Back to previous post: Amazon & Macmillan

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Intelligence in, intelligence out

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

February 1, 2010

Amazon versus Macmillan
Posted by Teresa at 01:14 AM *

On Friday, Amazon removed the “buy” links on its site from every book published by Macmillan or its subsidiaries. The two companies were in the middle of negotiations about ebook rights and pricing, and Amazon got tired of negotiating, so they de-listed Macmillan’s books to force them to capitulate.

I opine that Amazon’s demands were overblown and excessively self-serving, and their attempt to strongarm Macmillan put them in clear violation of federal antitrust regulations. I observe that Amazon has pulled this same trick on several previous occasions, and gotten away with it more often than not. Those victories had nothing to do with laws and rights, and everything to do with the power distributors hold over publishers.

The book production pipeline is long and expensive. If a major distributor suspends sales of a publisher’s books, there’s a good chance the publisher will go broke and go out of business before they can do anything about the situation.

It’s been an exciting weekend.

Today, Amazon backed down and said they’d decided not to invade Belgium after all. It’s good news, though I’m still waiting to hear they’ve actually put the links back up. In the meantime, some selected readings:

From Zinc Blinked, by Scott Westerfeld:

This is not a case of two corporations pissing down on us mere mortals with equal disdain; it’s a case of complex negotiations in an ancient industry with many arcane traditions that’s in a state of technological flux, being conducted at a level which the overwhelming majority of readers do not understand (nor should they have to), and which were going along in a way that made, frankly, perfect sense to those of us who understand this industry a little, when suddenly, out of the blue, one of the sides in this negotiation spat their pacifier across the room in a very public and embarrassing display of petulance. And that corporation was Amazon.
From the formidable Amazon, Macmillan: an outsider’s guide to the fight, by Charlie Stross:
Note that Amazon have been trying to grab a larger share of the cake by dipping into the publishers’ — and the authors’ — share of what meagre profits there are (book publishing is notoriously, uniquely unprofitable, within the media world), even though they’ve already got the wholesale and retail supply chains stitched up. Their buy wholesale/sell retail model screws publishers’ ability to manage their cash flow and tends to induce price wars on the supply side, which is okay if we’re talking widgets with a range of competing suppliers, but books are individually unique products and the industry already runs on alarmingly narrow margins: this isn’t the music or movie biz. …

Just before Apple announced the iPad and the agency deal for ebooks, Amazon pre-empted by announcing an option for publishing ebooks in which they would graciously reduce their cut from 70% to 30%, “same as Apple”. From a distance this looks competitive, but the devil is in the small print; to get the 30% rate, you have to agree that Amazon is a publisher, license your rights to Amazon to publish through the Kindle platform, guarantee that you will not allow other ebook editions to sell for less than the Kindle price, and let Amazon set that price, with a ceiling of $9.99. In other words, Amazon choose how much to pay you, while using your books to undercut any possible rivals (including the paper editions you still sell). It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the major publishers don’t think very highly of this offer.

John Scalzi has been on top of this story all weekend, starting with Macmillan Books Gone Missing from Amazon, and continuing on with A Quick Note on eBook Pricing and Amazon Hijinx, It’s All About Timing, and Dear Amazon. His most recent entry, All the Many Ways Amazon So Very Failed This Weekend, is gratifyingly thorough:
Leaving aside the moral, philosophical, cultural and financial implications of this weekend’s Amazon/Macmillan slapfight and What It All Means for book readers and the future of the publishing industry, in one very real sense the whole thing was an exercise in public communications, a process by which two very large companies made a case for themselves in the public arena. And in this respect, we can say this much without qualification: oh, sweet Jesus, did Amazon ever hump the bunk.

How did it do so? I’m glad you asked! Let us count the ways. …

2. Amazon Lost the Authors.

Amazon apparently forgot that when it moved against Macmillan, it also moved against Macmillan’s authors. Macmillan may be a faceless, soulless baby-consuming corporate entity with no feelings or emotions, but authors have both of those, and are also twitchy neurotic messes who obsess about their sales, a fact which Amazon should be well aware of because we check our Amazon numbers four hundred times a day, and a one-star Amazon review causes us to crush up six Zoloft and snort them into our nasal cavities, because waiting for the pills to digest would just take too long.

These are the people Amazon pissed off. Which was not smart thing, because as we all know, the salient feature of writers is that they write. And they did, about this, all weekend long.

For further discussion, check out the comment thread of the preceding entry on Making Light.


From Tobias Buckell, Why My Books Are No Longer Available on

Comments on Amazon versus Macmillan:
#1 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:13 AM:

I have a feeling that Round #2 (or more accurately, Round #5 or Round #10 -- this has been going on for some time) is at most eighteen months away. And if Amazon have learned anything at all, next time the outcome may be very different.

But I don't expect Amazon to learn. They've got a record of corporate bullying going back a decade or more.

#2 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:48 AM:

Amazon have seriously lost my goodwill for the random customer-abuse involved in their method, before we even get started on this latest hijackery itself. I put small trust in antitrust personally, but nobody can take away my own little stick for beating arrogant would-be monopolists with. Amazon, say hello to Customer Stick! You have been dumb: we will help to make you smart now.

Charlie @ 1 - Sterling work all through the show. I fear you may be right about 'em, but not for too many go-rounds in the future. Don't Learn was made to learn...

#3 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:27 AM:

the salient feature of writers is that they write.

Not only that, but the writers are the only ones in the whole industry who have a fan following. I doubt if even the most avid readers could name more than a handful of publishing figures (even if you include the ones whose companies are named after them), but everyone knows who their favorite authors are.

Which means that where the authors go, so go the customers. Half (or more) of Brust's fans probably didn't even *notice* that there was a different logo on the spine, or wouldn't have if there hadn't been that thinly veiled discussion of publishers in one of the books. But the dollars went into a different company's account whether the customers noticed or not.

Brand loyalty to an author is obvious and strong. Brand loyalty to a publisher is all but unthinkable. Which makes pissing off your authors (or anyone's authors) a Grade A screwup.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:41 AM:

Charlie, you're anticipating my next entry, and exceeding it. I'm most familiar with their mistreatment of Hachette, the PODs, the original Amazon Bookstore, and the #Amazonfail mess, and I know I'm vague on the one-click ordering thing. What else goes on the list?

#5 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:46 AM:

What are we going to call this one? Amazon v Macmillan seems verbose. AmazonMac? AmazonFail#2? AmazonFail#5?

#6 ::: Matches Malone ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:54 AM:

Well, then it would seem that Amazon v. Apple is petty in comparison.


This is just the tip of the iceberg, and the fallout will continue throughout the coming weeks, until Amazon realizes that, after everything, they can't compete with newer technology....

#7 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:55 AM:

Puis ca change, puis la meme. Doesn't matter if it's online or offline.

#8 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:57 AM:

NelC@5 - 'Amazon MacFail' has a certain ring to it...

#9 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:59 AM:

So, who's out there as a realistic competitor to Amazon? I'm thinking about markets Amazon's business model has completely locked up, such as the "it's ten miles in thick January-in-Wisconsin snow to my nearest bookstore, independent or otherwise" market. Or the "I don't wanna wait the extra time it takes to get the bookstore to order it" market.

Obviously, there's But as evil as Amazon seems determined to be, that's Barnes & Noble.

Borders closed their own online sales operation (handing over the keys to Amazon) years ago.

There's buying directly from links on the publisher's website, but that requires (in most cases) looking up the publisher first, which means I'm already on Amazon's site looking at the page from which I can buy the book. Plus, I just tried this with a book I've been looking to replace and the web shopping experience is like something out of 1995. Not that there isn't a certain amount of retro appeal, but it makes it hard to recommend that approach to friends, assuming I can convince them that Amazon's evil in the first place.

#10 ::: Jim Henley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:30 AM:
"What are we going to call this one?"

I'm going with the Weekend War.

#11 ::: SteveH ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:43 AM:

Just searched for Iorich on Amazon. It's still not available from them, so there seems to be a delay in their blinkage.

#12 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:00 AM:

I don't know about how the prices would compare in the US, but from here in Australia Amazon is entirely too easy to forget about, because in the UK there is The Book Depository, which ships anywhere in the world, for free, and quickly. I received a collection of Raymond Carver short stories, and an Icelandic murder mystery, today, only 9 days after I ordered them. With our current exchange rate between the Oz dollar and the Pound, I got both books for a total of $24 Australian, rather than the $55-$60, plus shipping, I would have paid via Amazon. I daresay one could get good deals in US currency, as well.

#13 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:08 AM:

PS: on checking, I see those two books listed on for, in total, about US$20, rather than the figures I cited, which would be what I'd pay for them in actual shops here in Perth. Amazon would still want you to pay for shipping, though, which would add up, depending on which option you chose.

#14 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:32 AM:

I've been putting up (almost-)daily reviews at, and linking each review to Amazon as an Associate. I'm now seriously considering cutting that relationship. I'm prepared to deal with the normal pace of link rot, but the prospect that 20% of my links might go bad at once, without notice, is not acceptable. From my POV, Amazon has demonstrated that it's not a reliable distributor -- that being a reliable distributor is not even a priority for them.

So, or Or just

#15 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:51 AM:

Amazon has a rep as an anti-union firm, but I haven't been able to confirm that. It might be interesting to contact some labor leaders and ask.

Their marketing practices tell a story, too. What kind of salesman is it that, when I go in to buy one thing, immediately tries to sell me 20 other things, and does not stop? Yet that is how their web site works. This discourtesy has become an on-line norm, and partly because Amazon has made it one, but it's nothing I put up with face-to-face, and I hate it on-line, too.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:54 AM:

The Raven #15: That last is a serious annoyance in Amazon's emails, and can produce some startling juxtapositions.

#17 ::: Simon W ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:03 AM:

Another good site I discovered recently is - UK based, but again free worldwide shipping. They've got some Steven Brust books (I'm working my way through the Vlad Taltos series) at a much more reasonable price than Amazon. YMMV for other authors.

#18 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:08 AM:

Teresa @ 4, I also have a vague memory of Amazon pulling something similar with regard to their auctions (and trying to take on eBay as a result) but I can't remember the details. This happened around 1999-2000--if you want details, I suppose I could try to dig around in my records and figure it out. May be related to one click, may be related to Paypal.

Daniel Martin @ 9, there's always Powell's on line.

#19 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:09 AM:

Amazon also gets (or got) millage out of things like Dan Brown's Amazon Page.

Or for that matter John Scalzi's Amazon Page.

These are run through Amazon's "Author Central". Amazon sez:

Welcome to Author Central (beta), a free service provided by Amazon to allow authors to reach more readers, promote books, and help build a better Amazon bookstore.

We love books, and books begin with authors. As an author, you are part of a special community at Amazon. At Author Central, you have the opportunity to share the most up-to-date information about yourself and your work with your readers -- you can view and edit your bibliography, add a photo and biography to a personal profile, upload missing book cover images, and use a blog to connect with readers.

Ahahahaha! Good luck when those authors decide to update the author profile pages. *snort*

#20 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:50 AM:

What kind of salesman is it that, when I go in to buy one thing, immediately tries to sell me 20 other things

A fairly common kind offline (and more irritating there):

Do you want fries with that?

You'll want the extended warranty with that.

The heated seat option is only another $nnnn

I used to be impressed with their recommendations, but then I found that Jo Walton on was better at predicting what I wanted to read, and she doesn't know me from a hole in the ground.

#21 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 11:06 AM:

Daniel Martin @ 9: Border's actually broke their connection with Amazon a couple of years ago, and has their own unrelated web site now. (But note stupid web-ing: times out, you must ask for I'm always amazed how many sites screw that up.)

#22 ::: John Hawkes-Reed ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 11:09 AM:

You know, a useful sort of thing for some enterprising masher-up of webbery to, er, 'mash up' would be an Amazon wish-list export/transfer tool.

#23 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 11:16 AM:

Daniel Martin at #9: "Borders closed their own online sales operation (handing over the keys to Amazon) years ago"

In 2008 Borders decided, once again, to try a Borders owned website: Borders . For details see: Borders/Amazon Divorce.

#24 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 11:24 AM:

Daniel:'s store is what I'd recommend for SF. They sell books from all publishers. Or there's the always excellent

Disclosure: am published by Tor and blog at

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 11:27 AM:

I'm bummed that the only place where I could acquire out-of-print small-press anthology Skull Full of Spurs at a price in the 2-digit range is at Amazon. Well, I'll keep checking over at Alibris once in a while.

#26 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:01 PM:

Does anyone here have experience as a buyer and/or affiliate with Better World Books?

#27 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:12 PM:

Doctor Science @26:

Yes, the university library I work at is an affiliate with Better World books. We ship them a ton of material every year, usually donations we don't add to the collection. I'd be happy to answer questions, to the best of my ability.

#28 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:15 PM:

This round of Amazonfail has sorely tempted me to pull my two books off of CreateSpace (Amazon's POD service) and move over to Lulu. Not that my meager sales would effect them in any way but it would at least send a symbolic message. For whatever that's worth.

#29 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:30 PM:

Serge @ #25: has it.

Dr. Science @ #26: I've bought some stuff from them through On time, reasonably priced, condition as described.

#30 ::: Lelliot ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:39 PM:

(Hm, never heard of the book depository before. My god their search is awful. I would shop there, but either they don't have what i'm looking for or don't know how to find it.)

While I have to agree with Scalzi that Amazon's behavior has been juvenile, unprofessional and generally uncool, I think its MacMillan who's ultimately trying to get away with something fishy. The notion that manufacturers can dictate the retail price to distributors has a long history of abuse associated with it and is considered a Bad Idea (TM) (by everyone but the manufacturer of course).

#31 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:51 PM:

Lelliot: There is a different problem with the Amazon model. They are dictating the retail price. They are taking advantage of market position to make it pretty much impossible for other retailers to sell at a higher price.

Given that the fixe costs of producing a book are such that it's not really survivable for the end cost to be depressed (because the wholesale cost can't go below 'x') and the present model is the publisher setting price (which is also true for things like snack foods). The seller can discount the labelled price, but that suggested retail is, ipso facto the upper bound of the cost.

Amazon is trying to break that. Not only are they trying to break that, they are trying (or so it seems to me) to do it in a way which also restricts customer choice (because the Kindle is a proprietary format; so the cost of releasing to Kindle is either an extra cost, or a limiting behavior).

That's the economics. Another thing Amazon seemed to be trying to do is imply that publishers are evil, and Amazon is looking to break a monopoly. That's a trifle disingenous. Macmillan is probably not an angel here, but the rationale they produced feels more honest to me than Amazon's, esp. as Amazon tried to shoot acros the bow of any other publisher which doesn't want to play ball.

By itself this might not be terrible, but the way they handled the PoD attempt (i.e. exclude anyone who didn't funnnel extra money to them) and the ways in which they have restricted access to features of Amazon which make it better for readers/authors (the GLBT Amazon fail, and it's attendent changes in rankings; which had effects outside of just purchasing at Amazon), all comine to make me less trusting of motives and explanations for them, than I am of Macmillan.

#32 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:06 PM:

Doctor Science (26): The library I work for sends a ton of books to Better World Books. As a buyer, however, I'm frustrated that their listings on ABEbooks are generic, rather than for the specific item, so that it's impossible to tell what kind of condition* the book is in. After being burned once, I've refused to buy anything else from BWB.

*We're very careful to only send them books in excellent condition. Unfortunately, this is not universally true.

#33 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:09 PM:

#29: Amazon owns ABE, so going via ABE does not cut out Amazon.

#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:25 PM:

#33: Amazon owns ABE, so going via ABE does not cut out Amazon.

Thanks for pointing that out, Kathryn.

I've removed ABE books from my list of bookstores.

#35 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:34 PM:

Serge #25:

Squid Ink Books has it for $34.00

#36 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:46 PM:

Thomas, #20:

What kind of salesman is it that, when I go in to buy one thing, immediately tries to sell me 20 other things

A fairly common kind offline (and more irritating there):

  • Do you want fries with that?
  • You'll want the extended warranty with that.
  • The heated seat option is only another $nnnn

Hard sell tactics, based on sophisticated psychological research, have become a new norm. But why trust businesses that undertake them?

#37 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:57 PM:

Thomas, #20: That's what I was about to say. And it's much easier for me to ignore Amazon's "People who bought this also bought..." than a live salesman getting in my face.

Also, I routinely delete Amazon's e-mails without even looking at them.

Terry, #31 (and everyone else who has made this point): Good point. Considered in isolation, there's a lot more ambiguity about who might be the Bad Guy here -- but it's not isolated, it's part of an extended and well-documented pattern on the part of Amazon.

I have an Amazon account, but in practice I buy surprisingly little from them -- I think 1 book in the last year and a half -- and none of this has made me inclined to change that habit. Of course, I'm fortunate in that I go to a lot of cons, so I have the opportunity to buy my books from independent booksellers in the dealer room. I do find Amazon useful enough as a readily-available online reference catalog to continue using them that way.

#38 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:12 PM:

Lila @ 29... James @ 35... Thanks, both of you. I was going thru Abe's list of stores that have the book when I noticed that one of them is right here in Albuquerque. Of course I called them directly and I'll pick up the book tonight. Thanks again. It's one of the books I had sold when I moved from the Bay Area to New Mexico, but I often found myself thinking about it and wishing I had kept it.

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Just about the first hit that comes up when you feed "amazon union" into Google is fights union activity (a New York Times article from 2000):

A section on Amazon's internal Web site gives supervisors anti-union material to pass on to employees, saying that unions mean strife and possible strikes and that while unions are certain to charge expensive dues, they cannot guarantee improved wages or benefits.

The Web site advises managers on warning signs that a union is trying to organize. Among the signs that Amazon notes are "hushed conversations when you approach which have not occurred before," and "small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of the supervisor."

Then in 2004 we get amazon union-busting in the UK:

Amazon's internet selling and distribution depot in Britain is based in a large warehouse-type building just off the M1 motorway, near Milton Keynes. It has employed around 500 workers since its establishment in 1998. At the height of the campaign to win union recognition for its members at Amazon, the print and media union, the GPMU, had around 100 workers in membership. Union recognition denotes a procedural agreement signed by the employer and the union which allows the union to represent its members and bargain on their behalf to improve their terms and conditions of employment. By the end of the campaign, marked by the trouncing of the union in a company-organised union recognition ballot, the GPMU had less than 10 members. This short account of the successful employer union busting operation is written with a view to raising awareness of the deliberate and conscious non-union conditions under which Amazon operates. It is a non-union employer, and an avowedly anti-union employer at that.

I'd say that's an established pattern, wouldn't you?

#40 ::: Jon Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Regarding the sidelink: "Fight Tobias Buckell's monopoly on Tobias Buckell novels!"

Isn't that what fanfiction is all about? Jeff Bezos, biggest fanfic writer of them all...

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:17 PM:

By the way, although I saw the "capitulation" message on Amazon, I note that they're still not selling any of the Tor books I looked at.

Is it really over?

#42 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:26 PM:

re, "upselling": It has it's place. I sell cookware. I am, by all accounts, really good at it (esp. knives). One of the things I've seen is that the act of having a meaningful conversation about what the customer is doing/interested in, tends to add about 25 bucks to what they spend (as an average).

I know what the "target" is, for each person to walk in the door (it varies from 15-20 dollars), so I don't think we, as a chain, are being really "hard-sell" on it. I do think my shop does a good job (my boss[es] are very supportive of the idea of just talking to people, not shoving things into their bags), of not pushing things.

It probably helps that for most things, the average is really easy to make, with one person in 3 actually making a purchase, and most people have some idea of what they want, so it's not as if they were being pushed to make massive impulse buys.

#43 ::: JoXn ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:38 PM:

I hate to say it, but much as I love I don't buy from the store because...
Price of Connie Willis's Blackout: $26
Tax: $3.09
Shipping: $6.05
Total: $35.59
Price of Connie Willis's Blackout: $17.16
Tax: $2.03
Shipping: $0
Total: $19.19

The $16 difference is really too much of a premium (it's nearly the cost of two mass market paperbacks!), despite Amazon's bad behavior. I wonder if is contractually obligated to not sell its own books at a discount; when they announced the creation of their e-store I was hoping that the prices there would at least come close to parity with and

#44 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:39 PM:

I just got an email from Amazon saying that my pre-ordered paperback of Charlie Stross's 'The Revolution Business' just shipped, yet the page on their site says it's unavailable. So it looks like they have it still broken. (Actually, it looks like I accidently pre-ordered two copies).

#45 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:44 PM:

Terry, it's obvious from what I've seen you write on the subject, that you know what you are selling.

I've seen "hard-sell" salesmen, in the last six months, selling a USB 1.1 hub with a new computer.

#46 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:45 PM:

Kevin @44: I probably would have blogged this if not for the weekend's FAIL, but my own author copies of "The Revolution Business" arrived late last week, so they probably hit Amazon's warehouse around the same time and sneaked out before the great de-listing.

#47 ::: JoXn ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:47 PM:

Ouch, of course, Blackout isn't published by Tor, but rather by Spectra, which is why it's still available on Amazon. So maybe it's understandable that isn't providing a discount. But they're also not offering a discount on Iorich, which is a Tor book.

#48 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:50 PM:

OK. Some books are coming back. For example, this Orson Scott Card book:

#49 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:00 PM:

I don't pretend to be any great expert on the law of antitrust (got a good grade in the course in law school back 33 years ago), but it seems to me that using your dominent share in one market to force a cstoemr to made concesions with respect to a different market is probably illegal.

#50 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:00 PM:

The Tor books that are up seem to be Bargain Price books. Could those be remainders that Amazon already owns? Or are these new books that are just deeply discounted? Two more examples:
Gene Wolfe:
L.E. Modesitt:

#51 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:06 PM:

Here's Cory Doctorow's Little Brother hardcover:

Again, deeply discounted. Was this the price prior to the dispute?

#52 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:17 PM:

Kathryn @ 50 & 51:

All three pages say it's a bargain book and traditionally in the remainder market remainders are sold on a non-returnable basis.

Don't know if Amazon deals directly with Macmillan/Tor for those or goes through a 3rd party.

#53 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:29 PM:

Deep in the bowels of Amazon's sekrit underground unobtanium-powered headquarters, I can just hear a Parker Selfridge-esque voice saying to the harried techies, "Isn't there some sort of switch you can flip?"

#54 ::: Gavin Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:29 PM:

That Little Brother edition never went off sale--people noticed it was still up on Saturday.

#55 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:36 PM: We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company
I sent Amazon a nasty email yesterday, that began:

I understand that your recent action in removing books published by Macmillan from online purchase was part of what Amazon management perceives as a conflict between the two corporations. But it seems to me that you have responded to a proposal from Macmillan intended as part of negotiation with a bullying tactic that hurts not only Macmillan, but your customers as well.

You can read the rest of the email, and their lame reply at Newsflash: Amazon Tries to Poke out Curly's Eyes, Misses

#56 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:45 PM:

Kathryn @50-51: This comment on Scalzi's blog offers a possible explanation.

#57 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:49 PM:

They aren't 3rd party copies, judging by Amazon's formatting; they are probably remainders that Amazon already owns.

#58 ::: Christian ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 04:01 PM:

The thing I never get is why anybody is surprised. This is what corporations do. They go for a large market share and then use their dominant position to squash all opposition. That's how they were conceived. The first chartered corporations were monopolies granted by the crown to go kill brown people (the british and dutch east india companies).

This is not about capitalism and competition - this is a dictatorship geared towards exploitation. Another good example is Google, who are all so good, and Microsoft, who are all bad. They are the same kind of entities and if they see a way of making a profit by, for example, fucking little slave girls on public TV than they will go for that. Wake up. Ultimate power corrupts ultimately. Look at history.

The antitrust legislation is a joke. All around the world you see massive consolidation from industry to industry. Now let me ask you: Do you honestly believe all those efficieny gains will go towards making the majority of the people better off or will they get invested in, say, derivative products?

#59 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 04:22 PM:

Macmillan sells joy, or so it has been in my life. Yes, Macmillan is a big corporation, doing what it can to protect and improve their bottom line. However, I have been a happy consumer of their products since before I had a bank account, and I want them (and the rest of the publishing industry) to continue providing me with high quality joy in book form. (As a signifier of this a truly unlikely amount of my underemployed income goes into book buying.) In other words, I too have an interest in their bottom line, particularly as my tastes do run to midlist authors and oddities.

Amazon by contrast is a delivery service. Nothing they have made gives me the kind of joy that a volume of Gene Wolfe's short stories gives me. Fortunately I live near a truly spectacular used bookstore, as well as the usual big box suspects. (Title Wave is not a Powell's, but it fills an old supermarket AND they give their employee's benefits. If their website were not currently in a maddening state of disarray I would link to it.)

Amazon's action (from my view point) is not as if my local pizza guy was unable to sell me my favorite pie because of a dispute with his artichoke distributor, but rather as if Pizza Hut refused to deliver pepperoni. Lots of places I can go for pepperoni pizza.

#60 ::: Jennifer Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 04:35 PM:

I spent a couple of hours this morning going over the business and marketing aspects of the Amazon/MacMillan scuffle in my blog; I also looked at what I think would be a good strategy to use to make money with eBooks. (the link I entered in up above should lead to roughly 2k words on the subject, for the curious.)

The way I see the situation is that MacMillan seeks to make a profit from books, while Amazon seeks to earn a profit from the Kindle. MacMillan wants to maximize their profit on books and ebooks when selling to Amazon and other wholesale or retail operations. Amazon wants to use ebooks as a loss leader for Kindle sales, and so doesn't want the prices on ebooks to rise.

Both sides of the issue are seeking to maximize their profit while minimizing the number of pissed off customers. They are also both looking at ebooks as a product. The problem is that they only look at ebooks as a product.

To both Amazon and MacMillan (and all the other publishing houses and ebook sellers) ebooks are products to use to earn a profit. They're not seeing that they are also an artifact of the new media era, and so can do so much more than simply earn a profit.

Ebooks can be used to build customer/reader loyalty, as publicity, as marketing in and of themselves. They can be used as both status symbols and as a really inexpensive way to build a fan base. They can be an artform, provided the tech can keep up. Ebooks can be used to spread information, get your message out, to raise awareness, and to create a cohesive social group.

For those who don't wish to click on the link and read the whole 2k, I'll give you the cliff notes version:

Use a scaled pricing system, ranging from totally free for a no-frills bare bones parceled out chapter by chapter version of the book, to a couple of dollars for a single file with the whole book and some cover art, to ten or so dollars for the whole book, cover art, behind the scenes stuff and an interview with the author. At the same time, with every print edition of the text provide a digital copy.

Use the ebook to drive your print sales. Loyal readers will want to collect all your works, and they'll be both willing to pay for extra frills as well as pay for print editions.

As for print editions, you could do a scaled pricing system for those, too. A really nicely bound, embossed, signed, numbered, limited edition copy of Iorich could go for considerably more than the hardback fresh from the presses...

Oh, and make everything DRM free. It'll wind up DRM free and pirated on the web eventually, so if you're the one to put it out there, you can control the format it appears in. Would you rather a nice, professional looking copy, with a disclaimer on the first page containing a link back to where the reader could purchase a print edition of your book, or would you prefer a scanned pirated version floating around on bittorrent?

In conclusion, work with the native tendencies of the internet instead of against them. Use the internet and people's behavior on it to your advantage.

#61 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 04:48 PM:

AMZN ( off 5.21%; BPG (Borders Group, Inc.) up 10.47%. Looks like Wall Street has declared Borders the winner.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:05 PM:

Kathryn Cramer @ 61... Borders is doing better? I thought it was on its way out, but I'd be sad to see it go. Amazon, not so much.

#63 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:09 PM:

Jennifer Evans@60: "Amazon wants to use ebooks as a loss leader for Kindle sales..."

No, very much no. They want to use Kindles as a loss leader for ebook sales. Amazon is not a hardware company. I wish the Kindle *had* been a hardware profit product, but that's Apple's balancing act, not Amazon's.

If Amazon were making money on Kindles, and using ebooks as bait for Kindle purchasers, the Kindle would have come out with a simple value proposition: buy a Kindle and every Amazon book you've ever bought will be preloaded on it. Buy a paper book from Amazon and the ebook will cost a couple of bucks extra. DRM-free, probably.

(This was, after all, the not-even-slightly-hidden proposition of the original iPod. And while Apple makes a nice buck on the iTunes store, it is still very clear that Steve Jobs Wants To Sell You An iPod.)

If Amazon had done that, Kindles would cost $800, and they would have sold *tens of millions* of them by now, at obscene profit margins. (Some of which would go to the publishers, covering the price of the books, but Amazon would pocket more of it.) Cheap ebooks would be an unarguable market fact, and publishers... would have a stack of problems that look different from the problems they have today. I'm not saying it would be a better world; I'm saying that's what a loss leader *really* looks like.

#64 ::: Lyli ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:14 PM:

As far as alternatives go, canadians can go here :
Although I haven't researched its affiliations, as far as I know it's not linked with amazon.

#65 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:20 PM:

Chapters/Indigo is not affiliated with Amazon. Its drawback is that it is essentially a monopoly big-box chain (created when one big-box chain which had grown by absorbing others (Chapters) was absorbed by another which had started up as a competitor (Indigo)). There is no significant competitor on any large scale, and many of the competitors are bricks-and-mortar only (e.g. Bakka for SF, Nicholas Hoare for general stock).

So for online ordering it's largely a choice between one monopolistic 800-pound gorilla and another.

#66 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:23 PM:
Wake up. Ultimate power corrupts ultimately. Look at history.

You don't say!

#67 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 05:29 PM:

(Hi, Scraps!)

#68 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 06:03 PM:

I find this excessively cynical:

This is not about capitalism and competition - this is a dictatorship geared towards exploitation. Another good example is Google, who are all so good, and Microsoft, who are all bad. They are the same kind of entities and if they see a way of making a profit by, for example, fucking little slave girls on public TV than they will go for that. Wake up. Ultimate power corrupts ultimately. Look at history.
True, groups are more immoral than individuals (ht. Niebuhr) and the corporate power structure does tend to encourage profit as the only motive worth acting on. Still.

I'll note that together Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt still control over 50% of the voting power that's in Google shares. A statement that "Google would engage in action X if profitable" then implies "at least one of Larry, Sergey, or Eric would condone X if it were profitable". I strongly believe you did not intend that implication. True, corporations are not human beings(*), but they are made of humans.

I don't know the current distribution of Microsoft voting stock, but again it's held at the end by actual human beings.

As for the main focus of this thread, this sounds like I need to fire up the editor and work up a greasemonkey script so that those who wish to avoid Amazon don't need to wait for all the places that point them at books to update their links. Unfortunately, that's going to take a bit longer than I'd like because I want to allow users to easily choose to go to amazon if they want to throw a few cents towards the person putting up an amazon affiliate link.

(*) as opposed to "persons", which the USSC says corporations are

#69 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 06:07 PM:

Can anyone point me to a good explanation and cost break down of the process of producing an ebook?

The typical layperson's assumption is that all it takes to produce an electronic book is to take your existing copy-edited electronic files, maybe crunch them through some sort of file conversion software, and Hey! Presto! it's an ebook ready to sell on Amazon and it's Totally! Cost! Free! Selling ebooks is like printing money! Who cares if it's ten bucks or fifteen, it's pure profit for those greedy publishers anyway!

I gather that's not quite right, and there are actual costs associated with ebook production over and above the costs that go into printed editions, but I'm hazy on particulars, and am eager to learn.

#70 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 06:20 PM:

JoXn #43:

Connie Willis's Blackout is available at for $17.55.

#71 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 06:25 PM:

A note on how Amazon makes money from Kindles:

First off, it's worth noting that, the Kindle app for the iPhone is free, and I believe the same is true for the PC version. The cost of producing those apps is an absolute loss, which can only be made up in sales from Kindle ebooks to be read on them. So, if Kindle ebooks were meant to be a loss-leader for sales of the Kindle itself, those apps wouldn't exist: they'd be guaranteed to be money-losers in perpetuity.

As to whether Amazon makes a profit on sales of the Kindle itself --- I'd appreciate it if those who know would cite their source. I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that it's being sold below cost --- that's how most game consoles are sold, for instance, on the expectation that profits from sales of the games will more than make up the loss on the console itself.

#72 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 06:45 PM:

Ulrika #69: I gather that's not quite right, and there are actual costs associated with ebook production over and above the costs that go into printed editions, but I'm hazy on particulars, and am eager to learn.

See this post by Lisa Spangenberg.

#73 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 06:54 PM:

Ulrika @69: Note, this is merely me condensing what I've spent three days reading all over the blogosphere, including from people like Charlie Stross and Tobias Buckell and others (links in this thread and the other) ...

However, crunching an ebook out of a copyedited, ready-to-print bookfile is only FREE!! if you (a) ignore how much it costs to have someone do the conversion, adjust the formatting to take into account the differences between print and screen, and proofread it to make sure you didn't just introduce new errors, and (b) assume that the print version of the book has mystically paid for all the overheads and costs of producing that ready-to-print bookfile in the first place.

I'm beginning to gather that most books don't actually make any money -- they don't sell enough copies at their various price points to go through into true profitability, because of all the people that need to get paid for their hours of work. To ameliorate this, publishers are treating ebooks like hardcovers, trades, and mass market paperbacks -- yet another format in which to try to sell enough units to go from red to black.

So, yes, $15 new-release ebooks are 'subsidizing' the print version ... or, more accurately, helping the entity that is That Particular Book earn out into profitability, thereby encouraging the publisher to buy more from its creator, and be willing to spend more on pushing/marketing/featurizing said next book.

Can anyone reading this who's actually IN publishing correct this Cliff's-Notes 'good bits version' summary?

#74 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:09 PM:

Jennifer @60 and Andrew @63: Apple is in the hardware business - they make almost all their profits on hardware. Consequently they were happy to pass pretty much all the profit on selling songs through iTunes Store to the labels in order to get them onboard (including eating the loss on credit card purchases for $0.99 transactions and advertising it on TV).
The iPhone apps business follows the same model, with variable pricing added (but still passes on 70% of revenues to whoever listed it). They also make it easy to download free podcast content onto the iPod; they don't see this as cannibalizing sales.
I would expect apple to do the same thing for iPad and books - make it easy to get both free and paid information onto the device through the store.

#75 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:23 PM:

#73 Elliott
Ellora's Cave etc. are primarily epublishers, and don't seem to be in danger of spilling red ink. And they're not charging $14.99 for a book. Their print editions, for the ones doing print editions, come out months after their ebooks editions. Their print distribution is spotty, most of their sales are on-line and the books only go into print I surmise if they are sufficiently popular electronically. There are fulltime fiction authors making a living from stories published on-line. The "professional" mainline publishers ted to offer upfront money at signing years ahead of the book release day and on delivery of the manuscript, and on publication. Epublished authors get I think I've heard royalties paid monthly--the advances if paid are not high, but the turnaround times from a new author turning in a manuscript to when it gets accepted and when it gets published, are apparently a lot shorter, and epublication the publisher, taking on less risk and lower investment to publication and distribution, is less likely decline to buy more book from a writer if the first couple don't meet meet or exceed the desired revenue profile.

#76 ::: Karen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:29 PM:

I've had personal issues with amazon in the past and lack of customer service, and I've been very happy to special order books from my local independent bookstore (which I hope survives another year). My main use of amazon this past year was a good place for a central wishlist of books, albums, and cookware. Unfortunately my friends and family don't listen to me when I ask them to purchase them somewhere else. I know that indiebound has a wishlist for books, but is there a site where one can make a general wishlist for things?

#77 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:36 PM:

A corporation is considered to be a person. So is each of the tentacles of a jellyfish.

#78 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:42 PM:

Thanks James, that's a good start.

Elliott - thanks but I was really trying to get the specifics of how much that costs, and how it breaks down.

#79 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:42 PM:

Kathryn @ #33, RATS. That pretty much ruined my day.

#80 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:49 PM:

Charlie Stross #1 "I don't expect Amazon to learn."

Maybe it learns differently because it's a bot.

#81 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:51 PM:

#62 I wouldn't have bought Borders stock myself, but then again, I wouldn't have bought Amazon's either.

#82 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:02 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 73
However, crunching an ebook out of a copyedited, ready-to-print bookfile is only FREE!! if you (a) ignore how much it costs to have someone do the conversion, adjust the formatting to take into account the differences between print and screen, and proofread it to make sure you didn't just introduce new errors, and (b) assume that the print version of the book has mystically paid for all the overheads and costs of producing that ready-to-print bookfile in the first place.

Except, they don't. I have a Kindle, and I like it, especially for travelling and public transport, because it hurts my shoulder to carry as many books as I like to choose from. But I'm also a copyeditor, and the formatting of both books and magazines on the Kindle is woeful. Hyphens are routinely mangled, quotes and poetry are run into text, strange characters appear in odd places, and in general, it's obvious that, for instance, the Time Lit Supplement, and published books, like Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma (to pick what I'm reading today) have been run through some automated formatting converter, and not subsequently proofread. The hyphens that are missing and the line-ending hyphens that remain mid-line give it away.
So there's a lot of profit there.

#83 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:04 PM:

Erik Nelson @ 80:

The larger the gorilla, the bigger the cluestick you need. I'm not sure there's one large enough for Amazon.

#84 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:16 PM:

Well, vintage LARTs were available in up to size XXXL. I expect that would suffice for Amazon, if you can find one.

#85 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:37 PM:

Emma, really? I didn't know that, and that is depressing to me. (I am a copy editor, too.)

#86 ::: Gavin Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:42 PM:

I don't have a Kindle, but I've read a few books on the Kindle for iPhone application, and what Emma says is absolutely true there. It feels like an average of one bad break per page--as if it's been run through a particularly dumb automated program. It is crazy-making.

These books include Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Red Mars--allegedly put out by major houses.

#87 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:20 PM:

Gavin Edwards@86:

Yes, the formatting on the Kindle app is usually non-ideal and can be awful. The worst I've seen is Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson, where every italicized word got put on a line by itself -- and that book has a lot of isolated words in italics.

This is a Macmillan book. More precisely, it is a Tor book. More precisely, the copyright page says "Edited by Teresa Nielsen Hayden".

I don't think the publishers are doing the ebook formatting.

#88 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:50 PM:

Thomas @ 87
Ouch! Poor Teresa, that's got to hurt. I must say, Wolf Hall, which I read on the Kindle,much to the relief of my shoulder, wasn't too bad. The TLS, on the other hand, is dire, and I can only put up with it because it arrives on publication day, by wireless, whereas by post to Australia, it would be weeks late. But I very much doubt there's anyone checking the format conversion. As you say, Thomas, italics (which are notoriously tricky to convert -- I'm a web editor most of the time and italics are shocking in xml/TEI/Word and any other conversion you care to name) are particularly confusing to the Kindle.
On the other hand, I can now carry the complete works of Dickens, Eliot, Trollope, Cather et al, with me on the bus to choose from. It's worth the odd conversion error. And I still read dead tree versions of books and magazines, which are, generally, proofread. Well, mostly. Okay, sometimes.

#89 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:58 PM:

JoXn, #43, $14.99 from SFBC.

#90 ::: Gavin Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:00 PM:

I can accept an error here or there, but it's just embarrassing and unprofessional the way these e-books (for which I paid money!) are riddled with them. It's like reading a bad ARC.

As I say, it's mostly bad breaks--if there was an option to have a ragged right margin and not hyphenate any words, that would clean up most of the problems.

#91 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:00 PM:

Most of the Kindle books from mainstream genre fiction that I've seen are what I'd call text dumps. They uploaded a bunch of files, and ran some scripts to do various sorts of brute force conversions.

There are internal Amazon tools that would allow them to do at least rudimentary typesetting, not to mention removing binary gibberish, and end-of and other control characters, but mostly, they seem not to bother.

Thus far, I've found Baen books, and books to be better, though both still have format constraints.

#92 ::: Tina Black ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:19 PM:

Yes, the links are back, at least for stuff I want to get.


Yes, my book searching is me-centric.

#93 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:47 PM:

Long ago, I was taking the Project Officer class at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I was Temporary Duty (TDY) for six weeks away from Los Angeles Air Force Station, where I was in the Defense Satellite Communications System System Program Office in the Deputy for Space Communications. (Gerry Nordley [Analog writer G. David Nordley] and I had epic multihour arguments about Star Wars [the film series...] physics, after hours to not disturb anyone else...)

The other people in the class were from other RDT&E and planning offices, mostly ones dealing with of course, it being the Air Force, airplanes.

Most programs, the majority of the cost are over time, for "O&M" -- Operations and Maintenance -- with the "acquisition cost" -- which involves research, development, testing, evaluation, production, deployment, and initial training. O & M includes personnel costs, repair costs, continuing training costs, fuel and other consumables, management, etc. Typically acquisition is 10% an "life cycle costs" for O&M, are 90%.

That does not apply to launched-from expendable-launch-vehicles-and-non-refurbishable-etc. spacecraft. The ratio is backwards--roughly 90% of the cost is the acquisition cost, the O&M is trivial compared to what the ride up into orbit and cost for research, development (including testing... some space electronics the parts cost for hardware without the testing and paperwork and "pedigree" is less than 10% of the cost; for some parts it's actually under 1% I think--there was a $2 at most semiconductor chip identical to what was in cars, that ran for ten years without any failure in cars, and died in orbit in days--turned out the problem was that the acceptance testing to test the parts to make sure they were spaceworthy, induced a failure mode from overstress. Oops... the acceptance testing and the product qual testing overall, cost lots of money... but $200+ in documentation and testing, i a lot less that $150 million replacement costs for a failed satellite 00 $50 million for the satellite, $100 million for the launch and injection into orbit...

Anyway, my point with regard to books--there a giant complicated long-established and even rather baroque distribution channel and life cycle for print book from mainstream publishers--there are wholesalers, retailers, jobbers, distributors, warehousing, production of physical books, layout, artwork, authoring the book, editing the book, copy editing the book, publicizing the book, putting the book in the catalog and distributing the catalog, there are corporate buyer, there are marketing departments, sales departments, agents, artists....

Epublication done by companies started up to do epublishing, have a different production and distribution model, which strips out much of the process that the printed book model distribution system involves. The sale channel includes direct from publisher to reader, stripping out the entirety of the chain for printing the book to paper and binding, and physically shipping paper, cover stock, dustjacket, and end result bound book packed into cartons around, and then repacked into cartons with other book for delivery to stores, or for delivery to end buyers. Epublication also eliminate the entire issue of returns/unsold merchandise eating up shelf space and inventory control costs and tying up funds in merchandise with a non-position return on investment, and getting less positive the longer it hangs around unsold, eating up space thereby unavaialable for faster selling merchandise.

Epublication is a form of Just In Time production--the customer orders the book, the ecommerce site delivers the order electronically as soon as the transaction goes through. The physical warehouse is non-existent, except for the server system--and even that may be hosted on a third party host for the ecommerce site!

True Print On Demand is also JIT, but requires physical production of a book, using paper and coverstock and toner and file on a system and glue and the book production machine. It eliminates some of the stockpile expenses that present high volume prodution run books incur and the large expense for printing the bulk run, but has a higher per copy cost, and doesn't have economy of scale per copy production savings.

#94 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:55 PM:

#87 Thomas

Edited by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, etext format mangling by Kindle Unkiltering.

#96 ::: Tina Black ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:14 AM:

I was wrong -- you can only get them from other vendors who sell under some Amazon program or another at this time.

#97 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:31 AM:

As an Australian (and a broke one at that) I've been slowly losing interest in spending money at online stores based outside Australia for years. There's a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, if I see something in an online store's catalogue which interests me, I want to be able to buy it. I don't want to (for example) click on the "one click purchasing" button and get three-quarters of the way through a sale to then discover they won't send the product to me for legal reasons[1]. I certainly don't want to go through the fun of downloading your lovely little "you gotta install this to get our stuff" widget and then discover you're not going to sell me the product I wanted to buy in the first place (as happened very recently attempting to purchase an album via MP3 format from[2]. If it's in the catalogue, and you're allowing me to see it, I'll tend to presume as a consumer I'm allowed to buy it. If your system is so wonderful it can supply me with all kinds of recommendations for things you'd like me to buy, why can't you implement some kind of code which blocks out things I'm not legally allowed to purchase from you as well?

This particular annoyance comes close to "false or misleading advertising". I'm pretty sure that's illegal even in the US.

Secondly, if you're trying to make a sale based on things like cheap or quick freight then, again, it would be nice to be able to actually benefit from your purported service. But no. International orders (ie anything outside the US landmass or continental Europe) don't get these specials. And no, amazon don't actually have a store any closer than the USA or the UK for us poor Aussies and Kiwis to shop at - or if they do, they sure as rocks don't promote it to us.

So instead, I have a look around for various stores which sell online in my own country. Fortunately there's a few of them around, and a number of the Australian importing firms (for example, Madman entertainment, who are world-famous down under as the Big Importers of manga, anime and other such cultural artifacts) have long since realised the advantages of shipping direct to the customer rather than going through retailers. I may have to pay a bit more for the item than I would have overseas (although once the bank chucks in their currency conversion fees, and the processing fees and all the rest, it's all pretty much equal anyway) but at least I know I'm allowed to buy what I've ordered, I know vaguely how long it's going to take to get here (oddly enough, Australia Post do pretty good shipping - if I get an email on day X from the retailer saying "we've put it in the post", I know I'm going to be seeing the parcel post delivery van rocking up in the driveway about four to five business days later - and it can be as little as two business days if I paid for quick shipping). I also know it's not going to be held up by customs (yours or mine) or blown up as a suspect parcel or anything daft like that.

So Amazon, just by deciding Australia/NZ is too small a market share to exploit, have been slowly but surely losing my business from day one. This latest round of corporate idiocy just sealed their fate, and led me to delete my bookmarks and links to them.

[1] I'm presuming it's legal lunacy which prevents me from buying a second-hand copy of "Vagrant Story" from and getting it shipped to me here in Australia. Nobody actually explains it, so I have to guess.
[2] This one was legal reasons, and they said as much. But not until after they'd got me to download their installation software (which happened after they'd checked my address as part of their purchase procedure).

#98 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 02:12 AM:

Meg Thornton @ 97
I agree with all of what you say here, and the Kindle shop experience has these moments too -- there are Kindle ebooks that you are not allowed to buy from an Australian IP address, just like the physical kind. It's infuriating! Some US internet retailers of other products, like LLBean, for example, don't apply such stupid restrictions (or don't have to), although there are many other nonbook retailers who've decided they can't be arsed organising non-US freight, well, because they can. It's a strange experience in late capitalism to be there, with the money in your hand, ready to buy something, and have the salescritter say the equivalent of 'Nah. Piss off'.

#99 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 04:06 AM:

When I get home tonight, the Amazon affiliate links on my blog will be terminated with extreme prejudice.

They're all for CDs, and those CDs are available direct from the artist websites anyway. When some of those artists have become personal friends, I'd rather they got a bigger share of the proceeds from any sales.

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 05:06 AM:

Thomas @87:

Gavin Edwards@86:

Yes, the formatting on the Kindle app is usually non-ideal and can be awful. The worst I've seen is Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson, where every italicized word got put on a line by itself -- and that book has a lot of isolated words in italics.


I hadn't heard about that until now.

This is a Macmillan book. More precisely, it is a Tor book. More precisely, the copyright page says "Edited by Teresa Nielsen Hayden".
It has lots and lots of isolated italicizations. The Kindle edition must be cut to pieces.

It's a wonderful book.


#101 ::: Pete ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 05:17 AM:

Meg Thornton @ 97

For price comparison for book shopping in Australia, I use Booko - in my experience it provides a fast and accurate check as to who has what for the cheapest price including delivery.

The vast majority of the time, the winner is Book Depository (US) due in no small part to their free global shipping, or Fishpond (AU/NZ) due to their "cheaper than Amazon (including shipping)" price guarantee.

All of the above have served me well, and been unfailingly helpful when I've had questions or concerns.

#102 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 05:49 AM:

Meg Thornton @ 97:

To be fair: the problem you're running into with used books is probably not Amazon's problem. Amazon does not sell used books; instead, they have an entity called "Amazon Marketplace" which acts as an agent for various other used booksellers (large and small). It's up to the latter to decide whether or not they'll ship outside their own country.

The trick is to look in the "Seller Information" column; below the "Rating" entry is one called "Delivery". If you see the phrase "International delivery available", then the seller should be willing to send it to you in Australia. If the phrase does not appear, then the seller is only willing to ship to the US or the UK (depending on which Amazon you're looking at). (Here is Amazon UK's page on Marketplace delivery.)

I was going to recommend, which is a search aggregator that pulls together results from various online stores. You can actually specify which country things should be delivered to, and it will attempt to include the apprporiate shipping price (and you can even specify Australian dollars). But it doesn't seem to know about any Australian stores, and I'd imagine Pete's suggestion (@101) is probably a better Australian-specific solution.

You might also avoid some frustration by adopting the assumption that most online stores are, by default, going to be selling (and shipping) things only in their country of origin. The expectation that "Just because I can reach your site on the internet, you should be willing to ship it to me" is not really justified. (There are undoubtedly plenty of Australian companies, large and small, with online presences which I can reach from Germany; but I'm not going to automatically assume they're set up to ship to me. Not to mention the fact that people at the South Pole can see the same sites that you and I can.) And as for shipping -- well, is it really so surprising that it costs more and takes longer to ship internationally, especially to the other side of the globe?

If your system is so wonderful it can supply me with all kinds of recommendations for things you'd like me to buy, why can't you implement some kind of code which blocks out things I'm not legally allowed to purchase from you as well?

Because they have no way of knowing, a priori, where you're going to request that things be shipped to. Even if you're officially logged in to their site, and the only address they have for you is Australian -- well, maybe this time you might be planning on ordering a gift to be sent to someone in the UK. I certainly wouldn't want the kind of system you describe, since I have ordered things (from the US, UK, and German Amazon stores) to be shipped to various addresses in the US, Spain, Germany, and Turkey.

#103 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 06:13 AM:

Regarding formatting issues, I am astounded that they appear to be common on Kindle. How much control do publishers have over the conversion process, given that there is DRM involved?

My own experience with Stanza has been reasonable, with only a handful of minor glitches per book. My main sources are mobipocket (ex Fictionwise) converted to ePub in Calibre (using default settings), ePub from things like giveaways, and html/pdf (ex author/magazine sites) converted to text, then to ePub in Calibre. The last tend to lack useful chapter info, the inconvenience is small enough that I haven't been bothered looking a how to make Calibre smarter at converting.

I'm in NZ, so hacking/format-shifting is legal for fair use.

#104 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 06:32 AM:

Peter Erwin @102
Part of what Meg and I were complaining about is the web of copyright restrictions on books newly published in the US, which legally can't be sold to people in Australia (and other places). Amazon seem to do it on IP address, as with some you can't even get as far as a shipping address, and with Kindle ebooks, they have no idea what country my Kindle is in, only the IP address I'm ordering through. It's about publishers protecting their separate rights spheres. We in Australia have to wait several months for the privilege of buying more expensive British editions. Lovely.
Yes, shipping to Australia is expensive, but they charge it to the customer, so it doesn't reduce their margin. Sometimes it sucks being in a small market.
On the other hand, I get to live in Sydney so it's not all bad.

#105 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:13 AM:

#96: Yes, the links are back, at least for stuff I want to get.

My test cases -- e.g. Doctorow and Scalzi titles, plus my own Tor book -- still don't appear to be available as direct buys at

There's been an awful lot of "Amazon blinked" and "Amazon caved in" coverage on the basis of that solitary Kindle team posting. Their "OK, we'll have to capitulate some time, but we won't like it" is looking less and less satisfactory in the absence of either confirmation from Amazon's top management or the return of the Buy buttons.

#106 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:16 AM:

#105: It is an uncanny coincidence that my typo of #96 for #92 shifted the reference from the post I was querying to its retraction. Sorry about that!

#107 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:54 AM:

ErrolC: I'm in NZ, so hacking/format-shifting is legal for fair use.

I'm in the UK, where it isn't. (But nobody gets prosecuted for it.)

You want to know something sick?

I am a dirty, evil, ebook pirate. Yes, me: Charles Stross.

See, I like to have a corrected, edited copy of the as-published text of my novels, what I wrote. All my own words.

So what I do these days is:

I go to Fictionwise. I lie about my nationality and delivery address, and use gift certificates (bought on a UK credit card) to buy geographically restricted US-only ebooks, with DRM.

Then I illegally export these, and illegally strip the DRM from them, before illegally transcoding them into a useful file format!

I'm beginning to lose count of how many laws I broke in doing this. Lately, to add to the fun, I installed the Kindle app on my -- jailbroken -- iphone, bought a book via the Kindle store, violated Amazon's TOS by removing the book file from the (jailbroken -- also an Apple license violation) iPhone, and cracking the DRM on it (also illegal in the UK -- "circumvention devices"). That's about five offenses (or at least civil infringements) in a row.

Maybe I should turn myself in to the police?

(I think we have a problem here ... and by "we", I mean the publishing industry.)

#108 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 10:22 AM:

For the most part, the majority of e-books I use are ones that I originally bought to use on my Palm-Pilot (M500 for those who are snickity about models), so the comes-with reader handles text, .RTF, PDB, etc quite well.

For the work-supplied blackberry, it's Mobipocket.

So far, the only DRM-ed stuff I have are some Hillerman mystery novels, and I've had to re-download them a couple of times when my credit card info changes (their "key" is the credit card number). Annoying, but doable. And the Palm also came with a wonderful app called "Documents To Go" that would happily read (and *cleanly* update!) Word, .TXT, .RTF, .XLS files, and happily display .PDF files.

The built-in DRM, and the proprietory/predatory format lock imposed by all the "big" e-readers makes me not want to use them at all. I can read anything I had for the Palm on my desktop or laptop. There is no guarantee the same will be true for media purchased for the iPad, Kindl or Sony readers.

This raises the philosophical question of, why does the *least* technologically sophisticated of these devices (if you ignore the elegant sophistication inherent in the Palm OS itself) have the most flexibility?

//end soapbox mode//

(BTW -- AN AP article I saw says the links tgo Macmillian books weres till not back on Amazon as of 4:30 pm MONDAY (2/1/10)

And this Truth Or Dare game made the front page of today's Wall Street Journal.

And it is capturing ink/electrons all over.

(and a dominating presence in almost all tghe coverage I've seen is that the $9.99 price for books was the tactic that Amazon has chosen to drive its sales of Kindles, with the presumed aim of building *it* a dominating presence in the e-book market)

#109 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:03 AM:

Sounds like the Project Gutenberg ebooks are much cleaner than Kindle ebooks, from what people are describing. Formatting glitches are in my experience rare, not "about one per page" as some people report for Kindle. Same with Baen ebooks. And I'm reading them on at least three different platforms, Palm, Nokia Maemo, and Windows Mobile, using different readers and sometimes different convererters. It all works fine.

I've done a number of conversions from author's manuscript for my own reading, and rather fewer for commercial distribution. The worst case took me most of a day, mostly it's more like 10 minutes. One thing you do differently -- you DON'T re-proofread. Publishing is oriented towards getting it right because you never get a second chance; but for these electronic format conversions, getting it so it looks like it's probably right is good enough, because if flaws are found they can be fixed later. There's no warehouse full of printed books to consider, only the number of people who already downloaded the book before you fixed the problem (and depending on the scheme, you can probably email all of them to notify them of the upgrade). So, since you can fix the problem, you don't need to be nearly as careful to avoid having it in the first place. Sure, it's better to have it in the first place, but getting the book up quicker and saving money is more important.

#110 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:07 AM:

#97 Meg, #98 Emma

LL Bean mostly sells what the electronics world call "OEM products" and what in retail gets called "private label" goods, where the products have LL Bean branding on them, and are made (or at least labelled) specifically for LL Bean. Nobody but LL Bean and its assignees, are suppose to sell LL Bean branded products as new first quality merchandise, and that goes worldwide....

The situation with a retailer or other distribution channel business saying "I'm not supposed to sell/distribute to where you are" is because of licensing and contractual and legal issues--the corporate deals of a particular company or companies having the distribution licensing for a particular area, and in the case of DVDs, even tighter restrictions regarding content and region coding, where particular censorship clauses may apply.

In the case of DVD, corporate control freakdom and monopoly game strategies, had common cause with governmental censorship and Big Brother initiatives. The publishing industry worldwide some of the same considerations apply, but they're weaker--books don't have country codes on them that restrict the eyeballs from reading them base on the country the eyeballs are in....

Amazon etc. have done some affecting of distribution models--before Amazon etc. not having a publisher with distribution outlets in a country, meant the book availability in that country was going to be poor/limited. A publisher with distribution outlet in that country, publishing the book, meant visibility of the book in the country, if not in terms of much in the way of promotion, at least listing in catalog and copies distributed generally.
A company with exclusive distribution rights to a country, isn't appreciative of sales from outside the country, cutting into their relatively limited (for small countries) market.

The issues with Australia include that it has a total population less than the metro areas of e.g. Los Angeles and New York City, spread over the same distance. More people than half the population of Australia live within 10,000 square kilometers, around New York City or around Los Angeles. A US distribution outlet, therefore, has a lot larger potential buying audience, and higher aggregation regarding transporting books around.

Perhaps POD if POD expenses/pricing drops, would been a boon for Australia. The distribution channel issues of control and licensing and exclusivity, however, remain... on the other hand, perhaps the licensing model could change--instead of being licensed based on geography, licensing would be by market segment for British English, US English, French French, French Canadin French, Spanish Spanish, Latin American Spanish, etc. The book purchaser could choose the specific edition of the book, and the POD machine would print and bind that particular edition, with the payment from the buyer split among the business owning/renting/operating the POD machine and the specific publisher etc.

A model of that ilk would increase, not decrease, the market for the various publishers, because someone who's a native German speaker say who lives in Australia, could get a German language edition of the book without paying shipping costs and without shipping delay, someone in the USA who wants the British edition of a book could get it without the shipping expense and the delay, Charlie wouldn't have to play Byzantine games as above to get a copy of his own book (should he really be paying himself for his "illegal" editions?! The thought that the author countefeiting himself nontheless is collecting royalties from his unauthorized by his licensees for him to have based on his presence in Great Britain when he purchased the geography-restricted, DRM-removed-by-himself book files, makes him some sort of exquisite pirate (as opposed to William Dampir, with a book written about him entitled A Pirate of Exquisite Mind)

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:18 AM:

So here's what I'm getting out of this:

1. Kindle sucks.
2. Other ebook readers aren't much better.
3. Kindle sucks.
4. The publishing industry hasn't figured out how to deal with ebooks yet.
5. Kindle sucks.
6. There is no #6.
7. Kindle sucks.

("Kindle sucks" includes the fact that there's no way to read some of the books available for it without breaking some law or other, usually more than one; the abusive DRM/EULA; the pricing...all that. Oh, also: Amazon sucks in general.)

#112 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:28 AM:

DD_B (#109)

I disagree on the importance of copyedit in the e-book format.

It is just as important to me, as a retail off-the-street customer, for the e-book formatting and content to be spot-on.

I'm buying the General Release product, not the ARC, not the uncorrected page proof.

What I will tolerate in the uncorrected Page Proof is nowhere the same as what I expect to see in the commercial, supposedly "finished" product.

Besides, as a software person of some little experience, I am not enamored of the attitude that "we can fix it later" over "get it right before it goes into production."

I will admit, freely, that at least part of that attitude is colored by the fact that, at several jobs I've had, I've been responsible for either authoring or doing final checks on product user and development manuals. The user's guide given to the prod. maint staff that has embedded links to the errata server is a completly different critter than the User's Guide shipped along with the product.

#113 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:33 AM:

A significant reason for my not owning an ebook reader yet has been bad formatting on the free ebooks I tried out first. I was seriously considering a Nook until I gave the huge B&N library of free ebooks a shot, and discovered that they were basically unedited scans of OOC books. And much as I like Gutenberg project books... the loss of formatting (especially in poetry) and special characters is painful.

Have you ever tried reading late 19th century poetry with the line breaks removed? I...really don't recommend it.

I thought that at least books offered for sale--requiring Actual Money to purchase--would have escaped this, so I was still toying with the idea. Now that I've heard ebooks are being sold with crappy formatting like that from reputable, non-vanity-press real publishers... Maybe not so much.

I worked for a publisher selling PDF versions of its print books just long enough to be highly sympathetic to the costs of making a good ebook version of a print book (and to the frustration of having fans whining that they shouldn't have to pay as much for it, because apparently ebooks are written by magical uncompensated fairies and edited by the free labor editing pixies and laid out by happy-to-work-for-smiles layout brownies and...). And, conversely, to be highly irritated by ebooks that don't hit those standards I'm used to seeing implemented. (Some old books were sent out to a third party to scan and OCR, and put online. When we discovered the scans were crap, we went through and redid the scans and proofing in-house, uploaded the improved files, and notified all the original customers that they could download the improved version at their convenience.) "It costs less" should not be an excuse for " we half-assed the export and figure people will buy it anyway, right?"

#114 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:37 AM:

Oh, and regarding the "ebooks don't have to be proofed!" side of things:

The company I work for eventually started doing an experimental "We'll release the ebook before the print version, but we want readers to tell us if they catch any typos or errors" process. However:

1) The book had already been edited, copy-edited, and laid out professionally. This was specifically to catch errors that otherwise would have made it into the print version.
2) When errors were reported, they were fixed.
3) Once the errors had been fixed, a new file was released with the corrected version, available as a free replacement to anyone who'd bought the original, slightly buggier version.

Charging real money for unedited books is...well, it's vanity press standards. Real publishers shouldn't be doing that.

#115 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:42 AM:

Wow. If the formatting and proofreading on e-books is that bad, it'll be a cold day in hell before I ever buy one! Trying to read something like that would drive me absolutely flaming batshit.

Mez, there's another reason why small online retailers (read: individual entrepreneurships) might refuse to ship overseas -- the number of purchase requests that are outright fraud. Australia isn't as bad about this as some other countries, but if I ever get my website up and running, it's going to say flat-out that I don't ship to Africa or South America or Russia, and maybe some other places as well. Obviously, I don't suspect you or anyone else here of doing that, but it's a case of the bad driving out the good.

#116 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 12:06 PM:

I don't know how many of the participants here routinely have conversations about this stuff with folks with very different levels of knowledge about the publishing business. I've been having a sort of argument back and forth with some of my coworkers -- I work for a tech company -- and I've been stunned to see that the consensus view there seems to be "Awright! Go Amazon! Stick it to those evil publishers!" These people love their Kindles, and their initial reaction to the whole Amazon Macfail situation had a strong component of "heck yeah; ebooks should obviously be cheaper."

The frame for this view seems to be "Publishing companies should die; they're parasitic even when not incompetent, and both authors and readers will be better served when the model is fundamentally changed." My possibly-incorrect read of the proposed model is that printing and distribution go away entirely [presumably because paper books cease to exist]; authors would hire editors directly; and then once the book is written and edited the authors would self-publish through Amazon and make a lot more money doing it. JA Konrath's blog post about his Kindle sales gets cited as an example of how self-publishing is much more lucrative for ebooks than going through a publishing house. The current dependence on publisher selection to provide a quality filter will be replaced by, essentially, the consensus Amazon review [or other trusted opinion-source].

There are clearly issues with this, of course. Economies of scale; lack of bargaining power; the whole implicit assumption about the death of paper; sweeping the problems with DRM and durability and lend/resell/borrow under the rug; ignoring advertising; the helpful effect of having an established reader base vs new authors... a loooong list. But at this point I don't even know where to begin talking to people about it. Several of these coworkers have published technical books and had bad experiences with their publishers... I have a hunch that the tech-pub world is pretty different from (say) the fiction publishing world, but I don't know specifics.


#117 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:14 PM:

ctate@116: yes, that's roughly the model in my head; except for the part where my model doesn't put any one company in the middle and doesn't include DRM. But yes, I feel that most of the distribution chain is essentially parasitic (or let's say outmoded; they played important roles in the paper book distribution chain).

I don't actually feel that the publishers are parasitic; but like the people you describe I see the model shifting to give authors more control, with copy-editors working directly for them instead of for publishers. Some authors will find it worth employing a professional editor to consult on the book in earlier stages; others will get this from friends, writers' groups, or not need it or want it.

Historically, there's a history of authors getting too big for their britches, or at least for their editors, slipping the reins, and going off into weird-land. This is a serious risk of being a top-selling author; you're more important to the publisher than your editor is, and you both know it. If you're smart you'll work hard to get the editor to give you honest input (and then ignore some of it), but not everybody is that kind of smart, and the dynamics are still weird. This scheme will put everybody in this position, and only the properly-smart ones will survive.

The interesting point is the acquisition editor / gatekeeper function. Much of the stuff traditional publishers refuse to publish I am glad to be protected from, but not all of it. Also, changing distribution models will I believe make smaller reader bases worth publishing for. One of the big questions is how to handle this issue in the next-generation text story distribution business. I feel that personal recommendations will remain key, and that professional or semi-professional reviews will become more important.

Some authors will no doubt choose to go through something like a publisher still (quite possibly one of our current actual publishers) because they want to concentrate on the writing side; others will prefer to exercise their newly-found control directly.

I don't think basic ignorance of the publishing industry, or about writers, is at the root of my theories here, either. I've been in fandom forever (meaning sitting around listening to both authors and editors talk about the business), and my wife and a bunch of other friends turned pro in the 1980s and then introduced me to a bunch MORE writers and editors and so forth. Possibly the problem is "basic stupidity", or terminal optimism, or a complete lack of understanding of the average SF book reader, or something. Or, of course, perhaps I'm right :-).

#118 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:15 PM:

ctate @ 106
Don't forget the critically important gatekeeping function that acquisition editors provide.

This function has pretty much completely fallen apart in the music industry. We're pretty much on our own, unless you happen to like what ClearChannel has decided your demographic likes.

See Slushkiller for just how bad it is on the raw side of things. And most of them would not be improved by hiring an editor.

I think it's been mentioned in the thread that most buyers are unaware of imprint. I'm not so sure of that. I distinctly recall buying more than a few books because they were from DAW, with the yellow spine (dating myself), and assumed that they met the basic quality gate, even though I had no other real information about them. The New Ace Specials in the early 80's were another that I bought just on the imprint.

Reviewers can make a difference. Jo Walton, for example, already mentioned above, seems to be pretty much exactly in the middle of my peer group in fandom. Read the same things around the same time I did, and liked the same things I did. Now if she would just review something she likes that I've never heard of before.

#119 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:20 PM:

Craig@109: whoa, what did I say that suggested I didn't think a clean ebook product was important? What I thought I was saying is that the ebook products I read a lot of seemed to be much cleaner than what people reported about Kindle ebooks.

OH, maybe I see. I think I see. Remember that I'm talking about a paper publishing world where I frequently spot a dozen or so typos or more serious problems while reading casually for fun (Ace is particularly bad). I'm suggesting that ebooks of higher quality than that can be produced with less effort. And that the ratio of effort to number of people bothered by the errors is different because errors can be fixed when found.

#120 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:28 PM:

Fade@114: Charging real money for unedited books is...well, it's vanity press standards. Real publishers shouldn't be doing that.

Well, yes. But, the error level in books published by the current SF fiction establishment is fairly high. I see some dozen or so (rather variable) in most books I read quickly for fun; that means there are probably many times that many actually there, because I'm NOT a professional and I don't have the skill of my eye going instantly to the error on the page. This applies to New York Times bestselling mainstream authors (such as W.E.B. Griffin), too; not just the F&SF ghetto.

I've been spotting errors in books all my life. The 1960s Berkeley editions of Doc Smith frequently have transposed or omitted lines, for example. Technology has changed the sort of errors that are common, but they're still common.

Things like every italicized word forcing a line break would drive me crazy too -- but what it would probably drive me to do would be to fix the file myself. No, I don't buy DRMed books that I can't jailbreak. I'd be annoyed, it would count against the publisher, I'd complain to them and tell the author how badly the publisher was serving them.

#121 ::: CS Clark ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:40 PM:

ctate(#116) - 'The frame for this view seems to be "Publishing companies should die; they're parasitic even when not incompetent, and both authors and readers will be better served when the model is fundamentally changed."'

It's a standard form of internet argument, isn't it?

1. Note (correctly and/or incorrectly) what is wrong.
2. Decide who is to blame (aka, Who is the RIAA?).
3. Hate them until they die.
4. ?????
5. Utopia!

I think one big problem with author-led consumer publishing that people miss, even when they allow for the values of gatekeeping, copyediting, marketing and so on, is that a lot of authors, or would-be authors, might have to assume most of the risk. I can't imagine many editors or designers will want to solely work for a cut of the profits, although those who assume higher-level functions might run on the same basis as literary agents, and in fact fold in some of current agent functions.

#122 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:50 PM:

Reading through this whole discussion riles up my grumpy cynical side. For years and years when all my friends touted the ease and convenience and economy of, I told them they were trading tomorrow's choice away for today's cheapness and convenience. The history of monopolies says that once they've elbowed all the serious competitors out of the market, then all those wonderful customer-friendly features will get chucked into the gutter. As night follows day.

Amazon's business plan has always involved screwing people over in order to snag market share. I once listened to an interview with Amazon's founder where he explained in loving detail how, in the start-up period of the company, he deliberately defrauded publishers who had minimum wholesale orders by included a bunch of titles that he knew to be out of print along with the one volume he had a customer order for.

But the average bookbuyer will continue happily flocking to the monopolist's trough to feed right up until the day when the monopolists decide a different feed formula will give them a higher profit margin. (And now the metaphor is trailing off into the image of a vast and aromatic factory feedlot and is in danger of veering into a rant about agribusiness instead of bookselling. So I'll stop.)

I have always preferred for my book-buying budget to include the "keep independent booksellers in business" surcharge. And this is one of the reasons why.

#123 ::: John Hawkinson ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:50 PM:

On Saturday morning I wrote to Amazon and Jeff Bezos about this. This afternoon (12:50pm Eastern) I got a response:

Hello John,

I'm Anthony Dunkley of's Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf.

Thanks for sending us your comments. We will e-mail you when these titles are available again, which we hope will be soon. For more information regarding Macmillan books, please see the latest update posted here:

We're always striving to bring the most selection to our customers at the lowest possible price. We hope to see you again soon.


Anthony Dunkley
Executive Customer Relations

I'm uncertain how to interpret this... I guess it is clear confirmation that the Kindle Blog Announcement is definitely Amazon's corporate statement on this issue. The continued use of "soon" here isn't encouraging.

Their general customer-service folks said on Saturday, "We are working with the publisher to make their titles available as soon as
possible and at the lowest possible prices for our customers. We will e-mail you
when these titles are available, which we hope will be soon.

I guess one interpretation is that they are no longer "working with" Macmillan.

#124 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:50 PM:

Charlie @107
I go to Fictionwise. I lie about my nationality and delivery address, and use gift certificates (bought on a UK credit card) to buy geographically restricted US-only ebooks, with DRM.
We were doing that, until a couple a weeks ago Fictionwise added a 'enter-your-US-CC-details' step for at least some books at download stage i.e. after you have paid.

Fortunately this was after I downloaded The Atrocity Archives

#125 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 02:14 PM:

I want to chime in about the copy-editing of ebooks.

I was given a kindle for Christmas - my partner gave it to me with the following note: "This should make our next move easier!" (Apparently he is tired of annually packing up, moving, and unpacking my steadily increasing collection of books. Go figure.) It won't be replacing mass-market science fiction/fantasy paperbacks for me, but it did seem like a fantastic way to acquire non-fiction titles without accumulating extra stuff to move or fit into a small apartment.

However, the formatting on all of the books I've bought so far really is bad. I, for one, actually am willing to pay prices comparable to a trade or a hardcover for non-fiction ebooks, because these generally don't come out in mass-market paperback format anyway and I can mark up the books so easily. I am not, however, willing to pay 20 or 30 dollars for a book in which editorial introductions run into the text every few pages, or in which long quotes are indistinguishable from the rest of the text.

It does seem to me that if e-books are priced well below the cost of paper books, no part of the industry is going to want to take on the job of properly producing e-books.

#126 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 02:18 PM:

It is so very very much easier to correct a text or formatting error in an ebook than in a printed book that I am much more annoyed by them in the digital realm.

Most of the errors I see in professionally produced ebooks are introduced by human error or by the process. Kindle books are more inclined to have gross errors--binary gibberish, random hyphens, and sometimes what looks very much like they used an uncorrected proof as the master file.

Baen and eReader books (the one from mainstream presses, not the do-it-your-self stuff) seem to be much better. Baen was noticeably better right from the start and they've consistently improved, and they definitely correct reader-reported problems.

I wonder if so much browsing on the Web where there really isn't a lot of QA/editorial control/copy editing/control over type has lowered expectations? Right now, ebook readers are still early adopters.

I realize it sounds odd to hear me talk about copy editing/proofing errors since I can't write without making them, but I do think fewer errors is better.

#127 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 03:22 PM:

As a self published author, I enjoy the freedom to design the layout and cover of my own books. I enjoy fiddling with type, putting my graphic design skills to use and getting my artist friends to collaborate on cover designs. I'm clearly an oddball, as most POD authors make books out of stock art and barley formatted word files, which I find appalling beyond description.

The downside of self publishing is obvious: no professional-grade copy editing, editorial or marketing assistance that would differentiate me from the mass of slush pile rejects and spread my name far and wide.

But on the other hand, I don't have the headaches of having to deal with this sort of ebook snafu either, as my ebook model is pretty simple: you can download for free, a PDF from my website. No DRM and it's generated straight from the InDesign files, so it looks exactly like the interior of the printed book. If PDF isn't your thing, you can email me and ask politely for a copy of the text in whatever format you'd prefer and I'll send it along (within reason-- .doc and .rtf are easy but inscribed on clay tablets might take a while).

This clearly is not the method for saving the publishing industry or revolutionizing the digital paradigm of the hoozywhatsit or whatever the buzzwords are this month for selling stuff online. It's got some pluses and some minuses.

So, other than the prospect of upending centuries of entrenched habit and vast economic models, why can't we find a hybridized method for publishing? A sort of co-op model of book production, that uses the already existing marketing and distribution apparatus to make the book selling transaction (printed or electronic) as transparent and easy to navigate as possible, with everyone involved along the path to production getting a piece of the action?

I know, I'm only asking for the world.

#128 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 04:00 PM:

Barley formatting can drive me to drinking. Too bad they're not made of fermented barley.

#129 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 04:13 PM:

Yeah, I hate barley formatting as well. All that kerning ruins the flavor.

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 05:17 PM:

The pictures are grainy too.

#131 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Interesting. Amazon stock started to fall over the weekend, and continued to fall yesterday and today. It's down About 15 points from it's opening Sunday morning. Coincidence?

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 05:59 PM:

Xopher @ 130... You could crop those areas out.

#133 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 06:25 PM:

Pretty corny, Serge.

#134 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 06:38 PM:

It's teff to keep up around here. I understand you're saying some things weren't spelt correctly? Publishers really run the kamut on how careful they are about these things.

#135 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:07 PM:

Man, the puns around here. Someone drops one, then everyone else has to rice to the occasion....

#136 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:24 PM:

I'll tolerate some oddity in the barley formatting, as long as the wort and meaning runs clear.

#137 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:40 PM:

#68: Google stock comes in two flavors- one for us and one for them- with preferred shares having something like 30x the voting power of non-preferred shares. Good at keeping the founders' original vision in the hands of the founders. (I do hope that apostrophe is correct. Every apostrophe I see looks wrong these days.) Not necessarily what I'd invest in but it does make your point clearly. Three people control that company.

#100: I'm terribly sorry. Stupid, sloppy, cheesy hackwork. Grr.

General: How do people feel about Alibris for new books? It turns out that there's something called "The Revolution Business" that I need to own.

#138 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:40 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers)@ 131
No, it's not a coincidence. $2 over the weekend is a pretty big jump.
They've bounced back a bit since Monday midday, but it really looks like people don't buy either their tactics or their strategy.
They've really fallen down in managing the story, too, letting everyone else frame the issue. The most I've seen attributed to them is: said this week that it doesn’t expect all major publishers to make the same demands as Macmillan. Drew Herdener, a spokesman for the Seattle-based retailer, declined to comment further.


#139 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:59 PM:

Hmm, this is making a bit more sense now. They were way up on the 29th after the 4th quarter report came out, where they highlighted the Kindle as one of their strengths. "For every 10 books sold, 6 are Kindle books."

The message from Wall St was pretty clear that the Kindle had to continue to produce for them. And they had best show how Apple's threat was going to be addressed. The timing of this is a bit less mysterious.

#140 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 08:15 PM:

#129 Keith
NOW you've done it...

Oh we'll drink a-drink a-drink
To format so pink, so pink, so pink
The scourge infesting the World Web,
The pictures all grainy, the fonts hurt my brain-ee!
It is offensive, in ev'ry way!

#141 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 09:25 PM:

ctate @ 135... everyone else has to rice to the occasion

I thought we were plumming new depths.

#142 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 09:45 PM:

So many overlapping threads here; I don't know whether to start by mumbling something about John Barleycorn Must Die or "dead bodies and seaweed" (compromised on Islay.)

There's this system called "Tor" that may help some of you download or order books. No, not that Tor, but The Onion Router, a cryptographic anonymity system, which you can use to have your web page requests appear from more politically correct locations in case bookstores won't sell to you down in Aus because they're afraid of market prices being upside down or whatever.

Paula mentioned Wright-Pat AFB; I was last there a couple of decades ago working on standards committees for information handling, and we were mainly using SGML and some vector graphics system I've since forgotten. (SGML evolved into HTML and XML.) Even back then there were people who didn't get the distinction between information content description languages and presentation languages, and wanted to write specs saying that a "Type 2 Subheading" was 14-point bold serifed font or whatever, missing the point that people might be using all sorts of different display devices and if you mark up the content as opposed to the way you want black marks to appear on 8.5x11" portrait-mode 3-hole-punched dead tree parts, the reader can specify how they want it displayed, and maybe that's on a wrist-mounted monospace screen they're using while standing on a ladder working on an airplane engine.

Well, a couple of decades later, people still aren't getting the concepts right, so they're trying to ship ebooks and other documents in PDF or other formats that do a great job of describing marks on original-sized chunks of dead trees, and fail badly if you put them on different-shaped pieces of dead trees or landscape-mode laptops or other media. It's especially annoying because in 90% of the cases the job is just not that hard - you need to pay attention to paragraph breaking and a bit of widow&orphan control, and do some special handling for the quotes at the beginnings of chapters, but except for poetry/math/programming or illustrations that don't fit on the page, or dealing with authors who really need the right font styles for artistic reasons, there's no excuse for man-gling all the hyp-hens or not rendering books at least as well as TeX did in 1982 on machines with less than 0.1% of the horsepower of current cheap computers.

(On another hand, I've always been frustrated with Dover Books and similar reprints of classic books, which do a bad job of scanning images of old books, generating fuzzy-looking text. It made sense at the time they started doing it, but decent OCR is pretty cheap by now, and they could at least provide crisp renditions of most raw text with minimal expensive human input.)

#143 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 10:09 PM:

I have a rather pleasant associative link that triggers when I hear the word "barley".

You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky
When we walked in the fields of gold

I think Eva Cassidy's performance of that is my favorite.

#144 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 10:13 PM:

This may shed a new light on Amazon's quick and clumsy retreat: Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire owns HarperCollins (among several publishers), has voiced support for "the Apple deal" (the agency model of selling e-books) and announced that Amazon was "willing to sit down with us again and renegotiate". See:

(Link posted today by a commentator at C. J. Cherryh's blog Wave Without a Shore. )

Looks like Round #2 is coming quicker than expected?

#145 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 10:54 PM:

IreneD@144: Amazon hasn't actually re-listed any of Macmillan's books yet. (At least not any that I've tried.) At this rate, in about two more weeks, they'll be out of the book selling business. There are only 6 major publishers, right?

#146 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 10:55 PM:

Okay, a few things which I think might need to be cleared up:

1) The "Vagrant Story" I was referring to in #97 is a PS2 game. It isn't a book. Sorry to anyone who got confused by this.

2) I'm not stupid, nor am I uninformed about the nature of the following:

* the history of international marketing cartels (eg the Commonwealth trading bloc)
* the history of international publishing and distribution regions
* the size of the Australian population in comparison to the sizes of several major cities (the .au population is smaller than the population of the Greater London area)
* the types of things various marketing/publishing cartels (yes, I'm looking at you film/video distributors) will do to ensure their market (check out which DVD region Australia is in, and which countries we share it with...)
* the size of the Australian landmass (it's equivalent to the size of the continental USA)
* our weird little geographic position

I am aware of all of these, and since I actually LIVE in The Land The Distributors Would Prefer To Forget (moreover, since I live in a-city-which-is-not-Sydney-or-Melbourne, in said LTDWPTF) I come up against the hard edges of all of this on a much more regular basis than a lot of the folks who are so kindly explaining to me. Trust me, I KNOW.

I just don't like it - and I don't have to like it.

3) As Emma pointed out in #98, the problem isn't so much the issues of distribution or marketing or all the rest of it. It's the very real shock, to someone who has been raised as an end-stage capitalist consumer, in an end-stage capitalist marketplace, of being effectively told by a trader "piss off, your money isn't good here".

[I should point out this isn't an experience I'm unused to - I'm also female and fat enough to be wearing what are euphemised as "plus-sizes", so I'm used to be told by clothing retailers that my money isn't good enough and how dare I enter their store and possibly infect things with my plus-size cooties - however, it is annoying, intimidating and infuritating each time it occurs, and it does engender a certain reluctance to bother the store (and others like it) with my custom in future. However, I had thought this particularly back-arsewards mindset to be restricted to the fashion industry. Appears I was incorrect].

I'm a consumer, damnit. I have some money available for discretionary spending, and I'd really like to be able to spend the stuff, y'know? I'd like to have some options to spend money on, and this is a lot of what online stores like Amazon purport to be offering. But more and more I'm finding when I attempt to spend my money in online stores based outside Australia I'm not actually being offered any option other than "put it back". So more and more, I'm reluctant to even look inside their shiny shops, because there's only so much disappointment, annoyance, and outright rudeness a person can take in one lifetime. I've about reached my limit, and this means my discretionary spending is much more likely to happen in places which I know will actually be willing to sell me stuff, with a minimal amount of hassle about me not fitting into their preferred buyer demographic.

The list of people I'm willing to deal with has been narrowing down a lot over the years.

4) I come to a lot of this with what's probably an unusual mindset. I believe very strongly in the notion that it should be easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing, and that where this isn't naturally the case, doing the right thing is the behaviour which should be technologically facilitated. With regards to intellectual property distribution and purchasing, this means I would rather get money flowing to the creators of content (authors, editors, composers, performers, programmers, etc) than not. However, at present the online environment, combined with the collective idiocy of the various distribution cartels, their pet legislators and similar make it very much easier not to do the right thing. I know when I tried to find a couple of songs recently, I chased up the more obvious "right thing" links, only to be told "sorry, it's out of print" (or the CD equivalent) and "oh, we don't sell stuff in this format to places outside the continental USA" (when I tried to purchase an MP3 version of an album through Amazon - and it would have been nice to find that out before I'd downloaded their download manager tool). In the end, I wound up snagging both of the songs I was after through free download sites (where no money goes to the artists) because it was much easier to do things that way than chase around for hours on end trying to find someone who was willing to both take my money and give me the product I was after.

Now, my overall point here is that as a statistical sample, I'm well aware I don't fit the ideal demographic for a lot of marketers. However, as a person who has money and who wishes to exchange said money for product, I should fit one hundred percent into the defined demographic for all retailers. That I'm finding this more and more not to be the case is getting just a little aggravating, particularly when I'm practically standing there thumping said retailers over the head with my wallet in an effort to get their attention while they're looking straight through me and saying I don't exist, or that I'm merely a statistical anomaly so I can be ignored. It makes me cross, and making me cross makes me more inclined to vote with my wallet (and my apparently non-existent cash) and stop playing altogether.

#147 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:02 PM:

@ John Chu: I know. From what I've read here and there, the re-listing of Macmillan books are just "trickling in".

#148 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:04 PM:

Something I find interesting is looking at how the timbre of comments here, and at Scalzi's and Stross's blogs, tends to reflect more sympathy with Macmillan. Probably because more authors, editors, and their direct fans and friends post in such places.

In forums that have an audience of more general readers & consumers, such as the News & Commentary forums at, you'll see a very different story. A lot of people are very upset with Macmillan for wanting to wrest control of retail price away from the retailer. Even those who realize that Amazon is not necessarily a "good guy" either and just wants to monopolize the e-book market with those prices still don't have a lot of kind things to say about Macmillan. There's plenty of talk of boycotting all Macmillan books, e- and p-, and just buying used (or worse).

Something else I've seen is a sort of "conspiracy theory" floating around that Macmillan and other publishers actively want to kill or slow down the adoption of e-books and cling to their declining print market for as long as they can. Now granted, a lot of people saying this sort of thing are readers ignorant of how the publishing industry works—but what about when published writers say it?

There is a lot of doubt going around that Macmillan will ever lower its price below $15, for all its talk of "variable pricing"—cynics believe the execs will just say, "Huh, looks like e-books don't sell after all. Too bad," and use it as an excuse to drop them.

After all, they've had ten years in which they could have instituted "variable pricing" by lowering the wholesale rates they charge e-book vendors like Fictionwise—but you still see plenty of Macmillan and other titles priced at hardcover rates months or years after the print versions have gone to paperback.

(Personally, I doubt the publishers would even be willing to have gone as far down as $15 now, if it weren't for Amazon's decision to sell as loss leaders at the $9.99 price point and force their hand. There are still plenty of $26 e-books on Fictionwise.)

Anyway, Amazon may have been evil in trying to corner the market with its $9.99 e-books, and may have been misguided in de-listing all Macmillan books over the weekend. As Scalzi said, they could have handled the whole de-listing thing much better in terms of publicity.

But you shouldn't lose sight of the fact that to a lot of the consumers out there, Amazon is the one who wants to keep their prices down, and Macmillan is the one who wants to engage in price-fixing to charge them more money. It is the consumers, after all, who buy the e-books.

#149 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:07 PM:

(That second link should have been this. Not sure why it screwed up.)

#150 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:16 PM:

CS Clark @ 121:

    2. Decide who is to blame (aka, Who is the RIAA?).

Got it in one (as it were). I hear repeated parallels to the music and movie publishing industries, and AFAIK the people making the comparisons are unaware of the relative profitability of those industries and text publishing.

    I can't imagine many editors or designers will want to solely work for a cut of the profits....

Do they get a cut today? I've wondered. Coming from the tech industry it's natural for me to think about compensation in terms of revenue sharing and stock, so I would think aligning everyone's incentives -- ensuring that all parties involved in getting a product into purchasers' hands in exchange for money have a direct stake in the amount of money so garnered -- would be a natural way to try to structure things. That said, I can't imagine you're wrong about freelance editors et alia not wanting to devote so much time and effort on a purely contingency basis.

#151 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:15 AM:

Ctate, I started to write a response but my only contract examples were from an extremely honest and actually kind managing editor (or at least that is how I think of MZB) and a professor who taught us how to read a book contract. And my current publisher is extremely honest and forthright about business issues.

At that point in time, I think some folks were part of the publishers' overhead (editors, art directors, etc.) and the authors were sometimes chopped liver.*

The class was very enlightening. On one hand, it appeared to be useless. On another hand, it turned out to be valuable. Because, among other things, on the first pass he had us read the contract, mark up the author's responsibilities AND the publisher's responsibilities. One of our main grades were on that mark-up. But he gave very thorough lectures before we had to be graded.

I'd never seen any kind of contract before in my life so it was a good critical point in life.

Bless you John Langley.

* I worked for a trade show publisher until late 2007. I turned out to be chopped liver because our manager decided it would be cheaper to hire a

#152 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:30 AM:

#148 @Chris Meadows

Yeah, you should see the stuff on Amazon's Kindle forums, or Absolute Write, or, heck on my own blogs, paid and personal. If I have One More Person tell me I can't possibly understand the technology behind ebook production and distribution . . . .

And yes, I'm appalled by some of the authors who seem to see publishers as antagonistic. In some cases, it's very clear that they don't really have any idea how their books are actually made and put on shelves in book stores. They really really don't. And they don't even get how different book retail sales are from even fifteen years ago.

Truth: Before the Kindle, eReader and Fictionwise both had staggered pricing. Ebooks were very close in price to the cover price of the current release, though generally a buck or two less. I have no idea what the publishers got, but the royalty agreements I saw were paying between 30% and 45% at eReader.

But there's another thing too I'm noticing. There's a lot of static from people who don't read at all, and certainly don't read ebooks.

#153 ::: CS Clark ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:51 AM:

@Chris Meadows (#148)

Well first, I'm not sure people who post at the News & Commentary forums at are that much more representative of general readers and consumers. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure posting comments anytwhere on the Internet regarding a dispute between two corporate behemoths marks us all as special cases.

Second, we're forgetting that - unless John Sargent is a complete liar - Amazon could have chosen to stay with the current pricing: 'I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles.'

Would that suck for the Kindle users to have to wait? Um, yes. Totally. But we're not going to complain about that, because if retailers can set whatever prices they like surely publishers can release whenever they like? Or are we going to say that just because one party has the ultimate right to make a decision doesn't mean they shouldn't work with all others to reach an equitable agreement. Couldn't Amazon, for example, work up some contractual guarantees about lowering prices over time? Demand a show of good faith in seeing a list of the books that would drop to the lowest price available immediately. Something else clever that I couldn't think of in a million years?

And third, not to increase the paranoia, but if I was some evil genius of a Macmillan CEO and I wanted to malign eBooks, might the sight of literally many people vowing to never buy any eBook over an arbitrary price, even making threats of turning to other channels (hem hem), make me happy? Wouldn't it give me evidence to use in my plot to keep paper king?

Aside: On the Macmillan US site at the moment the toplisted book is Priceless - 'In Priceless, the bestselling author William Poundstone reveals the hidden psychology of value. In psychological experiments, people are unable to estimate “fair” prices accurately and are strongly influenced by the unconscious, irrational, and politically incorrect.' Hmmm.

#154 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:51 AM:

#149 Chris
Thud.... (Me hitting floor.

Meanwhile, I was in an online chat channel a few hours back, and a bestselling writer of fantasy romance and paranormal romance said that piracy is an issue, when e.g. 100,000 unauthorized downloads of the same book occur. However, before I could ask what book that was, the channel started misbehaved and first booted me out, and then what I got back in, booted everyone else out.

#155 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:57 AM:

Ah, the "make up a number and claim it's your piracy losses" argument. That's a familiar one.

I've lost forty-seven billion dollars due to the money you haven't paid me for reading this comment, by the way.

#156 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:01 AM:

Lisa, perhaps some publishers had staggered pricing. And perhaps some still do.

But I recall hearing from someone at Fictionwise (or maybe it was someone from the company that is now eReader back when they were called something else and not owned by Fictionwise) back in the day that it was often next to impossible to get those publishers to get around to coming down to that next level—it took a lot of pestering.

And I've been pointed at a number of examples of e-books that are even now still at hardcover prices months or years after the attendant printed books are in paperback. If those publishers were really serious about selling e-books, I'd think they'd want to keep that price parity.

#157 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:32 AM:

I buy a fair bit of hardback fiction under no illusion that I'm doing anything but paying a huge "I need it now" penalty. (roughly $600 in the last year)
I don't buy ebooks today because the experience, for me, sux.
I have a number of PG texts on my iPod, and on my laptop. I probably spent ~300 on trade equivalents in the last year. Again because my current ebook equivalent sux. Penguin and Signet have a lot to worry about.

OK, that leads up to that absent Amazon's action, Macmillan's postion isn't great. I just don't trust them to price ebooks well. I have no real faith that they get the retail market. Except at second hand, since they are in the (weird peculiar hybrid) wholesale business.

If Amazon had said to Macmillan, sorry, no ebook distribution, that would be different.

Cutting off 1/6th of all books? And not even trying to make the case? And pointing to the wishy washy statement from the 'Kindle Team' as the official statement of the corporation?

Amazon deserves to lose, they've worked so hard for it.

#158 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:42 AM:

#155 Andrew
No, really, the channel did go wonky at that point. If you're at Boskone I'll tell you who the author is. The author wasn't claiming that the 100,000 downloads were 100,000 download which would have been paid sales with royalties to the author--the author used the figure to indicate the magnitude of the downloading.

The reality I think is that nobody really knows what the losses of legitimate sales are--some of the downloads that aren't authorized, are paid sales--but not ones which the publisher and author get any share of.

There are a few author who keep an eye out for websites which offer book downloads which aren't authorized, and report them to try to get them shutdown.

E.g, site with copyright violation downloads, mentioned by a different author to get attention to it to stomp on it.... It looks like the person is selling the downloads, too.

#159 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 05:50 AM:

Meg @ 146
Are we twins? Separated just a little bit at birth?

#160 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 05:51 AM:

I'd make a guess at which author Paula is referring to, and I think I'd have good odds of getting it right. This stuff does get discussed on romance forums, and there are authors who have seen download counts in the tens of thousands within a few days of a new release. Mostly they understand that some of those downloads were never going to be paid-for copies if the pirate sites weren't there, but they also tend to get a bit tetchy when they're told that none of the downloads represent lost sales, and that they should be grateful that people want to read their books.

And taking it personal for a minute -- I have seen people on the torrent forums thanking someone for uploading one of my series for everyone to share, and saying how much they loved the books and are so disappointed that I haven't written any more in that series. Apparently they're incapable of making the connection between the size of my royalty statements and a) my willingness to spend 3 to 6 months of my life on writing a sequel, b) my publisher's willingness to spend their money on publishing a sequel.

#161 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 06:04 AM:

Paula @154: I don't know where those appalling sell-through figures come from, but to me they sound somewhat exaggerated. The technical term for an author whose book only makes 50% sell-through is "roadkill"; I think (I'd have to look it up) that my only book that didn't make 70% was the hardcover of my first novel.

I don't believe the "book downloads = piracy/lost sales" myth. There's a fundamental difference between a 400Kb ebook and a 400Kb MP3 file: the MP3 takes around 2-5 minutes to consume, but the ebook takes, conservatively, 3-6 hours. Upshot: the majority of those 100,000 allegedly-downloaded copies are never read -- or the reader glances at the first page and files it for later, never getting around to it.

If the 100,000 downloads were all read, you'd expect even a conversion rate as low as 1% to show up as a noticable boost to the sales of the authors next hardcover (before the ebook is widely available for download).

Finally: talk to Cory Doctorow or me about releasing ebooks a free downloads on day #1. (Didn't seem to stop people buying the hardback, not one little bit ... :)

#162 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 08:13 AM:

Chris@148: Why is it that no one seems to remember that Macmillan *already* prices a whole bunch of ebooks under $10? John Sargent didn't say that every Macmillan book would cost you $15. He said Macmillan wants the flexibility to price books between $6 and $15. Any argument that doesn't admit to these facts is suspect.

#163 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:16 AM:

#161 Charlie Stross: "Finally: talk to Cory Doctorow or me about releasing ebooks a free downloads on day #1. (Didn't seem to stop people buying the hardback, not one little bit ... :)"

Yeah, but that's because the book itself became the event. That doesn't mean that in a world where free downloads were the norm people in general could expect to sell lots of hardbacks.

(But don't listen to me, I never quite understood why as many hardbacks are sold as still are)

#164 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:34 AM:

From Charles Tan: Amazon Capitulated My Ass

And as of this hour, the buy button isn't back on The Apocalypse Door.

Put the eight-hundred pound gorilla on a diet: Delete all your Amazon links.

#165 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:35 AM:

#3 chris: "Brand loyalty to an author is obvious and strong. Brand loyalty to a publisher is all but unthinkable."

In general, yes. But some books get sold by publishers brands - romances obviously, such as Mills & Boon and their North American equivalents in all their various subgenres. There are said to be some readers who even subscribe to some of their imprints.

Penguin used to be a strong brand. When I was a kid getting published in Penguin (or Puffin or Pelican) gave a book, and a possibly unknown author, a kudos that other paperback-original imprints didn't have. It might not make you buy a book, but it would be an incentive to take it off the shelf and have a look.

Of course you are generally right. Amazon, or Macmillan are far to big too attract that sort of brand loyalty. (Though Tor might not be) You can't really have a meaningful loyalty to 60% of the market over against the other 40% - it just becomes the default. Though Apple seem to have successfully diverted their "we are different, Avis tries harder" loyal following from general purpose computers to other lines of hardware where they are the market leaders, so it can be done. Maybe you have to be a cool loser in one market to attract sympathy in others. (Says he, who is on the verge of buying an iPhone just cos its shiny even though Vodaphone want to sell him a Blackberry...)

Not that I buy much online anyway. I'm old fashioned and I am very bad at deferred gratification. When I want a book I want it NOW. So I still go to bookshops. And typically come out with half a dozen books I never intended to buy in the first place. Poor self-control I guess. Did I expect to buy a book on the history and archaeology of Denmark last week? It never crossed my mind. But it was sort of interestingly nerdish on the shelf and full of pretty diagrams and seductive maps and lists of things and maps and really interesting maps and who could resist a book that has both a chart of the runic alphabet AND a map showing RAF ammunition drops to the WW2 Resistance?

#166 ::: Edgar lo Siento ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:43 AM:

Did I expect to buy a book on the history and archaeology of Denmark last week? It never crossed my mind. But it was sort of interestingly nerdish on the shelf and full of pretty diagrams and seductive maps and lists of things and maps and really interesting maps and who could resist a book that has both a chart of the runic alphabet AND a map showing RAF ammunition drops to the WW2 Resistance?
No fair! That sounds neat, but you didn't give the title!
ISBN, or it didn't happen!

#167 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:51 AM:

I hate to think that "piracy doesn't hurt anyone"- my fights have mostly been on the RPG book front. Gamers WILL steal and use books, and RPG companies go out of business as the rule rather than the exception. (At some point in a fight with a friend, I sent him a list of the publishers for every RPG I owned, with a star next to the one or two that were still in business. And that was before you could steal PDF's.)

On the other hand, crazy book fans have a disproportionate representation among all book customers. If, say, Howard Waldrop had a "ransom model" book, I'd probably throw more than the price of the hardcover at it. Because he deserves it, and I want to read it, and I'm a crazy book person.

I suspect that there's an 80/20 rule in books like there is in so many things: 20% of the customers make up 80% of the sales. And I don't think free [down]loaders are serious readers.

I guess the soundbite is "I agree with Charlie Stross, but I don't have to like it."

#169 ::: Foible ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:05 AM:

Many of the books downloaded from the torrents are bundled. You search for "Niven" and his name turns up in a collection of 50 or more books all zipped together. If you download one of these you bump up the download count for all the authors in the file, even if the books are never opened.

#170 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:41 AM:

And I don't think free [down]loaders are serious readers.

Of course not. Anyone who can mistake reading text on a screen for the tactile sensation of holding a book in your hands and reading printed words on paper isn't doing either enough to matter. They're just shouty people on the Internet expressing an opinion for the sake of having one.

#171 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:43 AM:

Paula@158: "The reality I think is that nobody really knows what the losses of legitimate sales are..."

Okay, that I agree with wholeheartedly.

So, who's writing the smart essays about the shift from "control copies of the work" to "connect with the fanbase and make them want to pay for the work"?

#172 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:48 AM:

Keith@171: Okay, since you're not reading on screen, what is it you think you're doing in this thread and why is it you think anyone else should care? Since it's obviously not reading, by your own declaration.

#173 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:51 AM:

Keith @170:

That was needlessly inflammatory. Do you want to know where it leads?

I suspect that your definition of a book is a pale shadow of a fine binding with flexible spine, raised cords and tight joints. Perfect bindings denote a lack of seriousness, in my opinion, and even French grooves barely count as a means of board attachment.

We keep a wider door than that around here.

#174 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:08 PM:

Or was that comment sarcasm? It's so uncharacteristically trollish that I have to leave room for that possibility.

#175 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:08 PM:

abi @ 173... French grooves barely count as a means of board attachment

My grooves not good enough for you people?

#176 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:14 PM:

I don't know, Serge, I think this board is thoroughly attached to you.

#177 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:18 PM:

abi #173

Stuff and nonsense. A real book is parchment*, scrolled onto beechwood; hand inscribed in oak-gall ink. Accept nothing less.

* Made only from sheep sacrificed to the Chthonic gods on moonless nights in deepest winter.

#178 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:26 PM:

Fragano, so you're saying that someone who doesn't take their books with the proper sacrifices would be at best a fair-weather friend to prose?

#179 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Thanks for the post. I've cancelled my Amazon account, and told them exactly why.

#180 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:40 PM:

And here's another one of those articles I was talking about.

I think the guy supports his argument pretty well.

Even if you don't agree, whether it's actually true may not be as important as the perception it is. Publishers sure aren't doing a lot to give people the impression that they want e-books to succeed.

You might also say that it's a function of economics to charge what the market will bear. But on the other hand, from what's in that article, it doesn't look as though there's been a lot of attention paid to finding the optimal price/demand curve for e-books or paper books.

Food for thought.

#181 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 12:55 PM:

Sandy@167: And I don't think free [down]loaders are serious readers. (in context, "serious" was a reference to amount rather than to attitude, as I read it)

I've read a lot, meaning quite a few dozens by now, of free legal ebooks; but I don't think you're talking about those. (This includes manuscripts the author let me have in electronic instead of paper form, the Baen Free Library and CDs, Project Gutenberg, stuff given out on, and stuff released directly by authors in public.) I've also read Shadow Unit, but I've made contributions there so it didn't end up being free to me.

A guy I know, who is not sure what the statute of limitations is on copyright violations, has done a moderate amount of illegal downloading because they like to have searchable etexts of books they like and by authors they discuss a lot. They reported listening for copyright violation reports on some author newsgroups and trying to get there to score the books before the takedowns happened. Mostly those are etexts of books they already own printed copies of, sometimes multiple printed copies of (and "mostly" largely because of bundling). And also downloaded the 6th Harry Potter book in a very early ebook conversion, without buying it. My analysis is that they'd be unlikely to pay full price for a legal etext, but might pay something if there were a way to do it (maybe even as much as $5).

(Near disasters: previous paragraph referred to the "statue" of limitations until just now. Silly fingers.)

#182 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:01 PM:

Ken@163: I think you're saying something that I've found myself saying now and then -- that the free promotional ebook model, which has worked quite well for a number of authors and at least one publisher in the current state of the market (where ebook readers, especially pre-Kindle, were a very small set of people with tech skills plus reading interests who were probably opinion leaders in their social circles) doesn't tell us much of anything about ebooks as a primary publishing medium. I love ebooks, I want things to move that way, but I do think it's important to have a reasonably objective assessment of what we really know, what we have some evidence for, and what we just hope might work out.

#183 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:15 PM:

Chris@148: Something else I've seen is a sort of "conspiracy theory" floating around that Macmillan and other publishers actively want to kill or slow down the adoption of e-books and cling to their declining print market for as long as they can.

That's certainly my working assumption. It's the inevitable reaction to a competing business model when you're not sure how things are working out. Um, that's not actually "conspiracy"; that's a normal human reaction to uncertainty that you have some control over (how much your company plays in ebooks, and on what terms). You'd really just rather it went away.

And it's what killed the dinosaurs. Digital Equipment Corporation should arguably have owned the PC market (they had the most expertise in single-user systems *and* in time-sharing which is single-user user interfaces), but they approached it slowly and cautiously, which was only rational, and they priced their offerings rather high to avoid destroying their own nearby markets. Turns out that microprocessors were the wave of the future and small cheap microprocessor-based PCs were the new dominant force in the market, and DEC was too late to become significant there (the Alpha cpus were a good try, though). The music labels lost out a lot to Apple iTunes. It's not by any means impossible that book and magazine publishing is going to be disrupted to that level soon.

#184 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:36 PM:

If the publishers are trying to kill ebooks, and they think that hitching up with Apple is the road towards that goal... my horse-carriage metaphor fails here, but I think the phrase "gets the bit in its teeth" occurs somewhere towards the middle and a lot of screaming follows. Steve *wants* you to buy an iPad, and will not have a lot of patience for the wishes of his bait.

#185 ::: CS Clark ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 01:54 PM:

An opposing view to the conspiracy theory here. Although I think she buried the lede.

#186 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:00 PM:

DEC killed their own opportunity to set the PC line at least twice. At least one time, it was reportedly because their top management couldn't see any reason for lots of people to have computers on their desks. (LSI, MicroVAX. And probably the PDP-8, even before that.)
Lack of vision, or failure of imagination, at a critical point?

#187 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Regarding Apple:

A company which causes its most important supplier a $100 million writeoff is not anyone I want to have to depend on as a business partner or supplier * [see below. Apple basically murdered Motorola's general purpose microprocessor business--Apple with ending MacOS licensing elimination all the other users of PowerPC chips for personal/desktop computer use and that killed the demand for such chips from anyone other than Apple, and helped murder Motorola's embedded board business--with the MacOS licensing eliminated, Motorola shut down the board production line for CHRP boards which were going to use Mac clone board manufacture as the big applicatons to the tune of the order of millions per year at say $250 a board, and then sales of the same basic type of board products to dozens of embedded computer systems producers.]

When I was doing market research, one of the managers at the company I was doing contract work for said "I don't understand why anyone does business with Apple. As soon as one of Apple's business partners develops a market, Apple comes out with an Apple-branded product to compete with it and take the market away."

[Note for below -- Motorola and IBM were the ONLY suppliers of PowerPC chips--Motorola was primary, IBM was secondary, for the chips that Apple used. No other companies ever produced PowerPC or ever had licensing to produce them. It wasn't sole sourcing, but very close to it. Apple had a 10% ownership in the chip, and that I assumed meant that Apple got to exercise veto power regarding certain sort of chip shipments (see last entry below.]

[From September 1997 ]

"Motorola Confirms Willingness To Pay
"Motorola [would have shipped] G3-based Mac OS laptop had... Apple[granted]licensing. ...Motorola [offered] to pay Apple [up to] 12 times the original System 7.X licensing fees for the right to sell a Mac OS compatible laptop before Apple pulled the plug on licensing. This would have made the licensing fees for each laptop approximately $600 (as the previous agreement, more or less, pinned the software license at $50). This ... directly contradicts ... statements from both Fred Anderson and ...Steve Jobs, that said the clone vendors ...rejected Apple's offer to raise the licensing fees in exchange for notebook design rights."

" IBM Following In Motorola's Footsteps
...IBM will follow ... Motorola and .. exit ... the Mac OS sub-licensing business. ... death sentence for ... IBM sub-licensees, Tatung Co. Ltd. of Taiwan and Akia in Japan, ... IBM [an] Motorola [confirmed] they will continue to supply the all important PowerPC chips to Apple."

"....Mercury News says that Apple is demanding discounts by as much as 50% on the newest PowerPC chips, and is threatening to deny shipments until the prices are lowered."

#188 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:29 PM:

abi #173: a pale shadow of a fine binding with flexible spine, raised cords and tight joints

One of my best feeling books is a history of feudal Japan that appears to have had the cover woven out of bamboo, and not just stamped with a pattern.

#189 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 02:49 PM:

#161 Charlie
That 20% figure came from Lynn Abbey's blog, which Chris gave the URL for at #149.

You're an SF/F writer--the SF/F community is not the same animal as the romance reader community, the social mores are not the same--the modertor of a Yahoo group of a fantasy writer who has a lot of romance readership booted me out for objecting when someone kept saying, "go to [some website] and vote early and often for [some book or other]" in what seems to me to be a totally stupid competition modeled after college basketball elimination tournaments, of "on-line voting matching up Book A versus Book B, Book C versus D, Book E versus F, Book G versus H, etc., winner of A versus B gets matched against winner of C versus D, and winner of E versus F gets matched against G versus H, until There Is Only the One Winner in the competition.

That is obnoxious to me in oh so many ways--book reading is NOT generally a competitive sport. The sports competition promotional aspects I found/find appalling, and the ballot-stuffing exhortations also offended me. The people promoting this seemed to be of the attitudes that it's all promotion and nonstop continuous in-your-face promotion is wonderful desirable strategy... it make the most obnoxious ever SF/F types pushing for Hugo nominations and votes on the final ballot, seem like polite invisible laid back wallflowers....

Another factor is that there is no telling where in the world someone is who's doing those downloads. Foreign rights and sales are significant to writers' income (they're most of your, yes?). Prices of books in some countries can be substantially higher than what someone paying in a Barnes & Noble or Borders in the USA--the USA editions benefit from the USA having 308,00,000 people the vast majority of whom read English, and the same edition of a book gets distributed over the entire country--as opposed to the European patchwork of countries with multiple languages involves spread over roughly the same number of people, India has a popultion rather more than a billion, but there are hundreds of languages in use, China has a population of over a billion but copyright laws occasionally get applied and enforced there....

Who knows who's doing the downloading and how it's affects sales potential--I don't. But if there are people paying for downloads which are counterfeit merchandise, then that I expect -is- killing sales potential for the legitimate goods... there is a big market for counterfeit merchandise of shoess, purse, CDs, software--sometimes the buyers realize the merchandise is fake/unauthorized, sometimes they don't, sometimes they rationalize too-good-to-be-legit prices, and sometimes the vendors don't realize the merchandise is unauthorized (that has happene with pills in the USA, from particularly Asian suppliers....).

#190 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 03:11 PM:

Cost Models....

When Wang, Honeywell, Bull, and whoever else collapsed down from multiple computer manufacturing companies to one company which became an IBM hardware value-added reseller, the company told some of the people who worked at it, "we are pink slipping you and offering you the opportunity to become contractors, we'll turn the production equipment you worked with for making documents and graphics over to you, you can work in the facility, you can offer document and graphics production to 3rd parties... we will give you all our business for documents we need for our products, but we aren't keeping you on as employees."

There is a variant of "outsourcing" where a e.g. a business decides that it's not going to run its own IT department anymore and hands the IT Department and all the people who worked in it over to IBM or Hewlett-Packard etc., for the new acquiring company to decide who will get job offers from the acquiring company. The dumping company gets rid of its IT Department and the personnel in it, and pays the acquiring company for services....

The relevance of the above, involves cost models--right now large conglomerate publishers have all sort of departments and people in them for dealing with every aspect of print publishing and if they do epublication, has employees for that. The conglomerates also may be using contractors. They tend I suspect to not be using outsourced services, other than e.g. the obnoxious deal of Harlequin with Author Solutions--which isn't the normal outsourcing operation, since Author Solutions isn't exactly running mainline operations for Harlequin, instead its using Harlequin as a pipeline for gullible aspiring authors to enrich Author Solutions.

There are epublishers which have branched out into doing print editions--I do not know what their cost structures have. I doubt if they have the large overhead factors that the big conglomerate publishers have, though.

There are also small presses which started in print publishing which have branched into epublishin--Cecilia [I'm probably spelling it wrong...] Tan said at Arisia that epublishing has helped keep Circlet going (Circlet was one of the publishers that got clobbered some years back when a distributor went down and left the presses which had been using it, minus both inventory and any payment for the inventory, and the inventory got sold as remaindered by the distributor's privileged creditors (the presses got no say and didn't get any standing as creditors, the legal system screwing them over....)

#191 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 03:52 PM:

PJEvans@186: Lack of vision / imagination, conservatism, and all sorts of things always factor in. One big factor, I'm convinced (in general; I wasn't in the DEC boardrooms where these discussions took place and have no inside knowledge at that level), is a general tendency of everybody, certainly including me, to continue looking at the world the way one has in the past. You could call it basic personal conservatism. It's right more often than it's wrong, is the thing. People preaching revolutionary change are almost always wrong, and when they're right in general they're still mostly wrong on the details. Paying attention to them will drive you bankrupt most of the time.

However, failing to see the revolution that you're contributing to will get you remembered much more sarcastically.

I do think DEC often succeeded in spite of itself, not so much because of. The PDP-8 somewhat, TOPS-20 arose because customers wanted a modern OS enough they wrote their own (TENEX) which DEC eventually decided to buy in, and the VAX may have succeeded largely because a few smart people in Colorado Springs that gave DEC some market-leading disk drives for a while.

#192 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 05:02 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 143:

Barley I may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you'll hear it call you:
"Come away...Come away."

#193 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 05:32 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet, P J Evans:

I once saw a publicly-screened video of Ken Olsen, one of the founders, and at that time CEO, of DEC, in which he declared baldly that there was no market for personal computers. This was around 1988, I think. Sadly, I saw some evidence of senile dementia in his physical appearance and affect, so that might not have always been his opinion.

#194 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 05:49 PM:

David Dyer-Bennett: Lack of vision / imagination, conservatism, and all sorts of things always factor in. One big factor, I'm convinced (in general; I wasn't in the DEC boardrooms where these discussions took place and have no inside knowledge at that level), is a general tendency of everybody, certainly including me, to continue looking at the world the way one has in the past. You could call it basic personal conservatism.

I saw a fascinating demonstration of this force at work just a few months ago in a roleplaying game forum. Someone asked about whether cell phone-like instant communication was compatible with D&D-ish epic/quest fantasy worlds. All the older posters immediately thought to ourselves, no, of course it isn't, it breaks down whole social structures. All the younger posters, for whom portable instant communication with almost everyone almost all of the time is a fact of life, thought to themselves, yes, of course it is, and had thoughts about it folded into the kind of faux feudalism of D&D (and the Final Fantasy worlds, and so on), and as plot hooks both when it works and when it doesn't, and on and on. Really interesting reading that left me entirely convinced that I was wrong at the outset.

#195 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 05:57 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 192... This subthread's conversation is becoming seedy.

#196 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Serge #195: Surely, pointing out that fact goes against the grain?

#197 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 06:00 PM:

Bruce Baugh #178: I'm not averse to that position.

#198 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Abi @ 173/4:

That was an incomplete sarcasm attempt.

remember kids, don't attempt sarcasm before your morning cup of tea.

#199 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 06:17 PM:

Fragano @ 196... At least we haven't yet stooped down to poddy humor.

#200 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 06:31 PM:

I think he said it earlier than that - I'd heard about it in the mid-80s if not earlier.

#201 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 07:20 PM:

#199 Serge

Podkayne of Mars?!

#202 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 07:45 PM:

Bruce Baugh @194 talked about cellphone technology changing social structures utterly ...

I should note that, to my sisters (born in 1989 and 1993, respectively), an awful lot of older movies' plots make no sense, because if --character-- had had a cellphone, of COURSE they would have known --plotpoint--, and then the whole movie collapses. We had a lot of long conversations with them in their 5-9yo years about why what to them was the bleedingly obvious course of action couldn't possibly happen, because the world wasn't LIKE that yet, back when the movie was shot/set.

#203 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 07:52 PM:

Elliott, #202: Not to mention that RHPS (and a lot of horror movies/novels that depend on the same gimmick) won't happen because when the car breaks down late at night out in the boonies, you just call AAA!

#204 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 09:46 PM:

Lee @203: My immediate reaction to your post was, "But in horror movies, they DO call 'AAA!'-- oh, oops."

#205 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 10:07 PM:

Julie L: Tee hee!

(more like aaaaie!)

#206 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 11:18 PM:

Lee @203: All it takes is a road far enough out to not get signal. Plenty of places where cell phones still don't work. Of course, this immediately suggests an audience line for RHPS about "Shoulda got a satellite phone, a$$hole!" but we're not to the stage of universal coverage yet.

#207 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 01:18 AM:

Ken Brown @165:

The NAME, man! Give us the NAME of the DANISH ARCHAEOLOGY BOOK. Or we may have to come find you and have a word. AIIIIEEEEE!

(Well, OK, I'd rather have the ISBN, but the name is a good start.)

#209 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:04 AM:

Rikibeth @ 206... All it takes is a road far enough out to not get signal

In my case, all it takes is to walk 100 feet into the grocery store. Yes, I'm with Verizon. Can you hear me now?

#210 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:27 AM:

Elliot@202: Kinda like Miles Vorkosigan explaining to Nicki that Hamlet didn't have fast pentha; would have been a much shorter play if he had.

#211 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:31 AM:

Bruce@194: That's fascinating. Now, the hard part is figuring out what would really be different if people had easy ability to make psionic contact (or whatever mechanism is posited in-game) with others. It's a huge difference, after all; in particular it changes concepts of distance, isolation, and probably time, and that probably spills over into the whole culture.

Unless it's a rare skill that members of the party just happen to have acquired; that helps keep the collateral effects down.

#212 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:36 AM:

Bruce@193: 1988? Well, he means sales to individuals I believe, rather than using "PC" as the generic term for an individual desktop machine the way we do today. But that was 5 years after I bought my first computer, and 4 years after the famous Macintosh ad, etc. That's definitely getting into "denial".

I only met him a couple of times, other than huge events, so I wasn't in a position to evaluate his mental state.

#213 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 12:16 PM:

Serge #199: I'm too spore for that.

#214 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 12:30 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 201... Fragano @ 213...

This place IS the pits.

#215 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 02:44 PM:

Elliott Mason @202: OTOH, talking about the X-Files, Chris Carter had said he couldn't do it without cellphones.

"Mulder, where are you?"

"I'm on top of a train traveling through Montana. Dr. Markov's mobile bioweapons lab!"*
Notice the subtle info-dump.

*Representative dialog, not accurate quotation.

#216 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 04:02 PM:

I don't recall having trouble reading books where people didn't have telephones, or cars, or fresh vegetables in the stores in the winter. Many of those were the standard children's books of my youth, so it seems likely that other kids my age didn't find that a problem either. But cars and telephones were ubiquitous where I grew up (I was born in 1954 in Indiana).

I wonder if cell phones are really MORE story-changing than those other things. Or if the number of kids who respond strongly to stories without them is small. Or all the other possibilities. Interesting, anyway.

#217 ::: lmashell ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 04:21 PM:

About ten years ago I began to find myself yelling at characters on tv dramas to 'just call him on your cellphone already!' and be very frustrated if there was no explanation why the phone was not available. Most of the time now of course the cell phone is a part of the plot.

#218 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 04:39 PM:

Bruce Baugh #194, #211, David Dyer-Bennet #211:

See also the "Valdemar" stories, where Lackey has conveniently given her Heralds and other players various convenient means for long-distance communication.

#220 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 05:50 PM:

Imashell #217: Funny thing: in one of the episodes of Detective Conan, Conan realizes something is up when even a famous romance novelist's recent books involve missed opportunities that could have been avoided by use of cellphones (and cellphones, aka keitai, are an even bigger deal over there than over here).

(Turns out the books were actually being written by a shut-in escaped fugitive in hiding who didn't get out much and so wasn't aware of all the ways the culture had changed rapidly in the previous few years.)

In fact, Detective Conan in general is kind of an amusing case, as it started airing in the mid-90s, right before the keitai explosion, and is still going on. You can sort of trace the evolution of the cell phone in Japanese culture by the way it goes from being a Super Sekrit Gadget a la Maxwell Smart's shoe-phone (early on, Conan gets a mini-cellphone disguised as a clip-on earring—though why a male elementary student should need a clip-on earring is never adequately explained) or plaything of the rich to being something everybody has (not to mention the macguffin in a number of crimes).

Of course, the funny thing is that in terms of continuity, the show is supposed to take place over the course of just a few months. At one point, one of the characters waxes reminiscent about how they're disappearing now but you used to see banks of payphones everywhere—to which viewers might retort, "Oh, you mean like in the first few seasons?" :) (For more details, go here and scroll down to "Cell Phone".)

*looks around* Um. 'Scuse me. I'm just gonna go do my otaku thing over there in the corner now…

#221 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:46 PM:

I didn't watch the last eight or nine years of The Simpsons as they aired because TV reception where I live is lousy. Then I saw the movie, and now the DVDs have skipped ahead to season 20. It's kind of a shock to see Bart and Homer carrying cell phones and treating computers as perfectly normal appliances instead of expensive luxuries. (The other most recent DVD release is the 2000-2001 season; in one episode, the one with the Patrick McGoohan cameo, Homer discovers the Web for the first time.)

It's odd to think how much has changed while that show has been on the air.

#222 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 01:38 AM:

I just got this:

Fall in Love with Kindle, Amazon's #1 Bestseller. Free Two-Day Shipping in time for Valentines Day. Offer valid only in the Continental U.S.


#223 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:01 AM:

David Dyer-Bennet @181:
"Statue of limitations"? Isn't that the new name for that thing in New York Harbor?

Paula Lieberman @187:
As someone who's worked with many of the people behind PowerPC development (quite a few of them came to Motorola from the D sublevel of the building I work in), my understanding is that PPC development was running out of impetus, and Apple was feeling a lot of pressure from Intel. The flip side of your claim is that Intel already ate the potential market. When you have only one major customer, you're already on extremely shaky ground, and Apple's capitulation to Intel was more or less inevitable.

It's also worth taking a look at Apple's market share at the time (switching to Intel seems to have improved that, BTW); that translates to "even with Apple as their main customer, they had minuscule sales". I'm pretty sure it was the embedded market that was keeping PPC alive to start with, and Intel's acquisition and subsequent heavy marketing of the ARM platform was almost certainly the real killer — once they lost that, Apple didn't provide anywhere near the volume to keep things going.

#224 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:32 AM:

#223 geekosaur

The flip side of your claim is that Intel already ate the potential market. When you have only one major customer, you're already on extremely shaky ground, and Apple's capitulation to Intel was more or less inevitable.

Jobs did it to himself.... he chased away all the potential other customers for general purpose PPC chips for use on desktop computers or embedded computer based on "standard" hardware platforms.

Jobs shitcanning the Mac OS licensing directly killed off the Mac clone market, and killed off the non-Mac general purpose computer market for PowerPC -- Pios had a Mac OS license and was going to be making new Amiga personal computers using PowerPC chip, Jobs' action croaked Pios. Motorola had been about to go into production of making millions of CHRP-based single-board computers. At the time there was a native version of Windows NT for PPC, there was Linux, there was VxWorks, there was all those other embedded operating systems, there were compilers to compile C and other computer language code directly to executable code for dedicated applications.... there had been a potential for tens of millions of general purpose computer PowerPC chips produced per year. Jobs squelched that, so that only general purpose computer that used PPC was the Macintosh.

With that low a volume (Genuine Apple Macintosh only usage), and Apple controlling the supply, too, it was wasted effort for companies that wanted to make desktop computers to bother looking at PowerPC, except for a handful of computer hardware religion idiots like revolving idiots who got control of the Amiga intellectual property after Pios or whoever went bust... (Turning down a job offer from Amiga Inc was the right move on my part....)

With only Apple using the chips, the revenue just was not there for continued development.

#183 David

Digital wasn't making personal computers for the masses, and didn't have IBM PC compatibility. Radio Shack was making PCs for the masses, HP was, IBM eventually gave up and sold the business to China, Dell was... ultimately personal computers turned into commodities/consumer electronics/graphics artistics/musical artists/standard office desk and retail sales clerk station products.

HP during the 1990 was the ten ton gorilla of personal and small to medium sized office printer industry (the high end occupied by the likes of Xerox and Canon and Avery-Dennison and to a lesser degree IBM) because it was willing to cannibalize its own products. The marketing managers explained, they had the choose of cannibalizing their own products with newer models that provide more feature and functionality at lower prices, or they could lose the sales to their competitors--they preferred cannibalizing and keeping the business.

"We compete for what's left over after HP takes its share of the laser printer market," said the US marketing manager for a Japanese company's laser printers. "There isn't enough money in the universe to go up directly against HP in laser printers."

I've been amused at the re-invention of the pen plotter printe, by whatever the company that makes the Cricut paper cutting machine for crafters--the cutting blade is replaceable with custom plotter pens (once upon a time HP, Calcomp, Tektronix I think, and a few other companies used to make pen plotters for computer graphics output... HP eventually migrate from over to inkjet printer and discontinued the pen plotters.

#225 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 07:19 PM:

Paula Lieberman @224:
Using XP on any platform other than x86 is not a good way to buttress an argument; few of them ever were actually released, and the ones that were (MIPS, Alpha, and Itanium IIRC) were miserable failures. And again, the desktop computer market for PPC was never as large as the embedded chipset market (this is true for every CPU except Intel/AMD desktop-targeting chips, and I wouldn't want to bet on it being false for them).

CHRP... IBM (the progenitor of PowerPC) tried that; Motorola scrapped their plans for CHRP because if IBM couldn't get any buyers, it was hopeless. To the extent that Apple was blamed for this, it was for not basing their PPC designs on CHRP and thereby throwing CHRP a lifeline.

#226 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:18 AM:

#225 geekosaur

Motorola had some MacOS boards at a Real Time & Embedded Computing trade show at the Sheraton in Framingham, MA it was showing off. They were early production boards, based on CHRP, and Power Computing and UMax and Motorola itself and otehres were going to use them for Mac clones, and Motorola was pitching them as single board computes (SBC) units for the embedded solutions universe. Then Apple terminated the MacOS licensing and Motorola shut down the production, just as it was about to go into full rate production, because, again, the hundreds of thousands of contracted orders for MacOS boards and expectations into seven figured, evaporated with Apple's licensing termination.

CHRP = Common Hardware Reference Platform, it was a single board computer family design, including multiple I/O ports, memory provisions, hard drive interfaces, Apple Desktop Bus interface option, expansion card slot options, USB, etc. etc. CHRP was what PREP evolved into. CHRP was NOT a chip; PowerPC was a single chip implementation of the instruction set in IBM originally 3 chip I think Power RISC architecture. The I/O on PowerPC came from Motorola's 88xxx RISC architecture chip design.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.