The Kiss of Death

As someone who is now past fifty, I have like many of you been witness to lingering deaths.  In fact, thanks to modern medicine most deaths are now lingering deaths.  Even when the tumor/disease is found too late and we’re assured the person is not long for this world, the death drags on.  Actually for a while it often seems as though it’s not death at all, as though the person will recover, as though everything is going to be fine.

Death, the final process, the final blow, tends to happen in a devastating, sudden conflagration so that even if the person had been dying for years, you truly don’t expect it. So it’s a shock, even when it isn’t.

Institutions and industries, particularly those that have been helpful and useful for years have the same “death process” at least from everything I can discover in history.

Let’s say something or other rendered an institution or industry irrelevant.  Let’s talk about oh, not the buggy whip about which I know nothing, but candle making.  And more specifically candle making in Portugal.

Once electricity came in, the candle industry was of course doomed.  But it did not vanish over night.  We are living in a time of such rapid change that it’s justifiable to image that change as say the change between VCRs and DVD players.  Over a few years, VCR tapes disappeared, save in dusty stacks in thrift stores.

But when something has existed and been useful for generations, the change is not that fast.  People had no particular emotional attachment to VCR tapes, at least that I know of.  (People have emotional attachments to the weirdest things.)  There was no time for a generation to grow up and become attached to vcr tapes as the way to watch movies.  My own kids remember it only because their best friend Jake put a banana in a VCR which henceforward acted possessed.  (The VCR, not Jake.  Though Jake had his moments.  Weirdly, from being an unpredictable hellion, he grew up into one of the nicest, most self-possessed young men I know.)

Candles were different.  I think electrical light came into Portugal as it did to most of Europe in the 20s or thirties.  (Maybe earlier.  I have no exact date.  My mom, born in 1935 (hopefully I have that right.  I might be doing what my kids do who routinely think I was born in the seventies.  She’s 81 at any rate.) ) still did her work by the light of an oil lamp when she was very young.  A lot of our neighbors in the mid-sixties and later still used candles and oil lamps.  I remember the candles, strung up like pale fish, to the side of the general store when I was very little.  I remember people buying bottles of lamp oil.  I have vivid memories of trimming oil lamps, and cleaning them, with my (older) cousin Natalia who was raised with us, but that could be because we were going through an extended period of blackouts. Or it’s possible that just like initially grandma’s house only had piped in water in the kitchen, it also only had light in the kitchen and that light in the upstairs bedrooms came later. I don’t believe so, though, as one of my earliest memories is of lying in bed in my parents’ shotgun apartment, cut out of the house’s ground floor, and listening to the electrical light “sing” above me.

Speaking of blackouts, they were fairly common in summer, when simply having all the lights on later overwhelmed the net.  We all kept candles and sometimes oil lamps on hand, so we could weather those times.  This lasted well into the seventies.  Because my parents hated the amount of candles my brother and I ran through reading till late, blackouts became our exercise program.  We used to walk up and down the village under the summer moon, until they’d tired us sufficiently we wouldn’t go through more than a candle each before bed.

By the eighties, the blackouts were less frequent and candles and candle sticks were getting difficult to find.

Is it dead yet?

Who knows?  I’d bet the candle industry in Portugal is a shadow of its former self.  I don’t know if it has revived yet into the scented-candles-and-aromatherapy niche it now occupies in the US.

For the purpose of what it was, though, the main purveyor of light to households, it is dead.  Yes, sure, people still have candlelit dinners and still talk of the romantic feel of candle light.  BUT no one seriously builds a house without electrical light and plans on using only candles and oil lamps.

Why I’m talking about this: when I was at Kris and Dean’s self publishing workshop back in 2011 I was shocked to hear them say that they expected the traditional markets to survive “at least in some form.” I heard that they were hiring more employees and were healthier than ever, partly through the ability to bring out their massive backlist in ebook at practically no expense.  You might make a dollar a book per year, but if you have half a million books that you have the rights to, well!

I was shocked, but it made perfect sense.  I had never thought of it that way, is all.

Two or three years later I was hearing from friends that trad publishing, at least in our field, having lost the ability to “push” new books the way they used to was tottering so badly and had so many lawsuits against each of the companies that editors were afraid of coming to work one morning and finding the entrance padlocked by either creditors or the IRS.

I thought that was weird, but as no one mentioned the only publishing house I was interested in, which so far as anyone knows has never played shell games with its accounting, I went back to doing work for that house (Baen for the uninitiated) and indie stuff and ignoring what was going on.

Several things have intruded in my conscience recently.  Over the last month, about half a dozen people have told me they don’t expect that traditional publishing, other than Baen is long for this world, and in the groups where I lurk unnoticed, as I have for years, people talk of how tiny their advances are.  Let’s just say the objection to Baen was always that they didn’t have as big pockets as the other houses, but these days my own decidedly mid-lister advances are looking remarkably plump.  As for the other houses, what I heard a couple of years ago seems to apply “If you were getting advances of more than 100k, up to the millions, you’re now making 50k a book.  If you were making 50k, you’re making 10k.  If you were making 10k you’re unemployed.)

Other things I’ve noticed, STRICTLY as a consumer, is that since they won their victory to be able to price the way they want against Amazon (Phyrrus would be proud) they’ve also been talking about how ebook sales are falling straight down.  This is not the experience of any indie I know.  What I think they’ve done is price themselves out of the market.

Then there is the fact that they no longer own those “millions” of properties that were making a dollar each a year.  Most authors I know with long backlists are, after considerable strife, getting their stuff back.  The series I’m currently reading (historical mystery) suffers a sharp divide around book 11, where it goes from being on KULL and reasonably priced to being $14 per book, the likes of which, no matter how much I enjoy the series, I WILL NOT pay.

At the same time the author has started an indie series, in the same time and place with a different detective.  I’m seeing this an awful lot, particularly for historical mysteries.

Science fiction, weirdly, is being slower about its authors establishing dual careers, and I think I know why.  Most (not nearly all) of the people still working in the field are prestige-and-favor clients, who do it for … well, prestige, while their real work is as university professors or whatever.  The midlisters who write to sell have already fled to either Baen (a lot of them) or to indie.  And us at Baen feel fat and sassy enough not to try to do dual (okay, except me.  I’m crazy.  Also indie pays me 50% again more.  I’m not leaving Baen unless they fire me, but you know, I like money.)

This morning it occurred to me this all fits perfectly well into the picture of “lingering death”, including the reports that “I’m not dead, I think I’ll go for a walk.”

The systemic weaknesses of traditional publishing (except for Baen) including the lack of a strong editorial choice that respects the fan base, bloated workforce and prestigious address expenses are ultimately not survivable, not in the days when anyone can start a publisher in their garage or publish themselves for that matter.

The atmosphere of cap-in-hand that still surrounds editors and publishers for the big houses, driven by supplicants who want to be traditionally published for prestige and credits-as-a-professor prevent their seeing that the iceberg is in fact dead ahead.

So instead of veering off, they’re rearranging the deck chairs and saying they feel quite well and will go for a walk (if you pardon mixing the images.)

What does this mean?  Does this affect me at all, when I’m mostly indie and baen?

Oh, it does affect me.  The toppling of the traditional part of the field will have huge repercussions in cons and workshops and also in what comes after in terms of publicity and what success means for a writer.  Not all of these consequences (perhaps not most of them) are good even for me.  When a huge building topples, it always affects things in ways that are hard to predict, and not all of those are known knowns.  Most of them are unknown unknowns.

It seems at this point, however long traditional publishing as a model we know lingers, it WILL topple.  Probably suddenly and terribly.

Kris and Dean were right, in the same way that the candle industry didn’t disappear.  It subsists in the scented candles, candles for candlelit dinners, etc.  And the publishing industry will probably survive as bespoke goods for the fans extraordinarily successful writers.  But I think its passing from the world as anything else is not far off.

No matter what happens, the process always drags, until everything collapses suddenly.  And it will still hit us as unexpected.

And we still don’t know what will happen.  We don’t even know what questions to ask, to estimate how far the ripples of the collapse will go.

Which is another reason to push out some indie (honestly, life is settling at last, though still a mess.  I’m looking at Christmas for “mostly settled”) and to dip into other genres and to stay flexible.

The way to survive is to move and think in new ways.  It’s hard but it’s doable.

Hold on to the sides of the boat.  The water is about to get rough.  But the storm in this as in everything else is survivable.

Work and think.

156 thoughts on “The Kiss of Death

    1. Have you sent a message to our lovable clam about it? The Free Range Oyster does a weekend book plug with some rather good stuff on it. Several of them are folks who comment here and at MGC as well.

      On book promo days, you get your book’s cover and blurb there, to better hook the prospective reader with, and a link to the amazon buy page. It’s well worth it. Also, Mad Genius Club has several blog posts about flogging your book to the masses (it’s something of a writer’s workshop blog, too).

      Happy writing, and good luck!

      1. 1. Oysters are found in brackish and marine habitats. Clams are usually found in freshwaters.
        2. Clams remain motile for their entire lives while oysters are motile only for the first few weeks of their lives.
        3. The foot of the oysters disappears after they become attached to a safe place for the rest of the life. The clam’s foot is used life long and functions like an anchor while the body is dragged along
        4. Pearl Oysters produce pearls of commercial value and clams do not produce any pearls.

        Read more: Difference Between Oysters and Clams | Difference Between

        1. 1. (freshwater clams) If that’s true, there must be a krepton of freshwater clams, given the number and variety of clams we observed/dug up along the west coast. And one or two types of (small) freshwater clams we’d see if a reservoir dried up. Maybe there are a lot more of ’em here in the Mississippi watershed.

          4. (pearls) There are several thriving freshwater pearl fisheries going on these days (China has most of the market). Not oysters, but freshwater mussels, what are more like clams than marine mussels, usually being motile through life.

          Or maybe I need to do more homework.

          1. I only ever remember seeing signs on west coast beaches warning people away from eating clams.

            Also, clams are remarkably hard to catch when you are 8 years old and your only digging implement is your hand.

      2. Thanks for the info. Um, it ain’t a whole book. The entirety of the work is that blog post :-/

        Also Posn-, er, Kim Stanley Robinson is a moron.

        1. Well, I did read Rainbow Mars, but probably because it was written by Niven. The 1990’s was when I had determined that all good authors were dying/dead and only later discovered Baen.

          1. There was a period, back in the late 80s, early 90s when comic books were being created by third gen artists, who had learned their trade by studying artists who learned to draw from comics drawn by people who had learned to draw by studying art. These third gen artists were good at splash panels (especially if you did not look too closely at who the legs attached — or failed to attach — to) and action sequences, but make them do a page of Clark Kent figuring out the bad guy’s hiding place of “Matches” Malone slinking through various dives looking to hear a clue as to the Joker’s plans … they just couldn’t do it. And didn’t want to do it, since they were making big bucks selling “original art” and such mufti-scenes didn’t draw the same interest.

            Just so did many writers learn by copying other writers without understanding why those writers had succeeded. Or, worse, they took university literature classes and decided they knew better what was good — possibly true, but the goal is not to write good, it is to write what people want enough to shell out money.

            There’s probably a Maggie & Jiggs panel that would express this, one contrasting her putting out a gourmet dinner and him slipping into the kitchen for corned beef and cabbage.

  1. Baen gets part of its income from bookstores and traditional distribution. Which means that, at least for that portion, they need other publishers. One publisher alone probably cannot anchor a brick and mortar retail outlet.

    1. Even if their numbers are falling to the point where lots of places no longer get enough customers to support that local brick and mortar book store there are still quite a lot of people who prefer their books on paper, if you count everybody everywhere. Something like POD done by Amazon or similar online store or stores? Or done on the spot in some sort of book store/maybe something like a coffee shop combinations, where the books are a secondary, extra attraction instead of being the main article sold, but where you can get almost everything printed while you wait instead of having to settle for the latest bestseller and what little else they happen to have there this month?

      I presume bound books are going to be an expensive luxury item for collectors etc.

        1. POD seems to be all that is viable for game publication if you’re not publishing D&D (and, yes, Pathfinder is D&D).

          Even Onyx, the successor to WW, is going POD or high end custom Kickstarted books.

          1. Actually, speaking as both a game-store owner and as someone who has worked for eight years in the RPG industry… this is false.

            All the “real” game companies — Wizards and Paizo of course, but also Fantasy Flight, Privateer, Games Workshop, AEG, Catalyst, Chaosium, Cubicle 7, Mongoose, etc — are still printing and distributing using traditional methods, although -funding- for the smaller companies’ projects has been somewhat transformed by the option of Kickstarter.

            PoD is primarily the domain of self-published “indie” designers and nostalgia-reprints (which is what Onyx Press is. … the White Wolf line stopped being popular among new/younger gamers a decade ago). The bigger companies use it only to support older products that no longer have enough interest to justify another print-run (or a new edition).

            1. Interesting…so little of what I want is available without special order (including Cubicle 7, Chaosium, and Mongoose) that I barely bother with the store.

              I’m not sure I’d count GW as they’ve outsourced their RPGs to FF. Admittedly I should have remembered FF but do they have a non-licensed RPG anymore? I haven’t seen AEG or Privateer in a store for a while or any non-CoC Chaosium.

              Also Palladium still does traditional print runs as does Lamentations of the Flame Princess who oddly I haveseen in multiple local stores.

              So, yeah, a lot isn’t POD but I’m not as believing on traditional distribution methods. With four local stores with significant game presence they are pretty much limited to Wizards, Paizo, GW minis, FF Star Wars and Warhammer licenses (oh, wait, FF did do those Spanish apocalypse games…I got one and want to get two more…no interest in the zombie one), and CoC…and LotFP (which I just don’t get).

            2. IMO the new WoD games just are not and were not as popular as the older ones…. and the new mage was just bleh.

    2. Publishers are likely to stay afloat in some form for a long time. Whether authors make money they can live on or not is much less clear. It’s really easy as an author to think “oo! Publishing contract, take it!” regardless of the money, or the rights included, or anything. So authors end up being pretty easy to take advantage of.

      1. Publishers’ greatest weakness is their dependence on book stores. As the book store become increasingly non-viable it is likely publishers will abuse them even more (if possible) rather than address their own structural vulnerabilities.

        Authors will forever be like cute young girls, eager to accept the first overtures of any suitor expressing interest in their efforts to be desirable, but as they become “sadder but wiser girls” they will abandon their abusive publishers and agents and stand on their own two feet.

        And eventually they start cautioning their daughters and nieces and nephews that all that glitters is not gold and to have that ring carefully appraised before giving it the finger.

      2. So basically the traditional publishers are going to become vanity presses? Existing primarily for authors who want to be able to say, “My book was accepted by a REAL publishing house”?

        1. Y’know, it’s just publishing getting back to its roots, man. Authentic, artisanal books, y’ know?

    3. Bob, this got me thinking. Maybe what is coming is an erasing of the line between New Book Stores and Used Book Stores? You just end up with Book Stores, with probably a higher mix of used books (classics, hardcover, etc) with a smaller section up front for new books. This would limit the ability of the publisher to abuse them – because most of their reason for being is the used book sales – not the new book sales. I know that I always keep an eye out for used book stores, and there are still a lot of them around. And I think their business model and clientele would support them better. So maybe the “new” book stores are doomed – but the sales might end up with the “used” book stores who have a few shelves for them to use?


      1. We’re seeing that already with Half Price Books, which now frequently advertises new bestellers at discount. I’m not even sure these are remainders/overruns anymore.

  2. As for indie writers, I think I mentioned before – that I own a Teeny Publishing Bidness, which started out thirty-five years ago by a woman who loved books and reading – and was a crackerjack editor. She did mostly local appeal books, to a very high standard; local histories, company histories, memoirs, etc – for a pretty well-heeled clientele. She took me into partnership, and one of the first things that I pushed for was a inprint to do POD books, which she was reluctant to do at first. But gradually, our client-base shifted to the POD side of the house. There were fewer and fewer of her old-style clients, doing a print run of a couple of thousand, for $15,000-20,000. More and more clients wanted the POD option for $1,300-2,000. And now I am shifting focus again for the company – coaching people into setting up as their own publisher. I will walk them through setting up at LSI, or Createspace, I’ll edit and format, and get a cover done – and then hand it all to them for a fee. Their books will have their own imprint on it, their own ISBN.
    The establishment NY/International Big 6 is tottering.

    1. My first experience with an Amazon POD book was very poor. Admittedly it was 10-15 years ago, and the book, Reliability – Probabilistic Models and Statistical Methods was filled with equations and charts, which came out very bad. I suspect they have gotten better since then.

      1. Oh, ,most indy books have only gotten better since then. Still a fair amount of dreck out there, but when an indy writer has set themselves up as their own publisher, hired talent to edit, format and design a cover – the results can be amazing.

        1. That was what I was hoping. In my case, the author was a local Math Professor at William and Mary, and he was totally unaware they were offering the book as POD. I’m sure he wrote using LaTeX, and in that format, a good electronic copy should be achievable, so I suspect Amazon/Prentice Hall dropped the ball.

        2. When one looks at what is becoming acceptable for publishers to fob off on consumers offer devotees of dead tree the results can be amazing in a very different manner.

          Real POD ought be the holy grail of publishing/book stores but I suspect that by the time they get there the bulk of readers will be reading illuminated phosphor or its equivalents and actual books will become the scented candles and romantic gestures of a future age.

      2. I am pretty sure the Wearing the Cape physical books are Amazon POD and I was very happy with them. Happier than a lot of recent big publisher purchases in terms of quality.

    2. Question – do you think your teeny publishing business could ever be moved into a storefront setting? Imagine a store with some books on the shelves and a set of machines in the back that can print on demand (on a 1 off copy basis) an entire e-book in under 5-10 minutes. (And a hardbound book in under 30 minutes.) How difficult would it be, mechanically, to drive the print-size down that far and still make it that fast?

      1. I think, Mark M, that might be about five or ten years out. The Espresso Book Machine is pretty costly – and so would be the retail real estate. It’s beyond my own budget, and the Teeny Publishing Bidness is more of a part time job for me, an adjuct to my own writing.

        But I could see it being done, with a medium-sized retail outlet in an attractive, high-trafficked, popular location. You would really only need to have one, maybe two sample copies on the shelves of each book available for shoppers to browse, maybe access to an on-line catalog in-store for more obscure titles. All you’d need in the back is space for the Espresso Book Machines to operate – no extensive warehouse necessary. No messing about with returns and shipping. A couple of front-of-the-house staff, at least one tech … it could work very well, I would think.

        1. I suspect such a book store would resemble a cross between a Starbucks and an old Christian Science Reading Room.

          No toys, no children running around, just the ability to sit, read, drink a mature beverage (as opposed to adult), and go home with a new book.

        2. …with a medium-sized retail outlet in an attractive, high-trafficked, popular location.

          Do it at a mall, or whatever is replacing those these days. That way the customer can place their order, put down a deposit, then spend their interim minutes taking care of other tasks, such as visiting the food court or seeing a movie. Depending on the number machines relative to the demand it might be practical to present the shop as a coffee house, allowing customers to enjoy a beverage while their books print.

          Sample copies might not even require full printouts, just the first chapter or first twenty pages. Those could even be used as give-aways — imagine a handout with the first twenty pages of some twenty or so cozy mysteries or pulp SF or paranormal romance!

          Ideally, customers could even select such details as font, font size, and paper (ivory, cream, white.)

          Back of the store you would need more than simply space for the printers — there would also need to be storage for a couple days’ supply of paper and card stocks for the pages/covers. Costs of ink and operation of the machine, as well as appropriate depreciation allowances would have to be taken into account.

          There appear to be a large number of these promotional videos online, suggesting your shop will also need to purchase a license for playing baroque music in the background in order to ensure proper operation of the machinery.

          1. Yes – that kind of thing; For the classical music, a contract with the local Muzak affiliate. (I worked briefly for that local affiliate.) They have about fifty different music channels for commercial purposes, everything from classical to 50ies pop, to regional music.

            You’d think that a big box store like Barnes & Noble would run with a business plan like this, but they are probably still too invested in the old way of doing things.

            1. That’s because they’re not in the book business. They’re in the “maintaining our brand” business.

              [their definition of “business” being “what we do”, not necessarily having anything to do with “selling stuff” or “making money”]

              1. Interesting – the nearest one to me looks like it’s a university coop bookstore. Nice to see that there are bookstores who are thinking outside the big box.

  3. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    This third one in a row of good stuff. Thanks Sarah. What happens when industries die? It happens slow and all too often the people in the middle never see what’s coming. They go on doing the same thing they always did as shop after shop closes the doors. Traditional publishing has been on this path that I’ve seen, watching from the sidelines, since the mid 1990’s, long before ebooks. Bit by bit they’ve been cutting back and killing backlists and then wondering where the customers went.

  4. I thought the title and the first few paragraphs were going to end up discussing the Hugo Awards (which are also going through the slow death).
    I actually am willing to pay a little more for a Baen e-book than an Indy, but they usually have no spellchecked-OK-but-wrong-word errors. The Big-5 can set around clueless as to why their e-book sales are non-existent. The joy of the Kindle is that you can read in bed, under the covers, without having a candle.

  5. In a family, or in a business, when the wealth starts to wither away the first step taken is usually “keeping up appearances.” This means taking on debt, hocking the valuables which are displayed rarely, delaying payments bills, and even undertaking lavish expenditures as a way of demonstrating “all is well.”

    These are reasonable ways of dealing with brief downturns but as long term strategies they are disastrous. This is especially true when one has formed bad habits. In business, such as publishing, those bad habits include not attending to what the consumer really wants, nor what the consumer is willing to pay, nor (as Blockbuster learned) taking seriously alternate providers of comparable product.

    That last one, for publishing, was the real peril because publishing had forgotten it was essentially nothing more than a broker searching out and offering delicious reading for stores to offer readers. As they abused their customers (book stores) and suppliers (authors) they failed to heed the lesson of the tomato.

    Tomatoes are one of American’s favorite fruits, with fresh tomatoes popular year ’round. Their production was “improved” to allow grocers to display fresh tomatoes available all the time. That the tomatoes, thanks to the improvements which permitted mechanical picking, easy shipping and “ripening” in the warehouse were hard and tasteless was considered inconvenient but irrelevant (some marketers even praised those qualities in an effort to convince buyers they were better.) So long as consumers had no alternate supply of tomatoes the “improved” versions sold reasonably well enough to convince the producers that their plan worked.

    But enough people remembered how tomatoes used to taste that they grew their own, or bought them from farmers’ markets that they persisted in seeking fresh, tasty, enjoyable tomatoes. And some marketers noticed and offered “heirloom” tomatoes in their produce sections. And people, as is often their wont, pursued these tomatoes while ignoring the indigestible tasteless offering from the Tomato Producers.

    The tomato manufacturers noticed the drop in demand and initially did nothing, or redoubled their efforts at promoting their “superior” tomato. Then they started cutting costs and corners while still proclaiming their product America’s favorite fruit. They pointed out that their product was award-winning and available all year … and the public persisted in preferring tomatoes that were flavorful and digestible and, gasp, even idiosyncratic.

    1. Equally bad (for them) is they empowered some little Mom and Pop greenhouses to offer real vine ripened tomatoes year round. They can’t compete with green bullets for cost, but they do have lots more flavor and texture.

    2. I remember when the new tomatoes came out; my Mom planted those when the seeds became available to the garden market. Instead of a thin bag full of acidic water, there was some actual solid matter making up part of the tomato. I liked that.

      As far as taste… as far as I’m concerned, the taste of the “new” tomatoes fell within the broad limits of the different kinds of tomatoes we had planted before.

    3. Some of this is due to a virus. Some years ago, a new virus in the US did a number on tomatoes. Worse, some perennials can act as carriers, so all it takes is for an insect to bite the perennial and then feed on a tomato plant.

      The solution was a tomato genetically engineered to be virus resistant. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of taste. Tasteless tomatoes beat none at all, It works better for canning. It was/is also expensive as rip.

      There are new varieties now that are resistant to this virus, but I don’t know how well they taste. First, I don’t like fresh sliced tomatoes, and second, due to the virus, I’m no longer able to grow tomatoes unless I’m willing to fork out for the higher priced plants. My father could for a while, but then it started to infect his. No more Beefsteak; no more Rutgers (and I’ll always associate the tomato smell with Rutgers).

      Oddly, I do like cooked tomatoes, so we used to can them. None this year.

  6. Pending the eventual advancement of battery and bulb technology a candle or kerosene lantern still had the advantage of mobility. Even back in the sixties I remember what a hassle a flashlight was, batteries seemed to last for minutes at best, and bulbs burned out regularly. Now of course with LED bulbs and alkaline or rechargeables it’s a different story.

                1. My fault, I’m supposed to remind Sarah about things like that.
                  Actually part of my diabolical plan for Sarah and Steph to become so dependent on me that I can convince them that the only way to make me happy is for them to collaborate on a brand new novel, universe to be determined.

            1. 😀 Better yet, revoke BobtheRegisterredFool’s time machine privileges. Or at least get the chronometer fixed so we know when he has been. (It was all news to me–plus a moment of panic as I thought “But I haven’t written it yet! I’m LATE andSheWillKillMeNoooooooo”)

                  1. Let’s hope I don’t have a severe case of it, as my forecasting for the next four years and on is not rosy.

              1. Better yet, revoke BobtheRegisterredFool’s time machine privileges

                Time machine yesterday, time machine tomorrow, never a time machine today…

          1. If you write erotica I think we can assure you a blog porking space. Parking, however, is frowned upon as this is a data loading zone.

            1. Hmm. I dunno, how about data erotica? I don’t think I can do the people kind.
              “The first tentative pings elicited only faint handshake protocols, but soon the first open port was located…and then queries entered, questing, seeking the ultimate goal, relentless, exploration expanding in a cascading heap of discoveries, and then…root. And with a shudder of collapsing process IDs, kill -8* was achieved.”

              *Since kill -9 is the Zombie Killer, I figured -8 would count as the “little death”.

              There, see what you made me do!

              1. Actually -9 will not kill a true zombie. A true zombie is hung in the kernel and processes only die during the kernel to user space transition which never happens for them. The only thing that will kill a true zombie is a reboot. I discovered that the hard way while working for Sun a few years ago.

                We now return you to your blog discussion that you actually care about.

                1. ps -ef on any SCO system would show lots of zombies. I can’t recall ever seeing one on Linux.

                  The last versions of SCO OpenServer shipped with BSD man pages instead of the correct man pages. After spending days trying to get some utility programs to work, I finally got authorization for a support call. A week later we got a call-back saying
                  “yes, the man pages are incorrect.” and a bill for $250.

                  SCO could have taught Comcast about customer support…

  7. There are other things going on with industry as well. Released unnoticed was a study the other day that found an “average” Canadian family with an income of ~$80,000 paid 42% of that income in taxes. Some overt taxes, some of the type that are passed on to consumers. The percentages increase with income, of course. >$100K is >50% tax. The USA is seeing similar shifts in what people have handy to spend after taxes.

    So any analysis of the publishing industry has to also take a look at the customers who buy what is published. The customers are getting crushed, pretty much.

    As we have noted, the publishing industry seems to have decided that only the most vocal, fringe set of the fanbase is worth listening to, giving us things like N.K. Jemsin’s “The Fifth Season” as an exemplar of SF, but MHI is outselling it by multiples. No particular reason to rip on Nora, just that if the book is SO AWESOME, its odd that it ain’t selling much.

    1. Any economic analysis must also look at the regulatory costs borne, such as the effect on print runs caused by laws taxing inventories of unsold books (while one probably also needs to look at the effects of labor regulation, such as requirements to use Teamsters’ members for shifting the crated books about we will forego such in depth analysis beyond noting its potential effect.) But yes, a healthy industry starts with looking at what customers want and working to meet that demand. (Such approaches are, sadly, inconvenient to publishers who prefer the simpler method of cramming their product down customer throats.)

      As for N.K. Jemsin’s weak sales, the answer is obvious, ennit? SF readers are racist, sexist or both and refuse to identify with characters who don’t look like them. Such readers must not be indulged by offering the type of racist, sexist, hate-filled stories they demand.

    2. I have no doubt that Jemisin will blame racism for her sales, if she hasn’t already.

  8. Maybe Publishing can do like chandlers did. Even though there isn’t much demand for household candles anymore there are still plenty of chandlers around, only now they are the people that restock your supplies when you pull your freighter into port. I don’t think it’s the same actual guys… just using the same name. Perhaps in 100 years there will still be plenty of “traditional publishers”, but it will mean something completely different too… like “Asian massage parlor” or “matchstick man”.

    1. Asian massage parlor

      Asian – that’s a new euphemism for it. “Excuse me sir, can you recommend a good place to go to get my Asian massaged?”

    2. The origins of chandler as a marine supplier dates way way back before electricity. It may or may not be related to chandler as a candle maker and suppler, which comes from French. Like a lot of nautical terms, it’s been around for a long while. I think it’s one of those words whose actual origins are lost in antiquity. Once actual marine trade was established, somewhere in each port someone would realize there was a need to supply ships with things the ship needs, as well as trade goods the ship would carry. “Ship’s handler” could easily be reduced to “chandler” much the same way that boatswain is pronounced “bosun”.

  9. The way publishing has reacted to the rise of Indy has been confusing to me. They’re now in a position where they are competing with the authors for publishing rights (keep it for yourself and publish wasn’t an option before) and the general way competition usually works is to spur changes in how you do business.

    Which has happened in traditional publishing but not in the way that makes sense; in favor of the author. Instead, because they are making less profit, they want more rights and more work (promotion and publicizing isn’t supposed to be done solely by the author, is it?) while offering less money.

    Someone posted the bullet points version of the contract they were offered and it had a clause I thought was insane; the publisher retained the rights granted (pretty much all rights possible) for as long as the book stayed available to be printed. Not in print. Available for print. As in, if that book stayed up on Amazon, never got bought, or downloaded, but was available for buying then the publisher retained all rights. Including whether the author could write in that milieu again.

    That’s insane. Anyone agreeing to that is foolish or desperate. Even if your rights are not worth anything to the publisher (which is the reason publishers let rights revert back to authors now by not keeping the works in print), they would still retain those rights because who knows, maybe a big movie star finds that book and wants to make it into a movie. Not a big chance, but since it costs them nothing to keep the book available for print, why not hold onto that lottery ticket?

    The other new clause that blew my mind was an exclusive rights clause. Essentially the publisher asked for the author not to publish with anyone else (kind of standard) but also that the author not self publish at all. The publisher had first right of refusal with all new work, but you were not allowed to publish it anywhere else, even by yourself, without their permission. As if your unwritten and unsold work already belonged to the publisher.

    That’s crazy to me. You know what Science Fiction needs? A Writer’s Association that speaks up for its authors and blasts publishers who offer those bad contracts. Call it the… WASF or SFWA whatever.

    I mean, sure, that organization would probably devolve into such petty infighting that they’d be markedly less effective but at least they would never allow publishers to join. Because that would be crazy.

    1. The way publishing has reacted is common in any mature business. Those who run the business have invested years of effort mastering the trade as it was and cannot easily adapt to changes.

      Think of dinosaurs, unable to keep up with those pesky mammals flitting in and stealing the crumbs of their meals. Initially those mammals are a minor annoyance and often provide a service by removing those crumbs inconvenient for you to clear. In time some mammals would evolve specifically to clean those crumbs from your teeth and hide, but others would grow independent and eventually start competing with you for food, snatching tidbits before you could close your jaws.

      Publishers seek to lock-in the advantages they hold while suppressing the ability of competitors to get traction — sorta the way entrenched interests are using their established presence to block competition from Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and other pesky fleas. Or the way realtors have restricted access to listings to block other entrants to that market.

  10. Expect the flag carriers of the old order to keep getting more and more shrill. It’s the same dynamic as the Ghost Dance among the Northern Plains Indians, the Boxers in China, and other revitilization movements. Cultures (and this is a specific culture, make no mistake) when challenged and faced with cultural extinction often “double down” on whatever they see as making them special.

    1. Thus the symptomatic behaviours we have seen in regard to the Hugo kerfuffle and other contretemps in the business. Clinging more tightly to the emblems and emoluments of office even as the office grows less meaningful is a common if unproductive response.

    2. Ahem. Islam/Middle Eastern tribal culture. Definitely on the doubling down. Unfortunately, the death throes are similar to those of a leviathan or dinosaur– and just as dangerous to everyone around them.

      This message brought to you by the little contretemps you may have recently seen in the news, with which I was only peripherally involved. And which was blow up all out of proportion anyway, as these things often are.

  11. ” BUT no one seriously builds a house without electrical light and plans on using only candles and oil lamps.”

    Ummm… Actually, there’s a whole bunch of brand new houses in our area built just that way. Along with no indoor plumbing or running water. I honestly don’t think population reports on Amish are accurate. Amish buggies in Central NY are no longer an oddity. Not sure if the private schools they attend have electricity. They serve both the ever growing Mennonite and Amish population. When I drive by one of them in daylight I’ll have to look to see if the power poles nearby have wires strung to them. Since they also serve Mennonites, I imagine they do.

          1. Yes. I’m used to seeing all kinds of easily identifiable by dress religious practitioners in daily life. Hare Krishnas, Amish, Mennonites, Hindus, muslims, Orthodox Jewish, Catholic nuns, etc. The only places where I noticed there were no other religious markers by dress were places such as the United Arab Emirates, where I knew it would be forbidden to identify by dress as something other then muslim. So it was a conscious notice. But thinking back, don’t think I noticed any in Japan or Korea either. Haven’t visited much of Europe. Is the U.S. the only nation where you’ll see such a mish-mash of openly different religious garb in everyday walking around?

              1. That reminds me of the old joke. Q: Do they have a Fourth of July in Canada? A: Yes. It’s on July 4th.

    1. We have a bunch of Mennonites here in Arkansas. They’re quiet and don’t bother anyone.

      I used to work for a company that made agricultural lasers. They were one of the first companies to make lasers for commercial purposes, as opposed to research equipment.

      An ag laser is used to set slope on fields so crops can be irrigated or drained properly. You can do it with optical equipment, but the laser is way more convienent – you just mounted the red plastic target on the blade and followed the beam.

      Some of their first sales were made in the early 1960s to local Mennonite farmers. Who were using the very latest laser measuring equipment with animal-powered farm equipment.

      It’s not that they reject technology, they’re just very picky about what technology they adopt. And they had laser-guided farm equipment for *years* before any of the big ag conglomerates started buying it.

      “Laser” is no big deal now, but in 1964 it was like “quantum computer” in 2016.

    2. I used to live in Amish country in, I think, the 3rd largest such in the US. They eschewed electricity, but they definitely had indoor plumbing. I think they are less “technology bad” than “choose carefully and for your own purposes.”

  12. you were born in the 70’s? I’ll bet those first cars in your village must have been a shock.

  13. I would rather be buying books instead of stocking the larder with more can goods, candles, ammo and water. 😦

    And I’m not the only one, when you look at the “booming” firearm & ammo markets. Even Sam’s is selling emergency food supplies now days.

      1. Good hunting. Dad went, unchaperoned, two weeks ago. I wailed a little when I saw all the stuff I had to try and stuff into the freezer. “I found this neat new [food] and . . .” And their 1 gallon milk jugs may be sturdy but they don’t pour worth a tinker’s dam.

  14. If used book stores were still around, I’d still be spending hours in them. But the so-called Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act has killed all the ones I know about (by placing used books in a category of “toys” that now have to be federally tested for lead content).

    I wonder if Project Gutenberg will ever get big enough (or be imitated) to digitize the huge number of mid-20th-century-and-earlier books that are too old ever to be commercially offered as e-books. That ought to happen.

    1. I don’t think they can do that until the books are public domain… I think after 1923 is still in copyright?

    2. There’s a used book chain in Dallas called Half-Price Books. I believe it is a TX division of a national chain. There are online used book dealers.They sell used books but can’t afford a store. Rent, utilities, all the costs associated with employees.

      1. Half Price has still got a (limited) brick-and-mortar presence here in greater Cincinnati, though not as large as it once was – about on par with or slightly better than the Barnes & Noble stores in the area.
        I miss bookstores. When I moved into my first apartment, there were eleven bookstores within a ~6 mile radius. All that remain is a single Half Price location and the Friends of the Library store, which sporadically holds sales of discards and donations.

    3. I’ve just been looking at the website of On Demand Books, The people who make that Espresso book machine. They have quite a selection of titles available to be printed out at one of their affiliates. The prices appear to start at $9.90 for short 50-60 page books and go up from there. That’s not out of line with other brand new paperbacks these days.

      There are a lot of older books available for the Kindle, but a brand new paper copy of an out of print title might sometimes be worthwhile.

    4. I work at Bargain Book Warehouse in Colorado Springs. Hardbacks four dollars, paperbacks two. Our sister store is Two Buck Books on the north end of town. I don’t think whatever law you mentioned applies to private used bookstores.

      1. IIRC that Law mainly applied to used Children’s Books with the pictures that might have lead paint.

        1. There’s a lovely used bookstore in Champaign, Illinois called Jane Addams Used Books or some such on Neil Street. I may have bought three or four cloth grocery bags full of books when my sister took me there in March. I definitely aim to go back next time I’m in Danville for any length of time.

  15. Candles are still used for religious reasons. yahrzeit(memorial), Sabbath candles, in churches etc. People also buy them for emergencies. Could storms or brown/blackouts. Hubby and I buy and use, a good many (hundreds of dollars worth’) candles every year to freshen our indoor air.

      1. I’m pretty sure they have used book stores in Austin

        Sure, but considered who’s used those, much less what they’ve used them for.

        On the plus side, you can probably find multiple editions of all Hugo and nebula winners (and most nominees) for the las decade and a half. Probably no Heinlein, Dickson, Pournelle, van Vogt, Williamson (assuredly not his masterpiece, With Folded Hands) or Poul Anderson … and any Laumer there has probably been spat in.

        1. Back in the day, there was an awesome little used bookstore in Ojai. They ran out of room inside, so they put honor shelves outside. Pick a book and put 10% of the cover price in the door slot. Some busybody from the city eventually put a stop to honor sales. I forget the excuse. I think the city thought it was losing tax receipts or something.
          My aunt liked to walk her dog to the store and pick up some reading material.

          1. The only time I buy dead tree books is at cons and out of town if my kindle dies. The majority of the books I buy are on amazon. I also a lot of non book things there. Movies, tv shows, clothes, shelf stable food. kibble, grocery list pads. all kinds of stuff. It ships direct to me so it’s incredibly convenient since I don’t drive.with the exception of perishable groceries I do all my shopping online. In LA there are grocery delivery services.

  16. So, direct personal example from the independent retail level here…
    I run a games/comics/book store, with two outlets — one in a small college town (engineering school, so lots of nerds) and one on the nearby military base. I am actually quite successful, but…
    Originally, when the previous owner started the store in the mid-80’s, it was just comics and SF/F paperbacks. This model worked very well in those days, and the books were half of the business. In the early 90’s she added games (RPGs, miniatures, MtG, etc) when the local hobby shop owner lost interest in that market.
    By the time I took over the store in 2003, books had dwindled to about 15-20% of the total sales. Initially I tried to continue with her model, in which she maintained as complete a backstock in SF/F paperbacks as possible, but within 2-3 years it was becoming clear that the books were dropping hard and could no longer justify the space (and inventory expense) they were taking up… and it was around that time I also noticed that new releases were generally just sitting unsold on the shelves unless they happened to be from a handful of specific authors/series.
    So, today? Through ruthless clearance sales I’ve shrunk the books down to less than 1/5 of the inventory I had in them ten years ago, and most of what I do stock is “evergreen” series and authors — Orson Scott Card, JRR Tolkien, RA Salvatore, Terry Pratchett, Larry Correia, Brent Weeks, GRRM (at least until the TV show ends), Jim Butcher, Wheel of Time, Honor Harrington, Sapkowski’s Witcher novels, etc.
    And I don’t bother ordering in newly-published books unless they are from Baen or are from one of those established “name” series/authors.

    1. People with no retail experience typically don’t grasp that inventory (especially the slow-turning kind) costs money — it is investment capital ted up unproductively instead of turning over as products customers want. It reduces the rate of return on investment because the investment in it is never returned.

      A shop with $100,000 operating capital and a profit margin of 2% needs sales of 200% to attain a rate of return of 4% on investment. If half that inventory is static, the other half must turn over four times to reach that piddling return.

      With the availability of Amazon there is NO REASON for a small shop to put scarce capital in a need that Amazon can readily fulfill, at lower cost and higher profit.

      1. …no, but some undefinable part of the inventory is actually advertising overhead. Things you might not be interested in right now, but know where they are when you do want them.

        Otherwise, you’d just order this season’s King, Koontz, and Rowling, and you wouldn’t need any other inventory.

        1. Unfortunately, the feds specifically rejected the “inventory as advertising overhead” argument a long time ago, according to some of my friends in the book business. They tax you on inventory as if they expect you to sell it this afternoon. Thus the stripped books phenomenon — you couldn’t keep them, and the publisher didn’t want them back.

          I’m told a similar problem besets the classic car parts business.

  17. You can still find regular candles in supermarkets in my area of Portugal, although blackouts are pretty unusual these days, the last one we had was a couple of years ago. And there’s plenty of scented candles to be had. So the candle industry is still around, or at least the parts that were able to move with the times are. :0)

    Rui Jorge

    1. Sure, the candle industry is still aroun (as is the buggy whip industry), but how LARGE is it compared to what it was 50 years ago? How many candles would a household which used them as their exclusive means of lighting go through in a year, vs how many does the average household use in a year now?

  18. Even the fellow who built a cabin to live off-grid and had it set up for gas lighting also had electric light. It was 12V as I recall, but he wasn’t willing to single-source illumination. Also, he wanted the TV to work.

  19. I wonder if traditional publishers are hoping to become a niche industry that would last at least till they retire. A “dead” industry can last a long time as a niche player that otherwise escapes notice. I’m reminded of something I read a while back on the “War of Currents”, when AC & DC were battling over which would dominate the power grid. Most accounts say the War of Currents ended in 1892 with the merger of Edison General Electric & Thomson-Hudson (creating the modern GE), which then stopped marketing DC systems.
    But they didn’t begin converting existing DC systems till 1928, & this conversion did not finish till 2007 (
    A niche industry can be a comfortable one to be in, if you can manage it; customers are loyal & willing to pay pretty good prices for the goods.
    But I don’t think traditional publishing will manage it; it’s too much like other entertainment media, which can treat the talent quite harshly when the money gets tight; the trend of crappier contract terms & shrinking advances suggests the industry is just going to get more abusive to its remaining customers & writers.

    1. some candles are sold by the cosmetics industry. Others are basically boutique candles.

      1. I believe that some candles are also made for use in certain sexual fetishes amusements into discussion of which I do not deign to delve deeper.

        In NO instance are candles sold/purchased as household necessities, which I think was the point of Sarah’s discussion.

        1. True. We did buy candles on a regular basis so we’d have them on hand when needed. Just like some households buy wine regularly.

  20. “Most (not nearly all) of the people still working in the field are prestige-and-favor clients, who do it for … well, prestige, while their real work is as university professors or whatever. ”
    When I read the author bios for Asimov’s stories, so many of them say the author is a teacher (‘teaches college writing’), and frequently ‘Iowa Writers Workshop’ is mentioned as well.
    Asimov was a chemist by training, I believe, Heinlein and engineer, DeCamp an engineer, and Clarke an engineer.
    If the SF writers of today are different than they were a half-century ago, the audience is different as well.
    I am around Ms. Hoyt’s age, I suppose.
    When I think of reading SF as a kid, I remember getting out of the house on a hot, muggy, summer afternoon, because it was hot and only rich people had air conditioning, and because there was nothing but soap operas on television. I would go down to the air conditioned and nearly empty public library and look at the shelves for books the librarians had helpfully labeled with a little space ship on the spine, pull out one or more books, and find a corner to read. Walking out of the library hours later at dinner time it would still be like walking into a furnace.
    So I associate SF, especially the great YA stuff that was available in the 1960s, with a kind of dreamy nostalgia for both childhood and a lost era: Midwestern summers in the 1960s.
    Whatever feelings are conjured in the mind of a twenty or thirty-something fan when they think of ‘science fiction’ are so different from what ‘science fiction’ means to me we might as well be from different planets.

  21. Isn’t Baen mostly owned by S&S? So if the big publishers die, doesn’t that suck down Baen too?

    1. I don’t know. I once discussed this with Toni and she said “no.” Also that she’d be standing by the precipice waving the others bu bye. Since she knows more about it than I, I trust her.

  22. “How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

    “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

    Seems appropriate here.

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