency model Macmillan espouses is the model used in Apple's AppStore, the market where developers regularly complain that the market driven retail prices are too low.

Actually, the developers complain about capricious approval policies, lengthy delays releasing new titles and updates, poor searchability in the store, inability to offer trial versions, etc, etc, all things that make it extremely difficult to convince the customer that their content has value greater than $0.99. And the fact that it hasn't gotten much better has been enough to drive many talented developers away from the platform, possibly for good.

App Store developers aren't competing against each other in a market, they're competing against Apple to be allowed to sell their product at all. The other twenty guys selling (or worse, giving away) similar apps aren't their primary competition; the App Store user interface is, and the one who games it successfully gets a brief flurry of sales until Apple changes the rules again.

The App Store is a clumsy hack layered onto a design that was reasonable for presenting music, at least at first, but that doesn't even do that particularly well at its current scale. To make iBookstore competitive with Amazon requires a complete rewrite, and the fact that they're using iTunes to sync with the iPad suggests that they're just layering more cruft on top of the music store instead.

The no-competition-against-Apple rules for iPhone developers really bothers me for the iPad. They've been very firm about rejecting apps that "overlap" with Apple-supplied functionality, including browsers, mailers, etc. If they continue this model with iBooks, will people who make alternative book-reading tools be accepted into the iPad store? Kindle? iBunko? If accepted, will they be able to download and sync content freely, just like iBooks, or will they be forced to use clumsy workarounds to compensate (like iFlash, which has to sync your flashcards over WiFi to a custom server running on your Mac)?

I honestly don't see Apple's entry into the ebook market as a positive development. They've made Macmillan a deal that sounds good on paper, but will either the publisher or the readers actually benefit from it?

-j

#95 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:54 PM:

J Greely, 94: I don't see a way for publishers to increase perceived value to match their cost.

Drop DRM entirely and forever. I'd re-buy pretty much my entire library if they did that.

#96 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:09 PM:

J Greely @94:

Personally I doubt Apple will reject the e-book apps. Apple is primarily a hardware company, and runs its content stores at barely more than the break-even point as basically a means of driving adoption of (and locking customers into) their products.

You might hear about the music or app stores taking in a few million bucks for Apple here and there, but that's peanuts compared to the hundreds of millions Apple makes on its hardware.

If Steve Jobs isn't insane, he'll look at those other e-book stores and say, "Great! More reasons for people to buy the iPad that I don't have to pay overhead costs on! C'mere and let me give you a great big hug."

I find it hard to believe that Jobs would want to protect the iBook store from "duplication". If book publishing is so low-margin that publishers are afraid Amazon's $9.99 pricing will drive them out of business, there's no way he'd do anything to favor the Apple iteration of it at the expense of adoption of the high-margin iPad hardware.

And I can't imagine the publishers wanting only iBooks on the device either because they'd be making the same amount of money no matter who sells their books. Even Amazon (who has stated with confidence in the last couple of weeks that consumers will be able to use their Amazon Reader on the iPad).

Also, textbook companies (including the leaky McGraw-Hill) are partnering with the app-book creator ScrollMotion to put textbooks on the iPad, and those would certainly come outside of the iBooks store.

#97 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:18 PM:

If they continue this model with iBooks, will people who make alternative book-reading tools be accepted into the iPad store? Kindle?

Also, will America ever elect a black president?

#98 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:27 PM:

Chris, I would like for Apple to be relatively accepting with the iPad store; I just have no reason to expect it, based on their track record.

Anticorium, my answer is "goldfish". It is precisely as relevant to the discussion as your question is.

-j

#99 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:29 PM:

you're actually only renting that e-book

A distinction that seems very important to me: You rent DRM books, but you own DRM-free books.

#100 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:38 PM:

#44 ::: John Chu

Yep; got it in one. Ebooks are regarded as software, by the way, right down to most of the commercially produced ones having a EULA.

I note re: #30 @Ben Trafford that commercial software distribution uses the wholesaler, distributor system as well--including using Ingram and Baker and Taylor.

And that yes, I know you're part of the Epub format group, and honestly, *shrug*. I remember Open Ebook, and the politicking and dick-waving from that carried right on to Epub.

I'm glad you're part of the IDPF. I think it's a great idea, but seriously dude, making the shell, or even making the content production tools doesn't convey expertise in ebook production or distribution--and it shows.

You're mistaking your audience, and losing control of your prose.

#101 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:41 PM:

J Greely, you're in the middle of wondering if Apple might someday allow a Kindle app on the iPhone and iPad.

What do you think it means that I asked a question about an event that has already happened, and is readily verifiable to have happened?

#102 ::: Mike Scott ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:44 PM:

J Greely @94

If timeliness has no value to you, then just wait ten or twenty years and you'll be able to get anything published today as a cheap ebook, so have no cause to complain about pricing.

#103 ::: Someone Else ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:48 PM:

It seems clear that Amazon's nuclear response to Macmillan's "agency model" contract proposal was because Macmillan was trying to assert control over the pricing of their product, and nothing else.

Amazon has always sold Kindle editions for more than $9.99. Right now, Connie Willis' BLACK-OUT costs $13.69 for the Kindle. That is not a Macmillan book. There are Kindle editions that cost as much as $6,431.20, for Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems (Part 4). There are also Kindle books that cost $2.50. There are free Public Domain titles.

The agency model for selling ereader content threatens Amazon not because the price for new-release bestsellers will be higher than $10 -- it threatens them because in the long run the publishers will be controlling the sale of ebooks, rather than being controllable suppliers to a retailer who calls the tune.

#104 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:52 PM:

Fade @ 90: My niece and nephew both play with their parents' discarded tech: mobiles and digicams. They adore them. My pre-school aged niece now has a Nintendo DS and works her stylus like a pro. I'm not saying that e-readers will be ubiquitous, but as they continue to gain popularity and enhanced features, the hand-me-downs will get handed down somewhere, often to children. And keep in mind that Playskool, Fisher-Price and LeapFrog have often capitalized on the opportunity to create toys that mimic the form and function of devices children see their parents carry on a daily basis. In fact, if those brands don't already have plans for a chunky plastic reader in primary colours, one that can withstand some stomping and comes with some licensed-character stories pre-loaded, then they're already behind.

I say this as someone who could operate a VCR before she could read, but later loved books and read obsessively upon learning how. You take the tech you get. You pillage what's lying around. The earlier thread on photography illustrated this point, about darkrooms.

Note: this has little to do with any debate on the agency model, I realize. And I'm not writing this out of some hatred for paper books, or because I want to scoff at them. I like paper books. I like publishers. (I picked up my copy of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman last night before bed, and again thanked TPTB for editors and translators.) I just also love the way that my niece and nephew pick up anything that's been put down and play with it, no matter how expensive it is, and I like the way my in-laws allow them to do so.

#105 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Regarding "competing" ebook apps, I don't think it's going to be a problem. Honestly, the thing that surprised me most about the iPad announcement was the iBooks application and book store; Jobs and other Apple spokespeople have not been keen on ebooks, though Apple very much was an early supporter.

I note that I've been assured by two reader application developers whose ereaders I use on my iPhone that they will be taking advantage of the larger iPad screen size.

#106 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:56 PM:

Rich McAllister @93 writes: "My worry about the agency model is that it could lead to another model about as bad as #2: retailers go away."

(Disclosure: I am tangentially interested in the matters under discussion here, because I'm an employee of a certain formerly-stripey Fruit company mentioned several times elsewhere in this thread. Nota bene: I absolutely DO NOT represent them. I own my words entirely.)

I'm not sure I share this worry.

I think Amazon's problem is mainly that they invested big in a special-purpose ebook reader, the Kindle, and their crazy pricing model is aimed rather sloppily at trying to make it the only thing in the world that people use to read ebooks. My completely uninformed hunch about what happened is that, when SJ started showing the iPad around to book publishers, and Amazon started to get word about what Apple was doing, they panicked. They were hoping to have the ebook reader market sewed up before they had to face Apple coming at them with a device running iPhoneOS on a larger screen.

(From my insider POV, this looks like a colossal mistake on Amazon's part. The iPad was one of the most heavily leaked products I've seen in the nine years I've been on the ball team. Though, the way people everywhere in the tech industry failed to grasp the obvious significance of the PA Semi acquisition strikes me as possible evidence of heavy metal poisoning in the Silicon Valley water supply.)

My slightly less uninformed hunch about Apple is that it's quite happy to let the big conventional publishers set their own prices on the iBookstore. Apple almost certainly doesn't view reading ebooks as the raison d'être for the iPad. Count the number of seconds in the keynote stream dedicated to iBookstore vs. the number of seconds dedicated to A) games, B) iLife and C) iWork. That ought to tell you what Apple thinks is important about the iPad.

One of the key phrases in SJ's keynote that jumped out at me when I watched it came right after A) he said that ebooks on iBookstore will be in EPUB format (I'm assuming they will be encrypted with the moral equivalent of FairPlay), and B) he read off the names of the five big publishing houses that are already signed onto the iBookstore.

He said, more or less:

"And we're going to be lining up plenty more publishers starting, well, right now."

That tells me he thinks there's enough room on the virtual shelves for lots of small publishers, including regional ones, specialty ones, electronic-only ones, et cetera.

Another thing I expect to see eventually: Lots of long-tail back catalog content.

It seems to me that once the iBookstore gets up and running, if it's successful, there will be lots of content on it that will be unavailable in print except by A) ordering it used, through things like ABE and waiting several lifetimes for it to be airmailed to you from Deep Redneckistan in Queensland before you have it in your hands, and possibly (hopefully) B) having it printed on demand, because it was released by a small electronic-only publisher.

I should say here that I don't think POD is going to be a very big part of the market, but I suppose I could be wrong. The forecast I do feel more confident about is that prices on mobile computing appliances, which [among other things] can read ebooks will widen into the lower end, making them more affordable to more people. The effect I predict this will have is mostly to eat some volume away from mass-market paperbacks from people [admittedly, like me] who don't like them and would prefer to carry them around electronically with the rest of their personal digital bits.

Apple, make no mistake about this, is a hardware company. Amazon is NOT a hardware company. The foundation of Apple's competitive strategy, it seems to me, is to make hardware products that its executives can used words like "magical" when describing them to the trade press. I don't think you'll see them trying to kill off competing retail ebook stores, for basically the same reason you don't see them trying to kill off competing digital music and movie download stores. It would wasted be "guard labor" aimed to preventing something from happening that isn't really threatening to their way of doing business, and it would generate huge ill-will that won't do their hardware business any favors.

#107 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:09 PM:

#90 @Fade Manley I absolutely am positive that the printed codex book is not going away. It is a completely de-bugged technology that is practical, aesthetically pleasing, portable, and when printed on even low-acid recycled paper is better for archiving than any digital media or file we have.

What I am envisioning and devoutly hoping for is that we will have more high quality durable beautiful books made. I'm also hoping for ebooks that are more than text dumps. An awful lot of the books for the Kindle are shovelware, and a lot of the Kindle editions of mainstream books are text dumps. I'm heartbroken at what's happened to carefully typeset reference works in which the type told the reader something about the cross-reference and the entry--and at the idiocy of producing a cross-reference rich book as a flat file.

The missing images Kindle editions like a civil war history that uses public domain images that are gray scale says a lot about how Amazon actually sees books, and QA.

They don't care. I note that you can submit anything as a Kindle book for publication--and Nathan Bransford's pie-in-the-sky ebook Utopia about anyone can publish now is sick-making.

Lovely. A distributed slush-pile.

#108 ::: Kenneth Mark Hoover ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:12 PM:

"At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books."

A lot of readers disagree with that notion. In fact, you only have to read the slapfight forums to know many of them aren't buying that idea at all.

#109 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:17 PM:

j h woodyatt@106: seeing how Amazon is already happy to sell Kindle-format ebooks to iPhone users, I don't see how the iPad hardware particularly bothers Amazon. Indeed, unless Apple does something to keep the Kindle for iPhone app off the iPad, Amazon will have more titles for the iPad than the Apple store for quite a while. Sure, Amazon would like to sell more Kindles, but it seems pretty clear to me that Amazon got into the e-reader business because they didn't think anybody else was doing a good job and there was no way to jump-start the e-book business until there was one. I don't happen to think the iPad will kill the Kindle, since I don't think I'm the only one who finds reading on a backlit screen tiring, and fingerprints all over the screen surely won't help.

#110 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:22 PM:

Abi: For "dismissiveness," read "acquaintance with the species." You may recall me saying on one occasion or another that the problem with trying to imagine how publishing ought to work is that it's easy to come up with a logical, consistent system that bears no resemblance to the way it actually works.

One sees this a lot on forums like the Bewares Board on Absolute Write, which gets a constant parade of people who, like Mr. Trafford, have come up with Brilliant New Proposals for Completely Reinventing Publishing. There are three things these Einsteins are guaranteed not to know: how publishing actually works, why it does things that way, and how many other people have come up with exactly the same unworkable ideas they're proposing.

Also, Mr. Trafford made it clear that he expects the thread to be about him.

Also, when I dropped a 600-pound subtle hint on him suggesting that not only was he in over his head, but he had neither identified nor connected with the subject of the entry, he ignored it.

Also, he responded with an even bigger and more confident heap of complete b*llsh*t.

I wasn't exaggerating when I said he has no idea what he's talking about. He doesn't care. Think of him as an extremely cheerful troll.

#111 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:26 PM:

Someone Else @103: Yes! That's it exactly!

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:27 PM:

TNH @110:

You were completely correct, as this thread so vividly shows, and I apologize unreservedly for doubting your judgement in dealing with our erstwhile guest. I certainly paid the penalty for giving him any rope.

#113 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:34 PM:

j. h. woodyatt @ 106: SJ has all along said -- for the past couple of years -- that he doesn't see ebooks as a major market. And he wasn't lying. It's not a major market for Apple ... compared to music or film and TV. Nor is publishing a major market compared to shifting 2 million iPads in the first year, at an average price point of $600, with a 25% profit margin (going by Apple's usual hardware margins). Let alone compared to replacing the 30-years-dominant human/computer user interface paradigm and stealing a first-mover advantage in the process (which is what the iPad isreally about).

But even though it's not a major market, it's not so small he's going to ignore it. And that's what Amazon miscalculated so disastrously. From Apple's POV, ebooks are merely a convenient toy with which to bait the hook of hardware sales. From Amazon's POV, ebooks are their future life-blood.

#114 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:42 PM:

Kip's comment at #87 reminds me of the transcription and translation issues of Roman and Greek texts being transferred to the medieval period and Latin, and the weird changes in words and names that occur.
For example, the work "Mappae Clavicula" (little key to the table) may be a mistranslation of Baphes kleis (Key to tinting) via latinization as Baphae clavicula and alteration of Baphae to Mappae by a scribe.
I can imagine scholars in 400 years time comparing digital archives and complaining about how they don't match, showing odd errors when compared to the scraps of paper texts they have, and what on earth were these people doing to get their texts so mixed up?

#115 ::: Tatterbots ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:52 PM:

The agency model sounds to me rather like the Net Book Agreement, which was a good thing for small retailers judging by how many of them have been driven out of business since it ended. But that was before online retailing took off. If I can buy the same ebook at the same price from anywhere in the world and it doesn't even need to be shipped, it's going to be very difficult for one retailer to tempt me to buy it from them and not someone else. No wonder Amazon's worried.

A bricks-and-mortar store has a natural market in its local area, and in that market it has an advantage over stores that are further away. But it doesn't work the same way online, especially when the product doesn't even need to be shipped. So I wonder if we'll start seeing more differentiation of ebook retailers as they each try to woo a different segment of the market. For instance, we might see the revival of specialist stores for individual genres, with staff who know the books, write the most helpful product descriptions, know exactly what to recommend to whom, etc. Sounds like good news to me.

#116 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:52 PM:

Just a reminder to folks who will be able to join in: it's a little over an hour until my call-in live panel podcast about the Amazon/Macmillan affair. All points of view are welcome, and I'll moderate the show so things don't get out of hand. You can call in or just listen and type in the text chat.

Hope to see some of you there.

#117 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:58 PM:

Except for a very short list of authors, instant gratification has no value to me at all

1. Please don't apply your value judgments to everyone else. 2. You undercut your own position by saying that there are some authors you would pay more for instant gratification. Those authors are likely different from the authors others so view. Why are the publishers not allowed to price things a bit higher to take advantage?

The no-competition-against-Apple rules for iPhone developers really bothers me for the iPad. They've been very firm about rejecting apps that "overlap" with Apple-supplied functionality, including browsers, mailers, etc. If they continue this model with iBooks, will people who make alternative book-reading tools be accepted into the iPad store? Kindle? iBunko?

You are aware that there's a Kindle app for the iphone/ipod touch already? And that it should work without modification on the iPad?

#118 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:58 PM:

#114 @guthrie

What I'm seeing in Kindle files especially are artifacts of a completely automated conversion process. You really don't want to know what they've done to Early Modern and Middle English texts; it'll make you cry.

I am reminded of an early laserdisc project with major publisher backing that had sections of Joyce's Ulysses with images.

The images were lovely and appropriate. And the editor had hired someone to proofread. They did; altering Joyce's spelling and punctuation at will.

#119 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:01 PM:

Ben Trafford @45:

"I'm aware that it's terribly in vogue to be jaded and world-weary, but I just can't seem to let go of my idealism. If that makes me contemptuous of people, well, then, so be it."
!!! BINGO !!!

!!! SELF-VALORIZATION FTW !!!

Plus a special award for duplicating one of Scraps DeSelby's riffs on characteristic phrases used by trolls.

#120 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:04 PM:

Madeline Ashby @104: ...you are absolutely right, and now I'm abashed for not thinking of exactly that. When I think "child using ebook reader", I think of my niece affectionately destroying the hand-me-down netbook I sent the family. But what I should really be thinking of is something like the One Laptop Per Child project, with their kid-friendly keyboards (with keys that can't be pried off easily), sturdy cases, and convenient handles.

I still think that the ebook revolution in its current form has a long way to go before it can really handle illustrated books for children, and none of this really addresses the issue of the number of families (and here I'm only speaking of in the US) where parents really can't afford to buy a $100 device per family member, plus books on top of that, even assuming the price drops. But manufacturers have been dealing with child-friendly electronics packaging for years, and it's silly of me to forget that point.

#121 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:08 PM:

Abi @112: It's just familiarity. I spend more time in forums where that species turns up.

My comments @110 were lamentation, nothing more.

#122 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:12 PM:

Lisa @118: When I saw your description of text artifacts in Kindle editions, I assumed it had to be an automated conversion process, and that they weren't doing spot checks on their quality.

When you get right down to it, they aren't book people.

#123 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:13 PM:

@101 Anticorium: What do you think it means that I asked a question about an event that has already happened, and is readily verifiable to have happened?

It means that your strawberry-frosted carrot will not power my motorbike. I could ask you a question about the sinking of the Yamato, which is equally verifiable, and equally irrelevant to anything I said about Amazon, Macmillan, Apple, or ebooks.


@102 Mike Scott: If timeliness has no value to you, then just wait ten or twenty years and you'll be able to get anything published today as a cheap ebook

I don't have to wait ten or twenty years to pay less for a physical book published today. I don't even have to wait a year. I willingly wait weeks or months after release, for all but the very few authors whose work has value sufficient to justify a hardcover. I would buy their books sooner if they cost less, but they don't, so I don't.

For a Tor-specific example, I buy Brust novels whatever the price, because I must have them now, but Niven and Lerner's Destroyer of Worlds is sitting in my wish list, waiting for a paperback, because the previous one just wasn't good enough. Its value to me is not the $26 cover price, the $17 Amazon price, or a hypothetical $13 ebook price. $10, maybe, but even that is competing with $8 and free shipping in August.

-j

#124 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:19 PM:

As I noted in a link in a long post that still hasn't been approved from moderation (TNH, if it's rejected, could you please let me know why, privately?), sometimes (perhaps even often) e-books downloaded from peer-to-peer are better quality than commercial versions (I compared one example here) simply because the pirate scanners and preppers consider poor quality to reflect badly on their reputation in the community.

Even the small e-book companies such as Fictionwise seem to care more about their conversions. Amazon, on the other hand, apparently just automates it. I guess they've got so many e-books they can't be bothered to take the time to check each one.

#125 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:28 PM:

Chris Meadows @124:

I'm going to publish your comment in a few minutes, when I've finished with my family obligations and can take the 10 or 15 minutes I'm going to need to clean up all subsequent up-references.

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:42 PM:

Released from Purgatory by the forgiveness of their posting sins:

Chris Meadows @39 (too many links)
Lisa Spangenberg @107 (malformed href)

Now I'm going to go clean up reference numbers. I may be some time.

#127 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:43 PM:

TexAnne@95: Yes. Absolutely. I've shied away from spending much money on ebooks so far; I have bought several from Apress because they use password-protected PDFs, which aren't remotely revocable.

If I knew that my ebook purchases were not at the mercy of an arbitrary choice by an external entity, then I'd be more sanguine about them. But a book that can be taken from me, or worse, destroyed altogether by a flick of someone's finger elsewhere is not a book I want, and not a dominant model I want either.

#128 ::: Stephanie Leary ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:45 PM:

John C. Bunnell @ 47:

Under the agency model, the accounting process changes dramatically. Under a traditional retail model, Amazon buys its stock from the publisher, then turns around and sells that stock, collecting money from consumers. Under an agency model, when Amazon sells a copy of an ebook, the money technically belongs to Macmillan, which pays Amazon a commission for the sale. This undoubtedly has all manner of interesting tax implications and might involve significant changes in bookkeeping.

I attended a web conference in December, where I saw an illuminating presentation on Amazon's business practices from one of their design consultants.

Slide 86 is the interesting one for the purposes of this discussion. (There is audio, but you'll want to hit play on slide 85 in order to get a full sentence.) The gist of it is that Amazon can sell items at cost and still make money. How? It turns around inventory faster than a physical store does -- fast enough to beat the credit cycle. If Amazon sells a product before it has to pay its credit card bill (so to speak), it can let the customers' money sit in the bank for several days, accruing interest. LOTS of interest, when you're dealing with a large volume of cash.

If John @ 47 is correct, and the agency model means changes in bookkeeping, then I see why Amazon threw a hissy fit. It's not really about ebook prices at all -- or at least, it's about maintaining the ability to discount prices by protecting the cash float.

Lisa Spangenberg @ 105:

Honestly, the thing that surprised me most about the iPad announcement was the iBooks application and book store; Jobs and other Apple spokespeople have not been keen on ebooks, though Apple very much was an early supporter.

Apple has a habit of trash-talking the industries it's about to invade. (See mobile phones, ca. 2005.) I knew they were getting into ebooks because Steve Jobs had been bitching for a couple of years about how inadequate the ereading experience was; when he does that, you can bet that he's about to step in and reshape it to his liking.

#129 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:49 PM:

Jo @79, actually we generally pay $25-30 for hardcovers down here in the States. (That's list price; less if they're on sale or we go to Walmart or Amazon or the Strand.)

#130 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:55 PM:

On Typography and Stuff.

It wouldn't be hard for an author, using a computer for their writing, to produce a data file which would be portable, in a well-documented format, containing structural information which could be unambiguously converted into a visually decent end product, whether printed or eBook.

But publishing has to deal with authors who are barely computer-literate, and luckily they have an ink-on-paper format which meets that specification.

Still, if you can use something such as OpenOffice, and can consistently distinguish paragraphs from chapter-titles, and poetry from prose, maybe the typography is easier. But it needs planning from the start, some sort of template which inherits details such as fonts, for instance.

And there are aspects it doesn't cover. The "ae" ligature is a part of some 8-bit character sets, and I've seen Truetype font packs for Windows which have ligatures such as "fl". OK, we've got Unicode now, rather than having to switch between fonts and change character-codes. But how many authors even notice? And won't there be a flap at the publishers if the ebook "printer" flip-flops between one version and another.

Really good typography does rather depend on details such as that. There's some question as to whether the difference between Serif and Sans-Serif matters, but does an experiment on a 96dpi monitor really invalidate the experience of printing on paper, at a much higher resolution?

As it happens, I don't need the fine details, but I like working on text which looks nice. Times New Roman is pretty decent.

But the layout I use is not the layout which would be used for a printed book. And one shouldn't expect the printed book layout to be the best for an ebook reader. Just as an example of what a difference there can be, on my old monitor, 12-point fonts draw with most strokes being 1 pixel wide. Increase the size a little, and everything was 2 pixels wide. And, because of the dot-pattern on a CRT screen, the vertical edges were blurred. So I picked a larger font size.

Modern LCD displays can use tricks with colours to make a 1.5 pixel vertical line, or shift a line sideways a half-pixel. Instead of a triangle of three dots, the pixel is made up of three vertical bars, and the RGB sequence of a pixel could easily be shifted sideways to be GBR or BRG.

And then there is eInk, with different constraints and advantages.

Good typography--clear, readable, text--matters. A eBook doesn't care about the page count in the way the physical printing does, and it maybe needs a different typeface and font size to look at its best.

This is maybe where the specialised ebook publishers have an advantage, but they'll have to work at it. Amazon, dumping a file through unreliable sortware to convert for a Kindle, as reported elsewhere in the blog, are beghaving as if Kindle buyers aren't worth the trouble, which is odd.

Anyway, I'm going to have a look at the Baen Books website. They've found a way of using the tech. How long has that Free Library been running?

And if I want portable reading, the paperback is still hard to beat. No need for batteries, for one thing.

#131 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 03:56 PM:

Ben Trafford, passim:

I could spend a lot of time pointing out how you're wrong on all counts, which you are, but you're so far off-course that it wouldn't be illuminating. More to the point, it wouldn't be fun.

Please slow down and read this carefully: You know that iconic online interaction where some clueless guy wanders into a particle physics forum and tries to get everyone to discuss The Secret? In this conversation, you're that guy.

I say this on the off-chance that you're not the troll I think you are, in which case it's a kindness to give you the opportunity to avoid further embarrassment.

From comment 28:

Honestly, is there any particular reason for the stream of invective?
Please look up "invective" before you use it again.
I mean, really? Can't we have a reasonable discussion without the insults?
If by "reasonable discussion" you mean you want us to pretend there's substance to your opinions, so that you can go on pontificating without having to know anything or check your facts, thereby effectively requiring us to wrap this entire conversation around wonderful wonderful you while deriving little or no value from it ourselves -- then I very much fear the answer is no.

#132 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:00 PM:

One phrase that keeps cropping up in this discussion, here or at Teleread and other blogs and forums, is "ebook lover".

Which puzzles me. Because, see, I'm an avid reader, a person who loves books and buys lots of it, both on paper and in electronic form. I own two hand-held readers (but neither a Kindle or an iPhone) and I buy ebooks from Fictionwise and Baen, in addition to public domain & CC e-texts I find on Manybooks, Feedbooks, etc. I'm particular about two things: quality, and absence of DRM (I like to own my ebooks, not renting them). Price is important, but comes third.

But at the same time, I read a lot of "dead tree editions" too, and gladly purchase them if there is no e-edition available at a reasonable price without DRM. For me, the important part is what's in the book: I am attracted to certain authors, or certain types or stories, more than to an electronic device. (Even if I do love my new Cybook Opus... Sigh.)

So I'm afraid when Chris Meadows or someone else at Teleread say they speak for "ebook lovers", they certainly don't speak for me. I'm an e-book enthusiast, but not to the exclusion of all else. And certainly not enough to support the Kindle as is, with DRM, and pricing slanted to favor best-sellers.

#133 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:05 PM:

Chris Meadows @124, we don't do advance moderation on our comments. They do get held for approval if the number of links in them exceeds a certain number, but there's nothing from you in the "pending comments" list. Is there any chance your post didn't post?

#134 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:06 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 14: "If I understand it correctly, the root of the problem was Amazon saying to Macmillan, "You're going to set the wholesale price to $X," where $X was less than $9.99 so Amazon would no longer be selling e-books at a loss."

My impression is that this was less the particular sticking point in the current negotiations as much as it was Macmillan's worry about what might happen in the future, if Amazon continued to undercut the hardcover* price and achieved monopsony. I don't think that's an unreasonable worry--much like in a chess game, it would be foolish of Macmillan not to be thinking about what Amazon's future moves might be (and their track record of delisting uncooperative publishers suggests they're not adverse to abusing their market position.)

One of the confusing things about this dispute is that as it stands, Macmillan is negotiating for a model (agency) that will make them less money in the short run, and Amazon's model loses Amazon money in the short run. It's clear that they're both playing with an eye towards the long game.

*I feel silly saying this in reference to e-books. Maybe "initial release price?"

Wesley Osam @ 65: "There's an expression: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Some people think it means knowledge is dangerous, but that word little is key. People who know just a little about something often don't understand just how little they know."

Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

TNH @ 119: "!!! BINGO !!!"

Curses; you beat me to it!

I was going to go with "Yes, but I hear that daring iconoclast is the new look for spring!"

#135 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:08 PM:

Whoops, I somehow missed Abi saying she'd release the comment. That would explain why it's not in the pending list.

#136 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:08 PM:

@117 Total: 1. Please don't apply your value judgments to everyone else. 2. You undercut your own position by saying that there are some authors you would pay more for instant gratification.

1. Um, ditto? 2. Not at all; I'll pay more because those authors supply superior gratification, and that increases the book's value to the point that it matches or exceeds the price being charged for a hardback on release day. The publisher's cost to prepare the book for release never enters into that value calculation.

Total: You are aware that there's a Kindle app for the iphone/ipod touch already? And that it should work without modification on the iPad?

Yes, and I'm also aware that Apple has pulled apps from the store without warning, when they perceived a conflict of interest or claimed it duplicated Apple-supplied functionality. I hope they will approve a full-screen iPad version of the Kindle app (no one will use the current iPhone version at 2x magnification), and Skybook, and half a dozen other non-Apple-partner book-readers, but it's not a sure thing.

Me? I don't own a Kindle. I've seen no reason to buy the iPad. All my ebooks are DRM-free and cost less than $10, going back to the 1993 Hugo/Nebula Anthology CD that Brad Templeton released. I buy physical books, and lots of them, and at the moment, most of those purchases go through Amazon, in one country or another.

-j

#137 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:09 PM:

And it isn't even funny.

#138 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:18 PM:

TexAnne @139: "And it isn't even funny."

Maybe I'm strange, but I find the idea that some webcam recruiter decided that ML was worth spamming (no doubt because of the frequent use of the words "agency" and "model") quite amusing.

#139 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Heresiarch, 140: True! Imagining the looks on the, er, viewer's face when I came on screen in my un-made-up sweatshirted glory..."Hi! Let's talk about abstruse economic models and their relationship to modern technology! Ooh baby!"

#140 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:33 PM:

TexAnne @141:
Imagining the looks on the, er, viewer's face when I came on screen in my un-made-up sweatshirted glory..."Hi! Let's talk about abstruse economic models and their relationship to modern technology! Ooh baby!"

Rule 34!

#141 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:40 PM:

Heresiarch @136:

...[I]t would be foolish of Macmillan not to be thinking about what Amazon's future moves might be (and their track record of delisting uncooperative publishers suggests they're not adverse to abusing their market position.)
Did you catch this story? I don't know whether they're aware of what Amazon did to the POD publishers, but I'll bet they know what it did to Hachette.
...I was going to go with "Yes, but I hear that daring iconoclast is the new look for spring!"
Oh, good line.

===

"Look!" cried Frito, pointing to an empty sky, "a daring iconoclast!"

"Hola," cried Spam, "a 1927 indian-head nickel!"

===

Kenneth Mark Hoover @108:

"At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books."
A lot of readers disagree with that notion. In fact, you only have to read the slapfight forums to know many of them aren't buying that idea at all.
The magic word there is "essentially." Are there differences? Certainly there are. Are those differences so great, the gap between book and ebook so unbridgeable, that it's reasonable to demand that we license our books to another company, and cede control of their prices and schedules? I say no, and I think I'm right.

#142 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:41 PM:

I'm wondering whether part of the confusion lies in what different readers see e-books as (versus dead-tree versions) compared with what various companies see e-books as and see readers/purchasers as doing with them.

Different readers see e-books as different things, e.g.:
(Preferable) alternative to dead tree (d-t) format.
Alternative to d-t format if dead tree format isn't available.
Alternative to d-t format if the dead tree format is more expensive.
Alternative to d-t format allowing instant access at the time of purchase.
Additional format (i.e. prefering to have both versions of a given text).

There're also disagreements about what people will do if a non-DRM e-format is available for (legal) sale:
Buy it instead of buying the (more expensive) d-t version.
Buy it instead of buying the same price/less expensive d-t version.
Buy it as well as buying the d-t version.
Pass it on to all their friends resulting in no further sales of the book.
Pass it to their friends to encourage said friends to buy the e-book or a dead tree version - or to buy other books by the same author, in an e- or d-t version.

AND, if it's being sold with DRM:
Buy it.
Buy it and strip the DRM out from principle, before passing it on, or not.
Refuse to buy it and buy the d-t version.
Refuse to buy it and go searching for an illegal download instead.

AND, if it's not available as an electronic version legally at all:
Buy it in d-t format.
Go looking for it in illegal e-format and not buy the d-t.
Buy in d-t format AND download an illegal e-format (because hey, I've already bought it, and I want an electronic copy as well, and there isn't one available legally)

Profits to publishers and authors will obviously vary depending on which of these actually occurs - or to what extent each of them occurs - how much that's affected by the pricing of the e- in relation to the (if available) d-t version(s), and, therefore how many e- and/or d-t copies will generate money for the publisher/author. Different publishers and retailers seem to have very different ideas about what their (potential/actual) customers will be most likely to do in a given situation.

Personally, I think that people are more likely to act like reasonable grown up adults who understand that the authors and publishers need to be paid if more books are to be forthcoming, if they are treated that way (which Baen does, in my opinion).

#143 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:45 PM:

abi @ 142: Now there's a field where you don't see nearly enough "Long Tail" thinking. Sure, maybe abstruse economist cam individuals won't have much of a following, but combine that niche with a few thousand other Rule 34 cam individuals and you've got yourself a business model.

#144 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:55 PM:

Ben, #2: Ebooks are purchased for the large majority of people, the consumers who don't give a crap about good typesetting anymore than they care about illuminated manuscripts.

Your model fails right there. The vast majority of people who read care about good (or at least decent) typesetting. They may not realize that they care about it, but they recognize crap when they see it, and they don't want to see it. Decent typesetting goes unnoticed; bad typesetting drives readers away.

The vast majority of people who don't give a crap about typesetting are people who don't READ, period, and therefore not the e-book market.

Ebooks are bought and owned by the end user. They are exchangeable via devices easily. You can loan them, sell them used, give them away, whatever. Note that when I say ebooks, I don't mean the ludicrous doohickeys. I mean the files with the content.

Which is exactly what Amazon doesn't want to see happen. Their ideal world is one in which the files you buy are DRM-locked to one device (or, at the most, a handful of devices) that you own, which you have also bought from them. There is no used-book market at all, there are no libraries, there is no source for the consumer to buy books other than Amazon, forever and ever, amen.

and @28: I had a lot of ideas about how things could work back then, and they got summarily shot down by people like yourself. Ten years later, I'm coming to the conclusion that they were actually pretty good ideas, all along.

Examples, please? Preferably with links, so that we can see that you're not just being wise after the fact -- which right now is exactly what you sound like.

What we've seen with Cory Doctorow is that an author can self-promote quite effectively.

What a shame, then, that all authors aren't like Cory Doctorow. Self-promotion is a skill, not an automatic attribute of being an author. Some people do it well naturally, some can learn to do it, and some just... can't, no matter how hard they try. You're proposing that people in the latter group -- or, for that matter, anyone who would rather spend that time writing than doing the self-promotion -- should be shut out of professional writing altogether, and that this is The Way Things Were Meant To Be. I say bullshit.

and @41: SO not impressed by your playing the "but, but, it's for the CHEELDRUN!" card. I play the world's tiniest violin for you.

and @45: I'm aware that it's terribly in vogue to be jaded and world-weary, but I just can't seem to let go of my idealism. If that makes me contemptuous of people, well, then, so be it.

First bingo square. Well, actually the second, if you count the variant of "Let the flames begin" all the way back at #2.

and @61: When I've detailed the full ideas to publishing industry people in person, most of them say, "Wow, that'd be great! Too bad X segment of the industry would never go for it!"

The lurkers support you in e-mail! Third square.

The essential problem with ebooks, today, are pretty simple:
1 - You shouldn't have to buy a stupid gadget to read them.
2 - You should own the book you buy, not just license it for some indeterminate amount of time.
3 - You should be able to lend, sell, trade, or move the book to any device you like.
4 - Ebooks should do more than paper books.

Okay, now you've said something that makes sense. Except that you're going to have to buy a gadget of some kind to read an e-book at all; but what I think you're saying here is that you shouldn't have to buy a dedicated gadget for that specific purpose, and I'm with you on that.

When you say that e-books should do more than paper books, do you mean in the sense that DVDs do more than videotapes? A movie on VCR was just the movie, but a movie on DVD almost always has extras -- commentary tracks, interviews with people who were involved in making the movie, deleted scenes and/or blooper reels, etc. That's part of the appeal of the DVD. I hadn't thought of that angle in terms of e-books; what sort of things do you think an e-book might include that would add value over and above the print edition?

On another thread, I suggested the idea of BookChips -- e-books distributed on SD cards, rather than as pure electronic files -- and that's part of what I'm thinking about here. BookChips would be something you own when you buy them, they'd be portable across platforms (if your laptop doesn't have an SD reader, you can buy one that connects via USB port), you could sell them used or lend them out just the way you can a printed book, and there's enough space on even a small SD card to provide extras over and above the text. Yes, it's vulnerable to media change -- but so (as I understand it) is every e-book format that's currently available, so I don't see this as a huge downside by comparison.

And still, as Wesley points out @67, there are a lot of people -- including readers -- who don't have ready access to a computer for one reason or another. BookChips would be great for me, but arguing that they should replace printed books is an argument from privilege. And that's one of the reasons people are arguing so strenuously against your insistence that the publishing industry should relegate printed books to a tiny, niche-market corner. Not because they're too blind to see what a wonderful idea this is, but because they've thought it through and understand why it's a BAD idea.

(Note to self: resume reading thread at #108.)

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:56 PM:

heresiarch @145:
Now there's a field where you don't see nearly enough "Long Tail" thinking.

Rule 34 with dinosaurs!

(I think your proposal is more "wide tail", or the 80/20 rule.)

#146 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:58 PM:

1. Um, ditto?

You were making a general argument based on your own values. I was not. That you don't value getting books immediately does not mean everybody does not and thus any argument based on your assumption is a bad one. I'll wait while you digest the idea that you're not the center of the universe.

Not at all; I'll pay more because those authors supply superior gratification, and that increases the book's value to the point that it matches or exceeds the price being charged for a hardback on release day. The publisher's cost to prepare the book for release never enters into that value calculation.

And? You're making Macmillan's argument for them. I had thought you weren't trying to, but maybe I'm wrong.

Yes [I was aware of the iphone kindle app]

Then possibly you should act like it, and not build a case against Apple on something they *might* do, but have shown no signs of, so far.

#147 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 04:59 PM:

abi @ 142... Need you have reminded me of the Monty Python skit where the British Govt decides to jazz things up by having an official give an economic speech as part of a striptease number? The sight of Terry Jones slowly unveiling his alabaster body is one that requires a brain scrub.

#148 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:14 PM:

TNH @ 143: "I don't know whether they're aware of what Amazon did to the POD publishers, but I'll bet they know what it did to Hachette."

Speaking of Hatchette, what happened there? From what I can gather, they delisted Hatchette books as a negotiating tactic and yet the internet summarily failed to explode in outrage. This undercuts Scalzi's claims about the inherent fail of Amazon's thinking: if the tactic is so very doomed to fail, then why did it work last time? It seems like a big part of why it didn't work this time around was, well, because Scalzi spread the word and shaped the reaction. Amazon's mistake wasn't so much that it pissed off authors, but that they pissed off authors with well-read blogs.

abi @ 147: "(I think your proposal is more "wide tail", or the 80/20 rule.)"

No, I think I'm using it right: "The Long Tail or long tail is a retailing concept describing the niche strategy of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities – usually in addition to selling fewer popular items in large quantities."

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:19 PM:

150
Probably because Hachette isn't well-known in the US, and Macmillan is.

#150 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:47 PM:

@ P J Evans: I think the delisting tactic worked with Hachette that time because it was 2008 and Amazon's Kindle didn't have a serious concurrent yet. Now the iPad is changing the game. And then you have Google's plans for a tablet-like device, and annoucing they will sell ebooks themselves...

#151 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 05:56 PM:

I think I need to write an entry about Amazon's history of de-listing books as a strongarm tactic.

#152 ::: TrishB ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:02 PM:

This is more a response to some of the comments than to the blog post itself, so please accept my apologies if that's not appropriate.

My parents gave me a Kindle for Christmas, so I've been following the discussions both here and at Scalzi's. It's not something that I would have purchased on my own, but I have enjoyed it quite a bit. It doesn't hurt that my parents also included a gift card with it, and then handed me another hefty one a month later for my birthday. Now would I have chosen a non-proprietary ereader given the choice? Yes, but as it was there was a new, free gadget with free money for content.

Not knowing enough (nay, anything about the publishing industry), I won't opine on that. Amazon's 9.99 mania makes no sense to me. Sure, I don't want to pay that amount for a book that's available as a 6.99 paperback, but I was willing to pay 14.30 earlier this week for the newest from Connie Willis. The most annoying issue with the device is the inability to lend books in some manner.

Just a couple of random thoughts - for those who think that ereaders are silly devices because people should just read books on their computer, I say, no thanks. My work includes staring at an LCD 12 hours a day, and it hurts the eyes after a while. The eInk really does wonders for that. Reading this comment thread has caused more eyestrain than the 2 hours it took to read The Graveyard Book on the Kindle. The size of the Kindle also allows for a warm dog on the lap far more readily than my laptop, which is always a bonus.

The second random thought is about formatting issues. I've purchased about 25 books for this thing so far, most with no typographical issues whatsoever. For the one that did have a some typos - the same typos existed in the Del Rey paperback that I just checked. The Gaiman that I mentioned above and Link's Magic for Beginners had illustrations. I did not like the font choice for Link's book, but it's the same as for the hardcover. The only badly formatted book I've come across is the free version of Pride and Prejudice that I downloaded, and even that wasn't horrible.

#153 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:02 PM:

Re. Ben @ 2 et sequelae, Chris Meadows @ 39, IreneD @ 134, (and what my post @ 144 was really about):

I see lots of people making assumptions about the e-books market as if (a) all people buying/reading e-books were alike; (b) therefore they will all react in "X" way if we do "Y". As indicated nicely by IreneD @ 134 responding to Chris Meadows, that just ain't so.

And I think that by not treating readers as reasonable, responsible people, by not encouraging reasonable, responsible behaviour, and by not showing e-reading people respect (e.g., providing awful e-versions; not reducing price of e-versions as dead-tree version proces of the same text goes down), publishers & retailers are risking pushing people towards the very behaviour the publishers/retailers are so afraid of - followed by saying "we told you so - see, they just want to download everything illegally and not give us any money!"

And I can see how if people buying a lot of e-books are finding Kindle books badly formatted etc. and Macmillan still selling e-books at high prices years after the same text has gone to much cheaper paperback, they might well now be thinking "a plague o' both your houses."

#154 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:06 PM:

IreneD @152, you'd think someone would've noticed the Twilight books (pub'd by Little, Brown, a division of Hachette) becoming unavailable on Amazon.

#155 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:10 PM:

@148 Total I'll wait while you digest the idea that you're not the center of the universe.

"I see what you did there."

Total: And? You're making Macmillan's argument for them. I had thought you weren't trying to, but maybe I'm wrong.

Of course you're wrong. Macmillan's CEO explicitly stated that the only conditions under which they'd allow Amazon to keep their current pricing model involved "extensive and deep windowing", which is a pleasant way of saying "raise your ebook prices or don't sell them at all for six months after release". If you think something I've said supports that, I perceive a slight communications gap.

And another one in your surprising interpretation of my comments about Apple, but I'm happy to let that drop for now. When the product is no longer vapor, and the approval process can be evaluated independently of the well-known problems with iPhone apps, I'll cheerfully take it up again.

-j

#156 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:17 PM:

Abi @126: Thanks. BTW, did I miscount the number of links? It says "Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval" at the bottom but I thought I had exactly seven.

Dave @131: Baen's been doing the free library & Webscriptions thing for a few months more than ten years now.

Irene @134: I don't claim to speak for everybody. I certainly don't speak for all the people who insist that all e-books should be no more than $3 because they aren't printed and shipped, for instance. I'm just aggregating the most reasonable opinions I see voiced in various discussions—or at least the ones I find to be so. If you disagree and would like to write a column of your own, I'd be happy to run it as a guest piece. :)

As for me, I read paper books too, but not often anymore. In fact, I actually get annoyed and often end up starting but not finishing paper books just because I don't have the convenience of taking them with me without adding weight and bulk. (I'm already usually toting around a laptop, and I'm still limping with a cane since recovering from an accident a year or so back so I try to carry as little additional weight as possible—plus it's nice being able to read one-handed while I have a cane in the other.)

Lee @146: Another advantage of BookChips would be that since they're a physical item, someone from Australia could order one from the USA and have it sent to them, rather than having that silly snafu about their computer being the geographically-verboten point of sale.

While I was doing my podcast (of which I'm currently editing a local recording), I was reminded of the point-of-sale thing—a brilliantly silly example of applying real-world thinking to cyberspatial concepts.

Apparently the thinking goes that when you buy an e-book, your computer is considered the "point of sale", which means if you're in another country and the e-book vendor isn't licensed to distribute the book there, you're out of luck. If you order a physical book, on the other hand, the point of sale is the vendor's warehouse in his home country, so you're all right.

What is an English-speaking expatriate in Germany, or Vietnam, or Afghanistan supposed to do? It's highly unlikely anybody is going to want to license English editions of books there, let alone that a local e-book vendor is going to pop up to sell English-language e-books.

Nobody in particular: I find it interesting that one of the problems with Kindles is the quality of the e-book conversion and formatting. In all the books I've bought from eReader and Fictionwise, I've never had any problems that I can recall. I guess they're small enough to take care over their conversions rather than just ram them through an auto-converter and not spot-check them.

#157 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:20 PM:

I suspect that the delisting of LGBT books caused a far greater drop in goodwill than Amazon predicted, and that people who didn't pay attention to the Hachette delisting are now far more sensitive to Amazon's bad behavior. To quote Janet Kagan, "Once a thing happens twice, you must think about it three times." IOW, Fleming was an optimist.

#158 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:22 PM:

TrishB @154:

Please note that it is entirely appropriate and thoroughly welcome to reply to comments. This blog is a conversation that we, the front-pagers, host and moderate but do not demand be only about or with us.

#159 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:29 PM:

Chris @158:

I'm not sure. The setting says "more than 7 links", but you did only have 7 in the posting. It's possible that the link from your name counted. One quiet day, I'll do an experiment on an old thread or something (not right now; it's gone 12:30 am and I have to go to bed.)

#160 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:37 PM:

TrishB, comments here are dots sprinkled in a sorta-coherent group on the graph paper. They don't have to adhere to a rigorous line. My objection to Ben Trafford's dots is that they were located on a different sheet of paper in another room.

#161 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:41 PM:

abi (161): I count three possible "extra links" per comment that could be being counted: the name, the view-all-by, and the date-time stamp.

#162 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:54 PM:

#90 @Fade Manley

I wonder if the people claiming that non-electronic books are going to become collector's items/high-end luxury goods/extinct have ever had small children. While I can perhaps see reading a child to sleep from an ebook reader--I suppose the assumption is that illustrations will have to go away until the readers are able to handle color, or at least better graphics than they currently seem capable of, and parents just won't mind, nor will their children--I have a hard time seeing even well-funded middle-class parents wanting their toddlers gnawing on the corners of a $300 electronic device with crunchy bits inside.

One of the things that's heartbreaking about the current inadequate level of ebook production, content, etc. is that we've taken a giant step backward from the stuff companies did in the 1990s.

The Voyager Company made kid's CD-ROMs for kids that kids loved, like Crazy Silly House, and Amanda Stories about Inigo the Cat, and My Faithful Camel, and amazing art projects spear-headed by Jane Wheeler.

And ebooks. And editions, like the Voyager Macbeth. And media-rich textbooks like Who Built America. And annotated versions of the Beatles' A Hard Days Night. All of which worked on Macs only at first, but were ported to Windows. The Mac versions were built using HyperCard (and for a couple of titles, the ancestor of Flash), for crying out loud, and there's still no tool to allow us to do simple things like sync and audio video to text pages, or music to scores (for annotated versions of Beethoven's Ninth, or Schubert's Trout).

All of which are now obsolete, and non-viable on current hardware at the OS level. They all worked on consumer computers, Mac or Windows. No special device needed.

That alone is enough to make me pull out my hair and grit my teeth--never mind the digital scholarly editions of things like Beowulf and Piers Ploughman which are often hundreds of dollars, and locked in to an OS and platform so that they are viable for at most two years . . .

#163 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 06:58 PM:

Wait, TNH, I've got a bone to pick.

First, in the text of your post, you said:

At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books.

And later:

I like the agency model. Publishers keep doing what publishers do well. Online retailers step into something very like the role of the bookseller. Market forces continue to exert themselves in normal ways. And after decades of theories and models and way too much discussion, the ebook settles into being what it always should have been: just another repro technology, with its own strengths and weaknesses and price points.

But then, when Ben Trafford refers (@2) to "trying to reproduce the print model in ebooks", you replied (@15) "Have you noticed that no one's proposing to do that?" and mocked him as describing a "business plan that no one's proposing".

So which is it? Is Macmillan's agency proposal based on the idea that ebooks are pretty much like dead-tree books, and should be published under a model where everybody keeps doing pretty much what were doing with dead trees? Or has nobody proposed reproducing the hard-copy model in the ebook world?

None of this is to say that Trafford isn't going all Dunning-Kruger on us in other respects. For one thing, it's far from obvious to me that publishing ebooks under the dead-tree model is doomed to failure, as he seems to think. But it does seem to me that you were indeed proposing reproducing the print model in ebooks, or something so similar to that as to be easily mistaken for it.

#164 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:00 PM:

TexAnne @ 141... That'd be pretty amusing, especially with photos of abstruse ecomomic supermodels.

#165 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:01 PM:

By the way. Several people in this thread have noted the extent to which DRM makes e-books worth less to them than they might be otherwise.

I agree completely. (I recall Cory observing that nobody ever woke up in the morning thinking, "Gosh, I'd like to be able to do everything I used to do with my CDs, and less!") I'm also not alone at my employer in being inclined to this view.

More on this later.

#166 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:02 PM:

Jo Walton, #79, no public lending payment in the US.

Fade Manley, #90, three universities have stopped using Kindles in class after a suit from two organizations for the blind. The Kindle is not completely functional for the blind.

#167 ::: Ben Trafford ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:06 PM:

TNH@132: I could spend a lot of time pointing out how you're wrong on all counts, which you are, but you're so far off-course that it wouldn't be illuminating. More to the point, it wouldn't be fun.

And you accuse me of acting like a troll? "I could engage in meaningful conversation but you're just so wrong, wrong, wrong that it's not worth my time." That's like...a classic.

Please look up "invective" before you use it again.

Is this like the part where you told me that digital talking books were imaginary, when they're, y'know, not and stuff? A comment that is entirely dismissive, and yet, has no reason to be so?

"Invective - vehement or violent denunciation, censure, or reproach"

Seems to fit the bill to me.

If by "reasonable discussion" you mean you want us to pretend there's substance to your opinions, so that you can go on pontificating without having to know anything or check your facts...

Your responses appear to consist of baseless accusation and condescension, so...yeah. I'm done.

My apologies for interrupting your myopic navel-gazing. Hopefully, I've given more rational people something to think about. And thanks to them for their replies. It's been useful.

I'll go back to lurking now.

#168 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:08 PM:

PNH @167: I'd like to hear more on that. In fact, I'd rather like to interview someone at Tor (or Macmillan?) on Tor's plans for e-books if possible; when I interviewed Pablo Defendini for TeleRead.org he made it clear he wasn't privy to Tor's policy decisions at all but just in charge of implementing those decisions in a Tor.com store.

#169 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:10 PM:

@137 J Greely re Apple's App policy.

My thoughts too. I haven't seen a specific statement by Apple that Kindle/Stanza etc aren't some of the ones NOT being allowed to run on the iPad.

They would be foolish to cut them out, but this logic hasn't stopped them before. I hope this is cleared up soon. I also hope that OS 4 on my iPhone will let me use it as a generic storage device (off the back of iWorks on IPad).

#170 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:16 PM:

"I see what you did there."

Why, yes: point out that you're trying to impose your values on all of us.

Of course you're wrong. Macmillan's CEO explicitly stated that the only conditions under which they'd allow Amazon to keep their current pricing model involved "extensive and deep windowing", which is a pleasant way of saying "raise your ebook prices or don't sell them at all for six months after release". If you think something I've said supports that, I perceive a slight communications gap.

"Except for a very short list of authors, instant gratification has no value to me at all."

So, for certain authors, you will pay hardcover prices. Macmillan would like to duplicate the hardcover/paperback structure for ebooks, and you are apparently a prime customer for that structure.

And another one in your surprising interpretation of my comments about Apple, but I'm happy to let that drop for now. When the product is no longer vapor, and the approval process can be evaluated independently of the well-known problems with iPhone apps, I'll cheerfully take it up again

Excellent. I'm sure we'll be able to have a lovely discussion about whether the Kindle app and all the other third party book readers will continue to function. It'll be better than making up imaginary crimes of which Apple might, on some day, be guilty.

#171 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:24 PM:

Ben Trafford @ 51:

...EPUB uses real XML instead of a hack-job version of dumbed-down HTML, and [...] all sorts of things to enable ebooks for the disabled.

How's that going, by the way? I was looking at the epub recently, and was happy to see it included several sane specs by reference but also documented the highlights inline.

But how many readers actually reject non-xml at this point? I assume most of the phone apps just call the native html renderer on the text, which is unlikely to be picky, but I suppose the dedicated reader devices might be different. I did hear there's an issue with sony readers not handling any one xhtml file over 256 KB, which makes the document division more complex for producers than it might at first seem. What kind of conformance tools are available?

#172 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:29 PM:

ErrolC @171, have you heard about file access on the iPad?

#173 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:30 PM:

Chris @158
As for me, I read paper books too, but not often anymore. In fact, I actually get annoyed and often end up starting but not finishing paper books just because I don't have the convenience of taking them with me without adding weight and bulk.

Since getting my iPhone in April, 90% of my Fiction reading has been on it (Tor.com's startup campaign helped). I was reading a non-fiction book in bed last night, and I flicked my eyes to the top of the page to check the time...

PS your link to today's call above had a typo in it, but I assume you will link to the completed podcast (our hosts permitting). I'm currently listening to the Lawrence Lee Rowe Interview.

#174 ::: Greg G ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:34 PM:

Ben Trafford is making me regret my frequent evangelising of EPUB to folks at my library. I know this is not logical, but still...

#175 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:44 PM:

Ben Trafford@169: Your responses appear to consist of baseless accusation and condescension, so...yeah. I'm done.

My apologies for interrupting your myopic navel-gazing. Hopefully, I've given more rational people something to think about. And thanks to them for their replies. It's been useful.

I'll go back to lurking now.

Oh, wow. Talk about your flounces . . . that one had eyelet lace and extra ruffles.

#176 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:45 PM:

Patrick: One alternative to annoying DRM that I'd like to see tried is some sort of watermarking which could be generated for each sold e-book. Then if somebody starts selling using their copy for evil one could use the watermark to figure out who bought the offending copy.

Yes, a technically competent person could likely easily defeat a watermark if so inclined. But, as you know, a technically competent person can easily defeat DRM if so inclined so that's not really an argument against it. And a watermark invisible to the casual user is far less annoying and does not lessen the value of the e-book.

#177 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:45 PM:

Avram @174
Thanks, that's about as bad as I feared. I'm a "savvy computer user", and interfaces that don't scale well irritate me. If you have a lot of files a lack of directories (or alternative filtering methods) is a problem. I've been discovering of late that my brain doesn't mesh well with iTunes as it currently is.

#178 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:46 PM:

The "Nuclear Materials..." ebook page is very strange. The "customers who bought this also bought" list is quite non sequitur, and the reviews appear to be jokes.

#179 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:50 PM:

@172 Total: Why, yes: point out that you're trying to impose your values on all of us.

"...and is immediately filled with pigeon, when she says her name is Storm..."

I think we're done here.

-j

#180 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:52 PM:

I assume you can make sense out of the second sentence even if I wrote it in a nonsensical manner.

#181 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:00 PM:

#165 @Avram
Look at it this way. The container is not the book. The book is the contents, whether on cuneiform clay tablet, papyrus scrolls, vellum codex, or printed book, or a text file with a header and markup. Ebooks are just one more container, that's all. And as we change containers, we gain and lose entry and exit, points, and indexing and localization methods. The printed codex book is just the container with a set of agreedupon UI conventeions, like TOC, headers, footers, page numbers, indices, appendices, footnotes, annotations and glosses. That's all; just a container with a specific UI spec.

#167 @Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Most publishers get that DRM loses customers who just want to read a book.

Random House is Not Getting it. They didn't get it in 1992, or 2002, or in 2008.

Or the idea that gee if you're a household with wifi sharing books on the local network is not piracy. Neither is locally sharing iTunes music or video . . .

Also as a general Apple's iTunes Plus is DRM free. The music you can buy in iTunes now is DRM free.

#182 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:05 PM:

David Bilek @178: That's what DriveThruRPG does with their role-playing game PDFs.

(DriveThruRPG recently raised almost $180,000 for Doctors Without Borders by selling a bundle of $1000 worth of e-books for a $20 donation, by the way. Now that's working your zero marginal cost!)

Lisa Spangenberg @183: What makes you say most publishers get it? All the big boys seem to have DRM on their Fictionwise books as far as I know.

#183 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:05 PM:

182
I wasn't having any trouble with the second sentence. Either one of them.

(I understand that there are somewhat similar methods currently in use by Various Government Agencies.)

#184 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:06 PM:

Patrick @167, that's why I have next to no interest in newly published e-books, and almost all the e-books I do have are from Gutenberg and in plain text which I gussy up as desired in Word. E-books are of no interest to me unless I can put them on my phone, then move them over to one of my computers or another for a while, take notes right there with the text, then store them on a USB or SD card until I need them again, change the font and other formatting along the way to make them easier to read on different platforms, and so on.

And I predict that something interesting is going to start happening with the libraries that have been investing so heavily in e-books. They are going to start realizing their negotiating power, like they have been doing with anti-ILL clauses in database contracts, and start negotiang better deals on e-book contract bundles so that their patrons can make better use of all those expensive electrons. I mean, single user at a time? Talk about trying to replicate the paper book paradigm!

#185 ::: Andrea Phillips ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:07 PM:

Lisa Spanenberg, #164: I prefer to think that rich-media production evolved to its natural home on the web. The Library of Babel, for example, (full disclosure, I worked on this project) seems an obvious descendent of the hypercard stack to me. In the ARG space, we make quite heavy use of similar techniques all the time.

#186 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Lisa S @183, in what way does what you just wrote address what I wrote to Teresa?

#187 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:10 PM:

177
I was expecting it a lot earlier than it happened.
But not with the eyelets and ruffles. *g*
(Not, I think, a lurker in the usual sense, or he'd have had a better idea of what he was getting into.)

#188 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:22 PM:

David, 178: But what if I sell my watermarked file to somebody else who then uses it for evil? Are we going to start registering books like we do cars?

#189 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:39 PM:

The completed podcast is now up on the TalkShoe show page. Show notes are here.

#190 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:06 PM:

One point I don't think people have made forcefully enough: the poor typography in the current generation of ebooks isn't just a matter of aesthetics. It's often a matter of formatting so badly garbled that it's hard to extract the correct meaning.

I was thinking of buying an electronic copy of one of the technical books from O'Reilly that I was currently reading in paper -- it's heavy enough that having it on my phone would have been very nice. My company has access to some O'Reilly books at work, so I was able to look at a preview. The formatting of that particular electronic edition was terrible. I've forgotten exactly what the worst problem was, but it was something like material that was supposed to be in a table bleeding into post-table text. I tried reading a chapter of that book on my monitor at work, and gave up. It certainly didn't make me want to try reading it on my phone, where I would expect that formatting would be an even worse problem.

Now I grant that technical books about programming language are probably among the harder books to format for multiple-sized screens. The choice of font typically affects meaning, there are often diagrams and non-Roman characters, there are usually tables, there are usually code samples where line breaks in the wrong place destroy meaning. On the other hand, that's also the kind of book where I'd most want a good electronic version, and I'd also expect that O'Reilly would be one of the more careful publishers in this respect.

I've also been reading novels on my phone -- mostly public domain books from Fictionwise. That's better, because there is usually less text that can't just be represented as ordinary paragraphs. But even there, I usually find two or three places per book where the formatting is so jarringly bad that it becomes hard to read. One example I'm remembering from the last novel I read on my phone, Sense and Sensibility, was one of the excerpts from a letter. It was supposed to be an indented block quote, i.e. larger left and right margins. But whoever formatted the text got it wrong (probably putting hard line breaks in the wrong place), and it had alternating long and short lines like some kind of experimental poetry.

These are basic mistakes, the sorts of things you would never find in even the cheapest and most careless paper publication. I suppose it's partly that ebooks are a harder technical problem (just because it looks right on my screen doesn't mean it looks right on yours), and partly that the standards are lower. It presents a classic lemon problem, though. If some ebooks are so atrociously formatted as to be almost unreadable, and if buyers don't have an obvious way to tell which ones are readable before buying, then that drives down how much buyers will be willing to pay for even the good ones.

#191 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:25 PM:

#184 @Chris Meadows In my experience, the actual publishers do understand why DRM is bad for readers/end-users/customers, and thus bad for sales. The corporate folk, up the food-chain are the ones who, over and over again, have stopped non-DRM books. I'm making a distinction between say, the level of Harper Collins publishers, and their "bosses" at News Corp. The bosses are the ones issuing the fiats, not the publishing professionals--with the possible exception, in my experience, of Random House who have gotten increasingly difficult about DRM and wanted ebooks with any of their content, even if it's a tiny percentage, to be locked down with ridiculous user-hostile (and support-hostile) DRM.

#192 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:32 PM:

Avram @165:

Wait, TNH, I've got a bone to pick.
Sorry about that. Patrick said you had a bone to pick with me but he didn't say where, so I replied to your comments in a different thread.
First, in the text of your post, you said:
At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books.
And later:
I like the agency model. Publishers keep doing what publishers do well. Online retailers step into something very like the role of the bookseller. Market forces continue to exert themselves in normal ways. And after decades of theories and models and way too much discussion, the ebook settles into being what it always should have been: just another repro technology, with its own strengths and weaknesses and price points.
But then, when Ben Trafford refers (@2) to "trying to reproduce the print model in ebooks", you replied (@15) "Have you noticed that no one's proposing to do that?" and mocked him as describing a "business plan that no one's proposing".

So which is it? Is Macmillan's agency proposal based on the idea that ebooks are pretty much like dead-tree books, and should be published under a model where everybody keeps doing pretty much what were doing with dead trees? Or has nobody proposed reproducing the hard-copy model in the ebook world?

None of this is to say that Trafford isn't going all Dunning-Kruger on us in other respects. For one thing, it's far from obvious to me that publishing ebooks under the dead-tree model is doomed to failure, as he seems to think. But it does seem to me that you were indeed proposing reproducing the print model in ebooks, or something so similar to that as to be easily mistaken for it.

I thought I covered this in comment #143, responding to Kenneth Mark Hoover @108:
"At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books."
A lot of readers disagree with that notion. In fact, you only have to read the slapfight forums to know many of them aren't buying that idea at all.
The magic word there is "essentially." Are there differences? Certainly there are. Are those differences so great, the gap between book and ebook so unbridgeable, that it's reasonable to demand that we license our books to another company, and cede control of their prices and schedules? I say no, and I think I'm right.
For me, "the dead-trees model of publishing" is something detailed and specific. The "agency model" I described is a small and simple sketch. What I was saying in the passage you quote is that the agency model (as I understand it) sorts out into roughly isomorphic roles, relationships, and areas of responsibility which, while not the same, are similar enough to be comprehended and worked with by people familiar with the shapes and patterns of hardcopy publishing.

In fact, that was kind of the point.

Drat.

I suspect this one of those times where a brief period of intense confusion sorts out into me saying "But surely it was obvious that this, this, and this constituted a major distinction," while everyone around me says "Er, no, that wasn't clear at all."

Is it okay for me to be sorry about not being clearer, but wholly impenitent about dismissing Ben Trafford?

#193 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:04 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg, #193: "Random House who have gotten increasingly difficult about DRM and wanted ebooks with any of their content, even if it's a tiny percentage, to be locked down with ridiculous user-hostile (and support-hostile) DRM"

I should point out that it was Random House Audio that bought the audio rights to Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, agreeing to Cory's condition that it be published without DRM. The point being, I guess, that there are pockets of clueful people in any large enough organization.

(As a footnote, while it's not necessarily relevant to this discussion, it's also interesting that Audible.com--a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon--refused to sell this un-DRMed audio edition, despite the fact that both author and audio publisher were insisting that the lack of DRM was fine with them. Which does suggest that there might be something slightly inaccurate about the idea, commonly put forth on boards full of e-book aficionados, that Amazon e-books are DRM'd only because the publishers insist on it.)

#194 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:05 PM:

I have no problem with the agency model. I think Amazon should have the right to set their own prices even if they're at a loss, but I don't want to see publishers and authors become collateral damage on Amazon's path to total e-book domination.

However, as Chris Meadows has repeatedly pointed out, Macmillan has a history of not varying their variable prices very reliably. I was discussing this in the comments on a Scalzi post and noticed this:

The list price for "Agent to the Stars" is $14.95, says so on both the print and e-book pages. Amazon sells the print book for $10.17 and the Kindle e-book for $9.99. Other online retailers such as Barnes and Noble charge similar discounted prices.

At Fictionwise, where they seem to be charging the list price provided by the publishers, the "Agent to the Stars" e-book is $14.95. If you're not a club member you'll be paying the same price for an e-book as you would if you bought the print copy at full price elsewhere, and more than you'd be paying if you bought the print copy at Amazon, B&N, etc. The other Scalzi e-books at Fictionwise are all $7.99, the same price as the mass market paperback versions.

So right now, in a situation where Macmillan does control the retail prices, those prices are exactly the same as for the print editions. For an e-book which cannot be resold, given away, or donated, an e-book that cost nearly nothing to produce after the first one. While I don’t believe the costs of production, paper, ink, shipping, storage and pulping are a large percentage of the book’s price, I am certain that percentage is higher than 0%.

I am willing to pay more than $9.99 for an e-book to get it faster and to support the author. I have, at Baen. But the available evidence suggests that Macmillan expects readers to pay as much (or more) for the e-book as for the print version, and until they address that I think an awful lot of readers are going to side with Amazon.

#195 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:07 PM:

Stephanie @ 128:
Interesting linkage indeed; the concept of making money on the "float" doesn't surprise me (nor should it surprise anyone who's old enough to remember when paper checks were as common as debit cards are now).

The wrinkle with ebooks (or other digital content) is, of course, that since there's no physical inventory, there shouldn't actually be float available in the first place. [I would guess that there actually is float in the present setup, however, because I'd bet that the payment contracts for e-merchandise have inherited payment terms boilerplated from contracts written for physical merchandise.]

But if "agency" in "agency model" actually means what "agency" usually means in other legal contexts -- specifically, that the agent (in this case Amazon) has a certain fiduciary responsibility to their client -- then I suspect that there are indeed major legal and accounting implications for Amazon's ability to profit via creative use of float.

From an operational perspective, Amazon is in the retail merchandise business. But my sense is that from a management perspective, Amazon often tends to behave as if it were in the information/technology business -- and that this disconnect is what tends to get them in serious trouble when it makes mistakes.

#196 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:09 PM:

Charlie Stross writes: "From Apple's POV, ebooks are merely a convenient toy with which to bait the hook of hardware sales.

I think it's only slightly more nuanced than that. I take SJ at face value when he says that he thinks iPad has to be "substantially better [at some things] than both iPhone and MacBook," and I'm guessing that being a better ebook reader than either of those is one of the ways Apple executives are telling themselves that iPad makes sense as a product line.

The point is that ebooks are, for Apple, a way mainly to differentiate iPad from the rest of its product line. Full stop. For Amazon, I'm not sure what they're aiming to do— I mean, my answers to TNH's [rhetorical?] questions @19 are basically that I don't think they make any sense. It's like Amazon read Stallman's Right To Read and said to themselves, "Hey, what a great idea! Let's do all of that! Somebody is going to end up running a totalitarian private-sector Ministry of Information— why shouldn't it be us?" And now, they're busy pretending that Stallman's tale wasn't just another science fiction short in the dystopian-future subgenre. I really don't get Amazon's play here. It doesn't seem well-reasoned.

#197 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:13 PM:

Hmm. My post had exactly three links in it, and got held for moderation. Is the commenting system confused or did I transgress somewhere?

#198 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:24 PM:

C. A. Bridges, #198: You didn't do anything wrong that I can see, but check your email, because there is a technical glitch that only you can fix.

#199 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:29 PM:

Wow, that makes me sound like a supergenius called in to save the day, rather than someone who screwed up a link. :) Thanks!

#200 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:31 PM:

TNH @194: Is it okay for me to be sorry about not being clearer, but wholly impenitent about dismissing Ben Trafford?

Trafford was, in general, doing that Dunning-Kruger thing, as I said before, so it's no skin off my nose.

PNH @195: it's also interesting that Audible.com--a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon--refused to sell this un-DRMed audio edition, despite the fact that both author and audio publisher were insisting that the lack of DRM was fine with them

Is it any wonder that some people say "Screw this, I'm doing it on my own"?

#201 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:40 PM:

Okay, thanks to a quick e-mail exchange with commenter C. A. Bridges, his post #196 is now up.

As to the substance of it--that's interesting. My suspicion, and you can dismiss this as special pleading from a Macmillan employee if you like, is that this reflects confusion more than any kind of dastardly plan. But you've made me curious enough that I'll make some inquiries.

#202 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:45 PM:

#202, Avram: No wonder whatsoever. You'll recall that more than one person named Nielsen Hayden has engaged in more than one act of self-publishing.

(To say nothing of, ahem, this site. The existence of which causes me to roll my eyes when people tell me I'm categorically against self-publishing models.)

#203 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:46 PM:

TNH @ 153: "I think I need to write an entry about Amazon's history of de-listing books as a strongarm tactic."

I, for one, would very much appreciate something like that.

TNH @ 194: "What I was saying in the passage you quote is that the agency model (as I understand it) sorts out into roughly isomorphic roles, relationships, and areas of responsibility which, while not the same, are similar enough to be comprehended and worked with by people familiar with the shapes and patterns of hardcopy publishing. "

The substantive difference, however, is that publishers are now in the position of determining retail prices--which (correct me if I'm wrong) they haven't done previously. Now, I get that it's very important for publishers to be able to control with some precision the profit margins on different sections of their inventory in order to balance their ledgers and stay in business, and I understand why they don't trust Amazon to give them that leeway. Nonetheless, this is uncharted territory publishers are entering here. Isn't it?

#204 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:54 PM:

heresiarch 205:

Here's a start, though they admit there are others they're not talking about.

#205 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:55 PM:

PNH @204: Well, we know in at least one case it's intentional. Over on the LiveJournal thread where I posted the results of my 25-book survey, someone else asked about one of the Kushiel books that has been $7 in paperback for years but is still $14 at Fictionwise.

Sean P. Fodera wrote:

I just heard from my friend at Digital Mac. She says that the current list price should be $14 on that Kushiel title. I'm not going to debate pricing schemes with her right now, but I expect I'll have to try to get an understanding of why we are doing this. It may be related to this new pricing policy. I've also given her a link to this thread, so she can see the other examples Robotech_Master mentioned. Hopefully, this thread will produce some level of results that will ease some of your concerns.
Still no word from her yet on those examples I mentioned.

Heresiarch @205: This might be the sort of thing you're looking for.

#206 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:56 PM:

I think we're done here.

Flounce as you will.

#207 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:59 PM:

Chris Meadows, #207: Interesting.

#208 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:01 PM:

I'm going to put in some thoughts without having read all the thread before.

It strikes me that I've heard this story before, decades ago in the telecomm industry. The industry giants had been trying to get into what is now called "content" for a long time. They consistently lost their shirts at it, and went back to making steady money moving their regular traffic.

Why? Because there are two different business models involved: a rental service model, and a production/publishing model. An organization that's good at running a telecomm network isn't usually good at production and vice versa. In rental service, the goal is to sell product; in those days that meant minutes of telecomm connections or permanent leased circuits. Now, this is a steady business: you're selling variations on a few basic products. Enough capital (lots of capital), a good technical staff, enough traffic and you're there. You don't to worry about what's in the traffic, as long as there's traffic.

Publishing and production, on the other hand, involve a maze of little products, all different. The goal is to grab hold of as much of the long tail as possible. A few products succeed spectacularly, some do OK, some are slow but steady money-makers, some fail. But the business strategy, as I understand it, is to keep putting out products and to taking moderate chances on new ones.

Amazon, it seems to me, is thinking like a telecomm (or a television network.) They want their suppliers to assume all the risks of production, and they figure one book is like another, so they don't see why there's a need to adopt a business model that makes space for taking chances. It seems to me a good way to lose their shirt, even with a strong lead in controlling distribution. Problem is, they may do a lot of harm on their way to doing it.

#209 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:03 PM:

PNH @ 206 : "As to the substance of it--that's interesting. My suspicion, and you can dismiss this as special pleading from a Macmillan employee if you like, is that this reflects confusion more than any kind of dastardly plan. But you've made me curious enough that I'll make some inquiries."

It's fairly consistent. Chris Meadows' article links to several similar examples. Some more Scalzi examples from the Amazon Kindle store, since I was arguing about it at his site:

"The Ghost Brigades": List is $14.99, Kindle price is 7.99. Paperback is 8.36.

"Agent to the Stars": List $14.95, Kindle price 9.99, paperback 10.17.

In two cases the same books are listed twice, "Zoe’s Tale" and "The Android’s Dream", and in each case the list price for one of them is $24.95 (!). Paperback is 7.99, Kindle price is 7.19.

The rest are listed in line with paperback prices, and good on them. But right there is why so many people are not supporting Macmillan in this thing. If I searched for "Zoe’s Tale" and saw that Macmillan was suggesting I pay $25 for an e-book when the paperback is 8, I’d say the hell with the publisher’s suggested prices, yay Amazon.

It wouldn't surprise me a bit if this was due to no one being assigned to make sure such things are kept current, but that doesn't exactly reassure me that I should trust Macmillan to handle variable pricing in the future.

#210 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:06 PM:

PNH @209: Isn't it? I don't want to come off as one of those "the BPHs want to sabotage e-books" conspiracy theorists, but I sure would love to know why they would intentionally want to keep the e-book price higher than the paper book price, years after it goes to mass-market paperback.

It makes it somewhat harder to believe them when they say they want to do variable pricing now.

#211 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:14 PM:

C. A. Bridges, I'm confused about what you mean when you say "list."

" If I searched for Zoe’s Tale and saw that Macmillan was suggesting I pay $25 for an e-book when the paperback is 8, I’d say the hell with the publisher’s suggested prices, yay Amazon." Um...Where do you see anyone, Macmillan or otherwise, "suggesting" that you pay $25 for an e-book? On the page where I'm looking, the e-book price is $6.39.

I'm entirely willing to believe that there are discrepancies in our e-book pricing, and I certainly don't know what's going on with those Fictionwise prices that you and Chris Meadows report, but what I'm looking at on the Amazon that reaches my web browser doesn't seem to match up with what you report.

#212 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:20 PM:

C. A. Bridges, #211: "but that doesn't exactly reassure me that I should trust Macmillan to handle variable pricing in the future"

That seems a little tendentious. I don't think anybody suggested you should "trust" anyone.

#213 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:26 PM:

Patrick @ 204... this site (...) when people tell me I'm categorically against self-publishing models

That reminds me.

Is it as of this year or next that ML can be nominated in the Hugo's fanzine category?

#214 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:38 PM:

I believe we're eligible this year, Serge. Feel free!

#215 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:39 PM:

Part of the confusion over ebook prices may be due to the fact that Amazon Kindle Store sometimes lists two editions of the same ebook, at different prices. For instance, Saturn's Children appears both at 9.65$ and 17.23$. Weird.

#216 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:42 PM:

Those aren't the prices I'm seeing on Amazon, either, but I'm not looking in the Kindle store, but in the general book section. (Where they're running 5-8 dollars.)

#217 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:49 PM:

Patrick @ 216... Good, good. If I remember correctly, I can't participate because I'm not going to this year's worldcon, but I can nominate because I attended last year's.

#218 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:49 PM:

IreneD, #217:

"Part of the confusion over ebook prices may be due to the fact that Amazon Kindle Store sometimes lists two editions of the same ebook, at different prices. For instance, Saturn's Children appears both at 9.65$ and 17.23$. Weird."

Whereas for me, Amazon clearly says this Kindle title--not a Macmillan book!--is $6.39.

Now, I'm in the US, and if your IP address (visible on the brushed-steel-and-chromium consoles in the control room of the high-rise Making Light tower in Brooklyn, NY) is any indication, you're in France. So maybe that has something to do with it.

Or maybe the whole question of e-book pricing is a giant snark hunt contrived for us by our post-Singularity descendants, in order to distract us from interfering with the final advance toward the transf--

#219 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:54 PM:

Serge: supporting membership.

#220 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:03 AM:

Agent to the Stars (Kindle Edition)
by John Scalzi (Author)

Digital List Price: $14.95 (What's this?)
Print List Price: $14.95
Kindle Price: $9.99 & includes wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
You Save: $4.96 (33%)

And on the print edition page:

Agent to the Stars (Paperback)
~ John Scalzi

List Price: $14.95
Price: $10.17 & eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25. Details
You Save: $4.78 (32%)


By this, I'm assuming that the List Price is that suggested by the publisher. I could be wrong; I don't have a print copy of the book in front of me. Anyone know what price is printed on the back of "Agent to the Stars"?

PNH @214: "That seems a little tendentious. I don't think anybody suggested you should "trust" anyone."

I could argue that numerous authors and bloggers are doing just that, but fair enough. Macmillan isn't asking for trust, Macmillan is working for what they see is the right path for continued business, and I want that to happen. I'm just afraid that Macmillan also has an unrealistic idea of what e-books should sell for, and the evidence to date suggests just that.

#221 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:04 AM:

@ PNH #220:

Yes, of course. I didn't thought about it, but I am indeed in France, and apparently, some Kindle ebooks are either not available at all for that country, or priced differently! (And that's another reason I'm not much of a Kindle fan...)

C. A. Bridges (#206) wrote:

"Macmillan has a history of not varying their variable prices very reliably. (...) The list price for "Agent to the Stars" is $14.95, says so on both the print and e-book pages. Amazon sells the print book for $10.17 and the Kindle e-book for $9.99. (...) At Fictionwise, where they seem to be charging the list price provided by the publishers, the "Agent to the Stars" e-book is $14.95."

True, and that's annoying, but I noticed that Fictionwise sells 4 ebooks authored by Scalzi and published by Macmillan/Tor Books, and that 3 out of 4 are price for 7.99$. So the hypothesis of a confusion somewhere between publisher and retailer looks at least plausible.

#222 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:35 AM:

IreneD @223: "...and that 3 out of 4 are price for 7.99$"

Yes, I was glad to see those prices were lower. But they're still the same prices as the paperback versions. As I mentioned above, I don't think the costs of physical production are a large percentage of the cost of a book, but it's certainly more than zero. I think Macmillan -- and other publishers, I'm sure -- want me to pay the same for an e-book as for a printed book, and I think that pricing will cripple e-book sales.

I kinda suspect Macmillan hopes that raising the prices of e-books will result in a resurgence of hardcover sales. I also suspect that raising the prices of e-books will actually result in a resurgence of e-book piracy, and that doesn't help anybody.

#223 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:47 AM:

Personally, if the price of every e-book that's in paperback in print were equivalent to the paperback's, I'd be a lot happier than I am now. I'm willing to deal with the inconveniences of DRM and inability to sell in exchange for the convenience of storage and carrying. I think it would be a fair tradeoff, advantage for disadvantage, if the prices were at parity.

But paying hardcover or even trade paper price when the book is in paperback? No way, José.

#224 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:53 AM:

#219 Serge

You don't have to -go- to the Worldcon to vote, you merely have to be a member (supporting membership is considerably less expensive than Attending).

#225 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:08 AM:

Chris Meadows @207:

PNH @204: Well, we know in at least one case it's intentional. Over on the LiveJournal thread where I posted the results of my 25-book survey, someone else asked about one of the Kushiel books that has been $7 in paperback for years but is still $14 at Fictionwise.
You don't work at Fictionwise. Neither do I. As of this moment, neither you nor I nor Patrick know which contracts and agreements or company policies (or which company) might conceivably apply to these properties. On top of that, there's human error. We don't know.

This is like my own policy when someone points out a particularly inept bit of writing or a blatant uncaught typo in a book, and wants to denounce the author/editor/typesetter/copy editor/proofreader/publisher/whatever: if I haven't seen the manuscript and galleys, and possibly some of the correspondence that accompanied them, I don't know what happened. I've seen a lot of strange stuff and heard a lot of strange stories about how it happened. When I was younger, I'd have been sure I could diagnose it. Now, I know that I don't know.

That which we do not know, we cannot use as fodder for further interpretation, as Wittgenstein probably said during a pub crawl in his student days.

I don't know about Sean Fodera's information sources, but I'll cheerfully concede that he may well be braver than I am. (Also, tell him I said hello.)

Randolph @210, all I know is that every one of those products is different. I interpret their sales figures as best I can. I rejoice when my books do well, and (perhaps discreditably) rejoice even more when an author's figures improve after I start editing him or her. The larger statistical syntheses I leave to Beth Meacham, Linda Quinton, and Tom Doherty. Tom especially -- he's one of those mutants who can meditate upon masses of tabular numerical data and see the magic 3D picture of the process in motion under the surface.

Serge @215:

That reminds me.

Is it as of this year or next that ML can be nominated in the Hugo's fanzine category?

Why, this year! And next year too. And Patrick and I (and Jim and Abi and Avram) are all eligible for the Best Fanwriter Hugo. (O Buick hood ornament crown'd with propeller beanie...)

(Sorry. It's a visceral thing you never get over, like the smell of corflu and mimeo ink on a wax stencil.) (But I digress.)

C. A. Bridges @211:

"The Ghost Brigades": List is $14.99, Kindle price is 7.99. Paperback is 8.36.

"Agent to the Stars": List $14.95, Kindle price 9.99, paperback 10.17.

In two cases the same books are listed twice, "Zoe’s Tale" and "The Android’s Dream", and in each case the list price for one of them is $24.95 (!). Paperback is 7.99, Kindle price is 7.19.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @213:
Um...Where do you see anyone, Macmillan or otherwise, "suggesting" that you pay $25 for an e-book? On the page where I'm looking, the e-book price is $6.39.

IreneD @217:

Part of the confusion over ebook prices may be due to the fact that Amazon Kindle Store sometimes lists two editions of the same ebook, at different prices. For instance, Saturn's Children appears both at 9.65$ and 17.23$. Weird.
Weird is the word for it. Those look to me like excessively random numbers -- 17, 19, 23? Is there some justification for them that I'm missing? Because numbers like $6.39 and $23.17 make me instantly suspicious.

#226 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Marilee #168: I am...appalled, if not exactly surprised, to find that the Kindle isn't set up to be useful to the blind.

I spent about three years of college work-study scanning books--textbooks, fiction books*, all sorts of books required by one classroom or another--and running them through OCR. Then laboriously, tediously correcting all the OCR. Why? So that students with various disabilities could have the books presented to them in a more convenient format: text-to-audio, funneled through a laptop that was hooked up to the most fascinating braille reader...

The very idea of all those books for the Kindle, already put into electronic format as something other than pure image scans, being less useful to the blind than the books I spent all that time converting... That pains me deep in my readerly soul.


* It was very hard to focus on OCR correction and not to reread when scanning the Octavia Butler books.

#227 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:48 AM:

#227 Teresa

$6.37 is 80% of $7.99
$7.19 is 90% of $7.99

Regarding errors in documents...
There is a document in the federal archives with title which starts "Spaced-Based Sensor Systems..." I more or less know the story behind that; the document has my name on it as author.... I removed that first "d" twice during the editing and proofing for production process, and the THIRD time the production people had it in there, I missed it in the review, and THAT was what got printed and distributed and delivered to the Defense Technical Information Center for accession and archiving....

#228 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:24 AM:

Fade Manley @228: Dedicated devices like Kindles tend to be more useful to the group to whom they're dedicated than general-purpose devices like computers. Despite having text-to-speech, Kindles are not meant to be used by the blind—they're meant to be used for listening to your book on the drive to work.

Now if you're looking for a hand-held gizmo that can be helpful to the blind, here's a gadget that looks a lot more useful. (Much more expensive, too, of course.)

#229 ::: Stephanie Leary ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:48 AM:

John @ 197:

The wrinkle with ebooks (or other digital content) is, of course, that since there's no physical inventory, there shouldn't actually be float available in the first place. [I would guess that there actually is float in the present setup, however, because I'd bet that the payment contracts for e-merchandise have inherited payment terms boilerplated from contracts written for physical merchandise.]

That's exactly what I think has happened. Amazon is floating along on dead-tree contracts for ebooks, and I'm guessing the bookkeeping changes that go with the agency model will somehow do away with all that interest-bearing cash.

If Amazon's ebooks are suddenly the same price, more or less, as every other bookseller's, then Amazon has to compete on other merits. It now has to convince prospective Kindle buyers that a single-purpose, monochrome device with no backlight is better than Apple's flashy multipurpose gizmo that costs just a wee bit more and lets you read Kindle books (via the existing iPhone app), Apple's new ebooks, and any other format with an iPhone/iPad reader.

That cash float model looks more and more like something they'd want to protect at all costs, even if it meant getting into a pissing contest with the big six.

#230 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 03:29 AM:

Stephanie @231:

That's exactly what I think has happened. Amazon is floating along on dead-tree contracts for ebooks, and I'm guessing the bookkeeping changes that go with the agency model will somehow do away with all that interest-bearing cash.
Unless, of course, one of the things settled on during the week-long negotiations was contract terms that would let them continue to float. After all, nobody knows what exactly was agreed upon during that time; the NY Times was speculating on things like book-sharing permission but if float was such an important motivator I wouldn't put it past Amazon to try to get that included too.

#231 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 04:57 AM:

@39(eventually) Chris Meadows: I'm guessing that serialized e-book to which you refer is Diane Duane's The Big Meow, right? I chipped in, too. :)

Indeed. I figured most people here would catch the reference, and adding too much detail might sound like bitter axe-grinding. In fact, I'm not terribly bothered by it; the experiment was a failure, but half a cat-wizard is better than none at all, and that remains the most likely alternative in the current market.

Certain types of work just don't seem to have a place right now. For instance, there are scattered references to a new McGill Feighan novel "coming soon from publisher X", but selling book five today when book four came out in 1986 makes The Big Meow look easy. Even if they were armed with cheap rights and clean electronic copies, they'd still be trying to sell five books at once, all "charmingly dated" and unfamiliar to most of the audience. It sounds like a lot of work for a publisher who couldn't charge a premium price for the results.

Setting aside the most recent issue, I honestly don't know if Amazon's POD and Kindle deals would be a good fit for McGill or The Big Meow. Amazon would promptly recommend them both to me, based on my buying history, but would enough other people find them, and would the authors get enough out of it? Dunno.

-j

#232 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:02 AM:

J Greely@98: Apple has been in the ebook business since the inception of the AppStore. There are enough ebooks in the AppStore that they merit their own category. And yet, the AppStore also has a bunch of ereader apps, including a few that directly compete against Apple for ebook purchases. It'd be highly weird for them to change this policy now.

Unfortunately, because of a bunch of highly publicized screw ups with the way they've run the AppStore, it's really easy to believe all sorts of awful things about what they will do despite the usual information vacuum about their plans.

Personally, I hope Apple treats ePub files exactly as they treat their AAC files in iTunes and within their store (but with more flexible pricing). It'll be interesting to see if the problems with the AppStore replicate themselves or will the iBook store be more like the music and video stores.

#233 ::: Blue Tyson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:46 AM:

Patrick, in Australia, I see :-

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross (Kindle Edition - July 1, 2008) - Kindle Book
Buy: $6.39

Which goes to this url - http://www.amazon.com/Saturns-Children-ebook/dp/B0013A1IYI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=digital-text&qid=1265539141&sr=8-2

(which I can't buy, as not available, so the actual page has no price on it)

AND


Saturn's Children (Kindle Edition)
by Charles Stross (Author)
No customer reviews yet. Be the first.Digital List Price: $21.64 What's this?
Kindle Price: $14.98 & includes international wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
You Save: $6.66 (31%)

http://www.amazon.com/Saturns-Children-ebook/dp/B002TZ3FCY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A24IB90LPZJ0BS&s=digital-text&qid=1265539396&sr=1-1

Which presumably Americans won't see if they look - this is the Hachette book - there's a 2 dollar surchage for all outside USA purchasers too at Amazon, of course.

#234 ::: Blue Tyson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:56 AM:

217

Irene,

Out of interest, what price is the Kindle version for Alastair Reynolds Zima Blue and Other Stories? http://www.amazon.com/Zima-Blue-ebook/dp/B002VCR0CQ

I bought this one for $11.99 around xmas time last year. Today for me it shows at $16.40. The former may have been a mistake as they could have done their price from the Night Shade trade, and made it 9.99 and whacked on the 2 bucks, but are now pricing from the Hachette hardcover. There is of course a trade paperback of this out in Australia, too.

#235 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:58 AM:

I must say that various people's comments to me in a previous thread (thanks, Lisa and others) have convinced me that it's time I started being more systematic about how I acquire books. I'm no longer poor enough that I need to restrict myself whatever falls into my hands for pin money. And the market has moved on since I've spent a few years living in a non-English-speaking country. So, my belated new year's resolution is to start putting thought and effort into making sure authors I like get some of my money.

Regarding Ben Trafford's splurge, it's a pity he is grandstanding / trolling rather than engaging in the discussion. The thing is, I sort of agree with him that it would be really lovely to have a world where every book published was automatically available in a non-DRM electronic format that could readily be adapted for people with disabilities and provided to people with little money or inclination for shiny tech. But I totally disagree with him that the way to achieve this is to remove all the quality control from the process. I very much want my books pre-filtered, thank you very much, and not have to wade through everything churned out by cranks who are convinced that The Publishing Industry is oppressing them by not paying them for their precious verbiage.

(I would also add that codex books are already a niche market for enthusiasts. Isn't it the case that the vast majority of people buy less than one book per year?)

PS: For those who care, my website is no longer broken. Sorry about putting bad links here for the last several months.

#236 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 06:34 AM:

To follow up what Patrick said in #167 (on DRM making ebooks worth less, and on this being a non-unique viewpoint at his employer); I'm published by three of the "big six" publishers (Orbit, aka Hachette, in the UK; Tor, aka Macmillan, and Ace, aka Penguin, in the USA). Just about every editor under 60 who I work with now uses an ebook reader (they're dead handy for carrying manuscripts around), and they're all echoing Patrick's sentiment, albeit some of them have to speak out of the sides of their mouth.

I speculate that the best way to get rid of DRM on ebooks -- and other obstacles such as territorial restrictions -- would be to somehow contrive for all the corporate executives who're in favour of such customer-hostile nonsense to be issued with ebook readers and required to use them for all their reading for a month.

Errolc @171: If Apple retroactively de-authorizes the Kindle iPhone app from running on the iPad, Amazon would certainly have a case for anti-competitive behaviour before the courts in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe). Not sure how US anti-trust law applies, but I suspect they'd have a case there, too. And it'd be a huge PR own-goal for Apple, just as they're trying to boost a platform which I think they see as the ultimate successor to the Macintosh. I don't believe they're that stupid.

#237 ::: Rich Warren ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 07:07 AM:

Ben Trafford 76:

Sorry Ben, but there is no sample size listed, and no further information about how the poll was carried out, without that it's irrelevant.

I did hunt around for other reports concerning that poll including the Seagate (the poll was carried out on their behalf) website, but no sign of the data itself.

#238 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 08:46 AM:

Charlie, #238: " Just about every editor under 60 who I work with now uses an ebook reader (they're dead handy for carrying manuscripts around)"

For what it's worth, I don't use a dedicated e-reader. Macmillan gave us all Sony Readers a while ago, but I simply never got used to the "e-paper" display, the same technology used by the Kindle and aptly described by Nicholson Baker as "like reading through a wet newspaper." I'd frankly rather read a novel in (for instance) monospaced console text on a command-line DOS or *n*x system than suffer through the indistinct grayness of the current-generation Kindle and Sony Reader. Different people have different kinds of vision problems and that's mine.

But if you extend the definition of "ebook reader" to mean notebook computer and iPhone, yes, certainly; I've been doing the overwhelming majority of my reading and editing on portable electronic devices for coming up on twenty years.

#239 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:04 AM:

I've been following this subject in a lot of places, and there's one logical disconnect that keeps getting to me.

I keep seeing people who say, "Macmillan doesn't drop prices now so why should we expect them to in future."

My response to this, is that they are saying Macmillan won't follow the new policy that's not in effect yet because they have been and are following the current policy that is in effect now, rather than the one that's not in effect.

I'm getting a headache now.

#240 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:27 AM:

Dave Robinson: To clarify, folks are saying that Macmillan has had plenty of opportunity to practice tiered pricing in existing outlets, and hasn't done so at all. Those of us who've been buying ebooks from places like Fictionwise are, many of us, quite familiar with having to ask them to ask their publishers for price reductions for books long since in paper, and often not getting them. We're not talking here about Macmillan at Amazon, but Macmillan at other places. We interpret the absence of orderly tiered pricing in different ways, but it clearly is an absence.

#241 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:45 AM:

PJ Evans @ 221... Paula Lieberman @ 226... Oh, right.

#242 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:49 AM:

Teresa @ 227... Patrick and I (and Jim and Abi and Avram) are all eligible for the Best Fanwriter Hugo. (O Buick hood ornament crown'd with propeller beanie...)

And indeed you all are. As for the ornament, your comment reminds me of a scene from The Rocketeer, after Bill Campbell has put on the whole gear, helmet and all.

"What do I look like?"
"Like a hood ornament!"

One should know better than to ask Alan Arkin's honest opinion.

#243 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:05 AM:

Patrick, which Sony Reader were you given? There's one that's famous for its fuzzy screen, a problem that Sony has addressed. I've got the Pocket Reader, and its screen pleaseth me.

#244 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:11 AM:

Apologies for my lousy memory, but somewhere someone pointed out that calling this the "agency model" is misleading, in that agents may have discretion to change things. The writer suggested that the new model should be called the consignment model, because under it, everything's set by the publisher, and the money passes through the consignment store.

Also, are the considerations that came into play with the Net Book Agreement relevant? I'm curious after reading Paul Carr's Hey, 1997 ? Macmillan called, they want the Net Book Agreement back.

#245 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:16 AM:

I've read through both this and a few of the previous threads, and maybe I missed it, but it seems I still don't see an answer to Mike's query @1. Do we have a definitive answer to exactly what MacMillan's demands re e-book pricing actually were? Were they just trying to reassert their right to set wholesale prices for e-books, or were they demanding a new right to set retail prices for e-books that Amazon couldn't discount? Has e-book pricing to date been handled exactly like the hard copy model, with publishers having an MSRP they can set and offering wholesale prices at a percentage off that, or has it been set with wholesale price as a percentage off of actual retail, in which case I can see the publisher wanting to be able to set the latter? What are the actual facts of the case here?

Now, I don't support the delisting as a negotiating tactic in any case, and I can see the dangers in Amazon setting up a monopsony by undercutting all the smaller retailers with loss leader pricing, but it still makes a difference in how I view this whether Amazon was trying to assert new powers, or just ones that all retailers including brick and mortar stores have traditionally had to set their own actual retail prices.

#246 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:25 AM:

Interesting how movies reflect the attitudes of an era. I was thinking of a scene in Roger Corman's 1990 movie Frankenstein Unbound. After John Hurt has been hurled back in time with his futuristic car to the days of Byron & Shelley, he realizes that the story of the Creature was real. He looks the novel up from his car's library.

And has the car print the whole story.

I don't know if that was in Brian Aldis's original novel, but it's interesting how the gears had shifted, to the point where people could handle our carrying a whole library on us, but not a new medium for the actual reading experience.

It was also a reminder that, in the future, printers will never have paper jammed where you can't reach it.

#247 ::: Pablo Defendini ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:23 PM:

Will @245

If PNH is referring to the reader that Macmillan gave out to editors (and to me, even tough I'm not an editor), he's got a PRS 505, which has a 'perfectly legible' screen (I also share PNH's lack of love for eInk—wet newspaper indeed).

The model with the fuzziness you're referring to is, I believe, the PRS 600, which is their first touchscreen device, which I also own. The fuzziness is due to the extra layer of touch surface over the eInk device, and it's a pain in the ass. And yes, you're correct: by all accounts (caveat: I haven't been able to get my hands on one yet, so this is based on secondhand info), the new Sony Touch reader (which is a big brother, generationally speaking, to your Sony Pocket Reader) does improve on the 600's fuzziness. For the record, I do the majority of my reading on the 600 (despite its shortcomings, it's still the most versatile of the major readers in terms of file handling), and on my iPhone (despite its size).

Until the iPad hits the scene, that is. Then I'm going to try very, very hard to make that the only device I need to carry around, even though I get the feeling that the iBook interface is intentionally rudimentary (but that's a topic for a whole blog post, methinks, and one I won't even toy with putting together until I've had a chance for some hands-on with the Unicorn).

#248 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:29 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 238: "If Apple retroactively de-authorizes the Kindle iPhone app from running on the iPad, Amazon would certainly have a case for anti-competitive behaviour before the courts in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe)."

IANAIPL, but bundling an e-book reader with one's hardware and OS reminds me of the case in the late 90s when Microsoft got sued for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. Were Apple to drop competing e-book readers from the AppStore, I would think it to be an even clearer violation of antitrust law.

Scott Harris @ 247: "...it still makes a difference in how I view this whether Amazon was trying to assert new powers, or just ones that all retailers including brick and mortar stores have traditionally had to set their own actual retail prices."

The traditional model is dying, never to return.* Either Amazon is going to extend its clout to fill that vacuum or the publishers are, but reasoning by analogy to brick-and-mortar isn't useful here.

Which brings me to another pet peeve: reasoning by analogy to paper books makes a hash of e-books. Every time someone says "I want to be able to resell or lend out my e-books just like I do with paper ones" I shake my head, because it will never, ever work like that. One cannot grab opposing corners of a paper book, pull, and end up with two books. Selling a paper book or lending it out has a natural cost to it: to do so, you have to sacrifice the use of it yourself. E-books don't have this inherent limitation, and so e-book lending will never work just like paper book lending; there will never be a second-hand e-book market. As idiotic as DRM is, at least it acknowledges this reality--readers often seem to brush it aside. E-books will either be a lot, lot more than paper books, or they will be something less. They're never going to be just like paper books.

*This is not to say that brick-n-mortar is GONE, man, just TOTALLY GONE. But the network of small, independent regional bookstores that characterized the retail book market for goodness knows how long is no longer the status quo. The arrangements that worked under that model won't necessarily work with a market dominated by a single retailer.

#249 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:49 PM:

250
That's the way that software is handled. I'm thinking it goes back to the days when computers were scarcer and software was custom-written and expensive.

Maybe if they actually thought of software/e-books as an actual physical product that people buy, then might sell as used, or hand over with a computer they're selling, they'd have a better way to deal with it.
(I know that there's software I'd buy used, if it were available, because while I have a need, it doesn't require the latest version, and maybe the latest version wouldn't run on my system.)

#250 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:19 PM:

Heresiarch, 250: Knitting designers have recently started offering downloadable PDFs. They come with a stern reminder that you shouldn't copy them, but it depends on the buyer's conscience. AIUI, the system works pretty well.

#251 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:24 PM:

heresiarch@250 - for what reason is a wholesale/retail model necessarily dying, even if things are being sold online rather than in brick and mortar locations? I see the assertion, I don't see a compelling argument that a retailer as middleman is necessarily useless in the digital world, where we might as well view them as aggregators.

I also still don't see an answer to the question. Has Amazon been negotiating wholesale prices for e-books directly with publishers for each book, or setting them as a percentage of the hardcover MSRP, or setting them as a percentage of actual final sales price, which would be like the agency model except with Amazon setting the price? Did MacMillan just assert the right to set wholesale prices normally, or actually demand the power to determine final retail price, with Amazon not being allowed to discount sales below that level even if at the expense of their own profit margin (or even taking a loss)?

I can see MacMillan being concerned that heavily discounted (or even subsidized) sales of e-books could cannibalize hardcover sales, or that once Amazon gets e-readers acclimated to universally lower prices they can eventually force a reduction in the wholesale price too, but I'm not sure that we're ever going to see all retailers, or even all e-retailers, agreeing to treat MSRP as a strictly binding figure, and lose the ability to have discounts, sales, etc.

#252 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:39 PM:

Scott @253, my understanding is #1 is the current situation; Amazon's famously discounted books are being sold at a loss to them, but authors and publishers receive the full percentage based on the official retail price. The Big Six want to switch to #3, which I'm going to call the consignment model until someone more knowledgeable corrects me.

#253 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:48 PM:

@234 John Chu: Apple has been in the ebook business since the inception of the AppStore. There are enough ebooks in the AppStore that they merit their own category.

Sorry, I can't agree. Apple is currently in the iPhone app business, which happens to include a number of dedicated and general-purpose book-reading apps. These apps compete against each other, and none of them are Apple products. Today, if you want to buy Twilight from the app store, Apple is selling you an application written by ScrollMotion, not an ebook.

The upcoming iBookstore puts all of those apps into direct competition against Apple, the same way that the iTunes music store competes against other music stores. And I don't see competing music-download applications in the app store, just a few scattered attempts at "enhanced" multimedia albums.

[side note: a substantial number of the "books" that show up in the app store are obviously pirated. A casual search turned up hundreds of "photobooks" that are slide-show viewers created from downloaded images. Apple is not only not selling ebooks, they're not even pretending to check for obvious copyright infringement.]

They say existing apps will work on the iPad at their current size or magnified 2x, but the developers will need to go through the approval process again for versions that make full use of the iPad's B6ish screen. And Apple has been neither consistent nor transparent in their approval process; a developer can spend months working on an app, only to have Apple sit on it for weeks and then reject it with no explanation.

Would anyone be surprised if "Kindle for iPad" got held up in the approval process for a while? Maybe got kicked back a few times after a review that was a little more thorough than most other apps get?

-j

#254 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:56 PM:

1: Over the past week and a bit, I've seen a lot of people saying authors can do it all themselves.

2: Over the past week and a bit, I've seen a lot of people saying things that indicate that they would be on a fast track to bankruptcy if they were running a business.

3: Yet politicians have, for over 30 years, been pushing self-employment as the driver for economic recovery.

4: And banks make very sure that they get first dibs on any money that might be raised to pay off debts, when bankruptcy comes.

Is the eBook rhetoric essentially an economic scam promulgated by the usual useful idiots?

#255 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:07 PM:

Pablo @249,

I understand that Sony don't make their own eInk screens, so that observation might apply to other readers that use them. And if you want a wider range of format-compatibility, you go somewhere other than Sony.

#256 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:15 PM:

Ben Trafford @2 & @30

whether that be speech-enabled (goodbye, separate audio book industry),

I've heard a book read aloud automatically by my cousin's Kindle, and it doesn't compare to an audibook read aloud by a skilled reader. (The importance of skilled readers-aloud has become clearer to me recently -- for some years I borrowed a fair number of professionally published audiobooks from the library, and occasionally would comment on a particular reader being better or worse than average; but I've recently started downloading and reading public domain audiobooks from LibriVox, the audibook offshoot of Project Gutenberg, and the variation in skill and talent on the part of the readers is much higher.)

I expect the quality of speech synthesis will improve over time, but for it to equal professional-quality audiobooks, either we'll need strong AI so the speech synthesizer understands what it's reading, or we'll need highly detailed semantic markup of the text -- far more labor-intensive and skilled than the stuff we do in the formatting rounds at Distributed Proofreaders, which in turn is far more than the ebook producers at major publishers can apparently be arsed to do, based on recent comments here about the poor quality of "pro" ebooks relative to recent Project Gutenberg etexts.

Publishers who play in the print world have a massive amount of overhead that purely electronic publishers would not.

Actually, from what I've seen recently of publishing professionals offering breakdowns of the costs of publishing books, the difference between paper books and ebooks is almost all in the marginal costs (printing, distribution, and returns, vs. server maintenance and bandwidth). The fixed costs, including the overhead, are essentially the same; markup and conversion to various ebook formats may cost less than design and typesetting of a printed book, but not hugely less. We can quibble about cover art -- arguably you can get away with lower-quality art if it's going to be displayed only as a smallish JPG than if it's going to be reproduced in print on a dust jacket, and pay the artist less for a colored line drawing that takes a few hours than for a painting that takes a few days. But otherwise the fixed costs, especially the largest components like the payment to authors, editors, copy-editors and editorial support staff, are going to be about the same.

#257 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:17 PM:

John Chu @44:

Whether the $10 cap is an expectation that Amazon has established or it's a ramification of us not placing much value on a bunch of bits on a hard drive, the expectation is still there.

Indeed; the value of something is what people are willing to pay, and has little or no relation to what it costs to producer to provide it. Since pubishers' fixed costs are about the same for ebooks as for printed books, while most people's valuation of ebooks is much lower, that's probably going to continue preventing the general adoption of ebooks in preference to paper books until and unless publishers' fixed costs get a lot lower (not sure how that could plausibly happen) or people's valuation of ebooks gets higher -- which could happen because DRM goes away, or because new generations grow up who are used to reading ebooks from a young age, or for other reasons.

TrishB @154:

The only badly formatted book I've come across is the free version of Pride and Prejudice that I downloaded, and even that wasn't horrible.

If I recall correctly, www.pemberley.com has good etexts of Jane Austen's books that were better proofed and formatted than the Project Gutenberg editions (as of the last time I read any of her books as etexts).

#258 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:27 PM:

J Greely @255 writes: "Would anyone be surprised if "Kindle for iPad" got held up in the approval process for a while?"

I would. Granted, Apple has surprised me before, but I'd be surprised again if this happened. I can't see any reason Apple should want to stall the Kindle for iPad application, and I can see plenty of reasons Apple would want to fast-track it: all those ebooks in Amazon's proprietary format that people already own.

#259 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:29 PM:

Some insightful quotes from the Clay Shirky sidelight:

"...but the other problem that Gutenberg introduced in intellectual life was a problem of risk....Since you had to print the books in advance, you were taking on all the risk of whether or not those books would sell. So the economic solution was pretty simple: make the publisher responsible for filtering for quality. Now there's no obvious reason that someone who's good at running a printing press also ought to be good at figuring out what books to print, but the economic logic of print it in advance then sell it, high up front costs and recoup when you reach the people, that economic logic meant that the word publisher has come to mean two things. People who decide what to publish and the people who do the publishing."

This illuminates the mutual misunderstanding between e-book lovers and TradPub supporters--the former see TradPub as primarily as being the "people who do the publishing" and therefore as unnecessary in the brave new world of digital distribution, whereas the TradPub folk see themselves as being primarily as "people who decide what to publish (and make sure it's copy-edited)," whose role is still necessary and important.

The "agency model," then, can be seen as the publishing industry's decision to subcontract the actual "publishing" part of the publishing industry to online retailers who already have the relevant expertise, while hanging on the the risk-management and quality control parts of the business.

"Here's what the internet did: it introduced for the first time post-Gutenberg economics. The cost of producing anything by anyone has fallen through the floor--famously--and as a result, there's no economic logic that says you have to filter for quality before you publish....The filter for quality is now way downstream of the site of production."

This then, presents the argument against the TradPub's assertion of continued relevance. Internet culture has invented numerous ways of filtering for quality that don't involve pre-selecting what to publish, and arguably they can do the same for books. The fan-fic beta reader system presents a sort of crowd-sourced alternative to traditional copy-editing, f'rex.

#260 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:35 PM:

Indeed; the value of something is what people are willing to pay, and has little or no relation to what it costs to producer to provide it. Since pubishers' fixed costs are about the same for ebooks as for printed books, while most people's valuation of ebooks is much lower, that's probably going to continue preventing the general adoption of ebooks in preference to paper books until and unless publishers' fixed costs get a lot lower (not sure how that could plausibly happen) or people's valuation of ebooks gets higher -- which could happen because DRM goes away, or because new generations grow up who are used to reading ebooks from a young age, or for other reasons.

I suspect that this may be part of Macmillan's motivation.

Right now it is still the early days of e-books, and part of what is being established is the expectation of what the "right" price is.

By setting the selling price below cost, Amazon is creating, in the customer's mind, the expectation that an e-book's "right" price is less than what it costs to make it.

In a sane business model, publishers would sell e-books with a price that reflects the cost of production, and if customers wouldn't buy at that price, they'd stop selling, and just sell paper books, which customers will buy at a price that works financially. The natural market for e-books be as a niche product, for people who like them enough to pay a reasonable price, rather than having them be the default reading experience.

If you want quality e-books, but don't want to pay enough to cover the cost of producing quality e-books, then you can't expect someone to sell them to you at a loss, just because you want them cheap, any more than it is reasonable to expect the sale of clothes or computers at less than the cost of production.

And businesses that cater to the expectation of prices below cost, by underpaying their employees or demanding that manufacturers relocate factories to places where wages are low and exploitation is high are seen as socially dangerous by right-thinking people, because of the harm caused by their methods.

What Amazon is doing isn't any better than Walmart sending its employees to collect welfare rather than charging enough for products so they can pay their employees a living wage.

#261 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:36 PM:

J Greely @ 255: "Would anyone be surprised if "Kindle for iPad" got held up in the approval process for a while? Maybe got kicked back a few times after a review that was a little more thorough than most other apps get?"

Yes, I would, a) because Amazon would sue them, and Amazon has deep pockets; b) because it would solidify the "the AppStore approval process is capricious and vile" meme from the conviction of a small group of users and developers to the common wisdom of the masses; and c) because it would discourage Kindle owners (a group of proven technological adventurists and e-book enthusiasts) from buying an iPad.

#262 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 02:57 PM:

Would anyone be surprised if "Kindle for iPad" got held up in the approval process for a while? Maybe got kicked back a few times after a review that was a little more thorough than most other apps get?

"If they did this awful thing, they'd be awful!" is not a strong evidentiary basis for an argument.

#263 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 04:00 PM:

On Apple's app store approval:

Apple does, from time to time, shoot down apps solely because they duplicate or compete with whatever they view, at the moment, as core product functionality. The most famous case is that of Google Voice, where Google's own app was never published, and a third-party app which hooked up to Google Voice was first published, and then pulled from the store for the stated reason that it "duplicated features that the iPhone comes with". Another fun trick is rejecting updates to an app --- even for trivial bugfixes --- because something that the previously approved version of the app does is deemed to be in violation of some obscure codicil in the TOS. That fun little trick got some publicity last fall, when a fairly respected Mac software publisher withdrew from the app store after a review in which they were required to remove features from an app in order to get an update published.

By the way, while the official Google Voice app was never published, I don't think it was ever officially rejected either. Apple's official position, last I checked, was that they were still "studying" it. And they have been since last summer.

These aren't the only ways that Apple has used the app store approval process to pursue its own goals --- and they can get stunningly petty about it. Witness, for instance, the app whose iPhone version was recently approved only after the phrase "Finalist in Google's Android Developer's Challenge" was expunged from the description.

It's not certain that Apple would start messing with pre-existing reader apps now that they have their own, but given this sort of behavior (and plenty more like it), it doesn't seem out of bounds to suppose that they might.

In short, Steve Jobs can play pretty rough when he wants to --- as rough as Jeff Bezos. I'm sure it's easy to forget that when he's pouring on the charm; the phrase "reality distortion field" was coined to describe his effect. And to judge from what I read in the news about his tour of potential media partners, he's probably got all the dials on the thing turned up to eleven while he's making the rounds. They probably won't stay there forever...

#264 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 04:22 PM:

Charlie Dodgson @ 255: "In short, Steve Jobs can play pretty rough when he wants to --- as rough as Jeff Bezos."

I don't think anyone is suggesting that Apple will approve the Kindle app because Apple is a kindhearted and essentially benevolent organization or because Steve Jobs is personally a nice guy. The consensus seems to be that they will approve it because it would be legally questionable and PR suicide not to. I don't think any one here is confused about Apple's corporate psychology.

#265 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 04:41 PM:

On the other hand, Amazon might withdraw their Kindle app, now that it's being run on competitive hardware.

#266 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 04:54 PM:

heresiarch@266:

FWIW, legal questions have already been raised about the Google Voice issue, to the point of official queries from the FCC. Apple hasn't backed down yet, and they don't seem to have suffered much of a PR hit. They could expect more flak from messing with an app that's been in the store for a while, but "suicide" might be stretching the point...

#267 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 04:56 PM:

Hmmmm. I think the people doing best monetarily from electronic publishing are the comics artists who serialize online & publish paper collections. Are we back in the early 19th century? Is, perhaps, the mostly-text book a niche in a future of primarily sequential art?

#268 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:08 PM:

Ursula L @ 262: "If you want quality e-books, but don't want to pay enough to cover the cost of producing quality e-books, then you can't expect someone to sell them to you at a loss, just because you want them cheap, any more than it is reasonable to expect the sale of clothes or computers at less than the cost of production."

I'm happy to pay the $15 or whatever the new e-book price lands at. But I also don't expect them to be sold at the identical price as the print copy, as Macmillan seems to prefer (see examples above).

#269 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:09 PM:

@266 heresiarch: The consensus seems to be that they will approve it because it would be legally questionable and PR suicide not to.

I will go out on what I believe to be a fairly sturdy limb and predict that a full-featured "Kindle for iPad" will not be available for purchase through Apple within three months of the launch of Apple's iBookstore, and that this delay will not be due to Amazon's failure to submit the app in time for the iPad launch.

If someone believes with equal firmness that I am standing on air, I will wager the price of an ebook on this: $10 if I win, $13 if I lose...

(this is separate from my "if at all" concern, which I want to be wrong about)

-j

#270 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:20 PM:

Charlie Dodgson @ 268: "They could expect more flak from messing with an app that's been in the store for a while, but "suicide" might be stretching the point..."

Well, possibly. I think that making the Kindle books that people have already bought to read on their iPhones unusable on their iPad would invite tremendous backlash--the anti-competitive intent would be blatant--but maybe not. Perhaps the Google Voice thing is going well enough for them that they'll want to try the strategy again. I doubt it, though.

#271 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:21 PM:

And on the other side, ebook readers are not happy about any of this. See this article over at Dear Author. No matter how this Publishers v. Amazon comes out, it seems to me that the people being hurt are the readers and authors.

#272 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 05:57 PM:

I'm less worried about the Kindle app for the iPad than I am about the other ereaders. Stanza, eReader, Classics, B&N's eReader, GoodDocs, Bookshelf, Bookz, Eucalyptus, Libris, Wattpad -- and that's just counting off the ones I personally have for my iPhone Touch -- will they be supported? If I can't use Stanza or eReader on the iPad there's no point in buying one since the bulk of my e-books were bought through Fictionwise or eReader, and if those programs are also removed from my iTouch there will be hell to pay. A better e-book reader than my old Palm is exactly what I bough the thing for in the first place!

I'd think that Apple would leave them on to prevent the messy PR hit they'd take -- removing an existing, popular app that competes with your new product is different than preventing a new app that competes with your new product. I hope.

#273 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 06:05 PM:

in a sane business model, publishers would sell e-books with a price that reflects the cost of production

Ursula, that depends on whether you think it's sane to take the short or the long view. I look at what's happening to book publishing and see a repetition of what happened to comic books in the US: They were popular entertainment that was cheap and available everywhere. They became entertainment for a niche market (anyone got the current figures for a comic book bestseller? the number used to be in the millions) that is expensive and only available to those who seek it out. Amazon wanted to lower prices. The consignment model will protect price escalation.

#274 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 06:28 PM:

heresiarch, #250: E-books will either be a lot, lot more than paper books, or they will be something less.

Since Ben flounced before he got to my post with this question, and you've brought the topic back up, I'll reiterate: what sort of things might publishers add to e-books to give them more value than paper books? The idea that e-books might have "extras" like DVD releases of movies is one that I find very intriguing.

I should note here that I brought this topic up in a physical conversation at lunch today, with a bunch of people who are high-end digital-data users, and the idea that ANY extra value might be added to e-books was roundly shouted down -- apparently because to these folks, the entire appeal of an e-book is that it must be CHEAPER than a printed book, and "Why would a publisher even think about doing that? It would raise the price!"

#275 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 06:37 PM:

J Greely@271: As I was previewing this entry, I saw that you have already made up your mind about "Kindle for iPad" so I deleted my response to #255 out of sheer pointlessness. I will point out that Spotify lets you download music onto your iPhone. It's not available on the US AppStore because the Spotify service is not available in the US. That has nothing to do with Apple.

Instead, I'm responding to say that there's a hole in your bet that you may want to fill. Most developers do not have iPads yet. It's safe to assume then that Amazon does not. I seriously doubt that they will submit "Kindle for iPad" without ever having tested it on a real iPad. One of the things experienced developers warn against is submitting iPhone apps one has not tested on real iPhones.

I think that it may be more than 3 months before "Kindle for iPad" to show up, not because I think Apple will do anything stupid but because good software development takes time. Unless Amazon programmers actually have iPads in their hands now, they don't know how the new UI elements work. Until they see those UI elements in action for real, it's hard to rework their existing app to take advantage of them. It's likely that they will not be able to do any useful QA until they get an iPad. (And if they do submit without testing on an iPad first, what they submit may be something that even the most dedicated Kindlephile would obviously reject from the AppStore.)

I'm not saying Apple won't also do something stupid. However, when "Kindle for iPad" hasn't come out after 3 months, Apple may not yet have had the opportunity to anything smart or stupid with it.

(BTW, if all Amazon is going to do is scale up the graphics to the new resolution, there's no point to submitting a new version. The only custom bitmapped graphics in the app are the splash screen and the cover images for each book. I think the other bitmaps come from the OS since they look like the icons in every other app. There's nothing they can do about the cover images and the splash screen barely makes an appearance.)

I expect that few apps will be optimized for iPad at the time of launch, and few of those will be optimized well for iPad. The iPhone apps that deal primarily with text may work well enough sized up. That may tide users over until developers have figured out what they're doing.

C.A. Bridges@274: In no case has Apple ever removed a program from someone's iPhone/iTouch. Even in the infamous GV Mobile case everyone points to, those who bought GV Mobile still have it. Now, since it's no longer available on the AppStore, its developers can't update it. That means GV Mobile will eventually suffer bitrot like any other piece of unmaintained software on any other platform.

IIRC, the rumor is Apple actually has the capability to do this. However, Google is also so rumored with Android and Palm with WebOS.

#276 ::: Pablo Defendini ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 07:02 PM:

Dave Bell @257
I understand that Sony don't make their own eInk screens, so that observation might apply to other readers that use them.

I was alluding to the fuzzy screen issue on the PRS 600, which is a direct artifact of the touch layer on top of the eInk screen on that particular device. As Will mentioned, they've rectified the issue on their newer touch device, by all accounts. That said, I still think that eInk technology is the equivalent of a 13-inch black and white tube television display from the 1950s.

And if you want a wider range of format-compatibility, you go somewhere other than Sony.

Note that I said "of the major readers in terms of file handling". The major readers, in my opinion, are Sony, Nook and Kindle (and soon Apple). Period. These are the device makers that have the most mindshare in the consumer world, though not necessarily the readers that are preferred in the very specific and niche ebook enthusiast community (of which I consider myself a member). There are many excellent eInk (and otherwise) based reading devices out there, but from a practical, mass-market consumer, brand-awareness perspective, the only ones that matter at this time are the aforementioned devices—when people stop me on the subway to ask me about my reader, they don't ask "Is that an iRex?" or "Is that the new Coolr?". They ask "Is that a Kindle?" or even, "Is that the new iPad?" (wtf, I know, but true story!).

Tangental to this point: Up to now, the ebook world has been dominated by a small, yet very vocal minority of alpha users with very tech-specific and sometimes esoteric needs and concerns; the early adopters who don't mind (or sometimes look forward to!) geeking out and hacking, adapting, and otherwise interacting with their tech in ways that the average consumer really isn't interested in doing. That's really about to change. It's early days yet (granted, 'early days' have lasted somewhere to the tune of ten years—sigh), but some of the issues that ebooks enthusiasts have been making noise about they'll have to swallow (the normals don't care about formats, for example. They just want books that work), and some of it will become more important than ever (lack of quality copy editing and proofing, bad metadata, missing artwork, etc). The concerns and demands of a relative handful of long-time ebook enthusiasts won't hold much water when squared off against the concerns and demands of masses of regular people who will get into ebooks via an iPad or a Kindle.

J Greely @255
I agree with Heresiarch @ 263 on his a) and b), but not c). Frankly, I really don't think that Apple gives two shakes about "proven technological adventurists and e-book enthusiasts". If they did, they'd let us get root on the iPhone and iPad, for starters. Those aren't the people they want to sell iPads to—they want to sell iPads to my mom.

Regardless, I doubt Apple will close off the App store to other ebook app makers as well. Apple is known to be working with ebook app makers such as Scrollmotion, and I wouldn't be surprised if Apple is simply banking on iBooks to outperform Kindle-on-iPhone, Stanza, etc. on ease of use, integration with the device, and fluidity of purchase, instead of closing the door in their faces. As it stands, buying a Kindle edition and downloading it onto your iPhone isn't really difficult, but from what I've seen, doing the same on iBooks on the iPad will be substantially simpler. I think Jobs' comment about "standing on the shoulders of Amazon" with regards to iBooks is very telling. But who knows? Charlie Dodgson @265 is certainly not wrong about the way Apple operates their app store.

John Chu@234
Personally, I hope Apple treats ePub files exactly as they treat their AAC files in iTunes and within their store

Actually, I hope they treat ePub files like they treat MP3 files: You can buy them off the iTunes store (yes, yes, they're wrapped in an AAC container, but they're still MP3 files at heart), but you can also add MP3 files from other sources (ripped CDs, loose files) to iTunes.

#277 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 07:21 PM:

J Greely @255: Actually, Apple is in the iPhone, iPod, computer, etc. business—the hardware business. Saying they're in the "iPhone app business"—or for that matter, the music, movie, or e-book business—is like saying that Qdoba or Chipotle are "in the guacamole business" because they sell it as an added option on their burritos. (Well, that analogy is imperfect since people aren't going to buy guacamole from other places and bring it in to put on their burritos themselves, but you get the idea.)

Apple doesn't make a huge amount of money from apps, music, movies, or (in the future) e-books. They only carry them to make their expensive hardware more attractive to people. They make a few million on them here and there, but hundreds of dollars profit times millions of iPhones or iPod Touches makes the take look like peanuts. There's no reason to think the take from iBooks would be any bigger.

It doesn't make financial sense that Steve Jobs would endanger the prospect of all those millions of iPhone fans, many of whom may already be invested in other companies' e-books, choosing to add a bright shiny big-screened iPad to use with the stuff they've already bought for the sake of a piddly $4.50 max per e-book. The numbers don't add up. People just don't buy hundreds of millions of e-books.

Sure, it's possible Apple might reject iPad e-book apps. Anything's possible. And Apple has pulled some pretty bone-headed moves in the past. But this is a bone-headed move with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, not the piddly few bucks or handful of lost sales that one individual app might bring.

Remember people had much the same worries when Apple instituted the in-app store feature for iPhone apps with OS 3.0? People were worried Apple might give e-book apps with web stores the boot because their stores weren't bringing in that 30% fee to Apple?

eReader, Stanza, Kobo, and, yes, the Kindle app still live on my iPod Touch.

I don't this degree of paranoia is warranted.

Randolph @267:

On the other hand, Amazon might withdraw their Kindle app, now that it's being run on competitive hardware.
What, you mean like the iPhone?

#278 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 07:22 PM:

John Chu @ 277:

IIRC, the rumor is Apple actually has the capability to do this. However, Google is also so rumored with Android and Palm with WebOS.

I've not seen anything like that in the Android code, but I suppose if they're pushing updates to live phones they could include a script which uninstalled some package. Doesn't seem very Google-like, but this is a technical danger with any software source you decide to trust for updates, especially on a device where you don't get a choice about that.

As for Palm, the webOS app store Terms and Conditions say:

Palm reserves the right, at its sole discretion and at any time, to add, remove, disable access to, block, or modify the App Catalog, and to add, remove, disable access to, block, or modify remotely any Applications previously downloaded to your device from the App Catalog.

Which is too much for me, personally. They cite court order as a reason they might do this later in the same section. Thank you, Amazon.

#279 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 07:45 PM:

@277 John Chu: so I deleted my response to #255 out of sheer pointlessness.

Pity, because I'd have liked to see some support for your statement that Apple is in the ebook business in the app store today, and has been since it launched. All the evidence I see suggests that Apple has not yet entered that business, leaving a vacuum that others filled with a combination of one-book and N-book apps.

John Chu: Instead, I'm responding to say that there's a hole in your bet that you may want to fill. Most developers do not have iPads yet.

Unmentioned, but not unconsidered. I expect a lot of people to have iPad apps submitted by launch day, whether they have the device or not, and for significant developers to have tested on the real thing at least a week in advance. Registered (premier/select class) developers have access to the ADC Compatibility Labs, and at least some favored developers will have the device early. Amazon can afford to "borrow" time on a dev box for testing. They'll want to update Amazon Mobile for the larger screen, too.

In general, I think anyone currently developing for the iPhone will try to have an app ready for the iPad launch. After standing in line for hours outside of an Apple Store, buyers will be eager to find out everything they can do with their new cool thing. If your app is there, you'll get sales, even if it's not very good. Makes me tempted to buy stock in Solitaire and Mahjongg. :-)

-j

#280 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 07:50 PM:

Matt Austern @ 192:

The formatting of that particular electronic edition was terrible. I've forgotten exactly what the worst problem was, but it was something like material that was supposed to be in a table bleeding into post-table text.

Do you remember what format this book was in? O'Reilly used to be famous for their docbook-based production webflow, and I'd have thought if anyone could do a good job with reflowable versions, it would be them.

Looking at their site, it they're currently offering PDF, ePUB and Mobipocket. If it were PDF, I could see the results you've described. PDF is a format for describing individual printed pages after layout is complete and it's very hard reflow the text for a different page size after the fact. Adobe has been promoting an extension for ebooks where you can embed some semantic markup to make this a little easier, but even for documents where this has been done, current implementations (Adobe Reader is the only one I know about) don't handle things like tables and figure captions very well.

PDF would be a great format for ebooks if readers settle on screen sizes as large as physical books and resolution goes up a bit. It preserves the layout and typography of the print edition very well. But to the extent that that hasn't happened--like reading on phone-size and -resolution screens--or that the advantage is being able to adjust the text size to individual preferences, or have a screen reader read it out, one is better off with formats like epub where the device is expected to do the layout itself.

#281 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 07:53 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 238 (and others)
I agree with your thoughts on what makes sense. I have seen a couple of claims that Apple are working with ebook reader App-makers (don't forget that iTunes Stores are country-specific, and can have different apps available). I would love (but don't expect) a pointer to a public statement by Apple that agrees with the logic (also statements about getting ebook files from outside the iBook Store onto iPad, and what changes are going to happen to iPhones).

#282 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 08:01 PM:

@279 Chris Meadows: Actually, Apple is in the iPhone, iPod, computer, etc. business—the hardware business.

Never said they weren't. In response to a claim that Apple was selling ebooks today, I responded that they were actually selling apps, some of which happen to contain ebooks, and that this is completely different from the upcoming iBookstore.

I do know where Apple makes their money, honest. It just wasn't part of that discussion. If there's any company that's not going to be selling hardware at a loss and expecting to get their ARPU elsewhere, it's Apple.

-j

#283 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 08:06 PM:

Will @275, thing is, comic books, properly speaking, never sold in the millions. Those millions of copies of Captain America or whatever were comic magazines -- periodicals supported by advertising.

The current market for comic books (called "graphic novels", even when they are short story anthologies or collections, because magazines already grabbed the name "books") supports all sorts of high-quality material, much of it creator-owned, while the old comic magazine market of the 1930s and '40s supported mostly childish crap, and treated the writers and artists like disposable machine parts.

#284 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 08:59 PM:

J Greely @284: OK, so you address one minor point from the first paragraph, while completely ignoring the rest of my explanation as to why Apple in all probability won't block other e-book apps. Yeah, that's fair.

#285 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:04 PM:

Oh, come on, Avram. You know that those magazines are, or at least were when I was a kid, called "comic books" by the kids who bought and read them.

That doesn't really undercut your point about the difference between the "Legion of Super Heroes" comics I bought when I was a kid and the modern graphic novel, which point I agree with.

#286 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:29 PM:

Avram, dittoing Xopher on the disagreeing and the agreeing.

Whether the graphic album will save the comic book, I dunno. I recently heard a good agent ask if anyone other than the usual suspects has figured out how to sell graphic albums in the US. But my point is that a popular form of entertainment which sold to millions has survived by targeting rich fans. (And kids who use the library, of course.) Now book publishers are being dragged or running happily down a similar path.

#287 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:34 PM:

Apropos of 285, 287, 288: The flip side of quality graphic novels--real stunners like Stuck Rubber Baby and Persepolis--is that comic books kinda suck these days as kids' entertainment.

I was talking with someone at work recently about this and summed it up thus:

I'm not sick of Spiderman. I'm sick of the Punisher.

(Note to self: Some good stuff happening in Archie-land, I hear. Must investigate.)

#288 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:45 PM:

Lee @ 276: "I'll reiterate: what sort of things might publishers add to e-books to give them more value than paper books?"

Well, they'll have this handy-dandy feature where end users can create additional copies at zero cost. Users will also be able to transport them thousands of miles in seconds, and they weigh nothing!

I'm arguing that the inherent characteristics of digital books make them flexible in ways that paper books can't be--particularly in terms of reproduction. The only factors keeping the entire market from buying and sharing one copy are habit, good will and lack of cooperation.

Pablo Defendini @ 278: "Frankly, I really don't think that Apple gives two shakes about "proven technological adventurists and e-book enthusiasts". If they did, they'd let us get root on the iPhone and iPad, for starters. Those aren't the people they want to sell iPads to—they want to sell iPads to my mom."

Oh, but you're missing the amazing marketing jujitsu Apple has pulled off with the iPhone.

Apple has three markets they need to satisfy. The first is the Apple fans, the hardcore buy-anything-with-an-Apple-logo-on-it crew. They're interested in being on the cutting edge, the wild unruly frontiers of tech--with style, of course. (Otherwise they'd be Linux users.) Their intense fervor is part of what creates the draw for the second constituency, the average consumer. They're interested in the trendiness that comes with the Apple logo, but also with the reputation for usability. The third constituency, especially relevant with the iPhone, is the corporate business world. They're eager to leverage Apple's popularity to increase their bottom line, but are afraid that the Apple fans will undercut their profitability with a free this and a cracked that. How does Apple satisfy everyone's needs? Simple: lock the phone, but make it easy to unlock.

Locking the iPhone to AT&T and having a closed AppStore satisfies the desire of the average consumer to have everything stable and reliable, and the corporate world's desire to (finally!) have a walled garden for their product. But it also satisfies the die-hard fans, and this is why: they get to jailbreak it. What better evidence of what a bleeding-edge free spirit you are than that? Just think about the term they made up for themselves: "jailbreak." Now Apple has to make half-hearted gestures of disapproval towards the jailbreak community in order to pacify the corporate world, but in all honesty they wouldn't stop the jailbreakers if they could. They get free R&D pushing the boundaries of what the iPhone is capable of, the people who do it identify even more strongly with Apple's product, and Apple doesn't even have to cover the warranty when someone bricks their phone. Everyone gets what they want, and Apple rakes in the cash selling iPhones to technophiles and their moms too.

#289 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:49 PM:

I think Avram's point was that the cheap, cheap comic books back in the day were subsidized by advertising, so the price and market shift since is not a good comparison for the modern book industry. (It might be a good model for what will happen to the newspaper industry, though.)

#290 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:52 PM:

heresiarch, 291: Wait, you mean they're not now? Eight pages of story in a 32-page book is why I quit buying individual issues of things, even though I know it means that trades become less likely.

#291 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:45 PM:

Xopher @287, yes, they were, and still are, called that. (Except for the Fantastic Four.) But they aren't that. Which was, as you recognized, my point.

Will, according to DC, Watchmen sold about a million copies in 2008, thanks to the movie, but it sold 100,000 through bookstores in 2007. If it'd been selling 100k/year the previous decade, that'd be another million. And that's just bookstores; it doesn't count the direct comics market. So there's another difference between the book and magazine markets: long-term sales.

Furthermore, comics today are hardly just targeting "rich fans". Manga-style books sell big among kids, though I don't know if any of them sell millions of copies here.

My point is that the comics industry that regularly sold to millions was catering to children and abused the hell out of its creative workers. The modern industry puts out a much greater diversity of work, and treats its creators much better. Teresa, meanwhile, is arguing that Amazon's plan for ebooks would turn the book industry into something more like the old comics industry.

#292 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:47 PM:

heresiarch #290: But it also satisfies the die-hard fans, and this is why: they get to jailbreak it. What better evidence of what a bleeding-edge free spirit you are than that? Just think about the term they made up for themselves: "jailbreak." Now Apple has to make half-hearted gestures of disapproval towards the jailbreak community in order to pacify the corporate world, but in all honesty they wouldn't stop the jailbreakers if they could.

Wait, wut? I hadn't heard that Apple stopped punitively bricking unruly iPhones. When did this start?

#293 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:52 PM:

Heresiarch @291, actually, I just discovered that Action Comics #1 only had ads on the back cover.

TexAnne @292, comics magazines still generally have ads, and I've gotten so used to not having them that I now find them incredibly distracting on the rare occasions that I read a mainstream superhero comic. Comic books (see above) generally don't. Sometimes there'll be a few pages in the back advertising other books by the same publisher.

I was telling a friend of mine a year or two back that the transition from comic magazines to comic books is very like what science fiction went through back in the (I think it was) '50s, complete with the old pros panicking.

#294 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 10:57 PM:

Avram, I was using "comic book" in its generally accepted sense, of a small stapled booklet with three times as many ad pages as story pages.

#295 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 11:13 PM:

@286 Chris Meadows: OK, so you address one minor point from the first paragraph, while completely ignoring the rest of my explanation as to why Apple in all probability won't block other e-book apps.

Ignored? No, I read it. I just didn't see anything that called out for a response. If you want one, though, here it is: "Your prediction is based on expecting rational economic behavior; mine is based on examining Apple's historical behavior, both in controlling the user experience and in dealing with other companies. For instance, Steve Jobs once took a financial hit to screw ATI because their leaked press release had undercut one of his famous product announcements."

-j

#296 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 11:19 PM:

Avram @295: You know, making up your own, more "accurate" definitions for commonly-used terms is cute, but it doesn't really add clarity to the discussion when everybody else is likely to be using them according to their usual meaning.

#297 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 11:23 PM:

Lee, #276: "the idea that ANY extra value might be added to e-books was roundly shouted down -- apparently because to these folks, the entire appeal of an e-book is that it must be CHEAPER than a printed book"

The "mass-market paperback" niche, as it were. One of the great achievements of Steve Jobs is that he's able to persuade people that digital media have advantages in themselves. He & the Sony marketing people seem to be the only people who can pull it off, though.

#298 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 11:40 PM:

Would this go better if I stopped emphasizing "books" and "magazines"? Is it that people think I'm correcting them rather than trying to introduce clearer terms?

Because from where I'm sitting this is like that Far Side cartoon with "blah blah blah Ginger blah blah".

#299 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 11:46 PM:

Chris Meadows #298: You know, making up your own, more "accurate" definitions for commonly-used terms is cute

My favorite made-up definition is that "morals" are "ethics enforced by threat of punishment". heh.

#300 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:37 AM:

Avram, 300: No, it's that when you use your personal definitions instead of the commonly-accepted ones, we don't understand what you're talking about. (Humpty Dumpty had this conversation with Alice already.)

#301 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:39 AM:

Sorry, Avram, I've stayed up too late, and I think it's making me sound testier than I mean to. Yes, please do stop emphasizing "books" vs. "magazines," because usage has defined those terms already, and your versions are preventing comprehension.

#302 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:51 AM:

Lee@276: what sort of things might publishers add to e-books to give them more value than paper books?

(Disclaimer: I am only one reader, and realize that some of the things I'm listing are probably far more difficult and unreasonable than I think, and that many authors would certainly not be interested in doing some of them, and that others are probably not at all cost-effective. Please take this as a "Lighthill would like a pony!" list, not as a "Lighthill thinks he can tell us how to run an e-book unit" list.)

The author's notes and annotations, if the author is game. Early drafts, if the author is especially willing to let the reader see the sausage being made. Selected emails between the editor and author. Interviews with the author about the work. Copies of the author's blog posts about the work.

A short story or two by the author. A short story or two by an unrelated author whom the primary author thinks you might like.

Links (possibly even "buy me now" links) to books that the author thinks influenced the current works.

The author's favored pronunciations of every weird character name, as read by the author.

Side-by-side editions of translated books.

The book's cover as a nice big image I can pull off the phone for a desktop background, or to stick on a smartphone, with an unobtrusive link to buy it as a nice big poster.

Assuming we can update books after they're released, I want to get updates about the author's next book. It would be nifty to get first chapter from the author's next book for free, even if the author's next book wasn't out yet when the current book was originally released.

The ability to annotate the book yourself in an actually useful cross-referenced way, and share the annotations with other people online. If the interface for this would good, this would make e-books for complex books [Pynchon, Delaney] worth at least twice as much to me as dead-tree editions. I'd like to see something like Vannevar Bush's threads-of-thought tried for this.

#303 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:09 AM:

The ways I'm thinking of in which ebooks might be more valuable than paper books: hyperlinks from the index, or from the main text to references and endnotes; greater portability; search. Search is most useful if ebooks are DRM-free and in an open and simple format, because that way I'd be able to use multiple search tools instead of just whatever the ereader vendor happened to think of including.

But there are also plenty of obvious ways in which ebooks might be less valuable than paper books. The biggest is permanence. Computer formats, and computer media, tend to be ephemeral. I own many paper books that are well over 50 years old, and a few from the 19th century. I have no confidence that an ebook will continue to be readable for the rest of my life. DRM, or other kinds of device lockin, make it even more likely that an ebook will one day turn out to be useless.

#304 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:17 AM:

Avram, let's just assume I'm quirky, so when I say "comic book," I really mean "comic magazine." I have this annoying habit of using conventional definitions for things. Just be grateful that I didn't give you a dictionary definition. :)

Now, when I talk about publishing models, I'm not concerned with the wonderfulness of the content. There was a lot of crap published during the golden age of the paperback, too. (I could have a discussion elsewhere about the necessity of a lot of crap in a healthy art form, but I'll resist that, too.)

I'm only concerned now with sales models, which I had thought was the subject of this thread. I quit buying comics in the early '90s for a lot of reasons. A big one was that I could no longer justify dropping $20 or more every week for my fix.

For people wanting to look at the sales figures of comics, there's plenty of data here:

http://www.comichron.com/

#305 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:19 AM:

Earl, #301: I tend to think of "morals" (as the term is commonly used at present) as "ethics enforced only by fear of punishment". Morality stems from external sources, ethics from internal ones.

#306 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:40 AM:

Lee@276: what sort of things might publishers add to e-books to give them more value than paper books?

To add to Lighthill's pony list, I'd like to see animated maps; geographical/geological/historical, process maps, that kind of thing. Interactive code examples in programming references.

Someone mentioned HyperCard stacks earlier. I think 21st century ebooks ought to be at least as interactive as 1980's HyperCard stacks.

#307 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:42 AM:

I want a configurable dictionary plugin that allows me to read books in my second language and check words that I don't know to my first language. I'm even willing to buy the dictionary separately, and it doesn't have to be a very good one.

(Yes, I know, I should be using a native-language dictionary rather than a translating dictionary. But, you know, I'm not.)

Of course, that would require there to be more eBooks in Dutch.

#308 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 06:19 AM:

TexAnne @ 302... Humpty Dumpty had this conversation

He does tend to chip in.
:-)

#309 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 07:58 AM:

Abi @ 309: The day it's possible for me to buy an e-reader for which Japanese books are available, and that includes a dictionary function, I'm buying one.

Japanese is more of a hassle to look up in a dictionary than most languages - if you don't know the pronunciation of a particular character, you have to look that up first, and then if it's a compound you still have to look up the whole word. And sometimes you have to try two or three pronunciations before you get it right.

People have been murmuring about when the Kindle's going to be able to deal with Japanese books (currently it can't render the fonts correctly)... I'm paying a lot of attention to it.

#310 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 07:59 AM:

My pony list: textbooks with interactive exercises--you could have the workbook right there, with self-correcting exercises that you could erase and redo over and over. Language textbooks with studio recordings of vocabulary and recorded conversations between native speakers about a relevant subject, with transcriptions.

#311 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 08:22 AM:

#276 Randolph

Mr Jobs has had that ability all along. I personally don't regard it as "achievement" because his influence killed off stuff I like and propagated computer-related memes I detest (examples include "slick" rather than "functional," the "OK" buttons, when emphatically things are NOT okay, icons, point-click particularly where there is an active area UNDER the stinking popup notification and getting rid of the stinking popup has the side effect of having the link UNDER the stinking popup activate, the lacks of quantitatively-like interfaces and native scripting at the obvious user interface, the inability to navigate through the equivalent on graphic-type diagram showing content and location from one location to another (e.g., consider a road map, or better still as analogy, think of a GPS device with a map and the ability to navigate around the map and pick different places on it to go to, change the zoom... I also want to do exploded view diagrams and navigate around in them. Xerox HAD what it called a "browser view" which showed a graph, allowed the user to define link type, and put links between files and designate collections of files to link together for the purpose of navigating from one file to other files, display the content of them on the display at the same time, run executagles.... that was the Xerox stuff I liked, which of course Mr Jobs DIDN'T steal/emulate. Instead he stole/copied the stuff that for me is/was crap....

#312 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 08:43 AM:

#291 heresiarch

The traditional newspaper model has the ad revenue providing most of the income. It's one of the reasons why newspapers have been having trouble lately (although, the Boston Globe is no longer for sale by the ownership, having cut salaries and employment and apparently having a resurgence in advertising revenue, the Globe is turning an acceptable profit for the ownership now, instead of a deficit), the ad revenues waterfalled. Some of that was the Republicrap economic corrosion, where ad revenues crashed because the companies doing the advertising were crashing and burning, because of gross mismanagement and malfeasance and abusiveness (in terms of regulatory misapplication--see "let's ignore Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme because if will make Eliot Spitzer prosecuting look good, ignore it and Spitzer can't prosecute...." apprently there actually ARE memoes in the SEC that discuss that!--of what regulatory apparatus didn't get outright dismantled (e.g., data collection on the status of women in the workforce--no data, no basis for substantiating gender discrimination class action suits complaints, no data, no ability to go forward to win such lawsuits against abusive corporations... same thing about pollution where again the rules somehow managed to not get remove by the Republicraps from the Schmuck on down (for a waterway to get federal protection, the rules got change to "it must have water in it 365 1/4 days a year" --which eliminated vernal pools, rivers where development and water diversion caused seasonal dry up, and waterways which are torrents in the snowmelt and flooding otherwise seasons, and dry during dry times of the year))

Ad revenues also did some moving over to on-line advertising, and few newspapers have been able to exploit this by developing viable on-line models. In some cases it was a lack of much motivation, in other cases it's the implementation, and still others pehaps a lack of creativity/imagination/openmindedness.

#314 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 09:03 AM:

Lighthill, Lee: You going to pay me more for creating that "extra content"? Or am I just supposed to be so grateful that you're paying only ten dollars less than you'd pay for the hardback for a digital edition that I give it to you for free?

This "extra content" thing worries me. I really don't see publishers paying more for it and I can easily imagine see them expecting it. Some things lend themselves to lots of appendices and maps and stories in the world and so on. Others... don't. I see this as a way some writers could be made very miserable. Others might love it. But I see a huge potential for "Hey, let's waste writers' time making them do things they hate doing instead of working on the next book." Not to mention a huge potential for "Let's concentrate on buying novels that potentially come with lots of clutter."

#315 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 09:10 AM:

#316, Jo Walton: I wonder about that "extra content" stuff too. But I also think that normal books, without "extra" bells and whistles, will continue to have a robust audience. When I want to read a novel, I want to read a novel, not get distracted by the moral equivalent of DVD extras.

#316 ::: Steve H ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 09:34 AM:

I see that Macmillan books can be bought from Amazon again. It only took about a week for their blink to actually finish.
I find myself with little desire to order from Amazon anymore.

#317 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 09:39 AM:

E-book extras: True, there will be times when all you want is something with no bells and whistles to read on your phone at the airport. BUT I can certainly see the value of the things in Lighthill's list. Perhaps two-teired publication, like you get with DVDs -- the movie and one or two extras in the basic edition, or for the die-hard fans and scholars, the extended (and more expensive) edition with all the cool extras. For example, some of the mystery novels I read are pretty disposable, and I even list them on Bookmooch as soon as I finish them, but for say Lindsey Davis, I'd pay extra for an edition with added reference material on her sources, interactive maps, and so on.

#318 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 10:22 AM:

@311 Emily H: The day it's possible for me to buy an e-reader for which Japanese books are available, and that includes a dictionary function, I'm buying one.

I feel your pain. If it weren't for Kanji Sonomama on the Nintendo DS, I'd never have been able to start reading Japanese novels. Paper-based kanji vocabulary lookup is just too painful. The worst is when you hit a clump of place names, which don't show up in a lot of dictionaries, and often use obsolete kanji and pronunciations.

The MacBook is slowly turning into a decent Japanese book reader. Leopard came with pop-up J-E and J-J dictionaries (without pronunciation, sadly), and Snow Leopard added direct kanji input on multitouch trackpads: Ctrl-Shift-Space, draw your kanji, and look them up in something like JEdict. I imagine by the time OS X gets up to the Space Cat release, it will be perfect.

Oh, and if you ever want to scan something in, I highly recommend Abbyy FineReader (Windows only). It does an excellent job with Japanese OCR, and it's reasonably priced if you've ever owned any OCR program for any computer.

-j

#319 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 10:38 AM:

J Greely@281: I decided that if we don't have a consensus definition of ebook, discussion would be difficult and not worth the effort. The fact remains that you can buy (your example) Twilight through the AppStore, and O'Reilly has offerings in the AppStore, (e.g. Building iPhone Apps with HTML,) The fact remains that the AppStore has a section devoted solely to books. Apples sells them, receiving a 30% cut for each sale; people buy them, then they read them. The value in that transaction is clearly placed with the text, not the mechanic by which one reads the text.

However, if you honestly believe these are not ebooks merely because they come with a bundled reader, we have no common basis for discussion. You can believe what you want. It's not my job to convince to convince you of the interchangeability of code and data. You can take a good computer science class to learn that.

Ultimately, the argument we're really having is not whether Apple is already in the ebook business; it's a tedious mapping of boundary conditions to decide what is and what isn't an ebook. I'm afraid that I have no patience for that sort of trivia.

#320 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 10:50 AM:

#290 heresiarch

The only factors keeping the entire market from buying and sharing one copy are habit, good will and lack of cooperation.

I think you're underestimating the inconvenience factor--copying requires a number of steps which are not necessarily all casually obvious. The first involves awareness--people don't copy things intentionally which they aren't aware of the existence of. (People do copy unintentionally things they're unaware of, such as viruses from infested games sites....) The second involved convenience--there are things I am aware of, that I don't copy because of the number of mouse clicks and navigation and effort on my part to go find a site or human source with a computer and then do the copying. A third factor involves format--I am not a PDF appreciator, and Mac binary files, don't work on my computers for example....

Apple, reputation for usability? Not by my reactions. Recordings of me using Apple products over the years, would very clearly display a LACK of "usability," with impartial metrics such as measuring foul language and imprecations, especially as compared against me using Linux, Solaris, Amiga OS, and even Windows. Macs very clearly have at least one and probably two orders more of magnitude of foul languages and especially curses, I never ran a litany of curses against the developers and ancestry of developers of Windows, I had a running litany of them against the Macintosh world... and in a choice between handwriting and using an Apple II when I was at MITRE (the secretaries kept kicking me off their DECmates), I hand wrote....

The corporate IT world is NOT enamoure of Apple. Apple does NOT play by the rules of good corporate practice for large IT departments generally.

The Mac OS 6.0.0 debacle is one of the earlier but hardly singleton examples. It merely is one of the most egregious.

The dead on arrival Mac II situation is another oldie but goodie in terms of touchstone--the problem was that the assemblers of Quantum hard drives put too much lubricant on the spindle. Over time it spread out and turned from lubrication into glue, causing the infamous "sticktion" problem. The Mac controller ran the hard drive turn rate to be at constant linear velocity or maybe zoned constant linear velocity, meaning the revolutions per minute rate was nearly continuously varying--this meant greater wear and tear and importantly more and faster migration of lubricant inside the drive. The results included merely the two day long or so "burn in" testing for final acceptance before packing up and shipping off new Mac II computers, coupled with turning off and thereby cooling down, and then packing up and shipping off the Macs to get to end users, was sufficient stress and operation to make the drives fail/seize up with lubricant-migrated-and-turning-to-glue. The new owners had non-booting, non-functional dead on arrival machines. Apple blamed Quantum for the dead machines, Quantum blamed Apple, the actual failure mechanism didn't get diagnosed until a long time later, but meanwhile the owners weren't getting replacements because neither Apple nor Quantum was willing to accept blame and expense to provide working replacements.

Yes, it's another OLD story, but more recent ones have included the class action suit against Apple over the iPod early-failures-and-no-way-for-consumer-to-replace-at-home battery issue. Class action lawsuits against Apple also aren't new, the stockholders sued Apple at least once for funny money accounting and intentional stock price manipulation based on the funny money accounting.

#281 J Greely
Apple copied the Microsoft strategy copying the IBM strategy of announcing products as if they were available that weren't ready yet for delivery.... the purpose of that is to kill the demand for the competitors' products which are on the shelf... (that -can- backfire with smaller companies, one of the early leaders in laptop computers announced a new wondrous upcoming model, too early, and went out of business, because, before it could finish the new product and start shipping and selling, people stopped buying the models that were actually available, and the company's revenues dropped so much it has no money and no credit left to finish/ship/get income from the new product.

The iPad is not available, and until it is, applications and content formatted designed primarily for the iPad, aren't going to be available, either.

Product official announcement date, and actual availability date, usually are NOT the same. Usually there is delay of weeks or months, sometime years (The Wizard of Space and Time), and sometimes never.

#279 Chris

Apple sells hardware and Apple sells software. It gets its revenue stream from both, and from synergy of being able to bundle software, and sell addtional software and ancillary hardware to its existing customers, and from inducing customers to upgrade the products they have by replacing them with newer products. Apple lock in the customer by proprietary environments and tools and claiming the new products are compatible with the old, even when that is not the case.

I do not know what the ebook market is. Apple is trying to exploit that market and if Apple succeeds the ebook market almost automatically will grow from the people who are Apple users who have iPhones and iPods and such who don't already have Kindles etc., who will buy Apple whatever-they-get-calleds (Apple may have to change the product name...) and buy ebooks through Apple.

#278 Pablo

The iPad is not going to replace my underpowered four year old Samsung Q1. I can read ebooks on it, I can websurf and Flash apps run on it, I MULTITASK on it, I do word processing on it, and I use both the touchscreen it had and plug in an external keyboard in one of the two USB ports if wanting to do more writing than jotting down a note or two.

It plays audio. It records audio. It has a 40 GB hard drive.

Why should I downgrade to an iPad?!

#276 Lee
There are different "market segments" which want/need/are-willing-to-pay-or-not-pay-for different features and functionality and form factors.

One key indicator of that, is all those different DVDs that have the same movie on them--there is the theatrical release. There is the theatrical release plus "all about the movie and its making" package of movie DVD plus All About disc. There is the "Director's Cut" edition. There is the "Full full full! restored mateial Director's Cut edition. There are the editions with the various different action figures....

#262 Ursula

I keep seeing the assertion that "Amazon is selling below cost" but is that true?
With print books, until a book sells enough copies and the payments made their way to the publisher, the publisher is "selling the book below cost."

Borders was "selling below cost" its merchandise when it was (is it still?)having greater expenses than income.

What does "Amazon is selling below cost" really mean? How are the expenses being allocated, and how is the revenue being allocated? The entertainment industry profit/loss books for certain parts of the industry -never- show a profit, only losses... at least one actor has sued over this, contracted a share of "profit" which somehow never materialized despite the film having taken in large amounts of money in not only theatrical and TV release, but on tape and DVD.....

#259 Jim
You're missing the infrastructure/overhead at print publishers for dealing with the printing pipeline activities, the physical book handling and distribution and unsold stock operations, and the span of control layer and latency in conglomerates. Each additional layer of management adds more expenses, and makes the response time and decision time longer and more expensive, and less "responsive" as regards reacting to market changes.

#250 heresiarch
Some indie bookstores have been putting in Book Machine. This cuts the floor space they need to have offer a huge true POD inventory of books, ranging from public domain to self-published to corporation-published, along with printed books produced in bulk non-POD runs. The POD books inventory expenses are nearly trivially low.

Hmm, second hand ebooks.... if there were notes involved, that ancient tradition of writing note in margins could apply, and an aftermarket exist for particular customized ebooks, "Get the annotated by Teresa Nielsen Hayden version of Galaxy 666!"

#321 ::: CS Clark ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 10:57 AM:

I think eBook extras are a great opportunity to help keep the very notion of premium prices alive. They don't have to be made so that they are exactly to the worth of the higher price, any more than the difference between hardback and paperback prices are due entirely to printing costs, but they can provide the perception of extra value - without them, it will seem artificial to people to only have the time differential. This may be unfair and damaging, but explanations of the real economics of publishing will only get you so far.

And we've seen with DVDs - hello? animated menus as a feature? - extras don't have to be world-shattering. Short stories and other real content as extras can avoid cannibalization to an extent by tying them to a short availability, perhaps as a preorder bonus. Extras don't have to be limited to text and images, which means that authors can make their contribution as, say, a half-hour interview (saving those authors who hate the sound of their own voices). And the prospect of recycling what would otherwise go in the wastepaper bin/archive folder to help sales does seem environmentally friendly. Sure there will be new costs and new fights over who does and pays for what, but it shouldn't exactly be crippling.

@TexAnne (#312) - I've done electonic content for educational publishers for a few years and I've been told repeatedly by people that I think know what they're saying that the silver bullet isn't so much interactivity as customisability, even when that means using lower/easier tech. That's apparently why a lot of previous attempts* at multimedia haven't worked.


*The existence of which make me wince when people say more or less 'Now that Apple has invented the tablet computer publishers will finally have to reinvent the book to include picture and sounds and stuff.'

#322 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:03 AM:

Paolo@278: I'm not sure what I actually said in @234, but your response to it is what I actually meant. Apple treating ePub files this way would be good for everyone all around. If nothing else, as someone else mentioned, one way of increasing an ebook's worth is to remove the DRM.

(However, AAC files are not MP3. It really is a different encoding. And it does not have to have DRM. Any music you buy from the iTMS right now is AAC encoded and DRM free.)

#323 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Jo Walton @ 316: Lighthill, Lee: You going to pay me more for creating that "extra content"? Or am I just supposed to be so grateful that you're paying only ten dollars less than you'd pay for the hardback for a digital edition that I give it to you for free?

Personally? Yes, I would pay you more. I already have some of your your books in paperback editions, but if there were ebooks editions of them (particularly Tooth and Claw) with notes or essays by you, I would go out and buy them again.

For a new book, I'd probably buy an ebook-with-good-extras for a little more than I'd pay for a trade paperback, and less than I'd pay for a hardcover. I suppose this probably argues for keeping the ebook price high until a paperback is out; I've got no issue with that.

I have no idea if enough people would pay extra for this sort of thing to make it worth your while, though, and of course I would absolutely not expect you to do extra work without commensurate pay.

This is what I had hoped to say with my initial disclaimer: if I suggested something that would be onerous or unprofitable for you, please believe that I did so from ignorance, not out of any belief that authors ought to do onerous unprofitable things.

#324 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:27 AM:

@321 John Chu: I decided that if we don't have a consensus definition of ebook, discussion would be difficult and not worth the effort.

...so you redefined "market", to insist that there's no difference between "A and B sell widgets in C's store" and "A, B, and C sell widgets"? If you think that's a trivial difference, then you're right, discussion is difficult and not worth the effort.

John Chu: It's not my job to convince to convince you of the interchangeability of code and data. You can take a good computer science class to learn that.

Such good advice that I took it twenty-five years before you gave it, and have spent the past twenty years making use of the knowledge thus gained. Either your words are so powerful that they can warp the space-time continuum, or they're just condescending.

-j

#325 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:28 AM:

Since we're speculating about future forms of ebooks, I imagine three basic sorts:

1. The most popular will be the basic text run through a program that, like Readability, lets the reader read it in their favorite format.

2. The next will be something like pages on a tablet computer, which could be the equivalent of scans of old book pages or newly designed pages.

3. The scholars/collector editions with extras.

If none of these come to pass, who the hell hacked my account to leave this comment?

#326 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the war room!

#327 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:31 AM:

Jo Walton @316 That's the idea, yes. Pay you more for what is obviously added value.

With stuff like that, an ebook is no longer a red-headed stepchild to a hardback, but something worthwhile in itself in the same way an audio book is a separate and worthy production.

#328 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Download the ebook directly into your brain, then never realize that Amazon took it out.

#329 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:59 AM:

J Greely@326 My apologies. I did not intend to be condescending. However, I would also ask you not to put words in my mouth. Your first sentence of @326 is not an accurate assessment of my position. It presumes your definition of ebook.

Thank you.

#330 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:14 PM:

Jo, #316: I would certainly be willing to pay more for an e-book with extras like that, in the same way that I'm willing to pay more for a DVD with extra features than I would be for one that contains only the movie. The problem is that after that RL discussion yesterday, I'm not sure who's more representative of the buying public, me or the people who didn't WANT extras because that would raise the price. That really shocked me, because the people I was talking to are (as I said) high-end digital-data users; I would have expected them to sound less like J. Random Ignoramus in a blog comment. One of them was actually making the "publishers are obsolete now" argument, and appeared to be perfectly serious about it.

#331 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:40 PM:

Jo Walton @316, pericat @329, re: extras.

While I would certainly be intrigued with the idea of ebooks with extras à la DVD's, I could imagine some epic hassles. Suppose the author, for whatever reason, didn't want to include 'extras'? Would the book have worse chances of being published, especially if these became commonplace? What if the author were unhappy with the extras, and felt that they diminished the book rather than enhanced it? How much voice do authors have on maps and illustrations and cover art (or reader[s], in the case of audiobooks) with traditional publishing? (Sorry if this is too tangential, but thinking of various models, I started thinking of some consequences.)

#332 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:45 PM:

@331 John Chu: My apologies. I did not intend to be condescending. However, I would also ask you not to put words in my mouth. Your first sentence of @326 is not an accurate assessment of my position.

Accepted and returned. I thought that that was indeed the point you were trying to make in @234 by defining ebook so that Apple was already in the ebook market, and saying that existing app store ereaders "directly compete against Apple for ebook purchases".

I would say that the N-book reader apps compete against each other and (in a few cases) against the 1-book reader apps, indirectly affecting whether a purchase is made through Apple, but not that they are competing against Apple for ebook sales. Certainly not in a way that can usefully be compared to how both 1-book and N-book apps will be competing against Apple's iBookstore.

Apple does get money from 1-book apps that they don't get from N-book apps, but this only applies to the extremely small percentage of books that are available as 1-book apps. I cannot buy Iorich as a 1-book app today, but I can buy a Kindle ebook (this week...) and read it on an iPhone. Therefore, Apple is not currently competing against anyone for sales of Iorich (and the majority of other ebooks), but they will be once iBookstore opens.

-j

#333 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:11 PM:

Paula Lieberman :

Hmm, second hand ebooks.... if there were notes involved, that ancient tradition of writing note in margins could apply, and an aftermarket exist for particular customized ebooks, "Get the annotated by Teresa Nielsen Hayden version of Galaxy 666!"

Finally, something more frightening than the epilogue to The Invisible Man, with nary a squamous or rugose in sight. I salute you!

#334 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:29 PM:

I remember, back when, finding the introductions to the stories in Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthologies to be very valuable to me. Also the ones in The Hugo Winners.

I'm also sure it took Ellison and Asimov quite a while to write those introductions. They're also not directly comparable to extras added to a novel, since they're not by the author of the novel. (On the other hand, the introductions in Ellison's Partners in Wonder were good too.)

I'm pretty sure I wouldn't pay anywhere near $15 to add them to an ebook, though.

On a movie DVD (of a major new movie, anyway), there's several hundred million dollars worth of work in the movie. Spending a few tens of thousands of dollars on the additional content is a small increment of effort (made-up number alert!). The author of a novel would be adding about a paragraph of text for extras, at that ratio. Asking them to do a lot more than that is asking rather a lot.

One of my big gripes is how midlist and new authors have largely migrated to hardcover from MMPB, with the associated price increase. I buy a lot fewer books these days than I did 20 years ago. And I buy a lot more used books.

One problem of getting old is that remembering, even seeing on my shelves, books that I bought new from the publisher for their list price of $0.40 makes spending $8.00 for a MMPB feel painful still.

#335 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:34 PM:

abi@309: when I was dealing with German seriously, about 1966-1972, I used both a German-English dictionary and a good German dictionary. Depending on how badly lost I was, I started one place or the other. The G-E didn't go into enough detail fairly often. Sometimes I had to use the G-E to read the definitions in the G, if I was really in trouble.

Having them available to pop up from the text would have been wonderful.

#336 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:48 PM:

Matt@305: ASCII is still readable, the predominant encoding in fact, and it's getting very close to 50 years old already. HTML is going to be readable for a LONG time. I've had many paper books wear out and fall apart; that won't happen to even my very favorite electronic books. I have paper books where the pages are notably brittle, and some have been damaged.

I think you have the durability comparison reversed. With the best care possible, paper books can wear out in the original purchaser's lifetime. With good care, ebooks will last much longer.

With poor care you can drop them both into the bathtub and pretty much forget about them. Although actually the memory card in the reader is likely to survive and be recoverable....

#337 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 01:52 PM:

Debbie @333 What I think is that if it is possible to do something, then someone will start doing it, and the details of just what might be done with a particular ebook production, if a thing is a positive enhancement or not, would really depend on the book and who's working on it, and what they can agree to.

Now there's all kinds of stuff tacked on to a DVD, but when that first started it was really barebones snippets: actor and director resumes, a few stills, that kind of thing. A lot of it was pretty dull fare, but they kept at it just the same. Now I don't think you can find a recently produced DVD that does not have at least commentary or interviews of some kind.

For a book where the print edition includes a map, a 'cast of characters' table, a vocabulary appendix, even mildly interactive versions of these would be enhancements in the ebook edition. It's the sort of thing I and many others could do on our heads, and would consider pleasant, fulfilling work, whereas writing a story? not so much. So there's no need for the author to have to spend time fooling with it instead of writing her next book; there's people for that.

And yes, it would cost more to make, but it would also be worth more to the reader, so could reasonably be priced higher than either a print edition or a non-enhanced ebook version.

#338 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 02:03 PM:

Jim@258: payment to authors isn't a fixed cost in the traditional publishing model. Authors are paid on a royalty basis, a percentage of the cover price of the books sold. (Usually they get an advance against royalties right away, but it is scaled based on expected sales, and until it's paid off the royalties go there.)

#339 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 02:16 PM:

Once upon a time there were hybrid types of optical disc, which had some amount of content preimpressed on it permanently, and the rest of the disc the end user could write information to, erase whatever the user had written to the disc (but not the pre-impressed content). The Sony-Philips compact disc technology takeover and its descendants DVD and such, kill the other technologies with their greater flexibility, off.
(No, I am not exaggerating, I wrote that stuff up in some detail in an article years ago in CD-ROM Professional).

Regarding HyperCard--whatever happened to that? I remember trying to generate a HyperCard stack on a single-tasking too-damned-small-screen Mac-in-the-box and giving up, and instead building a Prolog database which allowed me to do what I needed/wanted to do.... the single tasking and single windowing nature of Mac in the boxes meant I literally coul't -see- what I was linking, couldn't see where there were gaps, I having issues with having gaps in the "card deck" where I'd have deleted or not linked Card #5, created second copies of a Card by accident... it was EXTREMELY frustrating and annoying. And that sort of crap is what Apple is doing AGAIN to end user, with the iPad? iPoop, rather....

I also remember Which Way? books, there was a spate of them back in the 1980s. Perhaps what happened was that that sort of thing migrated over to computer games and video games instead....

#340 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 02:38 PM:

tnh@194: Is it okay for me to be sorry about not being clearer, but wholly impenitent about dismissing Ben Trafford?

It's your karma :-). So, sure.

I saw the same "the same" vs. "different" tensions Avram was talking about. And I saw, somewhat still see, a kind of bloody sparkle in your eye that I didn't, and don't, really want to step in front of. Also I can't spend hours and hours this week engaging deeply in multi-hundred-message threads.

I'm afraid it's the physical distribution chain that I'm really ready to pull down. It just doesn't seem to have a place in a modern ebook economy. Still, it'll take a decade or two at least to happen.

#341 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 02:38 PM:

On ebooks with extras, I fear that some publishers might take the concept literally with DVD style extras as opposed to text based ones (hyperlinked footnotes, links to external forums to discuss books and passages, etc...). There seems to be an effort to have multimedia hybrids, like vooks (video content plus books), but the one example I saw only proved that good text content (Sherlock Holmes) can be brought down by unremarkable video content.

#342 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 03:02 PM:

Paula Lieberman @322:

You're missing the infrastructure/overhead at print publishers for dealing with the printing pipeline activities, the physical book handling and distribution and unsold stock operations, and the span of control layer and latency in conglomerates. Each additional layer of management adds more expenses, and makes the response time and decision time longer and more expensive, and less "responsive" as regards reacting to market changes.

Okay, so some of the things you mention are differences in overhead between a publisher that does ebooks exclusively and one that does paper books only or paper books plus ebooks. But as long as the ebook market remains a tiny fraction of the paper book market, which is liable to still be the case for some years yet, I don't think many publishers will switch exclusively to ebooks and get rid of the staff who deal with distribution and returns of paper books, and I don't think many publishers will start up that do exclusively ebooks. Some will, but they'll be small presses, not a major factor in the publishing industry as a whole in the short to medium term. Those publishers, large or small, that do both paper and ebooks will still have those overhead costs. Theoretically they should, in their accounting, note which overhead costs belong only to the paper edition of a book, which belong only to the ebook, and which are common to both; but I suppose it's a lot easier to do that precise accounting for only the marginal costs.

The other thing you mention -- "the span of control layer and latency in conglomerates" -- has nothing to do with paper vs. electronic formats; it's a difference between large publishers and small publishers.

#343 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 03:13 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @338:

I think you have the durability comparison reversed.

It's true that etexts in thoroughly standard, widely supported formats like ASCII and HTML will remain readable indefinitely if they're routinely copied from one storage medium to another. But there are few electronic storage media, and none as far as I know in routine everyday use, which will last as long as an acid-free hardback or trade paperback. Many of them won't last as long as a mass-market paperback printed on acidic paper, even. And even if the storage medium remains readable for a long time, you may have a hard time finding a computer that can read it. But I can stick a book that I won't re-read very often on the shelf and ignore it for ten or fifteen years and still find it as readable as ever when I pick it up again; I find books in my grandparents' house that are still readable though in poor condition (due to varying extremes of temperature and humidity) after being neglected on a shelf or in a box for a lot longer than that. I've got multiple books, both hardback and paperback, which have suffered major water damage but are still readable years later (though the damage will probably cause them to decay or wear out faster than other books of the same format and type of paper) -- one I dropped on the ground while getting out of the car, and didn't notice it was missing until the next day, when it had rained overnight. Are there any electronic storage media that last like that? (Well, DVDs and I suppose CDs have a good record of surviving water damage. My friend's house was flooded, the two lower stories and a foot of the third storey under water; most of his books were destroyed, but nearly all of his DVDs were still playable though their cases and liner notes etc. were destroyed.)

The problem is a lot worse with DRM ebooks in proprietary formats, which is probably what Matt Austern @305 was thinking of. If the book was in the public domain or a Creative Commons release, you can probably find another copy online somewhere if the copy you had is no longer readable because of obsolete storage media or catastrophic failure of your computer and your backup media at once; but not necessarily otherwise.

#344 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 03:13 PM:

On the subject of e-books with extras, there have been some examples of that already, even years ago.

For example, Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep ($5.99 @ eReader, Fictionwise) vs. A Fire Upon the Deep: Special Edition ($12.95 @ eReader, Fictionwise).

This book is particularly dear to my heart as it was the first e-book I ever purchased.

I went into details about the extra content and the like in my review of it for Slashdot.

(Hope 5 links doesn't put me into moderation. :P)

#345 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 03:16 PM:

@341 Paula Lieberman: Regarding HyperCard--whatever happened to that?

I don't know the full story, but I recall one of the first clues: there was an early management decision to retain 100% compatibility with version 1.0, which made it nearly impossible to improve the underlying HyperTalk language. The day I found myself writing "get line one of card field short name of the target", and realized that this was the shortest, clearest way to express what I needed, I walked away and never looked back.

-j

#346 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 04:43 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 294: "Wait, wut? I hadn't heard that Apple stopped punitively bricking unruly iPhones. When did this start?"

I haven't ever heard of Apple deliberately bricking hacked iPhones. A quick Google found this, though. A couple of quotes:

"The iPhone bricking problem has been a PR disaster for Apple, making the company look punitive and obsessed with control. But Erica Sadun, a technical writer and blogger at TUAW.com who contributed to an iPhone unlocking application, said Apple's update wasn't designed to disable hacked devices. Just the opposite: Sadun thinks Apple worked hard not to brick iPhones -- even hacked ones. "It wasn't intentional at all," she said. "If they wanted to brick hacked iPhones, they could have done a much better job of it."

They warned hackers their phones could be bricked by the update, and that they couldn't guarantee compatibility with software they never designed. There isn't necessarily a malicious motive there.

"At the launch of the iPhone in London a couple weeks ago, Jobs said Apple is playing a "cat-and-mouse game" with hackers. "People will try to break in, and it's our job to stop them breaking in," he said. It seems possible that these comments were not aimed at hackers, but were made to comfort his new European partners, who are facing a thriving gray market for unlocked iPhones from the United States thanks to the weak dollar and easy-to-use unlocking apps."

Seems pretty consistent with my theory.

Avram @ 295: "actually, I just discovered that Action Comics #1 only had ads on the back cover."

Ah, well. That ought to teach me to play forum telephone.

Paula Lieberman @ 322: "I think you're underestimating the inconvenience factor--copying requires a number of steps which are not necessarily all casually obvious."

The things you mention are all things I assumed were covered under the heading "habit." Yes, there are a number of things that would have to change for ebook piracy to become wide-spread enough to impact the publishing market. However, none of those things are things that the publishing industry can prevent from happening, nor are they particularly difficult to imagine happening. It's not much of a leap for people to start using BitTorrent to download their books along with their music and videos.

#347 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 05:00 PM:

On ebooks with extras--all the stuff people are talking about, was done in the early 1990s. With HyperCard on Macs, and custom C++ code on Windows.

The Voyager Expanded Books and multimedia cd-roms had content, ranging from books, to symphonies, tied to performances, annotations by readers that could be exported, with a citationand the quoted text either as an .rtf file or as a file that another reader could import to their copy of an ebook.

Macbeth had a video performance by the RSC, tied to the text of the play; click a line and go there in the video. The page turns were synced with the video. Finds of various sorts triggered by in-context menus when you moused down on a word. Essays and commentary by Shakespearean scholars and actors. Scholarly glosses. Images, maps, and clips from other versions and performances of the play. A kareoke.

Martin Gardner's annotated versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, with annotations linked to the text of the novels.

Annotated editions of Beethoven's Ninth, with a clickable score tied to a CD audio performance, a complete guide to the symphony, with commentary, and essays on Beethoven, and symphonies, and performances, and a trivia game.

Kid's interactive games like Planetary Taxi, about the solar system, or Silly Noisy House, with nursery rhymes and games embedded in a "clickable" house with "surprises" and high quality performances.

#348 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 05:08 PM:

Lisa @349: Don't forget Brad Templeton's ClariNet CD, which had a number of books and things in multimedia/hypertext/hypercard, including the annotated version of A Fire Upon the Deep which I mention above.

And if we're travelling afield enough from pure "books" to mention music, Mike Oldfield's "Songs of Distant Earth" CD had some kind of a VR futuristic cityscape thing on it that could be browsed in a Macintosh of the era.

#349 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 05:09 PM:

Thoughtful, extensive review of the iPad as an ebook reader and comparison with the Kindle over at TidBITS.

Telling observation on marketing: "Amazon broke through the indifference to ebook readers by building a cellular modem into every Kindle."

#350 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 05:14 PM:

I have no desire for an ebook "with extras". I want readable text that I can use on any reader (DRM-free, or some sort of universal DRM that's virtually DRM-free) and back up. I must admit, I don't care as much about sharing files, although it would be nice to only have to buy one copy of an ebook that both my husband and I could read.

#351 ::: y ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 05:18 PM:

I would note that ASCII, after a long and distinguished history (first version 1963, current version effectively dating to 1967) is no longer the predominant encoding, at least on the web. It is being replaced by an extension, the UTF-8 encoding form of the universal character set standardized jointly as Unicode (first version 1991) and as ISO/IEC 10646 (first version 1993).

#352 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 05:49 PM:

Jim Henry @ 345: Seems like a good way to do away with a lot of so-so books for posterity's sake.

So, short-lived e-books: Bug or feature?

#353 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 06:55 PM:

At some time in the future, depending on availability of electric sockets in airports and snow in other airports over the next few days, I'll probably write a systems-analyst-geek note on why the publishing business needs to change to adapt to ebooks, because they change the fundamental assumptions about what needs to be fast, slow, expensive, or cheap that influenced the last few centuries of its evolution. But today I'm just a reader, who normally reads a fair bit and is about to get on airplanes for long enough that I'll be reading more.

Books, for a reader, are two different things - they're something to read, and they're hardware we use to read them. Apparently for publishers, hardback and paperback books are radically different things than they are for readers, for historical business reasons, but as a reader, a hardback book is sometimes an object of desire (like the shiny golden-covered edition of The Hobbit I got as a present), sometimes a presentation mechanism (either to get bigger print for older readers, or because some books are too big to be read in paperback format, e.g. Cryptonomicon), and occasionally a way to buy a book NOW, either because the paperback won't be out until next year or because the book's about current events and only comes in hardback, and that's how you play the pricing arbitrage game with the publisher. It's basically triple the price to get something that costs about $3 more to print; I've done that for Dragon and The Merchants' War, to pick locally-relevant examples, but I usually go for paperback.

An ebook, to a reader, is not a hardback. An ebook is a more portable paperback book, with lighter weight but usually worse printing. Any physical-object-of-desire points got used up by the shiny reader hardware, and there are none left for the ebook itself. An ebook probably won't get easier-to-read points, but easier-to-carry points may balance out, even though I'm still not going to risk using it in the bathtub.

Basically Macmillan's trying to tell us that we should be willing to pay Buy-It-Now hardback prices for ebooks, and ecstatically happy to pay trace-paperback prices for them, without any real expectation that the price will come down to paperback levels in 6-12 months when the author's next book comes out. In contrast, Amazon's telling us we should be willing to pay slightly-inflated paperback prices for them, or the cost of a trade paperback knocked down by the cost of printing and shipping. And, well, it ain't a hardback.

,

#354 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 07:16 PM:

@ Bill Stewart:

You're right, an ebook is not a hardback (and I don't think anyone said any different). But in light of your last paragraph, might I suggest reading Myths of Amazon/Macmillan, by Andrew Wheeler (Antick Musings)? Myths #2, 4 and 8 especially adress the perception that Macmillan wants to make ebooks in general more expensive, and that Amazon wants to cap the price of ebooks at 9.99$. Hint: it's not that simple...

#356 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 07:51 PM:

Lisa, #349: Okay, so what I'm proposing isn't new. Are you also saying that none of those things proved to be worthwhile endeavors, and that's why they're not around any more? Or are they in fact still around, but you have to be either a Mac user or a higher-end digital-data user than I am to be aware of them? Your comment seems incomplete without that data.

Bill, #355: I agree, an e-book is not a hardback. At this point the readership appears to be splitting into two camps: those who, like becca, want a bare-bones, fully-portable (i.e. DRM-free) file that's cheaper than the average paperback; and those who, like me, would be attracted by the added value of extra features, which would fit the e-book more into the "commercial movie DVD" slot, and who would be willing to pay more for them. I don't think either camp is arguing that their preferred version should be the only one available.

(Side note: I don't think I've yet explicitly said that there is nothing about the current e-book format which appeals to me enough to override its obvious disadvantages. Either camp's approach would improve that situation IMO.)

#357 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 09:39 PM:

Sorry, but I'm just here to scream in frustration.

I have been having a discussion on MobileRead and for some reason people are having a great deal of difficulty understanding that Amazon is responsible for Amazon removing the buy buttons to Macmillan books, not Macmillan.

#358 ::: markdf ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 09:47 PM:

Audiobooks are the wave of publishing's future! You can listen to a book anywhere, on your device of choice--in the car, waiting for an appointment, between class, even walking! It's completely hands free, cheaper than nasty paper, eliminates tons of publishing overhead, widely distributed through cheaper channels that have nothing to do with books and....

What? Oh.

Ebooks are the wave of publishing's future! You can....

#359 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 10:48 PM:

@Lee #358

I'm saying this from #164.

#360 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:14 PM:

This whole thread has been hugely educational, but I haven't chimed in because I'm not an ebook reader. I'd rather buy an IUniverse book from Amazon than read another novel in electronic form. (And I did.)

But I know something about the OCR angle. I am just finishing up a major OCR project at work, and we had all the problems that have been alluded to here... figuring out which line breaks are significant and which aren't, separate sections melting together, letters split or joined -- we wound up with a lot of web site addresses that supposedly end in .corn for instance.

So yes, I appreciate that the costs of producing ebooks are not trivial.

#361 ::: mkay ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:17 PM:

I had a realization the other day as I pounded off a mini-rant about the flaws in ebook proponent arguments: Someone Was Wrong On The Internet.

I have come to the conclusion that anyone announcing the death of print publishing who writes one of the following:

• An idle mention of financial interest in the success of ebooks (via job or company)
• Ebooks will replace print books as an industry.
• Publishers are greedy because they already have massive profits.
• The reduction of distribution costs makes all other costs simultaneously disappear.
• Production and editorial staff are worthless, unnecessary or overpaid.
• Ebooks are too expensive to buy for my $300 ereader.
• Look at music!
• You don’t need publishers at all. Self-publish and make millions!
• Think of all the previously unpublished books that elitist publishers wouldn’t look at that will now be published. (In fact, I woke up screaming in the night at the very thought)

…is a troll. A troll that appears to be a rational conversationalist because he/she raises the very points publishing is grappling with, but really has no idea what he/she is talking about. A better spoken troll, but a troll nonetheless. I’ve decided to stop taking the bait. Okay, I will still poke fun at them but I will not try to have a rational conversation.

#362 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:19 PM:

Markdf @360, yeah, yeah, and the Internet is just a fad like CB radio. (Yes, I recall someone saying that in the mid-'90s.)

#363 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:53 PM:

#348 heresiarch

I thought a couple minutes before disagreeing in effect with designation of "habit" covering the inconvenience factor--there lots of people whose habits involve all sort of inconvenience to them and unnecessary effort. Particularly compulsive-obsessives have habits which are inconvenient and can involve lot of complicated repetitive steps.

My point was that most people tend to take paths of least resistance and effort as default, where the path of least resistance and effort also includes least thinking and least contemplation regarding looking at assumptions or changing habits.

For that matter, someone who's got a habit of liking to poke around in things, is more likely I suspect to do unauthorized copying of in-copyright books if larcenous or unprinciples or uninterested in the concept that they might be violating copyright and depriving writers of income, than someone who is not inclined to go poking around and does not have habits of poking around.

There's the need for all of inclination to copy things, ability, interest in doing so, having limited scruples about copying when it's unauthorized, and the willingness to go through all the steps of the process.

For someone to do it a lot might require it become a "habit," but initially the first time at least, it's not a habit! And where habit = path of least resistance and effort, that initial level of effect required for finding boards with content being illicitly distributed, and following the process to download from them, it takes effort to develop the habit, and going through the steps repeatedly, before it can become "a habit."


#353 y

I uncordially detest Arial and its close relatives--having an astigmatism is a major factor in my lack of appreciation for it....


#358 Lee

There are somme options for ebooks and levels of enhancement/extras that don't apply to content delivered on physical media.

That is a prepackaged DVD or DVD set, comes, packaged up at the factory. Ebooks distributed as bits, there is a lot more flexibility as regards what the order can consist of.

The ebook vendor could stock several different virtual packages, e.g.,
o a virtual package that's text and maybe a graphical virtual cover only,
o a virtual package that's got the above, plus author interview
o the story text and graphic, plus illustrations
o story text and cover graphic, plus third party discussion.

For that matter, each of the enhancement features could be separately priced and the customer do a mix and match of material to purchase copies of.

#360 markdf

Audio books tend to not be random access devices, unlike edge-bound printed books and ebooks. This does make a difference.

#364 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:56 PM:

All I know is that I lost all of the Tor.com introductory free book downloads when my work computer crashed shortly after I'd downloaded them. Much to my surprise, it turned out that my computer hadn't been backed up, since almost all the actual work I do at work is on the server, not on my own box. So all those ebooks disappeared before I had a chance to read them at all.

That would be less likely to happen with paper books.

#365 ::: markdf ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 12:20 AM:

Avram #364, Paula #365: Yeah :) I just recall the dollar signs shining in people's eyes back when audio hit the scene (I was on the publisher side then). Guess I'm feeling old today.

#366 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Cally, all I know is that if all of my books were ebooks, I could back them up offsite, and they'd survive even if my building burned down. And I wouldn't be tripping over them all the time.

Actually, I do know things other than those.

#367 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 12:55 AM:

Avram @293: Manga-style books sell big among kids, though I don't know if any of them sell millions of copies here.

No, but they sell millions of copies everywhere. Here's the most recent Japanese comic sales ranking, and here are the top manga properties of 2008. By 2008, Bleach had sold 1.2 million copies in the US (50 million in Japan). Here's a breakdown of the Japanese publishing industry's numbers as of 2006, where the licensed English-language circulation of Shounen Jump Magazine is estimated to sit between 180K and 350K. I wish I had more recent stats (the NYT manga bestseller list doesn't provide numbers), but if Manga: Masters of the Art is any indication, it is possible to produce that kind of success while still treating authors humanely, and in a market that is much, much smaller than the American one, and without full-colour glossy ads eating the entirety of either the magazine or the manga trade paperback. But I suspect that the tradeoff lies in the "extra stuff" we've been talking about: character goods merchandise, aggressive licensing for other media like games and mobile phone editions and TV movies...the whole nine.

How much of every Bleach film's profit flows back to Tite Kubo, I'd really love to know. Maybe he and Naoki Urasawa and Eichiro Oda and Ai Yazawa really sustain the midlist. Maybe all the midlist manga-ka are working two or three jobs. Maybe there really is a lot of exploitation going on in the industry that we just don't know about. But you wouldn't know it from the preponderance of bookstores in Tokyo, or book kiosks in rural railway stations, or the surfeit of mobile phone novels.

#368 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 01:53 AM:

#362 @Allan Beatty

If you're in a situation where you need to do *a lot* of OCR of books or typescript, training the software book by book, and really good OCR 'ware, and destroying the book so you can use a sheet-feeder all help.

But sometimes, it's more efficient in terms of overall time/effort/costs to hire two proficient keyboarders to keyboard the books/papers in question, and use diff to compare them, then pay a proofer to proof against hardcopy original.

#369 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 01:58 AM:

Paula@341

Regarding HyperCard—whatever happened to that?

What happened to HyperCard was that it was given to Claris (Apple's software subsidary), then brought back into the QuickTime team. HyperCard was carefully ported to a full C implementation from the mixture of 68000 assembler and Pascal, and had native colour features added.
In parallel with the successful effort to port QuickTime to multiple operating systems (Windows 95, Windows NT, Linux, Irix, Solaris etc), there was a unification of QuickTime and HyperCard, called HyperCard 3. This merged the idea of a stack with the idea of a QuickTime Movie very elegantly, and brought the HyperTalk scripting language into QuickTime.
This was never released, apparently because it would compete with Director. Instead, QuickTime had pop-up ads stuffed into it as a poorly thought-out monetization method, thereby sabotaging it's huge installed base on Windows.

#370 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 02:06 AM:

Madeline Ashby #369: the surfeit of mobile phone novels

Oh, man, I blinked and the world changed again. heh.

#371 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 03:04 AM:

By the way, much of this topic was discussed about two decades ago, as fiction, in Ben Bova's novel Cyberbooks, ISBN 0312931816, which was published by Tor Books... My vague memories are that it wasn't very good fiction, but he was mostly using it to explore a topic. The Evil Bookselling Website doesn't have any of their own copies, but has several third-party vendors who do.

#372 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 03:31 AM:

Lisa @370, Allan @362: Or you could spend $300 to make one of these.

#373 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 03:38 AM:

Bill @373: Yeah, Ben Bova wrote a great satire with "cyberbooks", though as you say, it really wasn't about e-books so much as it was a scathing satire of the publishing industry. (I'm still kind of surprised the publisher had the sense of humor necessary to publishing it.)

Here's a lengthy review of it someone contributed to TeleRead a while back. It's interesting to consider how much it got right and how much it didn't.

Also, back in 2006, Ben Bova remarked that he was excited about the new Sony e-ink Reader. Wonder if his expectations have held up over time.

#374 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 03:53 AM:

Ben @51

EPUB uses real XML instead of a hack-job version of dumbed-down HTML, and is a large part of the reason why EPUB supports all sorts of things to enable ebooks for the disabled."

EPUB uses HTML, surely. Thats how everything can render it. Ideally, they'll be using the HTML5 spec to cope with any encoding errors consistently. If instead they use draconian XML error handling, books may be arbitrarily terminated mid-chapter because of typos.
as Ralph@173 says:
But how many readers actually reject non-xml at this point? I assume most of the phone apps just call the native html renderer on the text, which is unlikely to be picky, but I suppose the dedicated reader devices might be different. I did hear there's an issue with sony readers not handling any one xhtml file over 256 KB, which makes the document division more complex for producers than it might at first seem. What kind of conformance tools are available?

Rejecting non-XML is a bug, not a feature.

#375 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 03:57 AM:

Kevin @376: Not that it matters much, since Ben isn't here anymore, but Wikipedia states:

Basically, EPUB internally uses XHTML or DTBook (an XML standard provided by the DAISY Consortium) to represent the text and structure of the content document, and a subset of CSS to provide layout and formatting. XML is used to create the document manifest, table of contents, and EPUB metadata. Finally, the files are bundled in a zip file as a packaging format.

#376 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 03:57 AM:

Kevin @376: Not that it matters much, since Ben isn't here anymore, but Wikipedia states:

Basically, EPUB internally uses XHTML or DTBook (an XML standard provided by the DAISY Consortium) to represent the text and structure of the content document, and a subset of CSS to provide layout and formatting. XML is used to create the document manifest, table of contents, and EPUB metadata. Finally, the files are bundled in a zip file as a packaging format.

#377 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 04:27 AM:

Those of you pining for the CD-ROMs of the mid-90s should bear in mind that they went away for a reason - I worked on several successful ones, and they were huge software projects, with budgets of $1M+ (1995 dollars). At the time this seemed to make sense, as they were sold for $50+, or in bundle deals with manufacturers paying a few $ per copy (if you bought a Mac between 94 and 97, you probably got a copy of my 3D Atlas with it).
Once we had built a few of these, we ended up working with publishers to 'enhance' their books for this supposed market. However, the entreaties by us technical folks that this Web thing was worth a look fell on deaf ears in management, as the CD-ROM development seemed profitable, if every one was as much of a hit as 3D Atlas. After Christmas 1996, most of the publishers gave up; I ended up having to finish off an interactive version of Sophies World in 12 languages after the rest of the company had been laid off.
DVD extras are a tiny fraction of the cost of production of the films they are built around; the budgets for book production don't come close to supporting this.
That said, if the EPUB is able to use HTML5, rather than draconian XML subsets, you'll be able to make them as interactive as web apps if desired, rather than having to build the equivalent of a game engine as we had to in the 90s.

#378 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 07:51 AM:

@ Bill #373:

Ah, yes, Ben Bova's Cyberbooks! Very funny (and instructive) read. Fortunately, it's been republished by Baen Books in the anthology Laugh Lines, also available in electronic format through Webscriptions.

#379 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 09:42 AM:

John A Arkansawyer @289: [..] comic books kinda suck these days as kids' entertainment.

I've noticed this. The local comic book shop I do some part-time work at (as a partial offset for my own habit) has a policy that kids must be accompanied by adults (typically a parent). Partly, this prevents the kid from surprising the parents with something they picked up at the comic book shop, and a return visit with torches and pitchforks.

There is a corner of the store set up specifically as 'kid friendly', with unbagged back issues selling at cover price, and graphic novels that we consider 'kid safe'. It is something we would like to expand on and organize a little better, but as was noted, most of the sales nowdays are not to kids.

As far as a specific recommendation for something kid friendly that adults would enjoy too, I had recently picked up a 5-issue series by Chris Giarrusso (and published by Image) titled G-Man (Cape Crisis). I imagine that it will be reprinted in a collected book. It was a fun story, with character designs which had a bit of a 'Calvin and Hobbes' feel to my eye. I enjoyed it enough that I dug up the 'origin story' which had been printed in 2004. Perhaps a collected book might include this story too.

#380 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 10:19 AM:

#371 Kevin

The mid to late 1980s into the first half of the 1990s was a time full of all sorts of computer-related innovative stuff--VRML (3d experience with user-control of animation speed, angle, etc.), eyetracker control of displays and content and input, no-touch input control waving one's hands around, interactivity, etc.

Most of that stuff evaporated before the time the Shmuck was awarded the Presidency.

Apple had interesting stuff that it buried--an elegant 3d interface with ring around a circle--more the ring for rotation, move up/down and right/left in the circle. Apple never -did- anything with it, though. The patent is expired I'm certain....

There was OpenDoc, an elegant hypertextish doubly-linked-lists environment which was a joint effort of IBM, Apple, and a third company. I saw a demo in room 54-100 at MIT, which might have been a Boston Computer Society event or not--it was a LONG time ago, and it was quite impressive.

Never heard of OpenDoc? That's because it got put on the shelf set aside and left there, dropped from active development and from support and from commercialization beyond an initial push. There was also a push for "applets" way back then, for developers to produce pieces of applications systems, each applet would provide particular optional features and functionality to fit into frameworks.... sort of like "plug-ins" but more robust and not expecting a full up word processor or PhotoShop etc., but able to operate less dependently, and not require a specific particular large application package program to work with.

The developers who embraced the applets and spent their time and money developing and marketing them, got treated little to no better than Apple treated the companies which developed products/software/applications for the DSP3210 chips in the Mac 660 AV and Mac 880 AV and add-in DSP3210 boards for Macintoshes--those two Mac models came out, to be pruned out of the ecosystem continuing support base less than six months later by the announcement of Apple's migration to PowerPC.

And then there were Taligent and other "products" that were supposed to result from the collaboration of Motorola and IBM and Apple -- MIA Missing In Action things, as it turned out....

But anyway, all that sort of stuff, is more of the substantiation of why I regard Apple as a questionable business partner and supplier for anything except commodity goods to use -now-. Depending on Apple's continuing goodwill/support/licensing-and-especially-licensing -for-modest-affordable-fees-even- when-licensing-doesn't-get-suspended/not-suddenly-skyrocketing-prices/etc., is a really BAD bet.

There are lots of reasons for avoiding "sole source suppliers" and sole source dependency--they include:
1) The sole source may have a disaster hit, and if the sole source goes away, so does the livelihood of everyone dependent on the sole source
2) The sole source may decide to discontinue the product and provide no replacement or for some of its customers, usable replacement. The effect is the same as 1) above.
3) The sole sournce may discontinue products in favor of new products which are a lot more expensive, and which provide features and functionality and usage expenses and "learning curves" that the customer base don't need/don't want/don't appreciate [howls of PPC Mac users being told "buy an Intel-based Mac, the newest version of MacOS won't run on PPC Macs and none of the applications being developed for it will, either."]

3. The sole source may decide to skyrocket the pricing. The "locked-in" customers have the choices of pay the price, try to find something else while buying minimally, or decide to go into some other business...
4. The sole source may be bought up by a conglomerate making competing products and the conglomerate decide to terminate various of the sole source's products to force the customer base to adopt the competing products of the conglomerat (which often the customer of the sole source supplier, had deliberately avoiding the conglomerate's competing products).

Apple quite conspicuously is a sole source supplier.... I don't expect Apple to disappear or get bought out. But I do expect Apple to act like a sole source supplier yanking around it locked-in customer base by all the methods that sole source suppliers use to maximize their profit at the expense of the unwary who decide to buy sole source, failing to understand that what looks like a good deal today, is ephemeral. It might be an excellent deal and value today, but tomorrow Apple could decide to stop offering it....

#381 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 10:40 AM:

#379 Kevin

Macromedia focused on CD-ROM content authoring an production for a number of years, and then moved its focus over to Web experiences [I. HATE. FLASH.] (That has nothing to do with Macromedia moving from CD-ROM content to Web content it has to do with both what gets done with Flash--making ads which were not appealing to start with, even vilers and wasting computer resources and freezing up the computer and crashing browser windows and generating notifications of dozens of scripts wanting to run and spying on me all for the sake of selling stuff that in some cases I regard as evil for companies than include ones I wish would go bankrupt....) Macromedia being the ten ton gorilla, where it went, the usage and implementings and employment etc. followed.

Another factor is that software distribution changed--big box stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City and CompUSA took over and their software inventory in-store shrank, the space occupied by printers grew, and the smaller stores with a larger focus on software disappeared. The visible channel for infotainment on CD or DVD shrank, while computer games and games console games space and attention and money grew...

Eventually CompUSA and the other stores like it went out of business (the others died earlier), and even Circuit City went out of existence.

Without distribution channels, a company can't stay in business, or a product line continue in in development.

#382 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 10:44 AM:

mkay @ 363, deciding that anyone who disagrees with your basic beliefs is a troll is convenient, and certainly subjectively accurate, but it means you may miss things that matter. For example, from your list:

• An idle mention of financial interest in the success of ebooks (via job or company)

People who object to the current model of publishing want publishing to thrive. If you don't care about books, you don't take strong positions on them.

• Ebooks will replace print books as an industry.

As a generalization, that's true. The white brick that publishers have been selling will become a specialty item. (You can still buy buggy whips.)

• Publishers are greedy because they already have massive profits.

Most people know about the recession, and that publishers are scrambling to find new ways to cope.

They also know that the Big Six are corporations, and their first obligation is to their stockholders.

• The reduction of distribution costs makes all other costs simultaneously disappear.

There's some naivete here, but I've yet to see anyone say, "Oh, right, proofreaders and editors. Well, no one needs them." (Since it's the internet, I'm sure someone has said that. But I haven't come across anyone who did.)

If you want to educate the public, it would be helpful if publishers would share full figures on specific books. When people wave unverified numbers and claim that really, ebooks cost almost as much as white bricks, they're less convincing.

• Production and editorial staff are worthless, unnecessary or overpaid.

I'll trust that you've seen someone say that.

• Ebooks are too expensive to buy for my $300 ereader.

Many ebook readers bought their machines as longterm investments. They thought Amazon would have more strength to keep prices low. You may think they're like SUV drivers who complain about gas prices, but they bought their readers because it seemed like an ecologically and economically wise decision.

• Look at music!

Publishing would be healthier if it looked at more models of producing entertainment. Frankly, I would be surprised if people at the top of the Big Six weren't looking at the music industry and saying, "How the hell do we learn from this?"

• You don’t need publishers at all. Self-publish and make millions!

There have been self-publishers who made millions. It's not the smart way to bet, but self-publishing is a valid option.

• Think of all the previously unpublished books that elitist publishers wouldn’t look at that will now be published. (In fact, I woke up screaming in the night at the very thought)

You may want to believe that every good book has made it to market. (That's the flip side of believing publishers only publish good books, I think.) But there are many books that were only published by traditional publishers because the writers persevered and finally got lucky after many rejections. As a reader, I like having trusted gatekeepers to recommend work to me--but I have more faith in reviewers than publishers to do that. For all my love of Tor, I'm not going to assume that every Tor title will please me. And I know painfully well, from my own experience* and that of other midlist writers, that Tor rejects books for perceived commercial worth, not quality. That's just how the business of publishing works.

#383 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:13 AM:

Tor rejects books for perceived commercial worth, not quality.

How about "Tor sometimes rejects books for perceived commercial worth, rather than quality."? I don't think you meant to imply that Tor never rejects books for lack of quality. Do you think they'd publish a book if it were absolute garbage but would sell?

#384 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:21 AM:

Paula@382: Apple as a sole source supplier of iPhone Apps? Absolutely (and unfortunately). Of music? Absolutely not. My iPod classic has over 100Gb of completely legal music, very little of which came from Apple. Of ebooks? Not right now, although the dark warnings of what may happen when the iBook store goes on line are legion.

(I'm skipping video since I have very little experience with video on the iPod or my iPhone. The DRM on the videos you buy from iTunes is not encouraging. However, you can watch videos not from Apple on your iPod and iPhone.)

Cathy@366: I think this is why David Dyer-Bennett talked about the "best care possible" @338. It's totally possible for ebooks to survive fire, flood, the disintegration of paper over time. However, most of us don't know how to take care of ebooks as well as we know how to take care of books. This is not to say that ebooks will last forever even with the best care possible.

My worry about ebooks is something that I already see from archiving music and video. i.e., every five to ten years or so, you need to convert them into the format and medium of the moment or else you'll never get to enjoy them again. e.g., moving home movies from VHS to, say, MPEG-4. That strikes me as well-nigh impossible if ebooks come with DRM. In that way, the lifespan of ebooks may not be as long as we want it to be.

Yes, right now, it looks like ASCII and HTML will always be readable. However, someone above has pointed out that ASCII is already obsolete, supplanted by UTF-8. (Do people still use EBCDIC?) Standards evolve and that doesn't always mean backwards compatibility.

UTF-8 happens to be a superset of 7-bit ASCII. Any ASCII text that uses roman characters will likely survive fine unless UTF-8 gets supplanted by something. Big5 text and GB2312 text will not fare as well. UTF-8 or UTF-16 may fully supplant those two standards for encoding Chinese text. AFAIK, Unicode is not backwards compatible with either of them. Text needs to be converted from Big5 and GB2312 to reduce the chance that we're preserving a text file we can't read.

(For me, this is a theoretical problem as I don't own any Chinese ebooks with DRM. I also own software that detects the encoding and converts freely between standards. The point, though, is that this conversion will be necessary. Maybe it's not every five or ten years for text, but eventually.)

I don't think it's safe to assume that XML and CSS as we currently know it will always be readable and produce exactly the same we see now. They're more complicated than character set encodings.

This doesn't even take into account the other ebook formats currently on the market. Fortunately, there is already software that does format conversions. The stumbling block, as always, is DRM.

#385 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:21 AM:

#385 Will

Laura Anne Gilman is freelancing for Carina Press.

http://carinapress.com/
http://carinapress.com/blog/

Carina is a new epublisher which is in the Harlequin umbrella. The list of areas is http://carinapress.com/submission-guidelines/" for new and republication:

Romance
Science Fiction, Fantasy, Futuristic
Erotica
Mystery
Thrillers
Horror
Family Saga
Women’s Fiction
Interactive Fiction with Multiple/Alternate Endings

From the faq

As Carina Press is a division of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd, how is it different?
At the very basic level, Harlequin is a traditional print publisher with a robust digital-offering, while Carina Press is a digital-only publisher.

Both the contract and distribution channels are very different:

The Carina Press contract does not include an advance or DRM, and authors are compensated with a higher royalty.
Unlike Harlequin there is no guaranteed series distribution (no standing order, no direct mail, no overseas translation markets).
Carina Press titles will be sold direct to consumers through the Carina Press website, and we’ll be securing 3rd party distribution on other websites.

I didn't seen pricing information for books, however, given the pricing on Harlequin paperbacks, somehow I doubt that they're going to cost $14.99 or $9.99... I'd expect pricing at or below what Harlequin's titles cost in racks at supermarket and bookstores. Also, unlike Harlequin "series" titles, the titles aren't going to disappear from most distribution sites after four weeks...

#386 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:25 AM:

One of the reasons why Macmillan could be the company to bell the cat is that Macmillan is not a publicly held company. The head of the family that owns the company approved of the negotiation, so that was that.

It is true that quality is not enough to get a book published by a commercial publisher. We like to think that we do both -- acquire quality, commercial, works. But when it comes down to it, a book that we know will sell a large number of copies will be published no matter what the quality.

Or as Oscar Dystal once famously said, "we'll publish any book that makes money, no matter how good it is!"


#387 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:34 AM:

And another thing that has been insufficiently considered in all this....

Selling ebooks is not like selling paper books in a significant way, for the bookseller. There are no returns. There is no inventory. Now, this may seem painfully obvious, but consider this: Many, many bookstores are running their business by floating the purchase of their new stock on the returns credit from last year's books. The investment is in starting up a new store. After that, inventory costs are almost nil. There is the cost of storage, but that is often born by the jobbers, who supply stores on a weekly basis, and who get that extra 10% discount to cover it, or by the publishers who offer a rapid fulfillment system.

Ebooks, no inventory. You sell one, you have to pay the publisher right away. There's no float on the "wholesale" percentage. It's a complete change of business model for the retailers.

#388 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 12:08 PM:

@386 John Chu: I also own software that detects the encoding and converts freely between standards. The point, though, is that this conversion will be necessary. Maybe it's not every five or ten years for text, but eventually.

I can't agree more. The encoding problem is huge for languages like Chinese and Japanese, because twenty years from now you may not know which variant of which encoding was used by a particular version of some software. Worse, not all encodings can be auto-detected. The difference between ShiftJIS and CP932 is subtle, but annoying, and many tools don't know that there is a difference; the popular Open Source tool luit silently discards CP932-specific characters.

For a very specific example, my Japanese teacher and her late husband spent decades translating poetry. They were delighted to adopt new technologies, and moved as much of their work as possible into the digital realm. In MacWrite II and ClarisWorks 4JP.

We have to print PDFs of each document with the original Classic MacOS application to preserve the formatting, export as RTF, convert from MacJapanese to Unicode, import to Word, and then compare the formatting page-by-page. That's after figuring out which document is which, since the person who "helpfully" upgraded their computer to OS X didn't realize that the filenames were also encoded in MacJapanese, and would turn into garbage. Not fun, and thanks, Apple, for not handling it in the upgrade.

-j

#389 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 12:18 PM:

But when it comes down to it, a book that we know will sell a large number of copies will be published no matter what the quality.

Even if the imprint's reputation will suffer as a result? Is that sort of thing at least weighed in the process of deciding whether to publish something?

If not, I'll be sending in my manuscript for Teenage Vampire Superheroes at the Winter Olympics sometime next week!

#390 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 12:37 PM:

Do you think they'd publish a book if it were absolute garbage but would sell?

Xopher, if I wasn't such a wordy bastard, I'd just say Beth's Dystal quote (which I love!) covers it. But:

I think there would be some interesting discussions in the office before a decision was made. The safe bet would be on the decision being "yes." That's assuming it's not *offensive* garbage--if it was controversial and garbage and profitable, some major publishers might turn it down. But one of them would make an offer, because that's just how capitalism works. That's what the phrase "controversial bestseller!" is designed to excuse.

Paula @387, sounds like an interesting experiment.

#391 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 01:21 PM:

#371 @kevin Marks on HypeCard:

This merged the idea of a stack with the idea of a QuickTime Movie very elegantly, and brought the HyperTalk scripting language into QuickTime.

Yep. And I got to see it in action, and I still weep for what might have been. There were intelligent "hooks" for export, too, which means with properly created content/content raw materials archiving, the content would be "movable" and re-usable for multiple editions. They were already thinking about HTML as a platform, too. Kevin Calhoun was fabulous--one of those software engineers who could grasp the way a non-engineer user would use software.

One of the "dead products" that I had hope for was Script-X. We made three cross-platform products with it, before IBM and Apple killed the platform--pretty much timed with our releases.

Sophie seems to be in limbo, so I'm looking at HTML5 for scholarly editions.

#392 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 01:43 PM:

Xopher @ 391: Even if the imprint's reputation will suffer as a result?

Does anyone avoid Harper Collins because they publish Dan Brown?

A sufficiently small, focused imprint (Small Beer, Timescape, Ballantine Adult Fantasy, Tartarus) might have fans of the imprint itself, but in general people don't even notice who publishes their books.

#393 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 02:02 PM:

mkay@363: Okay, I'm a troll; I think print publishing is clearly doomed (I just don't know the schedule).

I've seen this before, here and elsewhere -- "troll" is starting to be the general-purpose term for somebody one doesn't like and wishes would go away; it's losing its actual meaning.

#394 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 02:10 PM:

Jim@345: The issue here is what I call a "managed archive" vs. "benign neglect".

Digital data does very well in a properly managed archive, and the ability to make perfect copies lets you distribute copies widely. If my house burns down, I'll lose most of my photographs on film -- except for the ones I've scanned. And I'll still have most of my digital photos -- except the newest ones not yet in the off-site archive.

Analog media like books and B&W film does much better in extended "benign neglect".

Lots of people are, I know, really dumb about preserving their digital data. That will be their loss, when the time comes.

#395 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Tim@394: I believe I knew a person who avoided DAW books in general because they published John Norman. But I agree that significant negative publisher preferences are very rare overall.

#396 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 02:32 PM:

@ Tim #394: Don't forget Baen! On the one hand, they have a cadre of very devoted fans, and on the other hand a (not totally undeserved) reputation for publishing endless volumes of righ-wing military sci-fi with cheap-looking covers. This does make Baen unpalatable to some writers and readers.

#397 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 03:20 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 397: I believe I knew a person who avoided DAW books in general because they published John Norman.

I would guess that said person found Norman offensive rather than merely lousy.

IreneD @ 398: Good point. Make that "focused" instead of "small, focused."

#398 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 04:23 PM:

IreneD@398: Baen does seem to have that reputation in some quarters. It's interesting how little reality supports it. Lois McMaster Bujold is of course not right-wing MilFic. But neither, actually, is Eric Flint's 1632 project -- that town survives, and has the intellectual resources it does, because the executive committee of a major union was meeting there when they got sent off. And he was editor of their magazine Universe while it was running, too.

John Ringo does somewhat tend that way :-).

David Weber, even, is more complex than simply "right wing". The social conservatives are one of the nastiest sets of bad guys -- Massada. The current big bad looks to be the genetic slavers of Mesa. And in the new Heresy series, the church is clearly the bad guys. I'm not sure favoring monarchy is a proper "right wing" position either (which turns up pretty often in the Harrington universe).

#399 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 06:46 PM:

David @400: In fact, Eric Flint is, I believe, a Marxist—about as far from the "right wing" as you can get.

#400 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 07:26 PM:

I just went to Baen's free library and downloaded a copy of 1632. After checking for it at the Tucson public library, which only has a paperback that, apparently, I can't reserve.

#401 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 08:05 PM:

Xopher: "I'll be sending in my manuscript for Teenage Vampire Superheroes at the Winter Olympics sometime next week!" [Text that might hedge this forthright commitment removed from the quote. Why let reality interfere with dreams?]

Ooo! I would totally pay full hardcover price for a copy of Xopher's Teenage Vampire Superheroes at the Winter Olympics, even if all I got was a poorly-typeset DRMed ebook.

#402 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 08:06 PM:

Chris Meadows @ 401: Eric Flint is a socialist. I'm not sure he's a marxist. There is a difference. I don't know if he's picky about it, but some people are, with (I think) justification.

What turns me off to Baen generally isn't exactly that it does so much right-wing milscific. It's that it does so much milscific, period. That is a minority taste on my part: There are eight people, including myself, in my team at work. Five are sf readers. Three are heavy readers of Baen. One just got back from Afghanistan. Those are nested subsets.

The disjunction between the sf readers and the heavy Baen readers? The other guy likes fantasy. I don't have the slightest idea how to describe what I like anymore except that it's hard to find.

#403 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 08:42 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg @ 370: We're using sheet feeders of course; scanning in B&W, gray scale, or color as seems best for each document; OCR that reports bold, italics, and point size correctly more often than not; and domain-specific proprietary magic to figure out which bits are good enough to bypass manual checking. Writing/inventing the specs for the magic was my contribution to the project.

I'd rather not be more specific, so as not to embarass my employer by making it known that we were doing totally manual data entry all this time, only now finally moving into the 1990s.

Oh, but I'll relate it back to the theme of the thread by noting that the end product (after several more steps) is mostly distributed electronically, on free and subscription web sites and bundled with other products.

#404 ::: Bad Pants ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 08:46 PM:

This is essentially a response to a comment that is days old:

The answer to the tax implications for ebooks is that yes, that is an issue. In a smattering of locations in the US (noticeably Tennessee) and in the EU (minus the UK) ebooks are NOT TPP (Tangible Personal Property) they are the derivative of a service.

Services have different tax liabilities than TPP. The tax RATE is the same but the allocation, recovery and intrastate triangulation complexities are radically different. Tax on services are the bane of anyone dealing with VAT 2010 regulations, and believe you me, ebooks are no stroll through candyland.

Will the tax ramifications of the agency model have significant impact on the ebook distribution stream? Yes. Did that stop Apple when the same rules affected music? Not much. It has had an impact on the roll-out of itunes storefronts for various countries where the law is nebulous or unfavorable, but it's not going to stop the 1000 lb gorilla for long.

It's noteworthy that in TN the law is specific for ebooks and downloaded "electronic print" media and NOT applicable for electronic delivery of music. How's THAT for legislative complexity.

The ebook delivery model is behind the electronic music delivery model in a lot of subtle ways, well beyond adoption or perception or what have you. The fundamental tax law differences have not yet been hashed out in even a majority of jurisdictions, and that will play a role.

Should that change what readers or early adopters feel about the models? Probably not, but it is relevant to the discussion. You can bet your biscuits that Apple and Amazon and McMillan keep that stuff in the back of their minds while this goes down.

For my money (pun accidental) I think that Apple, given it's years of experience driving this delivery model for other products-become-services, is the best positioned for actually cracking the problem into enough discreet pieces that it finally get's solved in a way that drives value for everyone involved.

#405 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 09:04 PM:

Will @ 402: And did you remember to put The Beautiful Struggle on hold while you were at it? (Nag, nag, nag, that's all I do. Who will help me grind the corn?)

#406 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 09:26 PM:

#409 Bad

New Hampshire has no sales tax, while the jurisdictions surrounding it do. The people from outside NH are -supposed- to pay sales tax and such on their purchase in NH that they bring back home.... NH won't collect it!

#407 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 10:22 PM:

Yarrow 403: Ooo! I would totally pay full hardcover price for a copy of Xopher's Teenage Vampire Superheroes at the Winter Olympics, even if all I got was a poorly-typeset DRMed ebook.

Umm...yeah. Thanks! I think. :-)

#408 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 10:43 PM:

Xopher, you have to know that that's an utterly crackalicious idea.

You do know that, right?

(I don't think Laura Mixon would object if I said that one evening at the last Viable Paradise workshop, Laura and Macallister Stone and I and several other very smart participants got into a long strange conversation in which we tried to explain the concept of "crackfic" to Laura. Thing was, Laura was the one driving the conversation. She could tell we were talking about something outside her world-model, so of course being Laura she wanted to know how it worked. It was a fabulously brilliant and complex yet orderly yet passionate conversation -- the kind of thing I live for.)

"Crackfic" is yet another world-changing contribution the fanfic universe has made to that portion of literary theory that's located where the rubber meets the road.

#409 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:04 PM:

TNH, have you considered that crackfic might be a form of camp?

#410 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:04 PM:

I've never heard of crackfic before. Does it mean addictive, mind- and soul-destroying crap? (Reasoning from derivation is unreliable, which is why I'm asking.)

#411 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:11 PM:

Xopher @412: As with so many things, TVTropes has the answer.

(Warning: Above link leads to TVTropes.)

#412 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:20 PM:

Chris Meadows @ 413: Shouldn't they have How Much For Just The Planet? there?

#413 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 11:32 PM:

Bad Pants @406
Thanks for that info. Once again I'm pleased that NZ has a relatively simple VAT ("GST") system, with a single rate and few exemptions. Customs also aren't interested in collecting GST on transactions were it would be less than NZD50 (USD35).

#414 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 12:17 AM:

John @ 402, the corn is now ground.

#415 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 12:29 AM:

PNH:
"I wonder about that "extra content" stuff too. But I also think that normal books, without "extra" bells and whistles, will continue to have a robust audience. When I want to read a novel, I want to read a novel, not get distracted by the moral equivalent of DVD extras."

That could go for non-fiction as well. Embedded video, links, 'out-takes' (versions of photos), real-time revised editing might be useful.

But if I thnk I understand your very good point, such 'extra content' might have a centrifugal tendency. The writer attempts to create a narrative or thesis, but the reader gets distracted by glamorous "extra content" and eventually loses the writer's point.

That could well happen. No one knows and we'll just see what happens as imagination and new technology gets together.

Though I think it has been repeated at length, one thing I do doubt is that "a book is a book," that the way publishing has been done in the past and recent now is the proper and appropriate way to do things and that publishers and editors should just know better and others should shut up.

I have a suspicion that i won't work out like that. If nothing else, I suspect that major publishers are going to get demolished in size because whole divisions of people will get fired -- less of buying printing and arranging for warehouses and keeping track of orders shipped and books pulped. It's a massive institutional change.

I suspect that one of the reasons which publishers are so slow to adapt the ebook is because the internal politics are at war: editors and marketers versus print buyers and shippers and bookstore salesmen and so forth. Some may be worried, but others just will barely exist and the publishing companies are, I surmise, undergoing enormous stress.

#416 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 12:30 AM:

PNH:
"I wonder about that "extra content" stuff too. But I also think that normal books, without "extra" bells and whistles, will continue to have a robust audience. When I want to read a novel, I want to read a novel, not get distracted by the moral equivalent of DVD extras."

That could go for non-fiction as well. Embedded video, links, 'out-takes' (versions of photos), real-time revised editing might be useful.

But if I thnk I understand your very good point, such 'extra content' might have a centrifugal tendency. The writer attempts to create a narrative or thesis, but the reader gets distracted by glamorous "extra content" and eventually loses the writer's point.

That could well happen. No one knows and we'll just see what happens as imagination and new technology gets together.

Though I think it has been repeated at length, one thing I do doubt is that "a book is a book," that the way publishing has been done in the past and recent now is the proper and appropriate way to do things and that publishers and editors should just know better and others should shut up.

I have a suspicion that i won't work out like that. If nothing else, I suspect that major publishers are going to get demolished in size because whole divisions of people will get fired -- less of buying printing and arranging for warehouses and keeping track of orders shipped and books pulped. It's a massive institutional change.

I suspect that one of the reasons which publishers are so slow to adapt the ebook is because the internal politics are at war: editors and marketers versus print buyers and shippers and bookstore salesmen and so forth. Some may be worried, but others just will barely exist and the publishing companies are, I surmise, undergoing enormous stress.

#417 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 12:35 AM:

OK, now I get it. "Harry Potter and the Eagle of Truthiness, by Christine Morgan, in which Stephen Colbert becomes the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts."

Yes. I see how that works now.

#418 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 01:19 AM:

Speaking of "extra stuff" I have a post scheduled to go up on TeleRead around 8:30 or so this morning where I make a couple of suggestions about that. Based on Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert, speaking at a TV convention in which she suggested social networking was an important part of TV's future.

In that vein, "extra stuff" doesn't have to be something bundled into the e-book itself. Just think of the "Cloudmakers" game, or "I Love Bees." Or, taking an actual book-related example, the "NationStates" game that Max Barry came up with to promote Jennifer Government.

#419 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 01:23 AM:

Wait, is this crackfic? Pooh/Cthulhu (ok, generic squamous rugosity)?

My fanfic categorization skills, they are hopeless.

#420 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 01:26 AM:

Speaking of "extra stuff" I have a post scheduled to go up on TeleRead around 8:30 or so this morning where I make a couple of suggestions about that. Based on Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert, speaking at a TV convention in which she suggested social networking was an important part of TV's future.

In that vein, "extra stuff" doesn't have to be something bundled into the e-book itself. Just think of the "Cloudmakers" game, or "I Love Bees." Or, taking an actual book-related example, the "NationStates" game that Max Barry came up with to promote Jennifer Government.

#421 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 01:39 AM:

David Sucher, twice: that "extra stuff" that gets in the way of the narrative already exists. It's called "footnotes". Seldom used in fiction outside of Sir Pterry, common in non-fiction.

#422 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 01:52 AM:

Metadata....

#423 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 02:24 AM:

I never metadata I didn't like!

#424 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 02:43 AM:

Well, Brent Spiner was pretty cute, even in all that makeup.

#425 ::: JHomes ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 04:01 AM:

Tom Whitmore @423
> It's called "footnotes". Seldom used in fiction outside of Sir Pterry,

And Jack Vance.

J Homes

#426 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 04:43 AM:

Xopher @419

Yep exactly. Another well known crack fic is a Torchwood one, "Trying to Communicate" in which the Torchwood team run into a lost little alien in cat form who has learned about humans through the internet and attempts to communicate the way it's seen pictures of itself do.

Aka: "PEACEFUL CAT COMES IN PEACE," the cat yowled. "WE BE MONITURRIN U."

#427 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 05:22 AM:

And Susana Clarke.

#428 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 09:24 AM:

And Jose Luis Borges.

#429 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 09:38 AM:

A type of extra stuff that hasn't been mentioned here: have the ebook itself be an extra in the print copy of the book, the way you can now buy a DVD with a digital copy, or some picture books come with a bonus CD.

This might not appeal to the ebook only readers, but for someone like me, who prefers a physical book and yet would sometimes like to be able to either search inside or leave the hardcover home and take the ebook with me, this might work.

If you're looking for crackfic, the Yuletide fanfic exchange produces some great ones each year. There's a Care Bears fic that is infamous in this regard, in a "they did NOT go there" sort of way.

#430 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 09:48 AM:

Another well known crack fic is a Torchwood one, "Trying to Communicate"

I was happy to see that one mentioned at the TVTropes CrackFic page.

#431 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 10:14 AM:

Hilary Hertzoff @ 431: That's one way vinyl is being marketed these days: It comes with a free download, often in a lossless format and without DRM.

My favorite* band** is an example. You can get the new one for anything from ten bucks (just a download) to seventy-five bucks (vinyl, CD, signed print of the artwork, 52-page book [with the first 250 copies signed by the band], bonus track, download--the big enchilada, as Michael Feldman says.

I don't buy much new, but I'm giving this real serious mulling over. They may get $75 from me.

Now, I'm not so sure I like this model. I do like it better than the band skipping meals, though.

How not to do it? X recently put out a live CD and a live DVD of the same show. Each one has one track not on the other. Much as I love the band, I'm going to make a point of not buying either.

And apropos of nothing much, other than not skipping meals and crofting making a lot of sense for musicians, Sweet Soul Cooking with Shonna Tucker. This is just the teaser. I have no idea whether they're going to put out a whole show, or make it an ongoing thing. I just know it sure got my attention toward minute two.

*Favorite this week. I haven't listened to the new Gil Scott-Heron yet.

**Note that this link will rot once the pre-ordering is over.

#432 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 10:22 AM:

I almost forgot Philip Jorge Farmer.

#433 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 11:15 AM:

Tom Whitmore, #423

Of course there are footnotes. The point is that the iPad (and others) will make it extremely easy to find footnotes because they are directly there on the screen. And there is a whole lot more "extra stuff" than footnotes such as video and who-knows-else.

The immediacy of "extra stuff" has little to do with static "footnotes."

As to double posts if there were a way to delete it, I obviously would. But thanks for pointing it out.

#434 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 11:24 AM:

Guys...

#435 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 11:38 AM:

...and Dolls?

#436 ::: pedantic Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 11:41 AM:

John A Arkansawyer @ 434... Don't you mean Philip José Farmer?

#437 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 11:42 AM:

ML does seem to be having a lot of double posts lately -- enough that I suspect some variety of software glitch. Also, for the past couple of months, it's been taking about 3 times as long to process a post as it used to.

Not a complaint, merely a datapoint.

#438 ::: John Adams ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 12:09 PM:

Serge @ 438: See 430.

And now I must concentrate on work. And the new Booker T. Jones.

#439 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 12:16 PM:

Conversely, "self-publishing" may actually INCREASE the importance of "publishers" i.e. publishers = gatekeeping/editorial.

With a flood of self-publish titles by unknowns, name brand publishers may increase the value of the Famous Well-known Publisher Seal of Approval.

You scan a title on low impact development and you find 300 titles. A few maybe from (examples) Harvard University Press, a few from Random House and a whole bunch from John Does. Guess who you'll check out first?

Btw, I am not saying that is good or bad -- just likely human nature.

Of course the broad reach from John Doe's book could also surface to the top -- but some name brand marketing group (that is primarily what a publisher does -- marketing) might well invite John Doe to its rostrum.

#440 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 12:36 PM:

John Adams @ 440... Oops. Hmmm... I wonder if NetFlix finally sent me the DVD of that Germaine Greer action movie. If not, well, I've got some Pam Grier stuff to read.

#441 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 01:15 PM:

David Sucher @135: in many cases (other than academic nonfiction) the footnote is right there at the foot of the page. Directly there on the screen already. And some people find them marvelous, and some distracting. They fill exactly the role you're pointing at. They're immediate.

They aren't video: but they're very much what you're talking about, and the debate over whether they're a good thing or not has been going on for quite a while. The answer being, for some they are and for some they aren't.

#442 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 01:27 PM:

That's one of the really positive aspects to e-books.

Publishers often balk now at including reference bibliographies and footnotes in works of scholarship, because they are so copious, making the book longer, taking up more paper, make the book cost more.

Some have suggested not including them in the kinds of print books, that for instance the spouse does, and put them up online instead. Which is not really a good idea.

Fortunately the publisher so far also has seen the error of this kind of thinking.

Love, C.

#443 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Hillary@431: Baen is on that one, too. Buy the right book, and you get a CD including all the previous books in the series and many dozen unrelated titles. This includes copies shipped to bookstores.

With explicit right to redistribute it free; there's no way they can take it out of circulation.

#444 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 04:35 PM:

Tom Whitmore.

Maybe I have no idea what your comment was about in the first instance.
Maybe you think that only 'extra content' = footnotes?
Or that there is no issue of centrifugal reading because you already read footnotes?
Or....?

In any case I am sure we both favor only good things.

#445 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 04:55 PM:

How can you mention footnotes without bringing up David Foster Wallace, where they are indeed an artform?

Perhaps eBooks could solve the footnote problem described by Jo Walton by making them selectively visible to different readers?

The ultimate value-added extras would of course be a Making Light comments thread attached to each ebook, though we would need a clone army of Teresas to tummel them all.

#446 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 05:20 PM:

Baen also allows the proprietor of thefifthimperium.com to host and distribute ISOs as well as the individual files from the CDs.

#447 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Kevin Marks.
You may have been joking but I have no doubt that there will be possibility of blog posts and even comments linked to a specific passage of a book, with on-going discussion on fine points.
Some authors may want it; some not. But your jest (?) really does re-emphasize the changing nature of what some "books" may become.

Is "a book is a book?" (Or as TNH says that "At the heart of the model is the proposition that ebooks aren’t essentially different from hardcopy books. Ebooks are just another repro technology.") My guess is that the ebook and the book will definitely diverge.

Now none of that means that editors/marketers (i.e. "publishers") aren't essential or desired for quality control and practical "gate-keeping." Most "consumers" like high-production values (including punctuation and spelling!). But there may be a whole new set of skills for those "book people."

#448 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 06:16 PM:

I know I'm late to the party, but I wanted to give a chronic lurker's point of view.

I liked the article. I found it well-written and informative. I was even going to post a comment (unusual for me), but before I did, I read through the comments to make sure my opinion hadn't already been stated.

Now I'm afraid to say anything about the article.

I enjoyed reading Ben's theories on a brave new publishing model. Sure, I don't know if they would work, and I don't agree with everything he said, but so what? It was a different point of view and it made me think. I like that.

Then EVERYONE attacked him. His credentials, his experience, his ability to express himself, and even his motivations for posting were brought into question.

Basically, what I got from the slams directed at him are these points:

- If you are not a member of the publishing community, you shouldn't post a different point of view.
- Pie-in-the-sky theories are not allowed, no matter how much fun it is to imagine them.
- You have to be an expert on a subject before stating your opinion.
- You have to be willing to quit your job, prove your theory, and come back with documentation.
- Teresa Nielsen Hayden is not a very nice person.

Throughout it all, he was consistently polite and self-deprecating. What you all made fun of as a "flounce" out of the conversation I saw as frustration at being treated like a piece of dirt.

This is why I'm a chronic lurker.

#449 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 08:20 PM:

Angela @450: Throughout it all, he was consistently polite and self-deprecating.

So this bit (from ct #30) seems "consistently polite" to you?:

I walk into a typical bookstore and most of what I see is crap designed to be as much like previous bestselling work as possible.

I don't blame the publishers -- why take the risk when you can have a slam dunk by publishing Barry Botter and the Wizardly Woozers and be pretty certain you're going to get some chunk of people who are starving for a Dumbledore ripoff?

And does this here bit (from ct #45) really seem "self-deprecating" to you?

I'm aware that it's terribly in vogue to be jaded and world-weary, but I just can't seem to let go of my idealism. If that makes me contemptuous of people, well, then, so be it.
#450 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 08:58 PM:

David @449 The delicious insight that is tor.com — "lets get writers to write about books" — could indeed be the kind of 'added value'. Think of the re-reading series, or Jo Walton's insightful essays.

if ePUB is 'books in HTML' then adding insightful blog-like commentary seems a natural fit

#451 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 11:25 PM:

Avram @451: I don't find Ben's opinions about the tendency of publishers to publish drek that mimic bestsellers the least bit rude, no. He was making an observation based on his own experiences. As a reader, I'm inclined to agree with him. He's not insulting anyone personally, nor attacking any individual in this thread. Unless you happen to be the person who published or wrote said drek? If so, I can see why you would find that impolite.

As for him saying that he's an idealist, I don't see that as bragging. I interpreted it as he prefers an optimistic approach to life, rather than a cynical one. Maybe self-deprecating doesn't apply, but neither does self-aggrandizing. It was merely a statement of his outlook on life.

That said, I find it amusing that you, of all the commenters, replied to my post. Reference to Dunning-Kruger aside, you were one of the more fair-minded people in the conversation, I thought.

#452 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 12:40 AM:

Angela,
I am absolutely fascinated, spellbound, to hear reaction from your comments.

#453 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 12:52 AM:

#453 Angela

I can't think of a polite way to put this (note, I am not known as someone suave, debonair, and politic. It's generally not personal*, so I hope you don't take this as a personal attack, it's not intended as one ** :

There are tonal issues:

#2 comment above, from Ben Trafford:

I think trying to reproduce the print model in ebooks is a losing strategy that ultimately screws everybody in the process except for the megacorporations who essentially own the publishing industry right now.

screws everybody is not emotion-neutral/impartial language. It denotes if not actual malicious intent, malicious outcome.

megacorporations who essentially own the publishing industry right now.

is an unsupported, and prejudicial assertion.

Yes, there are multinational conglomerates out there in publishing. There are also cottage industry publishers, there are Baen DAW, and scads of independent publishers ranging on down to, again, cottage industry publishers.

In this brave new world, because we've largely offset the cost of printing, storing, shipping, returns etc., publishing houses are left shouldering editing and marketing costs, and price accordingly, giving a vastly higher percentage to the author.

What's wrong from my perspective with the above paragraph?
a) It ignores the role of economy of scale. POD is a lot more flexible for individual isolated low rate copies, and low rate reproduction. For something like a Stephen King or Robert Jordan or other big bestseller, economy of scale applies for production and distribution. POD is nowhere near producing the level of publication efficiency involve in a huge production run and mass distribution, and it will be a long time, if ever, that it can compete effectively as a mass production of books technology to "traditional" commercial publication production and distribution channels.

Furthermore, the prefactory idiom, "In this brave new world" sets up a hostile resonance deprecatig the existing models versus the idealized model, implicity mocking traditional publishing. This is animosity-promulgatig in tone.

Eventually, we start to see publishing houses as contractors who work for the authors, providing them with editing and marketing services, rather than the current model, where they view themselves as owning authors and their work.

The editorial we is a writing style I find pretentious and arrogant.... which is at least to me offputting an facilitating of animosity. It's also being used in present tense, which to me is another pretension. I don't agree with the thesis of the paragraph, which further alienates me. I don't see publisher house contractor for the future, and I especially do not concur with the opinion, stated as assertion, that publishers view themselves as owning authors and their work.

Authors sign contracts with publisher licesning the publishers to publish the author's work exclusive or non-exclusive in space and time per the contract provisions. The publisher does NOT see itself a "owning" authors. There may be proprietary feelings, but the writers are not slave labor... and compare to standard patent rights clauses in industry and commerce, authors have it good....

Publishers exist in the information distribution ecology to make content available to the public or to the audience served by the particular publisher. Some publisher are for-profit, others aren't, such as the Washington Times (a branch of the Unification Church...) and NESFA Press and such.

Publishers are gating entities, which have roles which include assessing merit for publication, and as above, shepherding content from author manuscript (or ideas, or content file) into packaged and in-delivery product, complete with product information, announcement of product availability, implementation of methods to deliver product to consumers, and supposedly some amount of promotion and publicity to provide announcement and support of announcement of the avilability and ordering for the product.

Merit for publication is not test with the same multiple answer questions scored to identical scoring keys by a single scoring agency... different publishers have different values and measures of merit for what they publish. The romance reader and publishers expect Happily Ever After endings generally for romance. SF/F publishers tend to be interested in worldbuilding. Mystery publisher want the dead body and solution to "who committed the murder?"

I, too, thanks to the wonder of the Internet can be a slush reader... publishers give me that factor that the work had to meet the requirements of the publisher to get distributed, thereby eliminating forests full of manuscripts regarded as commercially unviable, most of which I expect I would regard and aliterate and vile. I don't know this for sure, but slush I have been exposed to tends to have a terrible signal to noise ratio as far as my metric go.

#15

Have you noticed that no one's proposing to do that?

The tone to me reads as sarcastic.

How would this business plan that no one's proposing have that effect if it somehow got adopted anyway?

No one needs to propose it. It's the defacto model.

More sarcasm, to my perceptions, and unsupported assertion presented as if it were factual.

Just because I don't think you're right doesn't mean I'm either stupid or ill-informed.

And so it should be. I made several predictions a decade ago, and wonder of wonders, they've all come true. Every. Single. One.

This comes off as arrogance, without saving graces of a sense of humor/the absurd, or community leeway -- community leeway including "this person can be really annoying sometimes, but the person has also been a contributor of continuing worthwhile value and input, sufficient to offset and more than compensate for the annoyance factor."

There is a lot more of that--tone of apparent arrogance/condescension, and assertions presented as fact, without substantiation except a claim of being an Authority... I at least don't accept someone claim of Authority based on self-referential unsubstantiated claims which lack references....


#454 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 01:07 AM:

Angela

Read this; it's about Ben Trafford:

Two Thousand Miles to the Promised Land

A lot of people know Ben Trafford.

#455 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 01:12 AM:

Angela:

Many of the people involved in this blog, including at least three of the moderators, work in the area of making books exist that didn't before. Writing and publishing people.

So Ben walked into a room full of people currently worried about their jobs and their industry and cheerfully explained how most of them be out on the streets in the near future, but that's OK, because they don't do very good work anyway.

He did this on the basis of the publishing equivalent of cartoon physics, eliding some of the more difficult challenges that they've been dealing with for years. When challenged, he was unable to clearly differentiate his vaporware from practical suggestions.

And that comment about how he's idealistic rather than jaded and world-weary? That was a boast, and an excuse to hold anyone who disagrees with him in contempt. It's a way to sneer at people and feel good about yourself doing it at the same time.

#456 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 02:04 AM:

Lisa,

That's the second worst tale of Fear And Loathing In Silicon Valley I've ever heard. It well and truly beats the one I survived.

I won't mention the worst one I know about because I'm a little worried by the fact that Google doesn't seem to know a damned thing about it even a dozen years later. I'm really not sure I feel like being the first one to let Google find out about it.

#457 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 02:16 AM:

Lisa @ 456: Wow. Just . . . wow.

#458 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 04:51 AM:

Read this; it's about Ben Trafford:

That's our Ben?

Holy crap.

#460 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:25 AM:

Lisa@456 - Thanks, and holy carp.

abi@457 - Nice summary.

j h@458 - That there's worse is pretty scary.

#461 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:28 AM:

#456 Lisa

Oh, my!

Also,

http://www.cs.ucla.edu/~zaniolo/papers/datak1076.pdf

page 11, lines 385 - 402 -- Trafford "deported to Canada at the start of probation and barred from re-entering the US...."

And another account of Ben Trafford, scammer and shyster:
http://crism.maden.org/writing/exmu.html

And as for the spectrum of libel and defamation, some months back there was an article in the Boston Herald, in which a convicted felon sued over such. The judge in no uncertain terms threw the case out announcing that slander/libel was impossible against someone with the criminal's crime record, that the criminal himself had so damaged his reputation of his own crimes and actions, that it was impossible for other people to say or write anything which could worsen his reputation.

I think that that precedent applied to Mr Trafford. He's already banned from physically being in the USA apparently, unless that sentencing got revoked.

But I am impressed, a genuine scammer, fraudster, and shyster having have the temerity to pop up in Making Light, perhaps trying to sell us something or convince us to invest in him?! What combination of chutzpah and hubris and lack of proportion has he displayed, a convicted and punished felon, popping up in a forum full of people earning all or part of their livelihood writing stories and/or editing them and/or publishing them?!

Everything is grist for the writer's mill, and such a juicy tale of scam and deceipt and fraud and hubris and shysterism and temerity has Mr Trafford caused to be revealed to the forum participants! (And again, the legal precedent exists for "~this person's reputation is so besmirched by the person's actions, that libel and slander do not apply.~"

#462 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:47 AM:

David @454: Snicker. Yep, this quiet little lurker is going to get her butt handed to her. But she did ask for it.

Paula @455: I didn't find your comment the least bit offensive. Quite the contrary, I appreciate you taking the time to explain your point of view. You definitely had different reactions than I did when reading his comments.

Based on your examples and explanations, I can see why you thought he was being arrogant and offensive. I was not offended; I was curious.

As I said earlier, I don't necessarily agree with Ben's ideas. Honestly, I know very little about fiction publishing. I'm trying to learn more, which is why I read industry blogs. When I read Ben's comments, I was looking forward to replies from the publishing industry addressing his ideas. It may be obvious to you why they wouldn't work, but it wasn't to me.

I was taken aback at the strength of the negative emotional response he received in what I thought was a forum of professionals. I can understand explaining why his ideas would not work, but not why he should be verbally eviscerated.

Just a note: the first sarcastic comment from 15 was Teresa's, not Ben's.

Lisa @456: I saw that yesterday when I Googled him. If I were Ben, I would have changed my name to post. It doesn't reflect well on his arguments.

Abi @457. I have the highest regard for the people who makes books exist. I've been a fan for decades.

While I don't know, I suspect Ben came here for the same reason I do--he was hoping for input from industry professionals. I'm not convinced he was trying to push anyone's buttons.

I guess that's beside the point. He did push buttons. Most of the replies to his comments were full of fear, anger, defensiveness, and maybe even denial. The reactions to him did not reflect poorly on him, they reflected poorly on the people who replied.

#463 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:52 AM:

Wow. So he's a known scumbag (and will remain one until and unless he repays ALL the people he scammed, including the employees).

More relevantly, he's a known incompetent in this very field. "We'll do it on the Palm III in Java," when the engineers say that can't be done. Either he's got the force-magic delusion (common in corporate America: the idea that anything can be done if you motivate people enough), or he's just a lying sack of shit.

In any case, that old story shows that at the time he had no desire to find out how things really work before proposing how they should work instead, and no ability to listen to people who know more telling him where he's wrong.

His behavior here gives no evidence that either of these things has changed.

#464 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:58 AM:

Angela, I did not get the impression from Mr. Trafford's posts that he wanted to know more about how publishing worked. I got the impression he wanted us to believe he knew all about it and accept his declarations without question or argument.

Now, sometimes people do this because they are anxious about displaying lack of knowledge. Sometimes they do it because they are generally insecure, even when knowledgeable, and as a result overcompensate by taking on a bold front. Some people do it because they lack communication skills. Given what the link Lisa showed us had to say about his past, though, I'm inclined to believe that his behavior here was part and parcel of the techniques of a scammer--talk fast, make bold statements, and hope that no one will have the brass to call you on it before you've cashed the mark's checks--and I say that realizing that he may now be as honest and law-abiding as the nights are long in Chicoutimi in December. However, someone who's been given to overblown sales jobs (honest and otherwise) in the past is likely to find it hard to dial it back down--as my brother-in-law, an old sales rep, is wont to say, "You can tell the guys who know what they're selling and who they're selling it to from the guys who just want to sell stuff. Listen a little and they'll tell you a lot about themselves."

As for the response he generated? Patrick and Teresa have been in publishing a long time--since the mid 1980s. It's one of the first things they tell you about themselves on the first page of nielsenhayden.com. It's their livelihood, and they love it, and they have devoted a lot of time, here and elsewhere, to helping explain how it works. Currently, that business is under a lot of stress, from more than one cause and in more than one direction. (I have an acquaintance, who worked for a non-fiction house who was cut last year and unemployed in publishing for several months--and he wasn't the only person from his office to be cast out into the street. He considers himself blessed that he has a new job, in the same field, for a different house--and is not able to go to bed at night without wondering if it will happen to him again, any day now.) Showing up and announcing to someone that their business is dead, and supplies no real value anyway, so they should just hang it up and get out of the way of traffic isn't going to make the people you're saying that to very happy, whether or not it is true, and whether or not you know what you're talking about.

Also, as Teresa mentioned to abi far up the thread, she knows the type he represents--or one of them. As my brother-in-law also is wont to say "Many people can be bullshit artists. Some do it to get along with their in-laws; some guys do it to impress the girls. Some people do it for love of the art. Some people just can't help themselves--it's a habit they have, and they can't break themselves of it."

There's a reason con artists and scammers succeed, and it's not just because they prey on people who are greedy and so disposed to believe a lie. They also succeeed because there are a lot of nice people out there, who wouldn't try and scam someone themselves, and so can't imagine someone who would, and who don't know quite enough about the issue in question to know when the story is being stretched too thin. Without Lisa's link, I would have just dismissed him as a guy who talks a lot, but doesn't know that much--but I'm past 50, of a cranky disposition, and have been a Doubting Thomas all my life. People who talk fast while pushing hard, without stopping to think they might be talking to people who know at least as much as they do, or perhaps more than they do, are a particular peeve of mine, and he hit a lot of my buttons. To others, it might just seem that they are highly excited and enthusiastic about what they are doing--but he seemed to me to miss a lot of the warning signs he was being shown here, and the way he kept trying to recover when shown the hole he was standing in involved more digging, to my mind.

Someone who was really a big deal in successful electronic publishing work would have shown more awareness of issues like acquisitions, editing (line- and copy-), copyright, and so on, because regardless of the platforms and format, these are publishing issues that don't magically go away. Wynkyn de Worde, Aldus Manutius, as well as one B. Franklin and John Murray had to deal with them as well. There are a lot of people who have been convinced they could change publishing, whether through electronic books or some other magic bullet--but didn't grasp some of the fundamentals of publishing that have been with the business since all the booksellers in England worked off tables outside St. Paul's Cathedral, next to the people who would write your letter home for you while you waited. Patrick and Teresa have seen a lot of these people, whether we have or not.

I'm not surprised Teresa took a broom to this guy; what I know about publishing comes from reading Making Light, or from acquaintances who are writers or work in publishing, or from places like Absolute Write, but it's the stuff of many years of her working life and her husband's, and of many of their friends' and acquaintances' lives. Ben Trafford wasn't just stepping on a sore toe, he was adding to the pain by announcing, on the basis of not much knowledge (and he wasn't looking for enlightenment--he announced himself as an expert right up front) that what they have been doing for 25 years or so wasn't worth what they'd been paid to do it.

I imagine you'd get the same sort of response from a surgeon who'd been told all surgical procedures were just unnecessary butchery, a teacher who'd been told all modern efforts at education were crap, or a civil engineer who'd been told anyone could build a highway bridge, since after all the Romans did it and what did they really know anyway.

#465 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:59 AM:

Lisa @456: Wow.

Angela @464:
The reactions to him did not reflect poorly on him, they reflected poorly on the people who replied.

I have no firsthand knowledge of the publishing industry; what little I know I gleaned from places like this. But his first comment already had me thinking "wait, whuuut? And how does he think this ideal world will become a reality, by magic?" He already pushed my buttons as a casual reader; I certainly think he deserved getting his ass handed back to him.

To go back to the topic of the OP: I believe that's how it works in France; in any case, books are priced the same everywhere, and neither the industry nor readers seem to suffer for it. Does France have a larger proportion of readers, and does this account for the non-rebellion against "price fixing"? (Those fixed prices start pretty low, by the way, at around $3 for very slim MMPBs.)

Also, how important are international sales to US publishers? Ebook device penetration is going to be pretty low in the rest of the world for a long time to come, so print will still be the default format.

#466 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 12:04 PM:

No Angela, I mean no snicker at all and I had been waiting for the chorus. In fact you are a big fan of mine and I share your bold sentiments. But I guess it is a lesson to me (again} to try to be careful of online discussion.

So.

I have been torn: does the value of these very smart and knowledgeable and passionate people outweigh...a certain tone? Maybe you are wondering too, but I am tending to find an answer and it's sad.

Specifically, Ben's history -- if true -- is irrelevant to discussion of agency model, publishing etc etc. Period.

The root of the problem on this blog (re Ben's comment) is fear of the future of publishing. Understandable. But ignoring structural changes cannot solve the problem. As I have written several times, publishing will change enormously and some whole sectors -- physical manufacture such as printing, shipping, etc -- will be devastated. But the editorial and marketing function will survive well -- fact "brand name" publishers may be enhanced because the flood of self-published work will require that gate-keeping function. However it too will require change and it seems that only to a degree is an "ebook is a book." How much? Who knows yet but I think something more than less. Are there business models which will evolve and suggest themselves? Probably so. But I wouldn't be so quick that the past is the best.

Anyway, thanks again Angela and Ben and pretty-much everyone for helping to get me thinking about what is a compelling epochal event -- as I ask "Jobs = Gutenberg?"

#467 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Angela @ 464
I get the impression that you'd rather believe Ben Trafford than people who actually work in publishing and have years of experience (and some rocket ships on their mantels).
Why?

(Also note that that wasn't nearly the worst we could have done: we didn't immediately go for troll bingo or turn him into a pinata; we were trying to get some idea of why he claimed that Physical Books Are Bad and E-Books Are Wonderful and so on through his list of sparkly ponies. And that he avoided answering except with more sparkly ponies.)

#468 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 12:18 PM:

Angela, #464: At this point, your reaction is reflecting poorly on you. I'm not even in the publishing industry, and I could tell that Ben was full of shit. What does it say about him, that I know more about publishing than he does, and he's supposedly been "in the field" for 20-odd years?

#469 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 01:02 PM:

#469 P J

Indeed, the traditional responses to trolls here include dogpiles of verse, sarcastic comment, and other creative endeavors, and no verse has appeared yet.

#468 David

Jobs likened to Gutenberg. NFW.... He's KILLED ideas and diversity, not facilitated them....

I consider Mr Jobs the worst thing to have ever hit anything relating to computers and computer usage and employment. Yes, I consider him worse that voicemail hell, worse than interactive voice systems (and I hate the implementation of 95% of those, and I hope that the recorded lines of them get the full impact of every single infuriated word I've ever uttered on such things...) worse than robocalls, worse than Blue Screens of Death (I never mistook the off button for a disc or disk ejection button on any computer except a Macintosh, and never had to use the "programmer's switch" special piece of plastic to reboot a non-Macintosh due to failure to boot up after a system crash), worse than using Script on an IBM mainframe to write with, worse than having five minutes to in real time use a keypunch to punch computer cards to direct the ancient computer and the radars at Thule to be able to correctly identify the radar returns of a particular "target" with the identification designation of a particular low earth orbit object in its terminal hour or two of orbit, worse even than having to toggle program instruction and data into a computer using front panel toggle switches!!!!

Mr Job promulgated paradigms that my visceral reactions to include yelling, screeching imprecations upon him and his ancestry and yelling for retroactive failings of engendering, not-quite-beating-equipment-into-broken-pieces, howling, "What the fuck is THAT supposed to mean/do?" and corresponding sentiments about the mindsets and sanity of those responsible for the things I was making the imprecations at... and worse still, the paradigms inflicted on the universe by Mr Job, drove OUT the interfaces and concepts that made sense to me and which I LIKED!

I liked the Xerox interface components which acted as an interactive user-definable-links-and-nodes-and-components-and-expandable/contractable folding map, with text, structured graphics, and bitmap graphics. The graphics were dynamic in the sense that one could SEE what they were linke to and linked from, and could see diagrammatically where things, again, were linked could group links, show subsets of linkages....

Jobs EXTERMINATED that stuff, instead there are all those fucking icon which don't tell me a damn thing about how long whatever the fuck the icon links to has been around, how large whatever the fuck the icon links to is, what sort of thing the linked to item is--is it executable? Is it an image? Does it have Digital Rights Management? Is it someone's stupid chain letter joke? Is it an invitation to a party? Is it an obituary? I'm one of the people who gets irritated at being told "you gotta see this!" without being given reasons which would provide a basis for me to decide whether it is worthwhile to -me- to comply with the exhortion.... Jobs' hypocritical interfaces block me from getting at such information and promote the idea that users get blocked from getting any information at any time except what is in front of them at that instant...

That's not how I think, having what is a close relative of a galloping case of ADHD I NEED that damned four dimensional at least event chain of where I was, where I can go to (time is a dimension there), and on what spatial axes, to keep me with any chance of staying focused and not meandering permanently off what I was intending to do. I want to explore -around- things and keep a semi-visual reminder of "that path is not one I should be using for (conditions)," "this path will get me there fastest but has some disadvantages," "this other path would result in disaster..." etc.

Jobs interfaces completely preclude such stuff for me, or are so counter-intuitive and annoying to me that they're effectively precluding to me... and they got COPIED by the rest of the market because the jackass journalists promoted them so much--in some cases because the journalists were dazzled by Jobs, in some cases because Apple was generous to them, and in some cases because Apple's ways really do work well for them--there ARE people for whom Jobsian interfaces are intuitive and make organic sense.... obviously I am NOT one of them, however! And in some cases, the journalists lacked imagination to be able to conceive of interfaces other than what Apple was showing them, or of utility of other interfaces...

And then there are Apple's bullying ways, of market attempted domination by lawsuit, by licensing and then yanking the licensing, and of encouraging people to develop products for hardware and software Apple discontinues and stops development on less than a year later.... trying to stay afloat as a business when Apple sues you for alleged copyright or patent infringement, you MIGHT win the lawsuit, but if you are a small company you'll probably go out of business trying to pay the costs of legal representation and spending time on legal defense instead of in product development and production--particularly if Apple is bullying the sales channels and persuades them to not carry your product or mention it...

#470 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 01:14 PM:

Angela@464: I found the dogpile distasteful, and the tone of many of the comments bothersome. But Ben was by no means without guilt; his tone and some of his content was a problem as well. (I probably am more sensitive to tone with people I know write well, and am willing to give some benefit of the doubt to people who may be sounding bad through clumsiness for all I know.)

(Lots but not all of what I know about publishing comes from people here. My wife and lots of our friends are writers, editors, etc. I've talked to lots of actual editors and copy-editors and agents and authors about the industry, and read a lot.)

#471 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 01:52 PM:

#468 @David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 12:04 PM:

Specifically, Ben's history -- if true -- is irrelevant to discussion of agency model, publishing etc etc. Period.

I disagree. First of all, Ben's history is the history of someone who has gotten by on vaporware, and being able to convince people that he knows everything and has "the answer." The problem with his appearance on ML is that he didn't know enough to know his audience. Ben is a standards guy. He does not and has not been in a position to work with commercial ebooks bought by end-users, aka readers. He doesn't know anything about commercial publishing. Ben knows how to create part of the container. I think he expected outcries of determined book-as-talisman devotion to the printed codex book. I don't think he was prepared for a wide range of publishing expertise, including people editors, typesetters, book designers, binders, type designers, book sellers, and authors. They all know a great deal more about conventional print publishing than Ben; his first post was, frankly, filled with the stupid, as well as the arrogant.

In addition, this thread is filled with people a deep background in epublishing, in the form of the Web, as well as people with expertise in ebooks and software development. I don't think Ben Trafford expected that. I said I remembered him; I do. He isn't clued in enough about ebook publishing or software to recognize names like Kevin Marks, or Chris Matthews, or Charlie Stross (you may know him as an SF author, I first knew him as a Perl fiend) -- and a lot of other people that may not want their fame trumpeted, so I won't. These are people Trafford should have recognized at least enough to check them out. He didn't know his audience. He wasn't equipped for one that realized from his first post that he was clueless, and arrogant, and had an agenda that was all about him.

There's something good writers and good con artists share; a sense of audience. Ben doesn't have it.

#472 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 02:00 PM:

#450 Angela

After the revelations of Ben Trafford's past track record and including his level of honesty and truthfulness in business dealing, his criminal record for fraud and deceit and deceitful business practices, his swindling of employees and investors and handing out bad checks, I can't regard his comments here as either benignly or well-meaningly fomented.

His failure to provide references, as opposed to a bombastic, self-promoting assertion of Authority and Cognizance style, forms one of a number of warning indicators setting off people's bullshit and hype and malware-type-posting detectors--and the suspicions proved to be accurate, that Mr Trafford and his endeavors are suspect. Note that the endeavors he's worked in are not necessarily meritless, however, Mr Trafford as a convicted felon who has engaged in fraud trafficking, has the sort of track record and reputation which make any business endeavor he is a significant participant in, suspect due to his very presence and participation in it.

That is, seeing "Ben Trafford" on an organizatinal chart, is to software and content business, as seeing particular names are to orgnizations engaged in politicking--however worthy the public description might be, the fact that certain people are involved, is debasing and credibtility-detracting and severely compromised.

That Mr Trafford failed to provide references except once, further erodes the credibility of anything he posts/posted--he is quite bluntly a convicted liar and a person proven to engage in business in bad faith, to the major detriment and losses and misery of other people.

I think the community standard here about that is on the side of put into simple terms, liar liar pants on fire toxicity.

He's a proven guilty felon of fraud and misrepresentation, and engaged here also in what looks to me like misrepresentation. That makes him more than fair game for dogpiling. Before there was suspicion, with the citation of his criminal behavior and apparent lack of remorse and contrition and humility etc., there is proof of at least past malignance.

Yes, there are different APPARENT standards in effect--Mr Trafford has failed to provide "value" here from past contributions which might offset some of the detractions adhering to someone convicted in open court of malicious, deceitful, malignant criminal behavior and activities. He failed to provide references and credentials supporting his contention of cognizance and informed worthwhile opinion, and presented opinion as if it were fact. His posting were in an arrogant tone--and continued to be so.

And someone came up with damning evidence about him, and I found more of the same doing a small amount of goggling after reading that first damning account mentioned.

Mr Trafford muddied the discussion.. perhaps and possibly had he brought up points without promoting himself as Authority, and done so in softer, less adversarial and negative-reaction-provoking tone and manner his views could have been discussed in a more dispassionate fashion... but Mr Trafford turns out to be a discredited and untrustworthy and suspect channel of information, with, again, a proven in court penchant for lying and spreading misinformation. So, instead of productively furthering the conversation, he torpedoed discussion....

#473 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 02:19 PM:

Angela at #464: Please consider the possibility that you are misreading the tone and content of Mr. Trafford's comments.

#474 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 02:50 PM:

Arthur D. @462: "That there's worse is pretty scary."

Mr. Hansen should probably be thankful he didn't acquire any unfortunate substance dependencies or spend any time under involuntary psychiatric observation.

#475 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 03:30 PM:

from yesterday's New York Times E-Book Price Increase May Stir Readers’ Passions

it's a pretty good summation of all the arguments, I thought.

#476 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 04:13 PM:

An important point just surfaced on the topic of ebooks on the iPad: iBook isn't bundled with the iPad -- it's a separate (free) download from the app store.

This is significant because:

1. It means Apple can update iBooks without having to issue a whole new OS upgrade (see also: fixing holes in the DRM)

2. It means Apple can withhold iBooks from territories where they don't have a sewn-up licensing deal with the publishers, and release it when they get such a deal. (Amazon did exactly this with the Kindle app for iPhone -- it wasn't released in the UK until six months after the US launch.)

3. It pre-empts anti-trust investigations over bundling an ebook reader app with their platform (Amazon could have pointed the FTC at Apple if they did the bundling thing, pointing to the Microsoft Windows/Internet Explorer bundling case as precedent for a full-on anti-trust investigation).

By implication, I conclude that Apple will almost certainly not ban competing ebook apps from the store, because they're not "duplicating core functionality" (their excuse for keeping non-WebKit based web browsers out of the store -- the real reason: a compliant web browser has to have a JavaScript interpreter, and Apple hate the idea of unauthorized interpreted code running on that platform). Instead they'll use their first-mover advantage in owning the somewhat-disorganized app store to make iBooks the #1 download. Anyone who really wants Kindle-on-iphone will be able to get it ... but that'll be enough to ensure it's a minority pursuit.

#477 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 04:13 PM:

David Sucher @468: Oh, no, I didn't mean you were snickering at me. I was snickering at myself, for being so patently stupid as to post here and expose myself to what was coming.

You expressed my concerns precisely when you said "does the value of these very smart and knowledgeable and passionate people outweigh...a certain tone?" Thank you for clarifying and, in doing so, stepping into the line of fire.

Lee @470: Just to rephrase and make sure I'm understanding your meaning--My naivety and tendency to believe what people say (i.e. my "reaction") reflects poorly on me. You, on the other hand, do not suffer from such debilitating fatuity and clearly saw each flaw in his argument, without needing a professional in the industry to address them. That about right?

Comments like yours are precisely why I posted in the first place.

David Dyer-Bennet @472: I completely agree. I had not realized what an emotionally charged issue this was for publishing professionals. It's likely that what I interpreted as poor communication skills on Ben's part may have been attacks, and I didn't see it.

Harry @475: Absolutely! I acknowledge that I could have (almost certainly did) miss a lot of the subtext when I first read his posts.

Everyone:
Perhaps I've been unclear. I am not trying to defend what Ben said (I don't know enough about the publishing industry for that). I would not "rather believe Ben Trafford" (nod to PJ @469). I'm certainly not trying to put down any professionals' knowledge and abilities here.

What I'm saying is that, as an uneducated outsider, I came here to learn something. I was disturbed at how another uneducated outsider was treated. According to PJ, the response to him was even considered "nice" in this venue. Because of this, I would hesitate ever to post an opinion or question on this site.

I concede that what he said was perceived as rude and offensive by many people here. And yes, he has a record. Does that excuse poor behavior on the part of the insiders? I do know that when an author receives negative criticism on a book, that author is expected to suck it up. Going to Amazon to flame back at negative commentary is the height of bad form. What makes publishers any different? If someone insults them, how is it professional to insult that person back?

I think that's probably about enough from a nobody like me. Thanks for listening and responding.

#478 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Angela @479: Going to Amazon to flame back at negative commentary is the height of bad form. What makes publishers any different? If someone insults them, how is it professional to insult that person back?

The key difference as I see it is that this is not a commercial site like Amazon, nor is it a public forum; it is, after all, Patrick and Teresa's site. It's the difference between responding to someone spewing insults in the street, and responding to someone who comes uninvited into a party that you're hosting and spewing the same insults. Nobody would think the hosts were out of line for responding, or indeed for showing the offender the door.

As a mostly-lurker I disagree with your reading of the tone of Ben vs. the other participants, but that's subjective and not really worth getting into. The difference between Making Light and a review page on Amazon, however, really is fairly clear-cut.

#479 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 04:51 PM:

Angela:

Speaking entirely personally, I tried to engage Ben in a constructive, polite manner. He had me tearing my hair out in very short order. Let me try to explain why.

In a conversation where people learn things, the profile of assertions changes over time. It starts out like a bell curve, with some truisms (indisputable facts), many plausible items, and a few really far-out ones. Proportions vary by subject matter expertise, personality (some people venture more guesses than others), and any number of other factors. As the discussion progresses, these assertions tend to firm up or be discarded, even if the parties do not agree. The fact of testing, and faithful disputants' own honesty, refine ideas. New notions do turn up, but they generally fit the profile of the existing, refined ones.

That's not what happened with Ben. Every time one batty notion would go by the wayside, he'd come up with another in its place. And he was either not reading my comments, or willfully misunderstanding them. Making contempt of others into a virtue of his character rather than an interpersonal vice was not the last straw so much as a symptom of an irresolvable problem in his interactions with others.

Someone who comes and asks questions to learn, not to prove everyone already in the discussion wrong, would get a different reaction.

On the other hand, you do seem desperate for martyrdom at the hands of the Mean Old Publishing people, so there's very little point my trying to further explain what his conduct in this thread says about Ben, and why I found the story that Lisa linked to so unsurprising after this, my first encounter with him.

#480 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 04:58 PM:

Angela, he didn't come here to learn something. He came here to blow his horn. That's how he sounded to me; that's how he sounded to a lot of other people. I think if he had wanted to learn more about the nature of book publishing generally, he'd have phrased a lot of things as questions, rather than as the strong declarations he made. Bear in mind that he declared, early on, his association with an electronic publishing company, the sort of thing, that, according to him, was going to replace the old-school crowd like Macmillan and Harper-Collins and Hachette. In other words, he has an axe to grind--and it's not the "I like e-texts better than paper books for these reasons relating to my lifestyle and circumstances", or "As an e-book user, I feel I should only pay X unless I can get things DRM free, so that I can change where I keep a text based on my personal needs/changes in technology, in which case Y price would be reasonable", axes other people here have displayed. Ben's axe is about him, his wonderful company, and how much better he is than the people involved with old-school publishing.

I will repeat a point from my long comment above--if you are a major player in a company that's really going to do some things in the e-book field, you should already know how many similar problems you have to the people at places like Macmillan, Harper-Collins, and Hachette. He didn't claim to be just a guy who loves his Kindle, his Nook, his Sony-whatever series--he claimed to be, as they say these days, a Playa: "My credentials: I'm one of the technical brains behind EPUB.". (Here, by the way, are his View All By. These don't read, at least to me, like someone who's trying to proclaim themselves an interested N00b who wants to understand better what's at stake.)

So, as lorax says, he comes into someone's internet house, and runs down what the hosts have done for many years of their working lives, while displaying significant ignorance of what's actually involved. Maybe Teresa was testier than she might have been, if he hadn't been so ready to adapt the Mr. E-Book Know-it-all mantle, or than others would have been. However, it's her house, and it's also the family business.

I will also add that when you've listened to as many life insurance salespeople, real estate shills*, investment advice pitches, and car salespeople as I have, your ear gets to be tuned to someone who really wants to sell you something, whether it's what you want or need to buy or not. It's unfortunate that BT's history makes that association unsettling as well as annoying.


*You know, the people who don't just want to sell you your new home--they want to sell you the investment opportunity of a lifetime! My apologies to people who just sell, you know, houses and stuff. You know which of your colleagues I am talking about.

#481 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 05:05 PM:

On the subject of Ben Trafford -- I am one of the authors he claims will benefit from the brave new world he's selling. I've been benefiting from being epublished for some time now, and my first few books helped to create a romance sub-genre that's doing very nicely in the ebook world. The better ebooks do as a publishing medium, the happier I will be. And my reaction to Trafford's initial post was that he was arrogant and rude, had absolutely no interest in hearing anyone else's opinion, and was a fine example of "to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

My reaction to his later posts, *before* I hit the reminder of his past history, was that he had all the hallmarks of the assorted con artists in the publishing industry. The ones who explain to would-be authors that new and unknown authors can't get published because the publishing industry is broken or dependent on who you already know, but they have a new paradigm of publishing that will sweep away the knaves and fools in the big publishers, and all they need is a little of the author's money...

Sometimes such people genuinely believe what they're saying. Sometimes they don't. Occasionally they're glory hounds rather than purse-snatchers. Regardless, authors who get involved with them are going to be drinking snake oil.

Obviously I think that ebooks are A Good Idea, and part of the future of publishing. I'm one of the authors who has benefited from epublishing. I'm also an author who has benefited to the tune of several thousand dollars a year from being published by a good small press rather than being self-published, to judge from the number of paid copies of my last two novels sold through my publisher, and the number of downloads from my website of the two free short stories in that series. And as noted above, while I may dislike the distributor getting more money on some of those paid copies than either I or my publisher do, I'd rather have less money than no money for those sales.

In short, I am sadly behind on my contributions to the EREC group blog, and Ben Trafford will make a nice example for a "recognising a snake oil sales pitch" post.

#482 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 05:49 PM:

I wasn't planning to post again, but I hate to leave misconceptions behind. Here's one--

lorax @480 and fidelio @482: I'm trying to think of a way to put this that won't come across as snide. I honestly don't know if I'm understanding you. You say this is not a public forum. From my perspective, it's a forum (a place for people to talk), and it's public (available to anyone on the Internet).

I'll go with the house analogy. You own a house. You decide to hold an open house for the public at large. Someone comes in and starts telling everyone what terrible taste you have in designing your home, choosing your art, what have you. You can attack them and start shouting back--that generally doesn't solve anything and only escalates matters. You can ignore them and hope they go away--that sometimes works, if they just want the attention. Or you can escort them out, because it is, after all, still your house.

If you don't want people coming to your "house" on the Internet and posting rude things, you make the site private, and you only invite those people who are welcome. You escort unwelcome people out (delete their comments, ban their IPs). Or you disable the commenting feature. Lock the door.

And another--
abi @481:
On the other hand, you do seem desperate for martyrdom at the hands of the Mean Old Publishing people, so there's very little point my trying to further explain what his conduct in this thread says about Ben, and why I found the story that Lisa linked to so unsurprising after this, my first encounter with him.

I don't want to offend you, but I don't consider you and this blog the epitome of "publishing people." You are some publishing people, from what I can tell. But I know (as in, I've talked on the Internet with) a lot of other publishing people and read a lot of other publishing sites. I've never asked for martyrdom on any of their sites, so I'm going to have to say I'm not too desperate for it.

What in my posts makes you think there is no point in explaining things to me? I've admitted that much of what Ben said could have been interpreted negatively by someone in the industry, whereas someone like me who is not so close to the issues did not immediately take offense.

Thanks for the condescension and dismissive tone, although you really didn't need to illustrate my point further.

#483 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 05:54 PM:

Charlie @478
I saw that (via TeleRead) this morning, and got as far as your point 2 myself. I agree with your read of the implications.

Apple could rollout to different countries with a small number of publishers, but I think it likely they will want a reasonable selection before pushing the button. Another consideration is timing of iPod availability in different countries.

BTW, the eReader iPhone App is available in NZ, but since Aug09 you have needed a US credit card to buy _any_ book from their store (according to the reveiws on the NZ App Store). Kindle store appears to sell in NZ successfully, with lower availability and higher prices.

#484 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Angela, your last comment reads way too much like you'd rather believe the snake-oil salesman than people who are wanting you about him. Maybe you really think that there's no future for printed books, and that e-books are the One True Solution, but you might want to wait a couple of years before you follow Ben down that yellow brick road.

As for the rest of that last comment .... So. Not. Going. There.

#485 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 06:18 PM:

Darn it. Ben Trafford was so well-spoken* that I didn't even think he was a troll. I'm going to have to recalibrate my troll meter.

*"well-spoken" in the sense of staying calm and not lapsing into insults or profanity. I know nothing about the ideas he discussed.

#486 ::: catsby ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 06:49 PM:

Ben Trafford@169
I'll go back to lurking now.
Angela@450
I know I'm late to the party, but I wanted to give a chronic lurker's point of view.

Ben Trafford@2
I look forward to being torn to bits by the crowd.
Angela@450
Yep, this quiet little lurker is going to get her butt handed to her. But she did ask for it.

Ben Trafford@169
Your responses appear to consist of baseless accusation and condescension, so...yeah. I'm done.
Angela@484
Thanks for the condescension and dismissive tone, although you really didn't need to illustrate my point further.

Am I the only person here wondering if Angela can still speak while Ben Trafford takes a drink of water? It is a tried-and-true scam artist ploy to put on a new identity and 'join the crowd'.

#487 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 07:05 PM:

catsby, I think our moderators would have noticed if Angela were a sock puppet for Trafford, and likely would have checked after the link to the fact that Trafford is a known scam artist was posted.

#488 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 07:17 PM:

catsby @488: Cute. Sorry to poke a hole in your theory--you obviously spent a lot of time comparing comments and all--but Xopher's right, my name is really Angela. Here's my LinkedIn account (that's like an Internet driver's license, right?)

Nice job catching the similarities! They were certainly unintended.

#489 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 07:26 PM:

One sentence in one comment, Angela @453, last night at 11:25 p.m.:

Avram @451: I don't find Ben's opinions about the tendency of publishers to publish drek that mimic bestsellers the least bit rude.
Why try to argue persuasively with her after that? Indeed, why continue reading her at all? Remember, this is a commenter who popped up to protest the imperfectly courteous treatment of Ben Trafford.

Also, do I really need to point out that:

1. Angela started commenting not long after Ben Trafford stopped.

2. She made her entrance singing that old familiar song, "I have no connection with the person you've been criticizing, I just want to see justice done."

3. As of the moment she started posting, Angela was already up to speed on an argument scattered throughout the length and breadth of a thread more than 400 comments long, even though she has since displayed fairly weak reading comprehension and analysis skills.

That's an odd combination. I've seen participants with weak reading skills closely follow an argument they were actively involved in. I've occasionally seen readers with strong reading skills and a high level of interest follow a thread in detail even though they weren't posting to it. But weak reading and analysis, plus no personal interest at stake, plus no previous participation, plus close tracking? That's ... er ... rare.

4. Also, since we're on the subject: for all her supposed close attention to the argument, Angela hasn't displayed any understanding of any subject that Ben Trafford doesn't understand.

5. Angela has been making exactly the arguments Ben Trafford would have wanted made.

6. She gives no evidence of having other interests in life.

7. She has the same bad habits of refusing to engage with the nitty-gritty content of the discussion, shifting the grounds of her arguments, and ignoring long substantive responses to her earlier statements that Ben Trafford has.

8. No way does Angela write comments in the style of a newbie who's just now delurking.

Come on, guys. Jeez.

#490 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 07:39 PM:

Xopher @489 I think our moderators noticed.

Teresa left out "teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs" similarity wrt how to run publishing (Ben) vs. how to run websites (Angela).

#491 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 07:54 PM:

Catsby, sorry I didn't see your comment before I posted mine.

Xopher, these days it's relatively easy to run multiple IP addresses. What's hard is constructing a consistent and believable character.

#492 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 07:55 PM:

I'd post a response, but I think I'm being blocked now. I know the moderators will see this, though, so here goes anyway.

If you could block people before, why didn't you block Ben, since he was so offensive to your sensibilities? Because I think you enjoy the fight. You enjoy putting people down, being better than them, and laughing amongst yourselves in your precious little group. This does not apply to everyone on this site (some seem very nice), just the core people.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I have something to tell you personally. You are the moderator here, so I know you'll see it.

Wow, how low can you get? You saw my proof that I wasn't Ben in the modding queue. You ignored it, refused to post it, then turned around and posted something to insult and discredit me.

Way to show your own special brand of professionalism there, Teresa.

#493 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 07:57 PM:

Hm. Made it through. I guess now everyone know.

#494 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 08:11 PM:

Angela, it's just plain remarkable how little you sound like a newbie commenter. Next time you try this, I recommend "hurt disbelief" instead of spitting venom. It fits the character better.

And yes, I saw your supposed proof of independent existence. I'm sorry to have to break this to you, but having a LinkedIn account is not "like an Internet driver's license."

#495 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 08:30 PM:

Since I'm allowed to post again, I'll take this chance to reply to Teresa:

Why try to argue persuasively with her after that? Indeed, why continue reading her at all? Remember, this is a commenter who popped up to protest the imperfectly courteous treatment of Ben Trafford.

What, because I don't think every book published is wonderful? Are you trying to say that because I've seen bad books published that mimic bestsellers, that no one should listen to me?

You don't even have to go far in your own experience to know it is true. Look at Dragonlance (Tor). I read dozens as a kid, and even then I could tell most were poor knockoffs of Weiss's and Hickman's original series. The characterization was weak, the dialogue stilted, and I won't even go into the plots. If Tor had really cared about the quality of the books, they would have found real authors to write the series. In my humble opinion, of course.

It doesn't matter that it was Ben Trafford. It could have been Stephen King or John Doe that you were treating poorly. It's unprofessional.

1. Angela started commenting not long after Ben Trafford stopped.

So that's proof positive? Funny, I don't think that would hold up in court.

2. She made her entrance singing that old familiar song, "I have no connection with the person you've been criticizing, I just want to see justice done."

Is that familiar to you? You hear it a lot then?

3. As of the moment she started posting, Angela was already up to speed on an argument scattered throughout the length and breadth of a thread more than 400 comments long, even though she has since displayed fairly weak reading comprehension and analysis skills....[yadda, yadda]

I'm a good comprehensive reader of technical matter. If you bothered to check the LinkedIn profile I sent you (to prove I'm really me), you'd see that I've been a technical writer for 11 years now.

As for the fairly weak comprehension and analysis skills afterward, that's just a sad accusation. I purposely did not address all the arguments against Ben's ideas because a) I'm not Ben, and b) I repeatedly said I wasn't trying to defend his position. Still not. I was trying to point out that being rude to commenter is unprofessional, regardless of what that commenter said.

4. Also, since we're on the subject: for all her supposed close attention to the argument, Angela hasn't displayed any understanding of any subject that Ben Trafford doesn't understand.)

What part of, "I'm not a professional in the fiction publishing industry" did you not understand? All my previous fiction experience has been about writing, not publishing. I'm nearly finished with a novel. I thought I'd better do my homework. I came here. That's where I went wrong.

5. Angela has been making exactly the arguments Ben Trafford would have wanted made.

Okay. You know that how? That's kind of creepy, really.

6. She gives no evidence of having other interests in life.

Which I should have done in the two days I've wasted posting here, obviously. Let me rectify that: I have a dog (Boxer) and a 10-year-old son. I love archaeology, especially about ancient Egypt. I have a telescope that I use for stargazing. I design websites and 3D graphics for fun, although I suck at it. I can program HTML in Notepad. My favorite genre is fantasy. The last book I read was "Hunger Games." Shall I go on, or is that good enough for you?

7. She has the same bad habits of refusing to engage with the nitty-gritty content of the discussion, shifting the grounds of her arguments, and ignoring long substantive responses to her earlier statements that Ben Trafford has.

I was trying to be polite and not engage. Am I doing better with that "nitty-gritty" that is so important to you? I never shifted the grounds of my argument. It has always been (you can check!) that you are RUDE to outsiders on your blog. For further proof, see this discussion. I did not want to comment on what Ben said, because (as I stated before, multiple times) I don't feel qualified to do so. Is that okay with you? Who is it that needs to work on reading comprehension?

8. No way does Angela write comments in the style of a newbie who's just now delurking.

Thanks. Especially considering your earlier disdain for my comments. That makes perfect sense.

#496 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 08:37 PM:

Angela, it's just plain remarkable how little you sound like a newbie commenter. Next time you try this, I recommend "hurt disbelief" instead of spitting venom. It fits the character better.

Funny thing. I'm a computer professional. I know about moderating and comments. I do not comment on blogs very often, though. I prefer reading the content. See current discussion for why.

And yes, I saw your supposed proof of independent existence. I'm sorry to have to break this to you, but having a LinkedIn account is not "like an Internet driver's license."

So what would you consider proof? You think I'm Ben, and that I created a several-year-old LinkedIn account for just this very possibility? Um, check the IP address (yes, I know about those, too). His and mine are not the same.

#497 ::: Tatterbots ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 08:47 PM:

1. Angela started commenting not long after Ben Trafford stopped.

Four days. That's an unusually long time for a sock puppet.

#498 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 08:53 PM:

Xopher, these days it's relatively easy to run multiple IP addresses.

Oops, missed this one. I guess IP addresses won't work for you either.

Let me suggest this: I don't think Ben Trafford published any comments at all. I think it was you, Teresa. You made the whole thing up. Now prove me wrong. You can't use IP or established Internet identities, because you could be faking them.

Now...go!

#499 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:14 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden #492: What's hard is constructing a consistent and believable character.

The record for that, as far as I know, from the days of the Austin BBS scene was 85 online identities. The person who achieved this could start and meticulously construct his own completely consistent BBS flame wars with relative ease.

Oh, and here are a few more mac/zon links.

#500 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:22 PM:

Angela makes me think of some advice in one of Poul Anderson's novels (don't remember which one, except that it was one with Flandry):
Never draw to an inside straight and
Never bet on a sure thing when the person you're playing with knows enough not to

She seems to have already drawn to the inside straight.

#501 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:32 PM:

I think Angela may be under the impression that Making Light is a professional function of Teresa's and/or Patrick's.

Angela, this is their personal blog. The discussions here are not professional, they're personal. So "unprofessional" is a bit off the mark.

And in my opinion, no amount of rudeness directed at Ben Trafford is out of line. He's a charlatan and a scam artist with a proven record of incompetence in the very field we're discussing (well, in the field of ebooks). I'm offended by the fact that he dared to show his face here.

#502 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:43 PM:

Angela @ 496: Look at Dragonlance (Tor). ... If Tor had really cared about the quality of the books, they would have found real authors to write the series.
Dragonlance novels are published by Wizards of the Coast and have been since that company bought out TSR, who published them previously. Tor, to the best of my knowledge, never had anything to do with them.

#503 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:43 PM:

Angela, Mr Trafford is a convicted felon in securities fraud. I would be very much surprised if he didn't have a dozen or more net personas established and nurtured over the last ten years.

Be that as it may, it doesn't matter if you are one of them or your own unique self. You've not sufficiently distinguished your voice in this thread from that of Mr Trafford; that is, you are not uniquely unpleasant, but only commonly so.

If your only point has been, as you say in 496, to complain that Mr Trafford was treated badly, consider that, at a count of twenty separate comments, you've made it. Feel free to make a different one now.

Also? Anyone who can get snippy with abi does like the martyrcakes.

#504 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:47 PM:

Anyone who can get snippy with abi does like the martyrcakes.

F! T! W!

#505 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:49 PM:

Where's the popcorn? (sitting back and reminding self that more limited net time means I need to come here first...real job, yay. bah. whatever.)

#506 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 09:59 PM:

Paul Duncanson @ 503 -- TOR, TSR, whatever. Why do you people always get hung up on trivial details instead of paying attention to the grand principles?

#507 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:16 PM:

PJ @501: Never draw to an inside straight
You are absolutely right, PJ. I think that's exactly what I was doing.

And for the record, you can address me directly. I don't bite. Much.

Xopher @502: Yes, I was under that misapprehension. An agent referred me to this site when I asked for a place to read about insider publishing information. The three articles I read were about publishing. I assumed, and you know what they say about that.

You are of course entitled to your opinion about rudeness. You already know my opinion on the subject.

Paul @503: Oops! See what happens when I type faster than my brain. I meant TSR, of course. My mistake.

pericat @504: I'm sorry I'm not unique enough for you. Well, not really. If you honestly believe Ben Trafford would spend years creating alternate identities, then post under his own name (when a quick Google could tell readers his background), then go right ahead and think that.

I'm glad someone got the point I was making finally. I wouldn't have had to repeat myself so often if people hadn't insisted that I was trying to defend Ben (or was Ben).

As for abi? I'd say I got snippy with her because I have cajones, but then you'd take me literally and assume I was Ben all over again. Hehehe.

Paula @506: Can I trade places with you? I SO regret opening my big mouth at this point. I much prefer your seat.

Joel @507: I hope karma catches you on your next typo. And I say that in the nicest possible way.

#508 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:23 PM:

Angela @ 508: If your error was caused merely by typing fast enough not to notice you had hit S instead of O, how do you explain the claim that the quality of Dragonlance is something close to Teresa's experience?

(Bmdyd, bmdyd)

#509 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:25 PM:

Oops! See what happens when I type faster than my brain. I meant TSR, of course. My mistake.

That was just a typo? When Patrick and Teresa work for Tor, and James is published by them?

Not a finger typo, anyway. We've been discussing Tor. Bleeds across.

#510 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:26 PM:

Paul @509: Did I get that wrong too? Is Teresa not a science fiction and fantasy editor? I thought I read that somewhere. If not, go ahead and count me a complete idiot.

#511 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:29 PM:

Teresa edits books for Tor. She does not edit books for TSR. Working for one company, even in the same genre, does not give one experience of the other's products.

#512 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:30 PM:

No prob. We did that a long time ago.

#513 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:36 PM:

Okay Paul. You win. I'm an idiot. My mistake. Apples and oranges. Got it.

#514 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:43 PM:

Angela, if the mods here were really as awful as you think, wouldn't they have banned you by now?

#515 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:43 PM:

Paul, "Angela" knows I'm a consulting editor at Tor. She's trying to retroactively camouflage the massive and embarrassing error of using the Dragonlance books as her example of bad publishing by Tor.

With any luck, we can get her to explain what she meant by "real authors," as opposed to all those fake authors who sometimes do franchise/series/work for hire books.

Somebody pop me a cold one and pass the popcorn.

#516 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:58 PM:

TexAnne, at the moment, the irritated mods are more awful than you think: banning Angela would be an act of mercy.

Have a chair? There are sodas and beers in the ice chest.

#517 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:59 PM:

Teresa: But she's a good comprehensive reader of technical matter and it's sad to accuse her of having fairly weak comprehension and analysis skills. No, really.

If I wasn't at work I would already have popcorn in one hand and bingo card in the other.

#518 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 10:59 PM:

Angela @508 sorry I'm not unique enough for you.

Oh, me too.

If you honestly believe Ben Trafford would spend years creating alternate identities, then post under his own name (when a quick Google could tell readers his background), then go right ahead and think that.

I will! I will think that very thing! It's overly suspicious of me, perhaps, but there is that "fraud" thing he's been tagged with.

I'd say I got snippy with her because I have cajones, but then you'd take me literally

I wouldn't, you know. I'd just think you were being vulgar. And it's "co" not "ca". It's like the Tor/TSR thing, except different.

Amazon's habit of delisting a publisher's books while in the middle of contract negotiations is a real issue worth noting and discussing. The future place of ebooks in a publisher's line of offerings is also worth discussing, especially where the latter intersects with the former. Your contribution to all of this is to be sad about how a nasty piece of work was summarily dismissed. I call "troll" and I want my five dollars.

#519 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:00 PM:

No beer on a school night. But I'll take a nice hot brownie if you have any.

#520 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:00 PM:

*passes around handmade chocolates*

#521 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:07 PM:

*gives TexAnne a warm Black Hole Brownie*

#522 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:12 PM:

There aren't a lot of us with a twenty year or better history in ebook production. I know that Steve Miller and Sharon Lee pre-date me by a year to two; they were producing and selling books on floppies in 1987 or 1988. (It pains me to acknowledge that DOS got there first, but *sigh* it's the truth).

It's a small group but we tend to keep in touch, especially at conferences. There's a meetup at MacWorld, for instance. Guess what they're tweeting about? Yeah, exactly, bad pennies, compulsive lying, two-dimensional thinking, etc. etc.

It really is a small world.

Oh, also? Ben has a history of using sock puppets in mailing lists; I don't know why he wouldn't use them elsewhere.

#523 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:13 PM:

Oooooh, Xopher brought his chocolates. Those things are deadly. I want him to come over some weekend and teach me to make them.

#524 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:19 PM:

If Angela were the lurker she claims to be, she'd have more of a clue what happens to trolls who show up here, and she'd be a lot more careful about the 'mistakes' she makes. (Not to mention how hard she has to work to avoid the Flaming Disemvoweller.)

Feeling cranky. One person at work got corrected for the same error, for about the fourth time in the last two weeks, having not gotten the message the first three times the work was returned. QC Person WILL USE CLUEBAT. Ahem. Slow learners. Grump.

#525 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:19 PM:

*takes some popcorn and a beer*

#526 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:27 PM:

The LA Times this week has a recipe for Momofuku's 'crack pie' - which is kind of a custard pie in a cookie-crumb crust. (I think it's related somehow to Schadenfreude Pie. Without chocolate.)

#527 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:34 PM:

Oooooh, Xopher, tell me you brought the chili ones!

#528 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:35 PM:

I will trade some of my homemade baklava for some of Xopher's chocolates.

(This offer will continue until Worldcon at least.)

#529 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:40 PM:

Teresa.... Tor ought to be ashamed for publishing the Gor novels. :-)

#530 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2010, 11:44 PM:

Yes, TexAnne, I brought the chipotle-lime ones.

Paul, you don't need to trade for my chocolates! They're given for pure love. I'm insulted.

You can mollify me with some baklava. Mmm, baklava!

#531 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 12:14 AM:

Xopher: No insult intended. My baklava (and my cheesecakes and cookies and brownies and...) are all made and given on the same basis. However, since I am in Melbourne and you are not, baklava is also offered to anyone heading this way who might care to bring some with them without eating them all before they get here (I understand this last bit is difficult. Their sacrifice should be rewarded.)

#532 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 12:55 AM:

Hm. Not much of a party without me. I guess the baklava and chocolates weren't that good after all :-)

#533 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 12:59 AM:

For the record: I am not a publisher, I am not a fiction author, I claim no insider expertise in the publishing business, I read ebooks occasionally now and think they could at least potentially be cool -- and I still think that Trafford's comments on this blog were pretty obviously obnoxious and that Teresa's reaction to him was entirely justified.

It's true that there's nothing wrong with being ignorant and talking to experts to learn more. Being ignorant and lecturing experts about why your unified theory of everything proves that they're all all wrong, though, is quite another matter. "Ah, arrogance and stupidity all in the same package. How efficient of you!"

#534 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 01:19 AM:

Focusing on essentials first:
DUDE! Xopher chocolates! Black hole brownies! I'll skip the beer, though; the sun's not over the yardarm and I have a latte beside me instead.

Angela:
I see someone else has already mentioned your spelling. These things are important, you know.

I'm not going to try to persuade you to play nice; I tried that and you ignored the substance of my comment in favor of nurturing your persecution complex. You're clearly here for the lulz now, whether or not you were originally outraged by Ben Trafford's treatment, are Ben Trafford, or hate the new Facebook login.

Personally, I think you're one of those people who likes online strife. I think you were watching the Amazon/Macmillan conflict as a huge and interesting distributed train wreck, came here and saw a much more intimate one in this thread, and just wanted more. So you started scolding and have stayed to mock.

We're mildly interested in giving you your desired experience here, but frankly, I don't think you're going to manage to get much of a buzz off of this thread. Could I suggest a few more reliable sources of train wrecks? I'm fond of both Fandom Wank and the Wikipedia Administrator's Noticeboard/Incidents page. They're excellent conflict aggregators, with nice click-through access to various forms of complex and fascinating drama.

And if you want to participate, some areas you might consider on Wikipedia include centrifugal force, waterboarding, Macedonia, Pluto, or any Pokémon-related topic.

#536 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 05:40 AM:

abi@535 'hate the new Facebook login' had me literally laughing out loud. I hope I didn't wake anyone

#537 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 05:47 AM:

No, it's okay. I was already awake.

#538 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 06:30 AM:

Kevin Marks @537

All internet traditions, I iz aware of them.

#539 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 08:16 AM:

Did someone mention hating the new Facebook login? Because I HATE the new Facebook login! There's no way to leave your friends-feed on "status updates only" if you log out every time you leave the site. (I log out every time because I remember Beacon and I don't trust FB. But I can't ditch the silly thing because that's where my non-fannish friends are.)

#540 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 08:34 AM:

I came back to the thread today after some rumination to make the point that I thought it was unfair to use the "Troll" label for Ben Trafford, as it seemed he was making his arguments in good faith*.

Then I read #456 and was somewhat taken aback. I now feel like I may have been missing the point earlier - if you guys *knew* this about him then, that puts the comments in context (of course, the rest of us didn't know you knew. Did you know that the rest...never mind).

The reason I'm still posting this comment is that my original response wasn't a million miles from Angelas at 450** - from the outside, it looked a like Ben was labelled a troll despite an intention to argue in good faith.

My unsolicited advice to Angela would be to tone down the pre-emptive martyrisation (nobody likes their negative reaction to be presumed), and consider cutting the snippy passive-agressive barbs in the final lines which obscure points earlier in the post*** (getting your retaliation in first is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy). I do think you're a real person, though.

*I realise the meaning of "Troll" has drifted somewhat over the years; I think it means "commenting in bad faith to wind people up" and good faith comments that happen to have that effect are not trolling. I'm open to argument, there.

**with, hopefully, the inflammatory bits removed

***@405 "This is why I'm a chronic lurker."
     @464 "The reactions to him did not reflect poorly on him, they reflected poorly on the people who replied."
     @479 "I think that's probably about enough from a nobody like me."
     @484 "Thanks for the condescension and dismissive tone, although you really didn't need to illustrate my point further."
     @493 "Way to show your own special brand of professionalism there, Teresa."

† This one to *abi* for Thor's sake - one of the most patient and warm commenters here.

#541 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 12:02 PM:

Paul 532: I was only teasing about being insulted! Unfortunately, my job situation makes it impossible for me to be at WorldCon this year. While I might be able to ship some chockies to Oz...did I mention my job situation? We'll see. A party-size production run might be tough. I'm better at packing them now, as everyone who was at the ML party at Denver or Montréal will be happy to know.

Angela 533: Hm. Not much of a party without me. I guess the baklava and chocolates weren't that good after all :-)

Hmm back. We can have a great party without you, actually. I don't blame you for not wanting to be a piñata, but this isn't 4ch*n; we don't need someone to bash to have a good time. Also, you seem to think the chocolates and baklava are metaphorical; some here have memories of the physical treats. I doubt you'll ever get any, but that doesn't mean they aren't real or aren't good.

Matt 534: Thank you. Well put.

abi 535: I never sent you any chocolates! (I mean on the physical plane.) Note to self: remedy that.

Russ 541: I mostly agree with your definition of 'troll', though I think my definition of 'bad faith' may vary somewhat from yours. I was unaware of Ben Trafford's felonious past, and I still found his comments offensive. He was if nothing else extremely rude. Pontificating to a group of people you don't know is always a little rude, but pontificating on a topic where many of them know vastly more than you do, and getting really basic things wrong, would try the patience of the saintliest moderator (i.e. abi).

He knew or should have known that Teresa is a publishing professional. To tell her that what she's saying is Just Plain Wrong...well, if he doesn't support that with concrete evidence (which he didn't do), then he's either accusing her of incompetence or of lying. Either of those is extremely rude on Teresa's own blog.

I guess being sufficiently rude (intentionally or not), while not strictly bad faith, makes someone qualify as a troll in my book. If someone is young or inexperienced, we'd try to work with them, but Ben Trafford really should have better manners by now. Knowing that he's a known forger/fraudster and IMO service thief does not increase my patience with him.

#542 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 12:37 PM:

TexAnne @540:
hate the new Facebook login

First, read this. Note the fourth paragraph, the one in bold. Read a bunch of the comments, too.

Then, if you haven't figured out what's going on, look at this. If you want a really sane analysis of it, read this.

#543 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 12:54 PM:

abi @543:
Thanks for the link to the Facebook login fiasco, especially the last link. It's stunning how wide the gap can be between those who know computers and who don't, and how many just learn enough to get by, but don't really understand, nor need to.


#544 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 01:09 PM:

Oh, holy cow, Abi. I had no idea--I just really truly do hate the latest FB redesign, for srs.

After reading some of those comments from RWW, I feel as blank as I do when people tell me they don't read. It's so completely outside my experience that I have no idea how to react.

#545 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 01:21 PM:

Just tried going to facebooklogin.com, and it redirects to facebook.com

#546 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 01:29 PM:

#543 abi

That sort of thing is related to one of the many reasons I hate Steven Jobs and I have never liked CMU's promotion of "cloud computing" wherein "the actual location of the content doesn't matter and should be irrelevant to the user."

Ahem.
The I-hate-Jobs association is his promoting, "The user should be a clueless wonder interacting only with what is in front of the user's face -now-, unable to see how the user got there, where the user can go to, no metadata available" (the earliest versions of Word on the single-tasking Mac, selecting File > Open xgave a list of filenames -- no information on size of file, date created, or any way to figure out such associated information. It was worse saving what you were just working on, if you didn't remember that information, you could be fucked by overwriting without confirmation not realizing what you were overwriting.... Multitasking machiens like Amigas, open another window and look at the information associated with the files. Macs, NFW, no ability to get out of Word to look at filenames, without killing the Word session first, and losing your work if you didn't save it.... have I said lately how much I hated single-tasking Mac in the boxes and the person responsible for them??!!!

Getting back to the Internet and cloud computing and Jobs and such, I want information -about- what I am working on, available to me. I want the history of "how did I get -here-?!" and the ability to poke around the neighborhood... I just went through an exercise in annoyance tryign to copy the content of some email messages over to a thumbdrive on this Vista machine. The mail folder copying is NOT working.... I had to go online and look up where the location of the content is because Microsoft, copying the type of vision and prescription promulgated by that piece of excrement Jobs, doesn't in its "help" for Vista provide that information--and I suspect that if I did't have the settings on the machine set to show EVERYTHING, I wouldn't have been able to see the location even after gettign it via a Google search....

Jobs thinks the user should be insulated/locked out/kept ignorant unless the user is a developer paying money to Apple.... I still remember being on a developer Mac than crashed and went into the debugger system, which was even less friendly than Unix debuggers of the same era.... it was pure single line input command line debugger. Fortunately I knew enough Unix to get the machine working again--fixed something in the software treating it like Unix and the machine went back to being a working Macintosh. I was NOT impressed, Mr Jobs' hypocrisy was showing, the Macintosh did NOT have a Mac-like debugger system and interface, it instead copied command-line-only non-GUI version of Unix, but again was more primitive....

I get irritated when sites block me from seeing, again, where I am, or mislead me, and I hate interfaces designed to "protect" me against being informed.... and so when Dave Haynie (who was one of best-known and most celebrated Commodore-Amiga engineers (who probably has an even WORSE opinion of Jobs than I do in some ways, Dave worked for Pios which got a MacOS license and then I think went out of business after Jobs terminated the MacOS licensing program.... dumping Dave into unemployment and all the work he'd done at Pios to be wasted... and there is little an engineer hates more than good engineering work which gets shitcanned because of marketing shitheads killing things off....) said that the iPad single tasking is even more annoyingly implemented as regard users dealing with it than even the original single-tasking Mac-in-the-boxes and that it doesn't have Flash because Apple wants the revenue from the propriety-rights-and-payments-laden alternative, I reponded with the comment, "iPoop"?!

#547 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 02:17 PM:

Re Cookies to AussieCon

So people know, if you arrive in Australia (or NZ) with food, you MUST declare it. If you don't declare it, the chances are good that you will be caught and fined (some of the cute doggies detect drugs, some detect food...)

http://www.daff.gov.au/aqis/travel/entering-australia/cant-take
What happens to items I declare?

In many cases items you declare will be returned to you after inspection. However, anything that presents a disease risk or is found to contain insects or larvae will be withheld. Depending on the quarantine risk, you can:

* pay for the item to be treated to make it safe (for example fumigation, irradiation)*
* store the item at the airport for collection when you leave Australia*
* re–export the item* or
* have the item destroyed by AQIS.

#548 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 03:10 PM:

Meh. What if you ship things? Do they do the same thing? Or do they somehow think shipped things are safer than carried ones?

#549 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 03:31 PM:

@547 Paula Lieberman

Paula, I think that a lot of your why-I-hate-Jobs comments (many of which I strongly agree with) should properly be aimed at Tog, who quite literally wrote the book on the old permanent-novice Mac user interface.

Jobs' bad decisions tend to be at a higher level, like "all ports should be clustered together on the same side of a laptop, if they can't simply be eliminated" or "I think school computers should boot from read/write optical disks that the students carry around and administer themselves". Or, perhaps, "Tog's words should be treated as holy writ." :-)

-j

#550 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 03:35 PM:

You have to declare if shipping as well. They make a case-by-case call (I don't know if you end up with inspection fees etc if shipping) following sensible rules. If it's home-made baked goods they will be concerned about any bugs along for the ride, and seeds that might germinate (plus illegal drugs).

Lots of mailed and passenger-carried food is allowed into NZ - I know because I hear the "you wouldn't believe the stuff I had to check today" stories from my friend with the NZ version of AQIS.

#551 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 03:49 PM:

Hmm. Looks like I can't ship chocolates then. I ship in Army Transport™ foam trays with plastic wrap between the chocolate and the foam. I cut the trays so they wedge tightly into the box, which is insulated with a foil-wrapped-foam insulator.

Any "inspection" of that will mess it up pretty completely, and I don't trust customs agents (or whomever) to put them back properly.

If it were TSA, I'd assume they'd steal them all, which is why I don't carry chocolates on planes inside the US; so I'm not disparaging your customs people. I pack them at one end, and usually I unpack them personally at the other end. I don't really trust anyone else to do either.

#552 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 05:03 PM:

Paula, J Greely:
I've started a thread about the Facebook logon failure, and Buzz privacy failures, and a few other things that I think are related, if you want to go there to chat about this stuff.

#553 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 05:10 PM:

Xopher, I think I'd call the embassy or the nearest consulate, and ask about shipping something like your chocolates. They might have some ideas, because you can't be the first person to want to do it. (Most of those laws are meant for fruits and vegetables; they don't always apply to processed foods.)

#554 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Russ @541:

1. I certainly didn't know anything about Ben Trafford when I started trying to discuss things with him. I thought, when I entered the conversation, that his energy and enthusiasm might translate into lively discussion, even though Teresa had already decided he was not being productive. I tried to engage him.

I described my impression of his conduct in the discussion at 481. It was intensely frustrating; as soon as we would actually get to clearly stated sides on a matter, he'd introduce a strawman to misunderstand me, shift his ground entirely, introduce some other far-out idea, or all three at once. As I said above, the profile of his assertions did not improve over time.

My conclusion before reading Lisa's link was that he was either impervious to actual conversation or winding us up. And I was not surprised by what I read when I clicked through. (Shocked, yes, and very sorry for the people involved, but not surprised.)

2. I agree with your advice to Angela, with one caveat: it assumes that her intention in the thread was to have a conversation. I'm sorry to say that I don't think that's the case, as I described in 535. I think she was deliberately trolling, and I've probably committed a minor sin in suggesting places she can get her drama fix. But I am not her keeper, and I do not choose to prevent her from pursuing her addiction.

3. Aside from your flattering opinion of me, you seem a sensible fellow. I see you've been lurking and posting here for some time. Do feel free to do more of the latter and less of the former.

#555 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 06:03 PM:

Xopher @542:

For every gift there is a season, and a time for every kind of generosity under heaven. Waiting is.

#557 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 10:20 PM:

Russ @ 541 and Xopher @ 542:

I've been rethinking my definition of troll too, specifically the part about whether they have to be doing it on purpose.

My background in web forums is Slashdot, where they make a distinction between troll and flamebait. As I always understood it, the difference was that a troll had no other point but to stir up trouble, while flamebait might mean someone inadvertently stepped on a landmine.

But it the distinction seems to be a little different here at Making Light. If someone gets disemvoweled, it's for the content itself, not because of the moderator's guess as to whether they are doing it on purpose. On the other hand, when a moderator issues a warning in capital letters that we are not going to have an argument about gnu control, that's not an accusation of trolling but rather a warning about flamebait.

#558 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 10:23 PM:

Chris @ 413: Maybe you could have made that TV Tropes warning more prominent, such as 24 point blinking text.

Well, I did get out of there in under an hour, but only when I realized that I was contemplating n Erhora/Qnaal cnvevat.

Eww.

#559 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 10:42 PM:

abi @ 555: "I'm sorry to say that I don't think that's the case, as I described in 535. I think she was deliberately trolling."

I think Angela was deliberately trolling just like Teresa was deliberately trolling @ 15: she had already decided that her audience wasn't listening, and wrote accordingly. I think both were writing primarily for people who already agreed with them, not to persuade. In both cases, that bothers me.

#560 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2010, 11:30 PM:

heresiarch @561 writes: "In both cases, that bothers me."

I'm not terribly bothered. This kerfuffle didn't get terribly acrimonious, at least by my standards. TNH is also entitled to special consideration, by the virtues of A) being one of the hosts here (not just a moderator), and B) having originated the main posting that started the thread. If she's not in the mood to suffer the people who come into her virtual house arguing that she and hers ought to be sent to the glue factory so they can be replaced by a 3-line Perl script, then that's her privilege.

Granted, for a variety of personal reason, I'm sympathetic to the view TNH expressed in the original posting, so maybe that means I'm admitting to holding a bias, but I don't think so. I'll admit I was a bit taken aback by the swiftness with which Teresa went into Impatient Host mode, but in retrospect I can't say she was wrong. She is widely reputed to be highly skilled in the art of troll whispering, and it's not hard for me to see how that dialogue could have gone a lot worse if I had been the moderator here.

#561 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2010, 12:05 AM:

A three-line Perl script,
A busy glue factory;
Our work here is done.

#562 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2010, 01:21 AM:

A question for the crackfic bits further up the thread: does the stuff that Jenna has pretty consistently (but intermittently) been doing over at Hitherby Dragons count? Or does it escape out the top for being too good? The tvtropes page seems to think that the _good_ stuff is the BEST crackfic...

--Dave

#563 ::: ppint. ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2010, 02:25 PM:

(a possibly brief diversion from the bengela discussions)(if they be not now ended):

is everyone then decided that the small, specialist fantasy, sf & horror independent retailer of printed-paper volumes cannot survive in this brave, new world also containing the e-book?

emwltk (- leastways, this one would... *wry*g*)

#564 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2010, 05:58 PM:

ppint., I didn't get that impression, unless by the world containing the e-book you mean the conman's model.

Could you unpack 'emwltk'?

#565 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2010, 06:24 PM:

Xopher @566:

At a guess, "enquiring minds would like to know."

#566 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2010, 08:06 PM:

#565 @ppint

is everyone then decided that the small, specialist fantasy, sf & horror independent retailer of printed-paper volumes cannot survive in this brave, new world also containing the e-book?

I am absolutely not convinced. Ebooks from mainstream publishers are still barely registering in comparison to the sales of the same book in hardcover, never mind software.

The codex book as a lot going for it--including legal ownership, no EULA, easy UI, compatibility history of around 2000 years, portability, and no power or hardware dependencies.

I think that we may see increased use of ebooks for temporary reading--magazines, for instance. I note that Harlequin's ebook sales are very very different in comparison to other mainstream publishers, and I think there's a lesson there.

I note too Subterranean and Baen are both engaging in fascinating sorts of print and ebook publication, including the e-ARCs from Baen, which people like me pay extra for, and then go buy the printed book as well.

People are a bit like our rodent and primate relatives; we like objects. We use them as touchstones, as well as status symbols; I am not engaging in mockery when I talk about the printed book as talisman.

I think perhaps rather than compare books to other media, like music, we might compare them to things like windows, doors, and forks.

#567 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2010, 08:13 PM:

abi, duh on me. Thanks.

#568 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 02:24 AM:

Does the codex book really have a compatibility history of 2000 years? I was under the impression that it was more recent technology than that, and that ancient books were more likely to be scrolls.

#569 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 04:39 AM:

Matt Austern @570:
Does the codex book really have a compatibility history of 2000 years? I was under the impression that it was more recent technology than that, and that ancient books were more likely to be scrolls.

I once wrote a whole history of bookbinding in the comment threads here.

Basically, we don't know how old the codex-full-of-pages* is. We know they predate the fourth century AD, which makes it over 1400 years, but we don't know by how much. My personal guess is that we can stretch it another 150-200 years from the invention.

That's a nit on Lisa's real point, of course.

------
* As opposed to the codex it was named after, which was two rectangular pieces of wood attached on one long side, with recesses on the faces that the hinging allowed the user to protect. The faces were filled with wax, which at Roman ambient temperatures, was generally soft enough to write on with a stylus. Call it an early iPhone.

#570 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 08:38 AM:

Just a very brief thing, to clear up a certain matter.

Angela said in #494: "I'd post a response, but I think I'm being blocked now. I know the moderators will see this, though, so here goes anyway."


The reason she thought that, I suppose, was because her #490, the infamous "internet driver's license" comment, was automatically sent to moderation, because it had a link to Linkedin. We see an awful lot of spam where the payload is a linkedin address.

I released her comment as soon as I got to it, because it wasn't spam. People don't get blocked here for their opinions.

#571 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Lisa Spangenburg @ 568: "The codex book as a lot going for it--including...easy UI"

I wouldn't call it an easy UI so much as a wide-spread and well-understood one. TOC, indexes, and endnotes are only immediately intuitive if you know what page numbers mean, what alphabetical order is, and what that little number thingie at the end of the sentence means. It's easy to imagine how e-books could make all of those functions far more intuitive: TOCs that link to each section or chapter, searchable texts and indexes, linked endnotes and so on.

abi @ 571: We know they predate the fourth century AD, which makes it over 1700 years, but we don't know by how much.

FTFY. Unless you're posting that comment from the 18th century* via an acausal web tube, in which case never mind.

*No doubt as part of your time-hopping quest to discover the first codex book and also avenge the death of your twin sister.**

**Who is now a vampire!†

†Wait--you have found out about that already, haven't you?‡

‡Curse these acausal conversations. One must always be so careful with spoilers.

#572 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 02:49 PM:

heresiarch @573:

No, I don't find out about that until she kills you.

Oh, drat, you might not know that part yet.

Don't worry, though, there's that whole consciousness transfer thing, and it was a very nice time you had as a superintelligent hamster*, and they grew the clone body really quickly.

-----
* Patrick and Teresa didn't realize it was you, not even when they'd wake up to find all these really clever annotations in teeny tiny writing on any papers they left around. You looked smug, but hamsters always do.

#573 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 03:28 PM:

Oh goodness--I guess I shouldn't have tossed out that page of very, very tiny stock tips I found the other day. Next time around I'll write "V. IMPORTANT! DO NOT THROW AWAY" at the top.

Or was that written there already...?

#574 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 03:31 PM:

...in teeny tiny writing?

#575 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 03:32 PM:

Well, I'm sure it seemed quite large.

#576 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 03:40 PM:

If you're going to do a lot of time travel, timesplitting, looping, and achronous communication, it's time to set up some recognition tokens.

You need a password so secret that nobody else knows it. Never use it on any system, just set it and know it.

Then, the next time you run across a teeny tiny page of stock tips, you'll know it's from you* because it will include the password.

I've got one. No, really, I do. But I can't tell you it.

You might come back in time and impersonate me to myself.

----
* a you after reading this message, but you would have remembered trying to communicate before reading it.

#577 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 04:01 PM:

Of course it's only good for the period after you've set it up. If you go back in time to before you came up with it, it won't be any good. Therefore one should teach one's children to come up with their password at as young an age as possible.

It's just basic good parenting, really.

#578 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 04:04 PM:

heresiarch @579:
If you go back in time to before you came up with it, it won't be any good.

Would you care to speculate how I came up with the idea in the first place?

#579 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 04:11 PM:

abi @ #567 scribbled:
At a guess, "enquiring minds would like to know."

Except when it's "enquiring moose would like to know"

(Which in this case it wasn't, of course.)

FX: Waves at ppint.

#580 ::: The Dave Conspiracy ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 04:36 PM:

Uh oh... do we have another Narbonic fan running loose? (The protagonist thereof is currently Unstuck In Time. The hamsters come later....)

#581 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 06:38 PM:

#570 @Matt Austern

I'm speaking not of the date of the codex book but of the basic UI, which (medieval tech support videos aside) really does have a compatibility history of around 2000 years; there are not only the multi-paged wooden tablets filled with wax, there are multi-paged connected lead tablets with various kinds of data (mostly curses though; there's one badly fragmented little connected stack that looks like it was a collection of curse templates, maybe, depending on which scholarly cult you adhere to). There are also the crude but recognizable c. 100 BCE Roman "notebooks" of bound leaves of parchment used for memos, and rough notes; these were stitched along one side, and not actually bound.

Abi's on the money with respect to the +/- age of the codex book. It's oddly interesting to speculate about just how much the spread of Christianity had to do with the spread and popularity of the codex (vs. the scroll). Conventional codicology ties them firmly together; recent theories about dispersal and technological adoption are less sure.

#573 @heresiarch

Meh. There's a point in software when (and you may well know this already) you're testing UI and basic user understanding; you will watch users using your product without helping, or commenting or doing anything but watching, letting them figure it out.

It's humbling, and educational all at once, and you'd be surprised at how very differently groups of users react. Especially when the ebook UI is based on the codex ui--older naive computer users who are sophisticated printed books users got our UI (even as recently as two years ago) much more quickly than sophisticated high-end non-book reading users.

#582 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 06:44 PM:

Heresiarch @561, I respectfully disagree. I had Ben Trafford flagged as a dubious article as of his first comment. The lesson I take from the incident is that there are times when I need to slow down and show my work.

I think Angela was deliberately trolling just like Teresa was deliberately trolling @ 15: she had already decided that her audience wasn't listening, and wrote accordingly. I think both were writing primarily for people who already agreed with them, not to persuade. In both cases, that bothers me.
It bothers me a little that you think that's a necessary conclusion.

First, people disagree with me all the time, yet neither I nor they are maimed as a result. Second, plenty of them disagreed with me in this very thread without getting thumped. Third, my initial entry may have been phrased in relatively simple language, but it's about a complex technical subject which not everyone understood. Where you don't yet have reliable understanding, agreement can't be required.

Specifics on why Trafford set off my DEW systems are available, but only if you think they're interesting.

#583 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 06:51 PM:

Teresa, I have to admit that Ben was setting off warning bells in my mind, but I couldn't pin down why, except that he seemed to be in love with his own ideas, to the point of not understanding (probably deliberately) everyone else's comments on them.

#584 ::: ppint. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 07:47 PM:

581: cadbury

- or, in the more general case, enquiring meece[s]?

([s] - Meese[s], perh. ?)

pplus: this ppint. pponders the ppossibillity that chocolatiferous communication may've been ppractical via an early form of semoosephore.

[not sure where the earlier response to 578: abi may've got to - maybe i committed some grave offence therein?]

#585 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 08:40 PM:

I am not Heresiarch, but I would be interested in the specifics of why/how Stafford set off your DEW systems, if you're comfortable posting that more generally.

#586 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 09:13 PM:

Abi @571: Call it an early iPhone.

Speaking of which, are you familiar with Thomas Jefferson's 18th-century PDA?

#587 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 09:57 PM:

Teresa@584: Ditto Vicki@587.

#588 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 11:56 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 584: "The lesson I take from the incident is that there are times when I need to slow down and show my work."

That failure to show your work is, I think, what I mean: you assumed that Trafford's idiocy was immediately obvious to all, required no explanation, and went straight to mockery. Given my estimation of your knowledge of the publishing industry I can take it on faith that you're right, but I'm taking it on faith. You never laid out the evidence that which would have allowed me to independently judge whether Trafford was a kook.

Now, because you have forgotten more about the publishing industry than I have ever learned, and because (as you say) you are not the sort to thump people for disagreeing with you, I'm not shocked, SHOCKED I say! like Angela was. But if I didn't know you, I'm not sure how I could have differentiated between what was happening there and a classic "your arguments are so stupid that they don't even merit rational engagement, so I'll just insult you instead" trolling. That's what I mean when I say you wrote for people who already agreed with you--I, as a non-expert on the question at hand, couldn't tell why Trafford was wrong,* much less so wrong as to receive that response. Only people who already knew what you knew could understand your response.

"Third, my initial entry may have been phrased in relatively simple language, but it's about a complex technical subject which not everyone understood. Where you don't yet have reliable understanding, agreement can't be required."

Required, no, but I didn't feel that it was even proffered.

"Specifics on why Trafford set off my DEW systems are available, but only if you think they're interesting."

I think it would be very interesting!

------

Appendices and footnotes

*Well, okay, I sort of could. But it would have been really neat to hear the informed perspective of an industry professional, rather than my own vague approximations of an inkling of an opinion.

I: Caveats
a) One point of confusion I still have is whether Trafford provoked the response he did because he was so very wildly, comically wrong, or if it was because he was arrogant about it. Or both?

b) I'm less bothered by what happened--as I said, circumstantial evidence strongly inclines me to believe that Trafford had it coming--than I am by the worry that, minus that circumstantial evidence, I wouldn't be able to tell what happened from something trollish. And "bothered" is the word for it: "disturbed" or "dismayed" would be too strong.

II: Angela
I'm slightly hesitant to label Angela a simple troll. Positing that she interpreted what happened to Trafford as a quick round of "mock the non-expert outsider," her comments can read as preemptively tensed against (what she thought was) the inevitable attack, rather than as a deliberate attempt at provocation. And then her expectation creates that outcome--symmetrical, that.

#589 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 09:12 AM:

abi @556

Thank you. I shall endeavour to do so, on the rare occasion that what I want to say hasn't been said better by someone else by the time I get here :D

And thank you for the drama links @536 which I've now had a little time to check out. I had no idea centrifugal force was such a contentions subject. My wikipedia contributions* have so far proved markedly less controversial.

* Minor edits to entries for Mugwort and Raspberry Leaf Tea (why yes, I do have a pregnant spouse, how did you guess?).

#590 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 11:04 AM:

I like the soutache-looped causality and microscule hamster-annotations so much better than Ben Trafford.

The close analysis will have to wait until I get home. It's the Monday morning after Boskone, and Patrick and I have to finish packing and drive home to NYC. For now, a few shorter observations.

I never thought Trafford's notions were so obviously idiotic that everyone should have instantly seen through them. I thought they were a loose collection of recycled memes from online "Whither Books?" discussions circa 1997-2000. That was during the first Dotcom Boom, a sort of golden age for Let's Imagine How Publishing Ought to Work conversations.

If Trafford was an expert on e-publishing, by 2010 he should know more and know better than that stuff. At minimum, some of the sentences should have altered with the passage of time.

If he's an expert, he should know that being involved with the technical end of EPUB doesn't mean you know squat about how books get sold.

Look at the timing: Trafford's first sortie is a long comment, and it's the second comment in the thread. It's a scrap-bag of ten-year-old speculations that have so little to do with my entry that I honestly wondered whether he was doing cut-and-paste from older material (and see no reason to stop wondering now).

His remarks don't hang together. For example, the "three tiers of publishing" thing doesn't connect with what comes before or after it. The part about how you should be able to sell used ebooks,

and in this brave new world, content providers *aka publishers and authors and others* can get a piece of the used book market
is either just bizarre, or was excerpted from a longer explanation of someone's structured e-publishing scheme.

His first comment is also rich in flame-bait. Look at his opening paragraph:

I think trying to reproduce the print model in ebooks is a losing strategy that ultimately screws everybody in the process except for the megacorporations who essentially own the publishing industry right now.
And how does his comment end?
Pardon the somewhat stream of consciousness commentary on this. It's all off the top of my head. I look forward to being torn to bits by the crowd. :)
That is: "I confidently look forward to this entire thread being about *ME*."

In short, my reaction to Ben Trafford's first comment wasn't "This upstart churl has dared to disagree with me, and must be squashed." It was more like "This guy is a wrong'un, and I don't trust him as far as I can throw him."

I think it ought to count for something that I was right.

There's more to say, but Patrick is getting justifiably irritated by the time I've already taken to write this.

Later --

#591 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 11:15 AM:

Teresa @ 592... trust him as far as I can throw him

Whenever I come across that sentence, I think of Ben Grimm, whose mineral mitts can toss Doom quite far and still doesn't trust him much.

#592 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 12:54 PM:

Serge:

Whenever I come across that sentence, I think of Ben Grimm, whose mineral mitts can toss Doom quite far and still doesn't trust him much.

Did you ever see the unused John Byrne script for the Marvel comic with Spiderman and Superman? A very weak version was used in the comic, but the original was better. A subplot has to do with The Joker trying to get The Hulk to do some deed for him by playing on his sympathies: he has green hair, and the Hulk has green everything but purple pants. Anyway, The Hulk was supposed to be trying to get somewhere and Superman would block his way. Hulk swings and hits: Superman is just standing there. Hulk, annoyed, swings again: Superman stands there. Hulk, more annoyed, punches again: Superman stands there, and then folds his arms and gives a smug little "you must be joking" grin. The next panel was to be Superman in orbit, bent double, ass first, cape strung out past his shoulders and almost over his head. This got mutated in the actual comic into Superman flying backwards saying something like "Great Scott, I've never been hit that hard before." Psst, D.C.: sometimes less is more when it comes to dialog.

#593 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 01:23 PM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @ 594... I remember reading about that. Heheheh

#594 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 08:09 PM:

One of his first mistakes was trotting out his credentials in his first post. That was the first Burma-shave sign for what was to come, at least for me.

#595 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 08:15 PM:

Teresa, I owe you an apology. I'd love to write this little altercation off as one of my more stupid moments and never come back, but I can't without saying I'm sorry.

When I posted, I didn't realize that this was your personal blog. By the time I found out, my hackles were up. I've never been good at backing down and admitting I was wrong. I'm a genius, you know (mostly misunderstood), and always right.*

You have every right to deal with trolls and flamers how you see fit in your own blog. Rather than attacking you and the other commenters, I should have asked for clarification on why Ben was wrong. I didn't, and instead turned into a troll myself. I became what I was criticizing. My deepest apologies to you and everyone here.

heresiarch @590, footnote II: Yep. My husband has been trying for years to fix that tendency I have to assume the worst and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hasn't taken yet.

Jim @572: Heh. Now I'm infamous. I can cross that off my list of "things I never want to do before I die."

Allan @558: Thank you for the cookies. You are officially my favorite person today!

*Please note the sarcasm :-)

#596 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 08:29 PM:

Angela, that was a very gracious apology. I'm sincerely impressed.

*gives Angela a brownie and some chocolates*

#597 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 08:56 PM:

Yay for small redemptions!

#598 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 09:05 PM:

Angela, seconding Xopher. A difficult task done well.

#599 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 09:06 PM:

Angela, seconding Xopher. Nicely done.

#600 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 09:13 PM:

Good! (Have some salted chocolate. Srsly.)

#601 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 10:11 PM:

Huh, weird stutter in posting there. Posted, had the page freeze. Closed the window. Waited ten minutes, checked recent comments from the main page. Went back in and posted again. Page freeze. Gave up. Came back a bit later, double post.

#602 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 10:23 PM:

Oh, good for Angela! Welcome back. Have a chocolate and settle in.

#603 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 11:03 PM:

Well done! Also funny:

I'm a genius, you know (mostly misunderstood), and always right.
You are forgiven.

#604 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 11:15 PM:

Angela, many of the regulars here have said things we've later regretted. You just got that part over with sooner than most of us. :-) Welcome to Making Light!

#605 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 11:26 PM:

Yay! Angela, when Teresa says that, she means it. Just in case you were in doubt.

#606 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 12:07 AM:

Angela, that was an impressive apology.

As for the genius part, I've found a great percentage of the Mensa members that I personally know are one step away from living under a bridge due to being chronically unable to hold a good job. For the most part, they screw themselves into the ground because they cannot stop from criticizing their employers/supervisors. OR (second) they choose jobs like delivery where they make huge mistakes in calculating the costs/pay and get screwed.

Being a genius doesn't mean you are always right. Being a genius doesn't mean you can tell other people they are stoopid because they don't see things your way. Sometimes you just have to gut it out and do the job with your mouth shut and head down. Just saying. (I'm going to be doing that right now, the job I've got is disturbing because I'm inside a secure facility with lots of rules to break that I will get called on...).

#607 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 12:09 AM:

Welcome back, Angela.

I'm sorry that in my original reply to you I didn't explain the situation better -- just using the adjective "personal" would have avoided a lot of unnecessary bad feelings.

#608 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 01:05 AM:

#571 abi

* As opposed to the codex it was named after, which was two rectangular pieces of wood attached on one long side, with recesses on the faces that the hinging allowed the user to protect. The faces were filled with wax,

I seem to recall that at least one of the Really Really Really Old (Rome was in the future by hunreds of years) ancient shipwrecks investigated by (can't think of the person's name, which is nearly synonymous with underwater archaeology of ancient wrecked ships) had one of more such things on-board.)

Speaking of handheld computing devices, I saw Sir Frances Drake's gold pocket calculator which has something like eight different instruments for ship navigation and such. It was part of a Great Age of Sail exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, of articles on loan from the British Admirality, including scale model of HMS Victory and the painting The Death of Nelson, which is enormous, it's larger than lifesized.

#609 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 01:11 AM:

Well! That was very nice. Not just Angela's apology either--everyone else's responses too! Kudos all around.

Welcome back, Angela!

#610 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 01:17 AM:

Angela @597:

Well, that was magnificent. I have nothing but respect for someone who can come back and post something like that.

People who don't get passionate and take risks with what they post generally don't post very interesting things. Pretty much everyone I really like online (and me, too!) has done at least one thing that's left me cradling my head in my hands.

Hang around, if you like. Keep posting. Read some of the other threads, see if there are other conversations you might enjoy. Do you write poetry?

#611 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 01:51 AM:

Angela, let me say one more thing. When abi asks if you write poetry, she means you're very welcome here.

#612 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 02:24 AM:

Angela: We all make mistakes. Few of us climb out from under them as graciously and nobly as you just did. After all the many, many trolls that we've seen here who have found themselves at the bottom of that hole and just kept on digging, it's wonderful to see (and to be reminded) that there are real people behind the unpleasant posts and that some of them really do mean well. Maybe I have just regained another a small sliver of hope for humanity. Thank you.

You said in your first post you are a chronic lurker. Please feel free to delurk more often. That post most certainly sounds like that of someone who belongs here.

Teresa @ 592: Even when you explain it like that, it still seems like magic.

#613 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 03:25 AM:

I'll join in the chorus, Angela -- well spoken apology!

#614 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 06:07 AM:

I'm happy to add my voice to those complementing Angela on her gracious apology.

I may be redundant at this point, but it's unusual enough to see a genuine, non-weasely, honest to goodness "I was wrong and I'm sorry" apology on the intertubes that I think the reverse dog-pile is deserved.

#615 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 06:28 AM:

When abi asks if you write poetry, she means you're very welcome here.

Puns, however, are another matter. Especially since they bloom in the most unexpected places.

Welcome back, Angela!

#616 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 07:25 AM:

Pendrift@617

Yes, you don't want to have to put the petal to the metal. And make especially sure to leaf out the flowery rhetoric.

But budding poets are always welcome here.

#617 ::: Laura J. Mixon-Gould ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 11:22 AM:

I'm late to the party, but oh yes, I remember that crack-fic discussion. Bart was there, too.

It was as if I was missing a hunk of brain. My tolerances were definitely set very differently than appeared to be the norm. It was very disorienting -- the first time I'd ever experienced this sense of not being able to walk through an emotional terrain that everyone else there was completely and instantly familiar with. People kept coming up with more examples of crack fic, then broadened it out more general cracktastic things, and I just couldn't get those examples to evoke the right blend of emotional reactions in myself that other people reported they were having.

Finally, I think it was Mac who mentioned deep-fried, chocolate-covered bacon, and oh my, yes; then I got it. MMMM! and omg, I am totally going to hate myself tomorrow for eating this! But I'm eating it anyway! Squeeee! Suddenly, this whole new world of comprehension dawned. The student was enlightened.

#618 ::: Laura J. Mixon ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 12:19 PM:

And now, having caught up with the rest of the thread, oh my goodness. I have been remiss in reading ML commentary. Quite a discussion.

Let me also agree with everyone, Angela, that your 597 was really gracious and impressive. Not easy, as I know I can personally attest, myself. (In fact, I myself have a difficult apology to make tonight, and I am dreading it.)

#619 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 01:16 PM:

Thank you all for the cordial replies and for giving me a second chance here!

abi @612: I'm not much of a poet, though I tend to wax poetic in the presence of sparkly things and desserts.

Pendrift & Michael @617-618: I'll do my best to branch out, but the tendency to pun is rooted deeply in my psyche. It stems from a fertile but twisted sense of humor, I'm afraid.

#620 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 01:53 PM:

Orange you glad you rose to the occasion? Although we may need to prune that tendency and root out the worst examples.

#621 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 02:38 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 592: "In short, my reaction to Ben Trafford's first comment wasn't "This upstart churl has dared to disagree with me, and must be squashed.""

Oh I know! I never thought that it was. But I knew that because I know you, not from your first comment.

"It was more like "This guy is a wrong'un, and I don't trust him as far as I can throw him.""

That was what I assumed; I just didn't know why or how you had arrived at that conclusion. This post has clarified your thought process a lot--thank you.

"I think it ought to count for something that I was right."

I think it does, provided that you can prove that it wasn't just a) chance or b) self-fulfilling prophecy. Which your explanation @ 592 does prove, in my eyes.

#622 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 02:57 PM:

Angela @597, Paula Helm Murray @608 --

I'm pretty sure genius is a side-effect of an inability to stop worrying about whether or not you know how wrong you are.

#623 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Well, at least we don't have the macho types here, brandishing their pistils as if they otherwise wouldn't stamen. That's a pollen when it happens.

#624 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 04:31 PM:

Well, at least we don't have the troll back here sowing the seeds of discord. I'm glad he could leaf us a lawn.

(bashfully rushes back to her hole)

#625 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 04:33 PM:

Well, at least we don't have the troll back here sowing the seeds of discord. I'm glad he could leaf us a lawn.

(bashfully rushes back to her hole)

#626 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 04:41 PM:

I'm so sorry about the double post - don't know what happened here!

#627 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 04:46 PM:

Xopher @625:
at least we don't have the macho types here

You serif that? I mean, I know you're the font of all wisdom, but that's a fairly bold statement to make at this point.

You might pica slightly less emphatic phrasing, just for forme's sake. Not that I'm pressing you on the matter.

#628 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 05:12 PM:

I meant the present time's New Roman types, the ones who think they're the elite. They have no sense of proportion; they think they're all ascenders and no descenders.

I know one of them. He's arial jerk. He thinks he's a comedian, but can't get a date with a woman with the most minimal feminist credentials...yes, he's a comic, sans Ms.

#629 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 05:39 PM:

I happen think it's a load of Bodoni and they're just leading you on.

None of the parties are justified (left, right _or_ centre) IMAO, and on present forme are making ready to cause trouble.

At the moment this moose is off his feet with work, and desperately needs a drink to offset the aggravation on the web.

FX: picks up quoin and wanders off to buy a cup of coffee.

#630 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 05:52 PM:

I think that this type of thing is just baskerville for trouble in plain old English.

#631 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Plantin your feet and laying down the rules?

#632 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2010, 09:05 PM:

I'm pretty sure genius is a side-effect of an inability to stop worrying about whether or not you know how wrong you are.

Knowing intimately at least two geniuses, I'd say just the opposite is so.

Geniuses are concerned only with what they're DOING, and, alas, sometimes, how to keep the resources etc. in effect to keep DOING.

Love, C.

#633 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 12:04 PM:

Xopher: they think they're all ascenders and no descenders. Oh for crying out loud, this is what we have spam filters for, isn't it?

:)

#634 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Paula Lieberman @610:

Speaking of handheld computing devices, I saw Sir Frances Drake's gold pocket calculator which has something like eight different instruments for ship navigation and such. It was part of a Great Age of Sail exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, of articles on loan from the British Admirality, including scale model of HMS Victory and the painting The Death of Nelson, which is enormous, it's larger than lifesized.
I must get back there. The Peabody Essex Museum is fabulous -- the mathom-house of all the cool stuff (however obtained) that came home on Yankee sailing ships.

Paul Duncanson @614:

Teresa @ 592: Even when you explain it like that, it still seems like magic.
I'm uncomfortably aware of that. Let me tell you about apparently supernatural feats of reading and processing I've seen other people do.

Tom Doherty divines complex and nuanced information from masses of tabular sales data. I've also seen him calculate a multi-stage P&L (from "Profit and Loss": a very complicated spreadsheet calculation estimating the profitability of a book you're thinking of acquiring) on the fly, in less than a minute, on the back of his name card, during a convention panel.

I know of at least a dozen copy editors/proofreaders who can spot the typos on a new page -- plink, plink, plink -- as soon as they turn it over, before reading the text. S. T. Joshi can do that with bibliographies. Abi Sutherland can do it with software. Robert Legault could spot a typo going past when when I was riffling through a stack of galley pages at a speed that precluded reading as we understand it.

(See also Adamnan's Life of St. Columba, Chapter XVII, "Of the Vowel I." That was no miracle; that was a copy editor.)

Many stories are told about John M. Ford. To the best of my knowledge, none of them are exaggerated.

Patrick remembers music as harmonic sequences, and can usually start playing along with a song he's never heard before a couple of bars in. He can also improvise on musical instruments while reading a book or newspaper.

John Shankman, formerly of Federated Media, can remember the faces, names, and salient facts about a phenomenal percentage of the people he's met in his life. So can Jon Singer. Jon frequently remembers their phone numbers as well.

Some baseball players have reported the at-bat experience of being able to see not only the travel path, but the individual stitches, in an oncoming fastball they're about to hit.

Lithography is a printing method where the image is drawn with a grease pencil on a polished stone slab. When the slab is wetted, the oil-based printing inks adhere to the grease-pencilled image areas and are repelled by the water on the rest of the stone. If you make an error with the grease pencil, the only way to fix it is to grind the stone clean and start over.

Once, when Alphonse Mucha was proofing one of his multi-pass lithographed prints -- a process which required tremendous precision -- he decided there wasn't enough yellow in the mix. He took a grease pencil and freehanded additional coverage onto the stone used for the yellow pass. When they re-proofed, his additions came up in register.

And then there are the stories told about the likes of Mozart, Ramanujan, and Tesla, which are only believable because they were real.

This stuff fascinates me.

So. Minor gifts and knacks that can look like magic:

When my neurology's in good shape and I'm moderately familiar with the subject being discussed, I can usually keep track of statements and arguments, and on a good day model their implications and necessary assumptions, at a speed I can't account for. It's just there. Sometimes, if a person is shifting the grounds of their argument, or I'm tracking arguments from multiple sources, or arguments over time, I may come up with a 3D model. Sometimes it'll be predictive: "When we find out out about the missing [whatever] this person is refusing to discuss, it will have the following characteristics."

There are styles in everything, including notoriously abstract and objective subjects like mathematics. There are certainly styles in logic. When you get down to the ways arguments are formulated, and the language used to formulate them, there are practically fingerprints.

Everyone's language is a balance between original and habitual tropes, sentences, word choices, and figures of speech. Most of us make frequent use of recycled language, adapted to the occasion with greater or lesser degrees of precision. If you have a mutant memory for language and a knack for pattern recognition, you'll find yourself identifying formulations and turns of phrase you've met before, and the context in which you've met them.

(Note: Patrick, Jim, Avram, Abi, and I have non-identical sets of bad guys and bad behaviors we can spot. It's because we're different people, and have had different experiences.)

For me, Ben Trafford lit up like neon. He was re-using language and arguments from a period I remember fairly well, one which there was no good reason for him to be referencing. The second-hand arguments he used were disparate and in some cases fragmentary, and their emotional tone was uneven. His clichés were needlessly inflammatory. His self-generated statements had a sort of gloaty, self-regarding tone I strongly associate with people who are focused on some much-rehearsed personal script, not the conversation at hand. And so forth.

Can I really sort out those issues almost as fast as I can read the comment? Sometimes, yeah. Could I have been wrong? It's possible. I'd have been apologizing early and often if his subsequent comments hadn't borne out my opinions of his first one.

You know what's funny? When you major in language and meaning, so to speak, you wind up with an involuntary minor in all the times and ways and places where the things language is doing have nothing to do with the things it's supposedly about.

#635 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 06:33 PM:

Teresa #636: I am a poor-to-average chess player. On one occasion, many years ago, I had the strange and wonderful experience of playing a game against a much better player (he was ranked, I wasn't) in which I suddenly could see the game. Every move came naturally. I knew exactly what to play and when. Suddenly, the gift deserted me as swiftly as it came. At that moment, my opponent, seeing no way out of mate in three moves, resigned. Never happened since.

#636 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 06:53 PM:

You can exercise that gift by playing blindfold chess: no board, no pieces, just calling out moves; an illegal move triggers a forfeit.

#637 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 06:59 PM:

Teresa, #636: Patrick remembers music as harmonic sequences, and can usually start playing along with a song he's never heard before a couple of bars in.

While I'm not on Patrick's level, I've had that happen to me a few times. A lot of folk tunes have similar harmonic structures, and once you're familiar with a large enough body of them, you can take a pretty good guess as to where one you haven't heard before is going to go. It generally takes me one full verse/chorus to get it exactly right, but then it's very straightforward. It helps that I had enough music theory in college to hear the chord relationships within a key.

Fragano, #637: Ooh, I've had one of those too! Just for one sequence of moves in one game, when I suddenly realized that if I sacrificed a rook here, I'd have my opponent's queen in 4 moves. Normally I can't see that far ahead. It was a very strange feeling.

#638 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 07:04 PM:

While we're talking about flashbacks to the CD-ROM era, did you see Adobe's iPad concept for Wired?
a) This is so much like the CD-ROM conceits we made back in the mid 90s it hurts (except with added finger-swiping)
b) You'd think the web hasn't been able to do embedded video and manipulable objects for at least 15 years
c) The real problem is the production cost of all this swooshiness

#639 ::: Laura J. Mixon ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 07:10 PM:

I find this all very interesting and mysterious.

#640 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 07:41 PM:

Fragano, I know what you mean. I have defective wiring for math that involves equations, but I once had a spell during which I discovered a new (or extremely obscure) property of the Fibonacci series.

When my neurology is behaving badly, I lose abilities I normally have, like navigation and the plainer kinds of math.

Sounds like neurochemistry to me.

#641 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 07:57 PM:

While we're talking about flashbacks to the CD-ROM era, did you see Adobe's iPad concept for Wired?
a) This is so much like the CD-ROM conceits we made back in the mid 90s it hurts (except with added finger-swiping)
b) You'd think the web hasn't been able to do embedded video and manipulable objects for at least 15 years
c) The real problem is the production cost of all this swooshiness

#642 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 08:32 PM:

Lee #639 It's a feeling somewhere between exhilirating and disconcerting.

Teresa #642: Neurochemistry may have a lot to do with it. Or it may be something else. I can remember the strange experience, even earlier, after months of frustration in high school, returning from the long vacation (spent, by the bye, herding animals, reaping pimento and, when I could reading Marlowe, Dylan Thomas, Aldous Huxley, Hemingway,* and 19th century European history -- with my father's complete works of Longfellow for light refreshment) to discover that I understood for the first and only time in my life how to do quadratic equations and solve for X. A simple thing, but when you've spent the entire spring term feeling like a ninny, and it comes to you automatically after you've spent the summer not doing it it seems strange.


* They were among the A-level English set texts.

#643 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 09:15 PM:

Teresa #636 So. Minor gifts and knacks that can look like magic

Indeed, I think they are magic -- that is, "magic" is just a historical tag for abilities that the onlookers didn't understand. Categorically, these would be part of someone's "personal magic". We still are impressed by people who have a way with animals, machines, and/or computers. And then there are social abilities and talents: charisma, leadership, peacemaking....

#644 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 10:07 PM:

Bodging. I have the bodging knack, in spite of never having been taught thing one about tools or materials. Like sorting out arguments, the "here's a way to fix it" insight sometimes comes so fast it blurs.

I'm not sure I wouldn't trade some of the argument-juggling for the ability to do algebra. Jim Macdonald once doggedly spent two-plus hours working with me in chat because I said it was impossible to teach me Cartesian coordinates. Jim's an unstoppable force: at the end of that time, I actually understood them.

Fragano, I don't know whether this is still current theory in psychology, but one of my professors said the definition of an introvert is someone who keeps processing stuff internally when they're not working with it externally. If they still think that, you qualify.

#645 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 10:36 PM:

What kind of animals were you herding?

#646 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 11:07 PM:

Teresa@636, what really lit up for me was reading the stories that were referenced by several people about doing business with Ben's company. They were the perfect late-90s Silicon Valley mood-capturing fiction, and the fact that they were actually true enhanced that rather than degrading it. It was so perfectly crystallized, like a short version of the 90s thread of Cryptonomicon, except that I'd probably only met one of the actual characters as opposed to a dozen of them.

I was nearly in several similar stories myself, but neither of them kicked off solidly enough for the players who had day jobs to quit them or the investors who were just about ready to hand over the cash to actually do so. But until the boom ended, most people were in a position that even if their venture crashed and burned horribly, there would always be another one, unless they'd burned all their friends in the process.

#647 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 11:24 PM:

Some people have, I've sometimes suspected, a variation or perhaps a reassignment or fine-tuning of survival instincts, transferred to other areas of our lives and environments.

Teresa has an uncanny ear for tone and text that reminds me a bit of that knack some people have for walking into rather seedy bars and intuitively and instantly knowing that they're somewhere queer-friendly, without being able to explain how they can tell.

In hindsight, you can perhaps reconstruct the tiny patterns and details that tipped you off to the preternatural-seeming knowledge, but it's something that happens at such a deep level, and so instantly, that it defies attempts to explain, or even to attempts to teach the skill in question.

#648 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2010, 11:47 PM:

I get that with textiles. I'll see a yarn, and then months later a pattern (or vice versa) and I'll know exactly what the garment will look like. It doesn't happen as often as it used to with needlework, but then I've only been knitting for a third as long.

#649 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 01:08 AM:

I have some of the same bodging knack as Teresa, but I have to be alone in the room to do it. An observer injects rationality, narrative, and physics, and then the thing doesn't work.

I also have a specialized knack for electrostatic printers (including copiers). If I can get everyone else to stop paying attention I can lay hands on fretful ones and get them to unjam and use the last of their toner like good machines should.

It doesn't work on inkjets.

#650 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 01:41 AM:

Teresa @636 -- one of the things about those knacks is that it takes a long time for people to figure out they have them (in general) and that other people don't. People keep telling me that I have two particular ones (one of defusing difficult situations with people, the other of figuring out what's going on with someone's musculature) and without the feedback, I'd have no idea that what I'm doing is beyond what's ordinary. It's just obvious in the moment. I can maybe analyze after the fact some of what went into the decision, but I certainly don't analyze while I'm doing it -- it's classic unconscious competence.

Fragano @637 -- Peter Dickinson has a great essay on that phenomenon called "The Day of the Tennis Rabbit." It was in the Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress in 1981, and I would highly recommend you see if you can get a copy. It's his usual brilliance. I just saw my copy of the magazine a few days ago, and could probably lend it if you were interested. It does not appear to be available online or have been collected.

#651 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 08:32 AM:

I have a knack for finding things other people have lost - my gaze just gets drawn to the search object. Unfortunately for me, it doesn't work with things I've lost.

Re. herding animals, I've come to realise that's a knack which depends on the herder being able to "read" the animal's behaviour and respond to it on a somewhat instinctive level. You can learn it, or get better at it, with practice, but it's not something that can be taught, as such.

#652 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 08:46 AM:

one of the things about those knacks is that it takes a long time for people to figure out they have them (in general) and that other people don't.

I still remember the little shock I got the time I realized that some people can't hear music in their heads. Being able to hear music in your head is a fairly common talent, but there are some people who don't have it and that idea had never even occurred to me.

#653 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 09:03 AM:

Teresa #647 It was a mixed farm; we had 50 head of Red Poll cattle, which were our financial mainstay (plus a couple of Jerseys and Guernseys for milk), goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. I had to herd all of them (though not all at once). We also had dogs and cats. Somewhere along the way I developed a loathing for hunters that has never left me (something about idiots who seemed to think that barbed wire fences were unneeded obstacles that needed to be removed rather than field boundaries that had taken hours of back-breaking work to put up).

#654 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 11:12 AM:

Tom Whitmore #652: Thanks. I'll do my best to remember that.

#655 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 11:43 AM:

For knacks, I like the term that Allen Varney came up with: perklets. Some of the ones listed here, however, seem to be full perks. My perklet is Dictionary Luck, where I can take a familiar reference work and open it right to the page I need; on a good day, I can just call out a page number to someone else who is trying to look something up (mostly for game rules).

#656 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 11:46 AM:

#643 Kevin

It looked a lot like microfilm and microfiche with icons {virtual rant...} instead of physical mechanical scrolling/panning controls, to me.

I also noticed that all the people in the clip were white, and with one brief exception of a non-speaking female in back of a big monitor, male....

As for the 3D rotation, I remember about 20 years ago, Silicon Graphics doing a presentation with a 3D graphics authoring C or C++ language extension package--oh, right, it was OpenGL. That was YEARS ago. At the time VRML was getting lots of attention and such. The economic malaises in the interim squashed most of the attention and funding and the market showed itself less than interested... there wasn't anything in that Adobe-Wire slick ad and marketing promo, that wasn't around years ago....

The wordings used in the promo weren't quite enough for me to fear making a mess on/of the laptop--there should be a word count limit for "rich" as in "rich content." I don't remember the other trite/hackneyed terms used, but the presentation was rife with them. Then there was the mention of advertising--that's the real driver I suspect, get that ad revenue, everything else is secondary.... and nobody MATTERS except white males who look like {barf} Scott Brown... what I think got that {expletive deleted} elected was quite literally his looks and all the support he got from the mass media--showing him smiling from good angles looking tall and Authoritative and quoting him on upbeat things, and picking the worst angles and unsmiling expression and defensive sound clips from his opponents. It was all about surface presentation display and media bias.... and that Adobe-Wired ad looks the same, all surface slick marketing, statuesque white Caucasian males plus a token shot of a white Caucasian female only allowed...

#657 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 12:07 PM:

I share those knacks of finding lost objects (which is a fortunate it one to have considering I live with someone whose magpie habits mean he spends far too much of his time looking for what he can't find), and herding animals, and that includes flocking birds. But I grew up on a farm so I figure that skill just comes with the territory -- plus, then, obviously, I come out of untold generations of peasants.

I also have a knack for untangling threads, string, rope, Mardi Gras beads, etc.

But in general, I just really good at organizing space, objects and tasks. This is the one I didn't realize I had, until library school, during which we spent a lot of our theoretical time on conceptualization of 'inner' and outer, container space.

Hmmm. Finding things, herding, untangling, organizing -- they all have to do with space in some way.

But I can't see! I'm blind without my specs.

Love, C.

#658 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 09:33 AM:

It may be late to get back to the original topic, but this New York Times piece changed at least my understanding of the "agency model". They're reporting that Apple, at least, will be able to discount ebook versions of bestsellers, at their own discretion, to $9.99 if not lower. And if you also believe the rumors about Amazon's deal with the publishers, Amazon would have the right to match those discounted prices.

Which leaves me wondering, once again, what the fight was all about. Before it even started, Amazon had already offered an "agency model" 70/30 split to self-publishers who would agree to price their books at $9.99 or below, and ensure that the Amazon price matched the lowest available elsewhere. So, as I've said here before, it seemed more likely that the fight was about price-setting authority than "agency model" per se. But if the sellers get to apply discounts... well, I could speculate further, but it would get really impolitic...

#659 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 10:02 AM:

#660 Which leaves me wondering, once again, what the fight was all about.

It was Amazon trying to corner the market. It's the only answer that makes sense.

I continue to remove Amazon links. I've been posting them on the web for over a decade; there are thousands, and it's taking time.

#660 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 11:00 AM:

Carrie S@654: I still remember the little shock I got the time I realized that some people can't hear music in their heads.

I get the same kind of shock every time I realize that some people honestly can't tell when a line of verse doesn't scan. (Over time, I've come to believe that the rhyming knack is fairly common by comparison with the scansion knack. The larger knack for impromptu versification -- far more common in this venue than in the general population -- requires both.)

#661 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 02:02 PM:

Carrie S@654: I still remember the little shock I got the time I realized that some people can't hear music in their heads.

I think there are all sorts of variations on this: I can hear music in my head in the sense of being able to remember a tune without vocalizing it, but I can't call to mind complex pieces, only a sort of misty emotional mass with the prominent notes looming out, like listening to a poor recording. Sometimes imaginary symphonies sort of appear, and I have certainly dreamed music, but it all goes too fast. The same with visual images: it's not that I don't *have* them, it's that they stream away from me like super-fast films, and I can't make them slow down so that I can remember things in the pictures.

I have a very linear, and very verbally-oriented mind: I frequently see words as I hear people speak, as if my mind were constantly at work creating subtitles. If only I could funnel it directly to a computer, I'd be a hell of a court reporter.

I do often have visual insights, but they don't always *feel* visual. For instance, I remember reading a puzzle about taking a square of paper, folding it in half, in half again, and in half again, and then unfolding it. How many squares do you see? The first thing I said was "Eight triangles," because I had envisioned myself folding diagonally. That one I did see in my head. Then, *without* seeming to see anything in my head, I said, "And it would be rectangles, not squares, if you folded it the other way, so maybe you're supposed to answer 'one'?" But no, the puzzle was wrong, the answer said eight squares. Never mind that eight is not a square number.

#662 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Helen @ 663 -- That's odd; I get seven squares.

-------------
|  |  |  |  |
|  |  |  |  |
-------------
|  |  |  |  |
|  |  |  |  |
-------------

Three in each of the two rows, formed from pairs of rectangles, plus the large square.

#663 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Different result, of course, if you always fold in the same linear dimension.

#664 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 05:58 PM:

I think the only way to get more than one square is to make one of the folds perpendicular to another.

Of course, if the question reeally is "how many squares do you see?" rather than "how many squares can be found among the folds and edges of the piece of paper?", the matter becomes much more ambiguous.

#665 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 07:07 PM:

Ah yes. While we're opening up about our magical abilities, I will confess to mine. I seem to have received the curse of Cassandra, especially in the context of large-scale technology initiatives. I can often look at a big technology project, and predict its catastrophic failure mode years in advance. Naturally: I've never been able to give to the people involved in the project a convincing prophecy of the inevitable failure they would be facing. (I'll bet Joe Hirko now wishes I had been more convincing.)

The good news is that nobody ever remembers that I Told Them So unless I remind them. I learned a long time ago not to do that.

#666 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2010, 08:12 PM:

Joel Polowin #664: Three in each of the two rows, formed from pairs of rectangles, plus the large square.

That is, in fact, odd. Good answer, Joel!

#667 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 12:01 AM:

I actually found the book. http://books.google.com/books?id=_vLmG9qEROgC&pg=PA171

Page 173 says "If, for example, you solved the problem of folding paper simply by multiplying 2 x 2 x 2, you are following a logical-mathematical path." I assume that means Howard Gardner thinks eight is the correct answer, and that he's not allowing for different sizes of square, etc. (let alone realizing they're rectangles).

#668 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 01:20 AM:

I can predict a movie's "surprise ending" from its trailer.

Oh wait, that's about movies and trailers being stupid, not about me having a magical ability. Never mind.

#669 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 12:19 PM:

HelenS @ 669 -- For me, that link gives "No preview available." At any rate, the size of the square is irrelevant, but you're right, the answer doesn't fit the question asked.

#670 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 12:23 PM:

Oops, sorry, I misunderstood. The physical size of the original paper square is irrelevant, but one must take into account the smaller squares bounded by folds in the paper.

#671 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 12:34 PM:

A fast pass with a piece of paper gets me 12: 8 small squares, three that are made of 4 small squares, and one that's the whole sheet.
I could easily be wrong, though.

#672 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 01:29 PM:

Technically, the book doesn't say 8 is the right answer. It just says that this is the answer which will be obtained by following the logical-mathematical approach. Maybe this is meant as an example of the sort of error committed by people who think in equations without visualizing their meaning?

I think, though, that this is more likely an error on the author's part.

#673 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 02:45 PM:

I think the tip-off is that there's no mention that the answer could possibly be ambiguous. Joel, of course you are right about the seven squares, and I probably did think of that eventually, but I was just saying how far I had gotten while in flash-of-insight mode.

#674 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2010, 05:57 PM:

Folding the paper into triangles sounds to me like a sign of creativity (to be confirmed by follow-up tests, of course).

#675 ::: Martin DeMello ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2010, 05:32 AM:

abi @574: "You looked smug, but hamsters always do." is the best line I've read all day.

Paula Lieberman @610: I've been googling around for the last ten minutes trying to find out more about Drake's pocket calculator, but came up blank. Do you remember any more details about it? Was it something he had built for himself, or a common sailor's tool?

#676 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2010, 11:55 AM:

What do y'all think of University of Chicago Press' e-book pricing policy? They make no bones about ebook ownership not really being ownership, rather something of a rental if you want to get it cheaper than cover price.

You can buy it for cover price, rent for 180 days at half list price, or rent for 30 days at $5.

#677 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2010, 06:13 AM:

Jon Baker, those sound to me like good approximations of my interactions with academic texts when I was in college. Thirty days at five dollars is the book or play you're reading for a lit survey course. Half price for 180 days is a book you repeatedly refer to while writing a long paper. Full price for permanent ownership is a core book in some field of study.

#678 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:34 PM:

I lost track. Did Macmillan books finally return to Amazon? How long was the hiatus?

#679 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 02:48 PM:

New York Times has an article today on eBook pricing (iPod model vs. paper, no mention of Amazon.) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/01/business/media/01ebooks.html?hpw=&pagewanted=all (You probably have to register to see it.) Not much that hasn't already been discussed here.

Interesting quote from Anne Rice near the end - 'For many authors, pricing is a thicket of confusion. "None of us know what books cost. None of us know what kind of profits hardcover or paperback publishers make," said Anne Rice, author of...'

#680 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 01:02 AM:

Shameless plug: We have a new T-shirt which may be of interest to some of the participants in this discussion.

#681 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 01:39 AM:

Infodumping...

Bill Higgins@680 -- the hiatus was seven days, give or take a couple of hours.

Macmillan posted a new statement:
http://blog.macmillanspeaks.com/macmillan-ceo-john-sargent-on-the-agency-model-availability-and-price/

I don't think there's anything surprising there, but it has this assertion:

"For physical books, the majority of new release hardcovers are
published in cheaper paperback versions over time. We will mirror this
price reduction in the digital world. [...] If we do issue a
paperback, we will drop the digital price to $9.99 or lower at
[paperback] publication date (if not before)."

This seems sane to me.

Finally, for people looking for iPhone/iPad/Android ePub readers:
http://ibisreader.com/ This is free, and while it promotes itself as
"store your books in the cloud", you don't have to. You can put ePub
files on your own web server and download them directly into the
app.

Furthermore, it's an HTML5 app (using browser caching so you can use
it offline). Which means it's independent of the app store and Apple's
approval process.

(Disclosure: one of the developers is a friend.)

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