TT: Creative Impact

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one and have a piece of cake as we celebrate the fourth anniversary!  Then join me and Alan as we continue take a look at some of the ramifications of sailing in pirate haunted waters.

JANE: Last time I mentioned that second-hand bookstores and libraries had an impact on the creative process of writing. Can you guess what it is?

Threat to Creativity

Threat to Creativity

ALAN: I’m sorry, but that’s got me completely flummoxed! The only thing that comes to mind is something vague about second-hand ideas, but I’m sure that’s not what you mean. So what is the creative impact?

JANE: The creative impact is that publishers are less willing to take gambles because they are less certain of selling copies.  I can’t name names, because most of what I know was told to me in confidence, but I have spoken to several award-winning, popular authors who were basically told: “Write for me in your X universe/series and we’ll buy it.  Otherwise, sorry, not interested.”

ALAN: That explains a lot. I get so sick of never-ending series that really should have been put out to pasture many books ago. I simply don’t understand why they continue to sell. There comes a point where the stories turn into writing by numbers; just hack work.

JANE: And that’s a situation that’s particularly sad when a writer finds himself or herself becoming a hack within a universe they created and once loved.

I’m sure if Roger Zelazny was still alive, he’d find a lot of interest in more and more Amber novels.  That’s great for fans of Amber, but it would mean that wonderful books like A Night in the Lonesome October would never get written.

ALAN: Much as I love Roger’s work, I really wouldn’t have wanted to see any more Amber books. That universe was written out. Like you, I much preferred to see him working on something new and fresh rather than old and tired.

JANE: Me, too.

ALAN: Of course, just like DVDs, books are now available in electronic form. Many providers of e-books try and stop people from copying them by encrypting them in a special way – it’s called DRM (Digital Rights Management), and the practical effect is that you can only read the book on the e-reader you used to purchase it. You can’t transfer the book to another device, which effectively prevents people from copying the book illegally. The downside is that if your e-reader breaks or if you buy a new one with bigger bells and louder whistles, you have to buy the book again.  And again, and again… There’s a school of thought that says this actually harms sales since many people simply refuse to buy e-books that come with DRM.

JANE: My opinion on DRM has changed.  Initially, I was all for DRM because, as we discussed last week, piracy seriously hurts writers.  However, once e-books could be read on different media, DRM seemed like a bad idea to me for all the reasons you mentioned.  That’s why if you buy one of my handful of e-books directly from me, they will not have DRM.

Sadly, too, even if a book is protected by DRM, determined pirates will break it – and brag about how clever they are.  I get depressed just thinking about it.

ALAN: Tor, which publishes a lot of your books, now has a policy of not attaching DRM to their e-books. Unfortunately they only sell e-books through stores like Amazon, and Amazon is a law unto itself. More often than not they attach DRM to Tor books even though Tor tells them not to. I’ve been caught in this trap more than once and I have several Tor books which proudly proclaim in the small print that they are DRM-free. Nevertheless Amazon has put DRM on them. Tor seems completely powerless to get Amazon to stop doing this, and Tor never answer their emails when I complain to them about it. Consequently I no longer buy e-books published by Tor.

JANE: Well, I’ll pass this along to my editor, Claire Eddy, at Tor.  She’s a good listener.  Maybe she’ll know what we can do.

ALAN: Wildside Press e-books and Baen e-books are also DRM-free. Both these publishers sell their books directly as well as through Amazon. I always make a point of buying e-books directly from Wildside and Baen and I’ve spent a lot of money doing just that. If Tor ever starts selling e-books directly, I’ll certainly start buying from them again.

JANE: I’ll definitely pass this along.  I know that Patrick Nielsen Hayden, one of Tor’s senior editors, is avidly interested in how the Internet is changing publishing.  It’s completely possible he has no idea what Amazon is doing.  E-mails like the one you sent often get lost as they’re handed up the line.

ALAN: Many individual authors are now selling their e-books on the internet as well. I’ve bought lots of DRM-free books from Matthew Hughes, Mike Resnick, Rudy Rucker, and Jack Vance. And in this case, of course, the authors get to keep all of the money!

JANE: Not quite all, especially if the writers sell through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Then there is a small commission.  Also, upfront expenses and investment in time are much higher for an author who wants to do an e-book than many imagine until they start working on an e-book.

I kept careful track of my expenses when I did my three e-books.  It took a good many sales for them to earn out what I’d spent.  This was even though I think my expenses were lower than average.  I also must stress that many people will say: “But you can do it all yourself and it’s free.”  That’s not completely true.  There’s an investment of time, time that gets taken away from writing.

ALAN: Oh gosh yes! I’ve turned some of these tangents into an ebook and I was astonished to find how much time it took. It’s tedious and laborious. And of course it doesn’t help that I’m an incredible pedant who tries very, very hard to cross all the i’s and dot all the t’s. You wouldn’t believe how much time that eats up. It gave me a whole new appreciation for just how hard professional editors must work.

JANE: Well, since you’ve mentioned it, let me remind our readers that they can download the fruits of your labors for free from your website http://tyke.net.nz/books.

E-books are also touted as the way authors can publish those books that the professional outfits won’t take because they’re too daring or not in a popular series or whatever.  This is lovely in theory, but the author still needs to put in the time writing the book, getting it ready for e-book and/or POD publication, and then promoting it.  Not many writers are so rich that they can afford a year or more away from paying work, especially if writing is their primary means of support.  This leads to authors taking on other jobs – either outside of writing or writing something to pay the bills.

Once again, the field suffers.

Worse, whether reprints or new fiction, people start pirating those e-books, too…  It’s actually pretty disheartening.

ALAN: That’s depressingly true. But nevertheless, I think that the British DVD assumption that the purchaser of the product is basically honest is the way to go. If you start by assuming that everyone is a pirate, both you and your audience are left with a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.

JANE: I agree.  I’ve had to reach for the mouthwash, especially when well-meaning friends send me links to where my books have been pirated.  Still, I agree with you that if people feel it’s assumed they’ll cheat, then I think they’re more likely to feel clever when they figure out how to pull the cheat off.  It’s much harder when they realize they’re just as scummy as someone who pockets candy in a Mom and Pop store that’s having trouble meeting its bills.

ALAN: The remedy lies with the publishers themselves. I hope that the approach taken by Tor and Baen starts a trend. Tor’s implementation may be flawed, but at least their heart is in the right place.

JANE: On that optimistic note, I need to go write.  I’m immersed in revising AA2.   It’s quite absorbing.

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18 Responses to “TT: Creative Impact”

  1. Peter Says:

    Actually removing DRM from a book doesn’t require a determined pirate – it’s an absolutely trivial process, and can actually be done automatically. I only bring this up to point out that among the many ways in which DRM is a bad idea, perhaps the most important to somebody making a living from writing (or trying to) is that it simply doesn’t work. It’s digital snake oil, and it’s a sure bet that the cost of applying DRM is coming out of your pocket.

    On a lighter note, one (possible) solution to the expense (in time or money) of digitizing your own books – especially backlist titles the rights to which have reverted – is crowdsourcing the grunt work of the original scanning/OCR/markup, then stepping in to check the final product. I know Walter Jon Williams did this for a chunk of his backlist (I recall seeing a message from him to the effect of “Does anybody have pirate scans of the following novels they could email me?”); I’m pretty sure Will Shettery did much the same.

    • Heteromeles Says:

      Yeah, but snake oil or not, some bright bulbs are talking about incorporating drm into the next iteration of html, html5. I’m not a digital rights activist, but it’s depressing to me that people in the various parts of the internet industry seem to be taking the East German STASI as a model for how to lock in their serfs, excuse me, their customers on the theory that they can only make money this way. It’s a good way to start turning the internet into The Legacy System From Hell (as Stewart Brand phrased it), and that wouldn’t be good. Maybe print bookstores will come back in about 10 years, just because no one wants to try buying anything online anymore.

      Sorry for the rant.

      Perhaps, on the whimsical side, the publishing industry could employ pirates of their own to steal and trash the digital identities of the pirates who are stealing their books, so that they don’t get the street cred for all the work they do stealing books? I’m sure that would end badly, but it’s amusing to think about in the short term

      On the realistic side I agree that finding volunteers might be a useful way to get your backlog digitzed. I’d love to hear from WJW about whether the workload worked out.

      • Peter Says:

        It’s worth considering how many of those bright lights have a financial interest in the sale of snake oil…

        As for WJW, I don’t really know how well the distribution of labour worked out for him. I do know that he’s released over a dozen backlist titles since that message, but no idea if there’s a causal link there.

  2. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I know what you mean first-hand about the cost of publishing. As I gear up for my own dive into it, I’m learning more and more about what’s required to do it well enough to work.

    Not that it’s going to stop me. Still, there are the down days.

  3. Max Kaehn (@mithriltabby) Says:

    If you buy Tor e-books through Barnes and Noble, they aren’t encrypted. Just hit “download” on the web site and you get a very usable epub.

  4. Paul Says:

    Apparently the encryption that limits an electronic of a book to only one device can be irritating for writers, too. You have to submit a different electronic format for each device, which can be expensive if you hire someone to format them all, or time-consuming in lost writing time if you do it yourself.

  5. janelindskold Says:

    I know Walter Jon Williams fairly well. Both he and his wife put a considerable number of hours into getting those e-books up and ready. Joan Saberhagen has also used this technique to make many of Fred’s books available.

    A huge number of scanning errors need to be eliminated, meaning tedious combing through and comparing to the printed text.

    By the way, using pirated files is most helpful if the author doesn’t already have an electronic version of the book. Since I have electronic files for all of my books, I didn’t need this. However, since my versions pre-dated copy edit, I had to pull out the copyedited manuscript and make all those changes and then compare to the printed work because further changes were made later on.

    Fast and easy? Not if you want to do a good job.

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      Coordinating crowd-sourced digital conversion can be a major headache. Jim Baen had a crack at it back when he decided to bring back a bunch of classic writers, some of whom were dead before most people knew what a digit was. He pulled the plug before we got the first manuscript done – it was not going to save him a penny even with volunteer proofers and scanners, because the result still needed professional editing and, even with a very competent volunteer coordinating it, it took too much of his own time.

      Project Gutenberg pulls it off. _When_ there are enough people interested enough in a book to do it, and by scheduling it for ‘whenever it gets done’. Even so, I’m told the quality can be variable.

    • Peter Says:

      Having done a number of analogue-to-digital conversions, trust me, I’d never qualify the process as “fast and easy” :). FastER…possibly, although starting from a pre-final edit ms strikes me as possibly the worst of all possible worlds – at least OCR errors tend to follow consistent patterns, and a lot can be fixed with a good regex.

  6. Louis Robinson Says:

    I think if you check, you’ll find that the Tor books on Amazon with DRM were listed before the change in policy, and they haven’t gone back and fixed them. The irony is that Tom Doherty actually made a deal with Jim Baen to sell Tor books, DRM-free, via Baen;s e-book site. Only to be hauled up short by the suits at head office. I got the impression that they thought he was trying to sell the family jewels or something.

    I’m afraid that I’m not following your logic on the influence of used book stores on the introduction of a new subject by established writers. It doesn’t seem likely that the people who want the same old same old would be more willing to buy something different because they can’t unload it afterwards, and quite a few people _are_ willing to try the new _because_ they know they can recover some of that investment.

    Are you suggesting that if the secondary market disappeared everyone now buying in the primary market would continue to do so, while the people now buying in the secondary market would be forced into the primary market? That, to put it mildly, is implausible, however much the media companies try to make it sound otherwise. I don’t know if it’s ever been tested for books, but I think that there has been research done on this in other areas – the conclusion being that eliminating secondary markets often _reduces_ the size of the primary market; it won’t increase it. I don’t think there’s much room for publishers to increase sales that way. Less cost-cutting and more investment in good product would probably work much better. I must say, though, that this is way outside my field and I may not be remembering what I read properly. More importantly, books aren’t ultrasound machines [a market I do know something about]. Most people don’t own more that one of the latter at a time, and frequently won’t buy a new one unless they can sell the old one first. That changes the dynamics a lot. OTOH, this is not a market that’s insensitive to price. Always remember Jim Baen’s old saw: publishers are fighting for peoples’ beer money. Most people can and will find other things to spend that money on if they don’t like the books offered at the asking price in the store.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Short version. Before, someone might wander into a bookstore, find, say, _Through Wolf’s Eyes_, love it but, if not able to find the sequels at the used store, go and buy new.

      Now they have the entire world of used bookstores to choose from, so they never look new.

      Please don’t tell me this doesn’t happen. I’ve done it myself. I have had fans tell me that’s what they did.

      I hope that explains my logic.

      • Peter Says:

        Online used bookstore browsing also tends to reduce the discovery factor of physical used bookstores – the case where you go in looking for something else, don’t find it, but end up walking out with a pile of new-to-you books/authors (which can absolutely lead to new sales down the road.)

        Social-book-networking sites and recommendation engines are a start, but they don’t really replace that experience yet (not least because people are more likely to take a $1 risk on a new author than a $10 one).

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        Ahh! yes, that can bite. How much, OTOH, is unclear, since not having a chance to buy used doesn’t guarantee a new purchase. Myself, for example, does neither. He simply reads around the hole[s] in the series, and eventually forgets to look for the missing book. The last book being a possible exception: if I can’t stand not knowing how it all ended, i might buy new.

        Still, I do see your point, even if I think a lot of those people are under-valuing the time they spend finding those books on-line. What’s really strange to me, though, is not wanting to get into a book store regularly to see what’s there that you _don’t_ know anything about. It’s rather difficult to do a search for an author or book you’ve never heard of. And by no means everything will end up in a used store.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      Sorry Louis, but I have Tor ebooks bought from Amazon with the the Tor DRM disclaimer in them but which nevertheless have DRM attached. So they are definitely from after the policy change.


      -Alan

  7. Paul Genesse Says:

    Thanks for the post.

  8. Mike Wolf Says:

    My experience with DRM is different than what’s in the post. I can transfer any of the books that I’ve bought to other device–but not to a different DRM ecosystem.

    Most of the books I’ve bought have come from gotten from Amazon and most probably have DRM . But DRM or not, whatever I buy from Amazon on every electronic device that has a Kindle reader App–which includes PCs, Macs, iThingies, and Android powered device.

    To gain access, you have have to download the Kindle App, then identify yourself by email address and Amazon password. Once you do that, everything that you’ve bought from Amazon is available.

    Or I can read Amazone stuff “in the cloud” from a browser.

    Similar things are true for digital books from Google, which can be read on anything with a modern browser (which does not include Kindle).

    My virtual bookshelf is divided into a Google section and an Amazon section because the two App worlds are disjoint.

    Amazon used to let you loan books to others, but it looks like that’s been dropped. Libraries can buy eBooks and then loan the books to their members, but the books cost the libraries more, which creates its own set of problems.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Interesting addition.

      Alan’s difficulties may have to do with his being in New Zealand,and that creating a different “world.”

      Patrick Nielsen Hayden has been corresponding with Alan (who is a computer professional, so not likely to be phased easily). Hopefully, this difficulty will be sorted out!

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