Cold Equations

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I’m not a dialectical materialist.  I’m not a materialist at all.  I think there are more things under heaven and Earth, etc.  I think it’s entirely possible everything we know and everything we do in this life is the tip of a massive iceberg that we’re simply not equipped to see.

That tendency wasn’t helped by husband who studied math till the point it becomes philosophy, and sons who studied physics to the point where it becomes religion.

I don’t actually spend much time thinking about the submerged part of the iceberg.  By its nature it’s unknowable.  If it’s there we’ll know one day, and there’s no point stressing about it.

But given that, it’s weird that in my thirties I fell madly in love with economics.

Economics was one of those subjects I was very badly taught in High School.  Hell, I think most of us were badly taught economics at every level, because the people who teach it now are very invested in making economics into a sort of magic.  They don’t understand that the “Science” part of economics means it has natural laws, and you can no more legislate the flow of money than you can legislate the flow of water.  You can, as with water, divert if, dam it up or make it do something, sure.  But people who do this to money don’t realize it’s like doing it to water: there are always consequences.  Some of them will be unintended.  Also, do it enough and you might end up with a mess in your hands that you can’t pull apart no way, no how.

I fell in love with economics after reading a lot of Sowell, and picking some very select manuals to feed my itch.  The problem, of course, is most of the manuals were falsified and din’t relate to economics and the flow of wealth any better than a magic spell relates to that which its trying to affect.

From a credulous point of view, and falsifying results, you could think it does, but… not really.

And yet, as I started looking at things around me and paying attention, so many “inexplicable” and “strange” phenomena were explained by obvious economics that it boggled the mind.

Take for instance the way science fiction and fantasy had changed, from having people actually write stories and publish stories for the public, to being a kind of involuted display of precious and difficult wording wrapped around a core of impeccable Marxist philosophy.

That one took a bit to sink in.  Yes, like most human beings on the planet, I knew that books used to pay (sort of) a living wage.  It wasn’t exactly palatial, ever, but people — as in men, supporting families — used to live from writing.  Articles, stories, novels.  And live decent, middle class lives.

Yeah, not a ton of the people who wanted to write got there, and those who did still lived a relatively precarious life, because free-lancers, but…

Until I broke in and started attending conventions (yes, I know, but I didn’t really know conventions existed.  Came from elsewhere, remember?) I thought science fiction and fantasy was still, more or less, the panorama it had been when I read interviews with Heinlein or Clarke or one of them.  This was aided by a bit of crazy in current culture, which is the tendency for the people in charge of a failing institution or industry to claim they’re not in charge and are, somehow, victims.

I expected to break into publishing and find myself in an environment of middle aged, bespectacled professional males.  Yes, I know I should have realized otherwise from the names on the shelf, but everything I read said the field was dominated by middle aged men.

And then I broke in and went to a convention.  Uh.  It was all women, and “academic” males.  Not a lot of males, either.  The males were noticeably older, too.  Women were my age (early thirties) or younger.

After that came other disillusions, including finding out that the field as bimodal: a very few people made millions, while a vast majority made pocket money.

The two are related.  Yeah, okay, there’s a ton more to that, including that distribution was being distorted, with the push model, and that most of the women who ran the publishing houses couldn’t find financial sense with two hands and a seeing eye dog.

But at the bottom of it, at the very bottom, was economics.  (And it was the pits.)

I sometimes think that liberals want the government to regulate every industry because they think that everyone is like them and will pay bottom dollar regardless of what it does to quality, but I’m perhaps being unfair.

True, Heinlein thought publishing was taken over by the left as far back as the forties (with some exceptions. Obviously.)  And at least in Europe, I know it was.  There have been books (triumphal ones) written about it.

But the problem might be more basic.  First, there is the effect that if you edit for a long time you stop knowing what is good.  Trust me, I’ve edited magazines.  By the hundredth submission all you can say is “It’s typed and everything.”  I mean, by then you can’t really pinpoint “quality.”

This means not only that editors who’ve been at it for years lose perspective and start looking at other “markers” of quality like “My Marxist college professor would think this was good.” BUT you start thinking that all writing is much of a muchness and writers are interchangeable widgets.  If one won’t work for what you want, you get another one.

Contributing to this was the fact that most publishers for each field were a funnel.  There would be say 3 million writers, and 30 book slots available at the five or so traditional publishers.

Yeah, sure “we’re picking the best” is what they said, but you can’t.  Not with a flood of that magnitude.  You can’t even (and most of them didn’t) read them all.  You just grab a random few, or the few whose authors you’ve met, and if they’re okay and don’t have obvious grammatical mistakes (or have few of them) you publish that.

It would be like my handing you ten barrels of olives and telling you to pick the thirty best olives of the bunch.  No one has the time or the space to examine every olive for firmness and color.  You dip your hand in and pick thirty and if none of them is obviously mushy and pink, you got your thirty, which you’ll swear up and down are the best, because, well… you have to.

That kind of imbalance in supply and demand always lowers prices.  If the olive doesn’t like the deal you offered it, you toss it back in the barrel and pick another of the millions of olives who will.  You can do that forever.  You have all day.

So, in the forties and fifties, advances for novels ran somewhere between 5k and 20k.  Thing is, judging by people I know who were alive then, 10k was a living wage.  Not crazy, but living, if you lived in a small town, etc.  Also, “novel” was anywhere from 35k words upward, and your publisher encouraged you (at least if you sold at all) to write two or three a year.

By the time I came in around 98, the advances for most people (excluding superstars) were between 5k and 20k.  Novels were around 200k words (and yeah, there was an economic reason for it too, but if I go into that, I’ll never be done.) And most publishers wanted you to publish a novel a year.

Also, I found out when my first series tanked and I tried to get agents, most of the field didn’t want to make money, and expected you to have another job.

I found this out because none of the agents I interviewed wanted to even try to sell my space opera (Darkship Thieves had been finished and in the drawer for five years then.)  They all asked why I wanted to write “Schlock” when I could write beautiful “good” stuff like the Shakespeare series.  And they all laid out this plan where I wrote a novel every two years, and meanwhile wrote for academic journals specializing in history and literature, to spread my name.

We’ll leave aside the fact that literary fantasy is something I enjoy writing once in a while, as a one-off, bu that dedicating my life to it would make me slit my wrists, and look at the economics.  I made around 10k for each of the first three books, and they were taken out of print the minute they earned out.  I got told by every agent “Yeah, that’s the top of sales for literary sf/f.”  And when I told them I couldn’t live from that, they said “but you don’t live from that.  You get a job teaching in college to pay the bills.  You do this for art.”

This was usually when I slammed the phone down and said “Uh, no. I could teach in college now.  It’s not what I want to do.  I want to write for a living.”  (I managed it, too, though sometimes it involved six books a year.  Whether that’s responsible for the health breakdown that followed, I don’t know.  It might have some relation, because autoimmune flares at stress. Doesn’t matter.  I’m recovering, though the way up is kind of slow.)

I couldn’t understand why publishers (remember agents were really contractors for publishers) wanted prestige over money.

That is, until I started taking everything in account.  This was brought home to me, by an add for an editor at Tor, from glassdoor, sent to me by a friend:

 

Senior Editor, Macmillan – New York, NY
Glassdoor Estimated Salary: $46k-$69k

Position Description:

Tor/Forge Books is looking to hire a Senior Editor who will acquire across the adult imprints, in science fiction and fantasy, mystery and suspense/thriller, and general fiction.

Major Responsibilities:
Acquire and edit approximately 10-15 original works of adult fiction per year, including developing cover concept, obtaining promotional quotes, and working closely with the author to create the best book possible
Interact with sales and marketing, advertising and promotion, and publicity departments to develop campaigns to present books as well as possible both in-house and to readers
Interact with production and art departments; write cover concepts; understand production process and attendant costs
Attend writers conferences and conventions to interact with writers, agents, and readers
Required Skills / Knowledge:
Strong developmental editing skills
Ability to write jacket, cover, and ONIX copy that attracts readers
Knowledge of many different types of genre fiction
Extensive network of literary agents
Experience Needed:
10+ years similar editorial experience
Educational Background Required:
No degree requirement

I have friends in NYC.  46k?  you’ve got to be kidding me.  46k for a “senior” position?  For crying in bed.  It’s like trying to live on a 10k novel a year, in the rest of the country.

This also brought to mind something a mentor of mine told me when I was breaking in:

“You have to remember most editors/publishers are well-to-do mostly white women, who grew up upper class or upper middle class, went to the best colleges, and are still largely supported by (mostly) parents (even though a few of them are supported by) or husband.  They’ve never had a job other than editing.  They never had to work hard for something that would pay the rent.  They have illusions of “art” and working to “better the world” and live in tiny NY apartments, and obsess about rats, but have no idea of real struggles, or how other people live.”

The mentor was trying to coax me on how to talk to them.  I later found the mentor was right, at least for all editors/etc hired since the eighties.

And it only became more so.

So these people, who were really pampered their entire lives, and were doing this job for ideological and artistic reasons hired most people like them, and paid them the same sort of money “something to say I am a professional and have a career.”

Then, if they wondered at the falling print runs at all, they assumed it was because “people don’t read anymore.  They watch TV” or “those ignorant hicks don’t appreciate the wonderful stuff I pick” or “Flyover country doesn’t read.”

In fact, what was happening is that these newly minted editors picked authors much like them, who wrote books about … well, about the things they knew.  I mean, we SF/F writers try to stretch, but there are fundamentals of life that shape how you think.

There was no way that I, who had started working for money somewhere around 16 and who had moved across the ocean at 22 with nothing but 20kg of clothing, to marry a man who had only a little more, and who had been scraping, making and fixing for ten years to stay above water could even understand the mind set of people who had never gone short a meal in their lives, much less that they could understand my mind set and what shaped my world.

And there was no way, honestly, that most of the stuff these people picked, much less what they picked to push would make sense to 99.9% of Americans.  Their sell through and penetration among the bien pensant was as good as ever, of course, but it didn’t really reach anyone else.  (Hence the attraction of “flyover country doesn’t read.”)

It also explained/explains things like that picture of the “diverse” editorial board of the Puffington Host.

puffington host

Aren’t you astounded at their diversity?  Hey, look, there are a couple of Asian girls, and maybe a Latin chick (could be Italian.)  Tremble before their diversity.

If you assume that with very few exceptions publishing has now been run by pretty pink princesses (granted, some of them male) for 30 years or so, it all becomes very clear, from their picks, to their certainty push was a good idea because it gave them more control, to the bizarre temper tantrums they throw and the names they call when their will isn’t done.

But it’s not their fault.  It’s all economics.  They can’t make a living on what the publishing houses are willing to pay.  So they are doing it for the prestige, and hiring authors who are also doing it for the prestige (and cred that counts to their real, academic jobs.)  The fact that the dogs just don’t like the food doesn’t penetrate, because in their world they have the best taste and if you don’t like what they pick, then you’re racisss sexissss homophobic.  And if everything tanks, it’s okay.  That’s not what they’re living from.

This in turn leads to publishing books no one wants to read, which leads to their having less money for editors and authors, which leads to…

Death spiral baby!  Death spiral!

Indie didn’t kill traditional publishing.  Traditional publishing committed suicide, and that space was vacant to be filled with something.

The worst part?  Even when trad pub is limited to mega bestsellers and prestige editions and everything else is indie?

None of the people involved in this debacle will understand the cold equations at the base of their demise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

217 responses to “Cold Equations

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Off topic but Sarah’s title got me thinking about the classic SF short “The Cold Equations” and I was recently reading a web-comic’s take on that story. 😉

    It starts here: http://www.rhjunior.com/quentyn-quinn-space-ranger-0119/

    • Robin Munn

      Ah yes, I remember reading that. His take on it has quickly become my head-canon re: The Cold Equations. “How much does the pilot’s chair weigh?”, indeed.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        To be “fair”, the pilot also had the problem that by the “rules” if he didn’t deal with the “pirate”, then he was treated like a “pirate”.

        The Web Comic went very hard on the pilot’s superiors more so than the pilot.

      • Jeff Gauch

        Assuming that the pilot’s chair wasn’t welded in place. And that the tools necessary to remove the chair were on board. Even if they weren’t stripped before launch to give the shuttle enough range, the odds that a design as…bare bones…as the one portrayed would have tools sufficient to remove important things like the pilot’s chair are slim.

        The Space Rangers may not believe in no-win scenarios, but no-win scenarios believe in them. The laws of the universe care as much about your determination as they do about your feelings.

        • Robin Munn

          And ISTR that the original story had this being a one-shot, desperation attempt, so the shuttle would have been stripped of everything (including the pilot’s chair) beforehand. If the original setup was an unforeseen emergency and only by going to, as Foxfier quoted, “within centimeters of catastrophe even with optimal operation” could they hope to succeed… then (and ONLY then) can the original Cold Equations story be justifiable. But if it was any sort of routine operation, then R.H., Jr. is right to critique it as harshly as he does, as a total engineering failure. You should always double your requirements and then add 10% on top of that, and design to THAT standard.

          • The most legitimate critique of the story is that because of the extra mass of the stowaway the initial boost of the courier supplied insufficient delta-V, dooming the entire mission before she was discovered.

            • Unless they had just a tiny redundancy for adjustments, and so…

            • I brought that up some time ago and it was explained to me that the original story had the shuttles given initial velocity by the starship, so the boost phase was not relevant. There was more to the explanation, but it sounded to me like an extremely artificial plot used for the express intent of making it impossible to do anything but space the girl or have the mission fail and everyone die.

              • but it sounded to me like an extremely artificial plot used for the express intent of making it impossible to do anything but space the girl or have the mission fail and everyone die.

                Yep.

                AKA, author induced problems.

                The old train-track choice, but in space.

              • Jeff Gauch

                Well, the entire point of the story was to make the reader think about the ethics of the situation. What’s the right thing to do, murder a young girl guilty of nothing more than desperately wanting to see her brother, or consigning millions to death?

                • Except that “don’t pick up the idiot ball so as to not notice A REALLY FREAKING OBVIOUS ISSUE,” several times, wasn’t an ‘allowed’ answer.

                  Which is the point of the web comic.

                  • There isn’t a fricking obvious issue, because of the way it’s set up.
                    You’re arguing with the world building because you don’t like the logical conclusion of the setup.
                    Again, in that time and place, it was good to bring to mind “Space is harsh and unforgiving.”
                    It worked d*mn well and punched you in the feelings because there was NO right answer. Only two bad answers (as it’s often the case in life.) It doesn’t pretend that there is a right answer. Sometimes there isn’t.
                    I know why liberals hate it. It’s the epitome of fallen world.
                    I know why you hate it too. My guess is that all your maternal feelings rebel.
                    And yet that punch in the feels is EXACTLY what the story, as setup leads to.
                    Which is why Campbell was an amazing editor.

                    • You’re arguing with the world building because you don’t like the logical conclusion of the setup.

                      No, I’m arguing with the world building because I don’t appreciate authors railroading me.

                      I do not read to be manipulated, especially not with all the strings showing.

                    • Yeah, I hate the story and love it for the same reasons. No matter what happens in life THERE IS NO EASY ANSWER! Sometimes you need to make that hard choice because $REASONS. Makes you think what you would do in a situation like that. No matter what choice you make someone is going to die or end badly.

                  • Except that the web comic makes assumptions that don’t apply to the story. Different universes, different rules. What if the shuttle in the story ran critical controls through the pilot’s chair? I already addressed the fact that it’s unlikely that the mission parameters would allow tools necessary to remove the chair on board. No idiot ball required.

                    Yes, the mission is the story is outside all reasonable safety parameters. Did you miss the part about it being a desperation mission? Godwin wanted the reader to think about what they would do in the pilot’s place. It’s hardly a new question, weighing the good of the one against the good of the many was old when Plato was noodling it over, but the story allowed the dilemma to reach a new audience.

                • PRECISELY.
                  I should point out when I read it I was 12 and adored my brother. Part of the reason the story hit me so hard is that I could see doing that to go see hm.

              • Sigh. Yes. It’s called a “moral problem plot”. Space is a highly unforgiving environment which we tend to ignore. The point of the story was to bring it home it’s a highly unforgiving environment. And it works, which is why it’s one of my favorite stories.

                • Well, to me it’s an example of “stupid worldbuilding tricks”. There is no excuse for an interstellar-capable civilization to have a setup that is that unforgiving. Had he kept it so something more near-futuristic, it could have been done in a way that was realistically possible, but that setup was the equivalent of an ocean liner dropping off a longboat to go 500 miles out of the path of the liner with just enough water to make the trip IF the weather cooperated.

                  I have always hated and will always hate artificially-constructed situations like that, because they are unrealistic and generally false.

                • Steve Stirling did some similar thing in his Dies the Fire (??) books. The heroes all turned away other refugees knowing that they’d die because the other choice would have meant that they all died. One group did pick up a school bus of kids but even then they knew they might have killed themselves by doing it.

                  And of course the framing of the dilemma is contrived! Of course it is.

                  • Dies the Fire not not explicitly has the groups turning away people originally, they have the same groups refusing to give food to the Government scroungers out of Salem, & very explicit about their own ration cuts to minimal calories, despite the heavy work to bring food production up. They also turned away refugees later when sickness hit.

                    Couple of groups did assist other groups when they had “extra” or their own survival was assured, even if that survival was a balance between “yes, made it” & “oh carp, we’re SOL”, either with mutual aid or explicit help of grain & advise.

                    One group was willing to take in stranded refugees, but they had to have skills that complemented or were lacking in the current group, & they had to agree to the groups goals & conditions, if not, sorry, no not joining.

                    Even in subsequent books, the emotional toil was mentioned on those making the decisions; especially when the consequences of their choices were often under their feet (as in skeletal remains) when they ventured out of their enclaves.

                    “framing of the dilemma is contrived! Of course it is.” In as far as: What will happen if no power, no vehicle (car, train, plane, etc.) works, early spring, & oh yea, you can’t use guns either … Except for the gun part: EMP world wide & harden of electronics didn’t work.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          At little later in the web-comic, the Space Ranger recounts a first contact where, while his superiors didn’t find fault in his actions, his actions did unleash plenty of trouble.

          IE He got caught in a no-win situation. Which is likely why he was so annoyed at this pilot. The pilot if he had been trained well (and was under sane rules), could have saved the young woman.

          • Yes, but not in the Cold Equations stories, which btw is one of my favorites ever.
            I’ve noticed the push against “cold equations” came first from the left, who always thinks everything is solvable by wishing hard enough.

            • Terry Sanders

              Yeah. The “Cold Equations” fiskers always remind me of the STAR WARS/STAR TREK bar fights. Compare two universes with completely different physics–neither of which is particularly internally consistent.

              Like Senor Quixada dismissing the Cid as a great warrior because *he* never fought giants.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Perhaps, but I’m told that the author wanted to allow the girl to live but John Campbell wanted the girl to die.

              Yes, there are no-win situations but engineers have always tried to prevent them when possible.

            • It’s not one of my favorites but it is right. I don’t always like the good ones, but I can tell when they are precisely perfect.

              • Heinlein’s original version of “Podkayne of Mars” had her die.
                The published version did not.
                Heinlein was correct, and it was reissued later with the proper ending.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podkayne_of_Mars

                “The 1993 Baen edition included both endings (which differ only on the last page) and featured a “pick the ending” contest, in which readers were asked to submit essays on which ending they preferred. The 1995 edition included both endings, Jim Baen’s own postlude to the story, and twenty-five of the essays. The ending in which Podkayne dies was declared the winner. Among the reasons readers favored this ending were that they felt Heinlein should have been free to create his own story, and they believed the changed ending turned a tragedy into a mere adventure, and not a very well constructed one at that. This ending has appeared in all subsequent editions.”

    • “Within centimeters of catastrophe even with optimal operation.”

      Win, awesome and exactly why I hate that story!

    • Ooh. Thanks for the link. That made the original story much more satisfying.

  2. c4c, because oh god I hurt everywhere. *acheacheache*

  3. What many miss about Economics is that it is basically a tool of analysis. It’s strength is in explaining what has happened. It is not so good at predicting what will happen because there is too much chaotic chatter in the system. With so many variables only the broadest types of projection can be made, especially because the very act of making such projections affects the results.

    It is like much of Life in this way, that the route in the rear-view is far clearer than through the murky, befogged windscreen ahead. But people will demand predictions and imagine what they’re given is worth what they’ve paid.

    Sure, some predictions are accurate: raising the cost of anything will reduce demand … except I recall a story years back about a hot dog maker who offered his product at a fair mark-up and nearly went bankrupt, then doubled the price and saw sales rise dramatically … because people had assumed the hot dog was cheap because of low quality, not efficient production. People being fundamentally irrational, as Scott Adams has argued, means that rational projection is irrational.

    • There’s a quote from one of those prominent economists who spend time on various advisory panels to the effect of “politicians keep asking us to answer questions we don’t know how to answer, but then they ignore us when it comes to the questions we do know how to answer. We know what price controls and trade tariffs do, but politicians don’t want to hear that.”

    • Terry Sanders

      Randall Garrett wrote a FOUNDATION knockoff in which somebody thousands of years later was looking for proof that psychohistory had once existed. One of the people he interviewed said, basically, “I explain why glass is transparent, so you think I know how to make things invisible?”

    • I’ve always looked at economic theory in the same way as I do at quantum theory. You cannot observe it without changing it, and you cannot predict what you change is.

      The difference between the two is that quantum theory can use statistics. Economic theory really cannot, at least in any but the vaguest and most macro terms – but the theorists think it can, having never really internalized the lesson on “sample size.”

      Asimov (at least in the original Foundation stories) had a notion of the sample size that was required to make social and economic predictions useful.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Hindsight is not forecasting, and forecasting isn’t being able to produce a design that will fail in predictable ways.

    • Sure, some predictions are accurate: raising the cost of anything will reduce demand … except I recall a story years back about a hot dog maker who offered his product at a fair mark-up and nearly went bankrupt, then doubled the price and saw sales rise dramatically … because people had assumed the hot dog was cheap because of low quality, not efficient production.

      That one might be partly how they were presented. I can’t explain what it is that rings the “this product is cutting corners in places it really shouldn’t” bell, but only do I see it, it tends to be correct.

      I would guess the most effective yet still legal way to pack hotdogs is used by the nasty cheap guys.

      • My father was a grocery store manager. In a chain where the managers actually has a lot of leeway in setting prices. In Greenwich CT, rich people’s country. One year just prior to Thanksgiving he set a manager special on a Thanksgiving staple- Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. 2 for 1. And had several people approach him and ask “What’s wrong with the cranberry sauce? Why are you marking it down?” He had to raise the price back to normal to sell it. People there weren’t accustomed to actual sales sales designed to move product and not so coincidentally increase sales of related products.

    • People being fundamentally irrational, as Scott Adams has argued, means that rational projection is irrational.

      Somehow, I’ve got a mental image of Spock standing there, talking about how illogical humans are– where “illogical” means “doesn’t weigh things the exact same way that I do.”

      It’s like using physics in real life– you MIGHT be able to reduce the stuff you can’t measure to where the equations work OK, but you can’t do it in all cases, and the measures are going to be very difficult to take.

      The difficult to measure thing is the limits of language in explaining folks’ motivation. Like the waiter conversation on the Star Trek thread — I know of two different people who would totally be down with doing that for a vocation. I do not understand it, and their best way of explaining it is that they “like people.”

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        My takeway from the ST thread for today. What is the deal with Wesley being a commissioned officer on board a ship his mother is a senior officer on?

        Did a fun bit of worldbuilding for a space navy where commissions are purchased, which would be willing to tolerate such a thing.

      • Greg Gutfeld’s show this weekend uses the Yanney/Laurel experiment as an example of Adams’ argument that two people experiencing the exact same event come away with entirely different perceptions of what happened.

        The arrogance of Progs is their assumption that their values are the only correct ones, that any deviation from their values provokes demands to know What’s the matter with Kansas?

        This is also why Economics is better at explaining “What happened?” than “What will happen?” — it is only after the fact that we truly know what people value. Just as many a guy will promise Sunday morning to “Call you soon” actually meaning to do so but get distracted by more pressing demands, such as Sunday afternoon’s point spreads.

        • And us weirdos who figure out how to get both perceptions are definitely looked at with confusion by both sides. (The one that’s really bizarre is a video of a toy with audio that can sound like either “Brainstorm” or “Green Needle”—depending on which one you’re thinking at the time. I was able to switch back and forth quickly a lot with that video.)

  4. So, in the 40’s book advances were 5k to 20k. Fifty years later, there was no change. Talk about a bunch of cheap SOB’s. Not even an increase to take into account inflation.
    Meanwhile in the time I started buying my own books I have seen the prices rise from $5 CAD to almost $15 for paperbacks. Worst, when the Canadian dollar was worth MORE then the USD, prices for books up here were still $3-4 more.
    And people wonder why Amazon is doing so well and so many new writers are going the self publish indy route.

    • Oh you poor benighted sod, I remember when a new mass market paperback would cost me fifty, seventy-five cents. Of course, the minimum wage then was also somewhat under a buck, so the labor to buy a book has remained fairly constant.

      • Think minimum wage for when I started purchasing was about $2.50 or $3 an hour. So go figure. Once again, Heinlein’s quote about fighting over his readers beer money…

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Eric Flint also talked about this factor although IIRC he talked about the price of a fast-food meal compared to the price of a paperback.

          The comparison between the two has said about the same over the years.

        • In the early sixties, when I first became aware of how much money people made, I found out that my father had gotten a raise to a salary of $500 a month as a salesman. This was substantially more that some of my friends fathers made in blue collar jobs. $10,000 a year was considered a really good job, like managers and such, but still a little less than Doctors made.

          Ten years later, in my first minimum wage food service jobs, I made between $1.35 and $1.55 per hour. My friends who worked as movie theater ushers made $.80 per hour. Of course in the late 1960s you could get a brand new Volkswagen for $1500 and a really nice full size sedan for $3500.

          A $5,000 to $20,000 book deal would have been pretty good money.

          • In 1975 a new car (admittedly bottom rung Chevy, but nonetheless including A/C) could be had for about $5K.

            In 1976 Beloved Spouse & I bought our first house for approx. $28K, a story-and-a-half Cape Cod with two baths, five rooms down and (sorta – it helped to be short) three up. I can’t recall what it used for heat, but after two years there we put in central air and heat and had to figure how to get ductwork into the upstairs. Of course, lots of houses back then weren’t equipped with central air.


            Go look through schedules of what stuff cost (and what folks earned) in given years (used to be you could find them in card shops, in a “If you were born in ….” spinner) and you’ll see that LBJ’s two wars caused slight inflation but it was in the mid-Seventies that the index really took off.

      • A year or two back I worked out the hourly wage based on: writing and selling SF/F shorts at pro market rates, under the assumption that you could write 500 words/day (no days off) and sold everything you produced.

        It came out to about $2/hour.

        • To be fair, I think 500 words/day is probably low. I’m managing 800 writing at night after the baby has gone to bed and during naptime on the weekends. I’ve got to think a serious 40 hr/week pro could manage an average of closer to 2000/day.

          • Waggling my hand… You have to remember that a good chunk of that 40 hour work week is used up with non-writing stuff, even if you are trad pubbed where the publisher “takes care of it for you” (what, exactly, they do really take care of and off of their author’s hands is a question these days).

            • More if you’re trad pub. They drop things into your lap at random.

              • They [trad pub] drop things into your lap at random.

                Trad pub sounds more and more like a spoiled cat. Always making unreasonable demands, expecting you to be grateful for the opportunity to serve them and routinely hurking hairballs in your lap.

                • Athena T. Cat says that she resents your comparing her to Trad pub. And she wants more fresh catnip ASAP, and tummy rubs. Not in that order.

                  • Dorothy Grant

                    And she will determine how many pets on the tummy is too many at her convenience and leisure?

                • At least we got a blog post out of Greebo once.

                  Speaking of which, how long has it been since he’s earned his tuna?

                  • This morning. He kicked me out of bed at six and herded me to the office. But we got an accidental cat (long story) who is probably his long lost younger sister (their markings, voice and movements are identical) and she hates his guts and yells at him, so he’s been hiding in my bedroom.

                    • So your little feline security system is great at handling wild predators and dangerous criminals many times his own size, but flees in terror from obnoxious siblings? That… sounds about right, I guess.

                      This makes, what, your 5th cat? If you weren’t happily married you’d officially be in crazy cat lady territory now. 😛

                    • TINY little siblings. He’s 16lbs, she’s … 5? maybe. But she cusses him out and that scares him.
                      Fourth. There are five in the house, but one is in older son’s apartment in the basement. Whether he’ll move out with older son is something else.
                      Hey, I come by it naturally. My grandmother who raised me was happily married as well and matriarch to a tribe, and had somewhere between 16 and 32 cats most of her life. It never seemed to get below sixteen. There would be another kitten dumped at the door, when one died.
                      Now, I couldn’t hope to do that. She lived in a mini-farm with outbuildings.

                    • snelson134

                      Tell Greebo I grew up with three younger sisters; I feel his pain. 😎

                    • LOL. Poor cat. seriously. He’s been hiding behind my bed.

            • Um, I think the trad publishers still take care of cover art…

              It’s a fair point, but I still think 500/day is low.

              • 500 a day is low for me. But I have friends that this is all they manage.
                But if you go on AVERAGE that’s about my average. I write 10k the days I write, but then there’s silences I can do NOTHING about.

      • When I first started buying my own mass market paperbacks a regular one was a quarter, extra thick ones went for 35 cents. I recall my outrage when that pricing escalated to 35 and 50 cents. About that time I was a junior in high school and got a part time job for minimum wage at $1.75 an hour. By the time I’d graduated I was making $2.25 but MMP were up to 50 and 75 cents. That all in the 1968-69 era.

        • I remember that, too … alas, that I am of that generation. The fat books at the racks in the drug store were 95 cents. And I still have a lot of the books that I bought with my allowance money, upstairs in Vroman’s in Pasadena. A ten dollar bill, and I came downstairs with a huuge stack of books and the change from that bill.

          • Gee, anyone else remember when a book contained a complete novel?

            • Was it Ace who’d do two short novels in a paperback? They were rare (at least in SF) in the early ’70s, but I remember seeing a few.

              • And each of them had different sales rates. Yeah.

              • Ace Doubles. Two books back to back but upside down from each other. Odd idea that I don’t believe ever really caught on.

                • that’s because each half had different numbers. I’m not even joking. Jerry told me how one of the things he did as president of SFWA was try to do battle for authors caught in that mess.

                  • The heck with authors caught in that mess, how about poor OCD readers? Sure, no problem if the Double had two MZBs or a pair of Andre Nortons, but how do you shelve one with Mack Reynolds in the one side and Jack Vance in the other? Sure, you could buy two copies but that just leaves you shelving Reynolds in the Vance section and Vance among the other Reynolds books you had. Madness, that’s what it caused!

                    • They were numbered! Like DAW did later.

                      But to maintain OCR frustration, Ace jumbled SF, Westerns, and mysteries together in the sequence.

                    • I had this problem with the Portuguese versions. Yes, it drove me bonkers. I might be a bit OCD.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      “a bit OCD”?

                      I’m not sure that I’m “just a bit OCD” but I’ll deny that I’m “greatly OCD”. 👿

                    • To be OCD do you have to be OCD about everything? or Just some things?

      • I think they stayed at 75 cents with the Illinois minimum wage at $1.60. Of course, my boss at McDs managed to pay us $1.35, but that’s Illinois.

    • The local air base is a common destination for airmen rotating back from Britain. British paperbacks showed up at the used book stores in small numbers.

      Comparing salaries with a friend in a similar job in England, adjusting with the exchange rate, and paperbacks were 2x-3x more expensive in Britain than they were in the US.

    • In the late 80s I was given a $50 gift certificate to a local bookstore. With it, I was able to acquire about 3/4 of the Heinlein juveniles (my mom already owned the rest.) And THMiaHM.

  5. I’ve been watching the pratty pink princesses for the last thirty years or so at Lunacons. None of them had the economic sense of a squirrel. Sales, actual sales never seemed to matter to them. Yet you could see, in the shrinking SF sections in bookstores, in the books no longer sold in places outside bookstores and utter blandness of what was being released, that things were taking a steep dive and there was no bottom.

    • I remember when it seemed SF/F sections were expanding although, when you looked at what was actually in those sections it became obvious that much of it was padding. Thanks to a growth in acceptance of mediocre Tolkien knock-offs there were beaucoups paper wasters filling the shelves. Places like Borders and B&N also padded by offering pretty much everything in print in the genre no matter whether it moved, because they had to present the impression of comprehensive selection (even if a majority of the books offered were still technically in the publishers’ inventories.

      • Back in the 1990s, at least 75% of the SF section in the local bookstores was reprints of public-domain Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and endless fanasy “shared world anthologies.” And much of the actual SF on the shelf was reprints, most of which I’d already read.

      • Late 90s (maybe?) it looked like they were getting bigger because the “scifi” section suddenly had the fantasy and comic book related stuff, then the D&D books proper.

        There’s been another boost as various romance stuff gets shoved in.

        • I’ve long felt tradpub doesn’t actually consider SF to be a real genre; it’s what’s left over that doesn’t fit into any of the accepted genres.

        • Fred Meyer (Kroger-owned grocery/department store) has a tiny SF/Fantasy section, with heavy emphasis on the movie/tv tie-in de jour, and then the series done by the favored authors. Haven’t bought anything from them since I tried and walled Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

  6. the field as bimodal: a very few people made millions, while a vast majority made pocket money.

    I was thinking of it as a lotto game, where a few people get a jackpot, a lot of people win just enough to fuel their hopes of a jackpot and where a unknowable lot of people but their ticket, crap out and stop playing. Sure, the publisher can “fix” the call a little and take the occasional loss leader (snort*WhatThe@$#&Happened!*snort) as a pay off to the screws but they cannot truly control what the public will want at any given instant and, as Sarah notes, they are so not in touch with public taste that they are constantly arriving at the BBQ with their gourmet potato salad when everybody there is wanting slaw.

    OTOH, the jackals running the game can count on raking off a certain amount of vigorish so long as the suckers keep playing and it is easy to deny that there are fewer every year suckers willing to sit either side, whether as writer or reader.

    An Indy writer, OTOH, is not playing the lotto, he* is a tradesman building a readership over time by drawing in new readers who will pay for the back stock once they find a writer who is competent, interesting, not insulting (a fine point overlooked by many in the book mongering biz who imagine the customer has no sense of smell and can’t spot three-day old fish), and worth the time spent in their company.

    *to those in denial about the assigned gender of pronouns as historically employed in English, sod off I don’t care what you think. You’re not grading my papers and your approval and $4.75 will buy me a grande mocha.

    • “the field as bimodal: a very few people made millions, while a vast majority made pocket money.”

      Bimodal distributions always remind me of my high school chemistry teacher. There was a particular test that was rather tough and so the distribution had on large bump centered around about 50 and another much smaller one up around 90. As this was the non politically correct late 70’s he said (approximate it was 40+ years ago), ” This distribution resembles a pair of breasts. Unfortunately it seems far too many of you are suckling at the wrong teat.” I think you’d get fired for that today…

    • Dude, the use of “he” for a person of unidentified sex isn’t native English; it was imposed by intellectuals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Singular “they” is attested centuries before that, in the works of writers who actually have stood the test of time (see the Oxford Unabridged for the evidence), and it’s also readily understood by any native English speaker, even if they don’t use it themself. Curiously enough, when the feminists started calling for common gender pronouns, none of them suggested using it; they preferred using made up pronouns that no one was ever going to adopt. Though perhaps that was the point.

      • Bullshit. “He” for an individual of indeterminate sex is indo-european.

        • Well, all right, yes, you can find “he” in that usage, too. But there wasn’t a RULE about it. It was just the way people talked, and there were cases where people said “they” as well. I was talking about when the RULE was stated, and when people started trying to lay down the law about it.

          • Three centuries of precedence is sufficiently historical for me. I’m a conservative, not a paleo.

          • Really? Because I was taught it as a linguistic rule in five languages.

            • What do you mean by “rule”? Do you mean a description of the way the word is used? Or do you mean a statement in a textbook of grammar and usage intended to tell native speakers which usage is preferred, or acceptable?

              I looked this up in the Oxford Unabridged a while back. It traced singular “they” back quite a few centuries, and it gave examples of it from a number of highly regarded writers. So whatever other languages may do, or whatever Indo-European may originally have done, that usage seems to be fairly well established in English—just as, for a comparison, there are two grammatically regular ways an English sentence can end with a preposition.

              • 11B-Mailclerk

                Maybe look up “pedant” next?

              • It was taught to us, in five languages (all indo-european, I never got exotic) “When referring to a person of unknown sex, the appropriate pronoun is masculine singular. In the same way, when encountering masculine singular in a book, unless it’s a specific person, the meaning could be “he” or “she”. We had tests in which we were expected to interpret passages such as “The murderer, when he arrived, left his fingerprints here” and asked the sex of the person mentioned. The answer is “I don’t know””

                • asked the sex of the person mentioned. The answer is `I don’t know`

                  Come now, Sarah, everybody knows that only men commit murder. People of vaginitude who commit murder are clearly male-oriented.

            • Sorry, I don’t believe in linguistic rules beyond the most basic one: make your meaning understood.

              All else are mere guidelines, to be followed, bent, or broken as needed.

  7. As a home schooled kid, I learned economics from 4-H and Dr. Sowell and paying income taxes.

    I was blessed.

    • Paying your own taxes by writing a check instead of having it quietly pilfered from a payroll check certainly changed my view of taxation…

      • I must be odd; I had no problem getting the idea of how much I was paying from the pay stub….I guess most folks ignore it, like they see the tax return as “fre emoney”?

        • I think for a lot of people, even if they are aware of the numbers intellectually, there is a strong psychological difference between receiving something that they must then actively pay out themselves and getting it taken out in advance. ISTR there’s even something of the same effect in having an automated savings deposit off the top vs. putting money in actively.

          …Which, on reflection, may say concerning things about automated utility and especially credit card bill payments. Hmm.

        • Us too. We track every penny, even with auto pays. We also track utility usage month to month & year to year.

          Taxes. We used to try & “zero sum” our taxes (don’t owe any to Feds or State), baring that set it up to pay them when we file. Gave up when one year we got a huge refund from the Feds & paid the State. Next year, without changing anything, it reversed. We were zeroing out, just getting refund amount that essentially was paid out to the other. Now, we pretty much pay the Feds a pretty penny & get money back from the state. Should be paying both but State kicks in goodies for the Senor set long before the Feds; & only half of us technically benefits … wait until we both do (yea!!!).

        • Oh, I fully understood the difference when I saw the difference between gross and net pay. But that was theoretical money; money I never got. Having to take money I already *had*, that I could use to buy something I wanted, and send it off… that added extra resentment to the transaction.

          For the last 20-odd years, that hasn’t been “invisible money tallied at the bank.” It has been “taking actual banknotes out of the safe and using them to buy a money order, because the IRS doesn’t take cash.”

        • Terry Sanders

          The progs depend on it. I read somewhere that when Wilson’s Wisecraft first instituted the income tax, some companies tried doing it honestly. “Here’s your pay. Now step over to the next table and pay your taxes.”

          They were told in no uncertain terms that This Is Not Acceptable. The peasants must never suspect that money was ever theirs.

          Thus “take-home pay.” Which we are carefully encouraged to believe is the only real salary we have.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Today in RL I discussed how I’d barely missed the lack of values and investment that seems to plague our young men, as can be inferred was the case for the Santa Fe shooter.

      Some of what socialized me, what helped me find things to care deeply about, was the competition of ideas on Baen’s Bar. My economics is weakly based. I’ve listened to a bunch of internet gushing about the Austrians, I took a course in college, and bought the texts for every introductory text. I don’t know if I’ve ever read any Sowell.

      • My uncle had very strong opinions-as one result, I own a hardcopy and a paperback of Basic Economics and at least one copy of most of the rest of Dr. Sowell’s works.

      • what helped me find things to care deeply about, was the competition of ideas on Baen’s Bar

        Of one thing we can be confident: most students these days are not at risk of being exposed to any destructive “competition of ideas.”

  8. At one time some of the larger publishing houses had “sugar daddies:” larger companies that subsidized them, purely for the prestige of being in an “intellectual business.” That, too, contributed to the deterioration of the conventional publishing industry, just as would any force that insulates you from the consequences of your mistakes.

    • Ah – that answers something that was bothering me: Why the parent companies, who are essentially manufacturers of a product, tolerated the misbegotten ineconomic behavior of the fiction publishers who are treating their business like a hobby (i.e. pink-princess management). It hasn’t been expected to be a profit center for years now. Textbooks, OTOH… easy profit because captive audience, but at least run to generate profit. Neither side knows or cares about real marketing.
      Such a pity – if it’s true that they’re only serving 1% of the reading public with the current offerings, then the total available market for a real publisher of fiction is the other 99%, and learning to market appropriately should be VERY rewarding, and potentially grow to a huge business!

  9. If you guys (gender-neutral form) missed it the first time, I wrote a detailed piece on what happened to publishing from the 60s to the 90s as it turned into a primarily female profession. Excerpt:

    Publishing is another field where women have come to dominate an industry — as in teaching, by the 1960s “There was a dearth of willing men and a plethora of educated, young white women qualified to [do editorial work] for low salaries.” Publishing had always employed large numbers of women in clerical and lower-level positions though men dominated editorial, managerial, and sales jobs. This began to change rapidly in the 1960s, and by the 1990s publishing was dominated by women, until today every part of the industry is female-dominated, from agents to editors to even authors. It’s often noted that the reading of books also became a primarily female-associated activity during that period, with women buying and reading far more books than men to the point where female-favored genres like romance outsell all other fiction.

    Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads Into Male Occupations by Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos has a detailed history of the rapid evolution of publishing from a male-dominated to a female-dominated industry, tracing it to factors including the increasing size and commercialization of the consolidating publishing companies and the historically low pay in the industry which discouraged men from entry while allowing upper-class educated white women to take it over from below…

    [lots more on public school teaching and publishing as “pink collar ghettoes”]:

    https://jebkinnison.com/2016/08/15/death-by-hr-pink-collar-ghettos-publishing-and-hr/

    • I have read it, or at least have a vague memory, but…. I’ve slept since it came out. So I had the gleanings of it in my mind, but not where I’d seen it, etc.

    • Dorothy Grant

      Thank you! I’d seen that before, but couldn’t find it when I looked. I have now added that to the post I have going up on this tomorrow. (Sarah covered economics from one approach, I’m covering from the judicial & IRS interference view, and you’ve covered it from a third side entirely. Between the three of us, we approach the whole picture…)

    • Romance was always one of the biggest genres. Look at the titles of the “love pulps”. The difference is that today, love stories are overwhelmingly female-oriented, whereas men used to be big consumers and producers of them.

      • Some thirty years ago when I first loaned my mother a Louis L’Amour novel she enjoyed it greatly, and on returning it announced it a highly pleasing romance.

        Initially shocked I gave a moment’s reflection and realized she was right, L’Amour’s books are Romantic in the same way as Jules Verne’s, Francis Scott’s, Burroughs’, Austen’s, Owen Wister’s, Wilkie Collins and others’ tales are. It is only recently that we’ve corrupted the definition to today’s contemporary limits.

        I doubt not that Sarah and several others here with a background in literature could define the parameters of Romance novels as they have historically been; it is beyond my present capacity to readily do so … although I still know it when I see it.

  10. As long as publishers had a lock on distribution and readers had to choose from the limited selection of books in print and served up in bookstores (you call it the push model), the satisfaction of the reader didn’t matter as much. Some read less but sales continued. Now readers can (with effort) find exactly the sort of story they want, and they never go out of print as ebooks. Indie has pulled the plug on the warm bath of cartel publishing, and the response is to focus only on bestsellers and clones of big hits.

  11. “You can, as with water, divert if, dam it up or make it do something, sure. But people who do this to money don’t realize it’s like doing it to water: there are always consequences. Some of them will be unintended. Also, do it enough and you might end up with a mess in your hands that you can’t pull apart no way, no how.”

    Oh, hell, a lot of the people who do that to WATER don’t realize the consequences. And further, they resent the hell out of anyone who tells them.

    My Father the Historian of Science started his adult life as a physics major drafted by the army to refine uranium. I don’t KNOW that’s where he got the connections/interest to follow the argument between Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers about ‘controlling’ the Mississippi, but it makes sense.

    Briefly; Congress wanted a series of projects built along the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers to control flooding. The Army Corps of Engineers told Congress “We think this is a lousy idea. These rivers are bigger forces that can really be controlled. We don’t know all the consequences of doing what you propose, but we’re pretty sure that they include more floods and bigger ones, because if you pen up that much energy in one place it WILL come out somewhere.”

    Congress told the engineers “Shut your yap ad do what you’re told.”

    Result? More and bigger floods.

    Congress; “But the Army Corps of Engineers approved all this!”

    Liars.

    Nobody listens to the economics equivalent to the Army Corps of Engineers because such people tell them that not only is the Moon not made of Stilton, she isn’t even Dutch.

    No uplift or Breath of Mind!

    • Arrrgh. I can’t find the book quickly on the ‘Zon, and my copy is in storage, but somewhere I have a book about the Missouri River, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Pick-Sloan plan (It might be _Big Dammed Rivers_ but that doesn’t look right). The way the Bureau and the Army Corps divided up the Mississippi-Missouri River watershed is rather depressing reading, and the book is by someone who was a water-master for the Missouri and who approves of the damns, which tells you something right there.

      • Ahem, autocorrupt, that is “dams” not “damns.” Grrrrrrr.

        • Considering the increasingly perilous state of the lower Mississippi as affected by various attempts to control the river, I have a suspicion that ‘damns’ is indeed the correct word.

        • Chrismouse

          TXRed, that may be well be the ONLY time autocorrect has changed “dams” to “damns” and not the other way about.

    • Gee. Sounds like Software Engineering.
      Marketing to bosses. “This is what the clients want …”
      Software Engineers “Okay, you can have it in 18 months.”
      Marketing “No. Must have it by this Fall Show.” (about 10 months away) Engineers “No.”
      Bosses. “Do it.”

      6 months latter Marketing asks “Where is it?”
      Engineers “Not done”
      Marketing “Will it be done, in 3 months?”
      Engineering “No”
      Marketing “YOU said it would be done by the Fall Show!!!!”
      Engineering “No. You said it would be done. We said no. It wouldn’t!”
      Repeat & Rinse. Every. Single. Release. FYI. Above conversation does not count mission creep.

      • Once at $WE_BUILD_SCALES there was a New Project planned to be The Next Big Thing. At one point there was a Big Meeting where everyone involved at all (except perhaps whoever swept the floor) whether programmer, hardware designer, sheet metal bender, whatever, was there. After considerable discussion they realized they could have a good, complete, ready and properly shippable product by 01 November. And the guy running the show, a Marketing Guy (which tells everyone where this is going…) declares, “So we’re releasing 01 August, right!” And sure enough, it was released 01 August. And it was a disaster, a constant source of irritation to customers and support… until, oh, 01 November.

        • Sounds about right.

          Except what you are missing is the “We must give 120% to meet “marketing’s” deadline, anyone not putting in 70 hours a week is letting down the team!”

          FYI. Not a team player (apparently). By the time I was with this company it was “nope, not happening.”

          My last job had a number of irritating issues (every job has something!) but the ONE thing it didn’t have was the above. No deadlines or releases. Might have a client call about a sudden emergency that “had to be fixed right now” but even then the point was to get it fixed, not how long you took. Now would I get absorbed in a problem or solution or project & suddenly discover it is after 5 … yes; programmer here, kind of a trait.

      • “How hard could it be? You just sit there and type. Type faster! We can hire some more typists to help you out.”

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          “You can do this. Just push a few buttons.” [Sarcasm]

        • seriously. I just need to get my head right.

          • snelson134

            And while you are getting your head right, the following (actual) conversation will occur:
            Boss: “What are you working on? You aren’t doing anything.”
            Co-worker: “I’m thinking.”
            Boss: “Well, can’t you do that at home?!?!”

            Everyone in the room (did I mention this was public), after cranking their jaws back up, just started laughing at him.

        • Peter Sanders

          Other project gems:
          – Adding more programmers makes the late project take even longer to complete.
          – Nine women can produce a baby in a month…
          – The first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time, the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time.

          • “Other project gems:
            – Adding more programmers makes the late project take even longer to complete.
            – Nine women can produce a baby in a month…
            – The first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time, the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time.”

            – Part of the last 10% is figuring out how to do the parts that no one has done before, at least by the team that is doing the work. This is NOT where finding something off the internet & tweaking it, that process came in during the first 90%, somewhere. Because when initially pointing this out Boss or Marketing said “Figure it out. That’s what I pay you for.”

          • The Mythical Man Month was written by a gentleman named Brooks in 1961, the year I was born. I re-read it every year and reflect that EVERY problem he describes is still with us in IT…..

            • Yes. 100%.

              My last job there were 6 programmers, 4 of which were also tech support for the product. Last two weeks I was there boss added 2 new programmers, bringing the 4 up to 6 (eventually). Technically you didn’t get anything done if you didn’t get any coding done. Up until my last 8 weeks, don’t think there was a day that at least “some” coding got done. OTOH some days coding was “limited”. Each call, whether it was 5 minutes or 2 hours, meant at least 30 minutes to get back into what you were doing. Now get a phone call every 15 to 30 minutes. Didn’t happen all the time (in fact we’d have days with no calls). Year-end was excruciating; company deals with year-end 3x’s a year (client only once): Fiscal (Jul to June), Calendar, & Federal. Multiply year-end type by about 100.

              Lord help us if we had more than one new client coming on board at the same time! Boss, bless his heart, tried to spread out new clients. But he had no control on when they’d actually start calling after software was installed & initial training; which didn’t count existing clients when they’d have staff turn over. Add in calls for something actually wrong with the software, or request for changes, and … Repeat & rinse.

              It was really bad when I first started. It took the first 5 years to train clients to NOT call me. Send an email, still disruptive to stop, read, & reply, but not as bad; at least for me.

            • Mythical Man Month is required reading for SW Engineering; can only wish it were for Business Management.

      • When I was working, the standard definition of software was “what we wrote to make the hardware do what the saleman said it would.”

  12. > So they are doing it for the prestige, and hiring authors who are also doing it for the prestige (and cred that counts to their real, academic jobs.)

    I remember an interview with Neal Stephenson where he described being invited to a “literary” event (Stephenson somehow manages to pull off being “literary”, selling metric tons of copies, and not sucking all at the same time, which is a damned impressive feat).

    While making small talk with another invitee, she asked him “Where do you teach”? “I don’t teach.” “Then what do you do for a living?” “Ummmmmmm… I write books.”

  13. Asimov went from astronomy to physics to biology to Shakespeare to Biblical scholarship, then turned his attention to economics. After studying it for a while he wrote a scathing essay denouncing it as charlatanism.

    This was roughly the same time that Mack Reynolds observed that if the economists could guess better than random chance even 51% of the time, they’d all be millionaires.

    Every time I’ve picked up a book on economics – granted, most of them were college texts – it only took a few pages before I was getting flashbacks to Das Kapital.

  14. * I don’t normally call myself a “materialist,” because that sounds like nineteenth century physics, when reality was matter and motion. Now physics has changed. But I would certainly call myself a physicalist. I don’t think of myself as an immaterial soul or spirit steering around a biochemical robot, like a mecha pilot in anime or something; I think of myself as a physical being.

    * I certainly consider economics a legitimate science. The trouble is that it’s been invaded by people who want to bring back the protoscientific ideas that came before economics. Real economics largely comes down to applications of natural science; for example, scarcity is just Liebig’s Law of the Minimum applied to human beings. I wouldn’t take Asimov’s ideas about economics too seriously; for one thing, he probably read mostly the Keynesians and the neoclassicists, rather than the classical economists or the Austrians, and for another, his best known sociological stories, the Foundation stories, are an elaborate metaphor for Leninism.

    * Poetry went down the road you describe a long time ago. Scott and Byron and even Kipling could make money from their verse (and I’ve read Auden, Eliot, and Orwell’s apologies for liking Kipling, because he wasn’t “literary”), but poets have mostly been college professors since World War II. The natural outcome is that poetry ceased to exist for the general public. Fiction will do so too.

    • No, it won’t. Because now we have indie.

      • Well, fair enough. But literary fiction is on the way out. I forget who it was—maybe Haldeman?—who said that the prototypical “write what you know” novel is about a middle-aged literature professor trying to decide whether to have an affair….

        • Bloody great. All I can picture from Mr Stoddard’s description of the “write what you know” novel is an infinity of variants of Nabokov’s Lolita switching sexes/genders/orientations of protagonist and object(s) of affection from now until the second coming. We are so doomed…

          • Well, yes, but that’s *literary* fiction. I read very little literary fiction.

            I’ve been observing the infiltration of SF by literary writers, critics, and readers for some time now, with dismay. It’s like people from high-tax states moving to low-tax states and then voting for the same policies that made their high-tax states uninhabitable. Though that condition seems even more advanced in fantasy.

          • I call to mind an address by Tom Wolfe in which he advised aspiring authors study Journalism, a trade which once meant “Know what you write.”

            It figures that literary authors would get that bass ackward.

        • “Literary” is dead, yes.

          • Yes, that’s the point I intended to make. And if we were still dependent on publishers, fiction as such might easily end up as dead as poetry.

            • I think it would. Not unexpectedly, I have a lot of friends who are of the book-binging persuasion, and they all seemed to be going through the genres as I was, and end up reading non-fiction.

    • Poetry makes a lot of money. They call it rap.

  15. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I hadn’t realized you’d done binging level intense research on economics.

    I’d thought you’d simply had the insight of a lay adult who has actually looked at things without being blinded by socialist influence.

    • Look, I spent a year and a half nursing every three hours for about an hour. I read A LOT that year. We didn’t have internet. Economics was one of the rabbit holes I entered in that time.

  16. The tasks listed for the editor job look like things that would take effort and experience to do well. In today’s market, would doing these things well be enough of a value-add that they would pay the salary of a capable editor if the material published were reasonably well chosen, or would the work just
    not pay for the effort unless it was for a top 1% successful product?

    Another way of asking this would be: how accurate would an editor’s ability to predict sales have to be in order for decent editing skills to be valuable enough to pay a middle-class salary?

    • That’s sort of complicated, because you have to have “will sell exactly as predicted and budgeted” calculation ability. Accidental best-sellers are considered… problematic by Big 5 houses. As in “Darth Vader is unhappy with you” level problematic in some cases. Probably be within 5% for thirty out of thirty books?

      • Robin Munn

        Accidental best-sellers are considered… problematic by Big 5 houses. As in “Darth Vader is unhappy with you” level problematic in some cases.

        This is the fact that, more than anything else, convinces me that the publishing industry is doomed. The product you selected is selling WAY better than expected, and that’s a bad thing for your career? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?

        This attitude is so incredibly counter-productive to a business that wants to survive that if I hadn’t heard about this from multiple people with publishing-industry experience (not just Sarah Hoyt), I’d have trouble believing it. Not that I think Sarah would lie to us, but if she was the only source telling me that, I would assume she was mistaken, because nobody, not even a Marxist, could be that stupid. But in fact, they can; I’ve heard this fact from too many sources not to believe it. And the utter wrongheadedness of that attitude still boggles my mind.

        No wonder publishing missed the rise of ebooks, and completely misread the meaning of the indie movement. If they think that accidental best-sellers are a bad thing, then their heads are stuck so far up their fundaments that they can’t even remember the last time they saw daylight. And so the rest of their idiotic ideas are easily explained.

        • Over sales can be a problem; look at any faddish item of clothing. Back when Izod shirts were the New! Big! Thing! I recall reading about the company’s concerns over meeting demand vs the capital costs of increasing capacity to meet the demand and risking being caught with excess capacity when the fad faded (typically just as the new production came on line; scarcity promotes demand in fashion and other things.)

          Not seeing that as a major problem in publishing, however, where the marginal cost of pumping out more editions is relatively trivial these days. It isn’t as if you have to laboriously reset type for the plates, after all. Heck, the problems of sudden surge in demand are greater for movies and they seem able to handle that tolerably well.

          • Robin Munn

            Oh, sure, a product selling better than expected can cause difficulties for the company. But anyone of sense* would say “Please, PLEASE, let me have those problems!” Instead of, say, the problems involved in having sales that are far lower than expected, which depending on your other income streams can potentially be fatal to the business.

            * Which rules out most of NYC’s liberals, who dominate the publishing industry.

            • “Oh, sure, a product selling better than expected can cause difficulties for the company. But anyone of sense* would say “Please, PLEASE, let me have those problems!” Instead of, say, the problems involved in having sales that are far lower than expected, which depending on your other income streams can potentially be fatal to the business.”

              I believe it was Peter Drucker who said, “There are two kinds of problems in business: growth problems and liquidation problems. Growth problems are better.”

          • Exactly – modern manufacturing technology is partly about learning how to efficiently be small-batch flexible. That does take a head re-set for people who were brought up believing the only way to increase your margin was to increase batch sizes — i.e. the extra 1/10th percent you get going from 1000 to 10,000 was worth the effort. Less true, now.

        • > If they think that accidental best-sellers are a bad thing

          It is. They’re not about profit, or even business. Their schtick is *control*. Those accidental best-sellers show, not just them, but their peers that they’ve failed to properly manage their market.

    • They would have to have SOME way to track how well the editor does. Right now if a book fails they fire… the writer.

      • Joe in PNG

        “They would have to have SOME way to track how well the editor does.” I suspect that they do, but it’s more about attendance at the right parties, correct opinions voiced at the right time, loudly trumpeted gifts to the right causes or candidates, and factors that have nothing to do with actually making sordid gain.

    • how accurate would an editor’s ability to predict sales have to be in order for decent editing skills to be valuable enough to pay a middle-class salary?

      Put this to the test: base the majority of the editor’s salary on sales of the books they curate. Paying editor royalties might address a number of industry problems; certainly it would encourage (more) accurate accounting for author royalties.

  17. Off topic:

    Sad news, Bernard Lewis has died. Losing him and Richard Pipes so close together makes this a rather rough week.

  18. I sometimes think that liberals want the government to regulate every industry because they think that everyone is like them and will pay bottom dollar regardless of what it does to quality, but I’m perhaps being unfair.

    Thus the people on the left (it’s always the left for this one) who claim that if you do away with minimum wage it means wages will plummet to nothing while the evil business owners gloat over their fat profits.

    That employers will need to compete for good workers seems to escape them. If that other company over there has good workers who are making them a bunchaton of money, you might like to hire a few away from them (unless there’s a glut of equally capable workers so that you have your pick). How are you going to get them to quit that job and come work for you (making a bunchaton of money for you)? In olden days you might launch a raid, steal their workers, and chain them in your factories, but that tends to be frowned upon these days.

    These days you only have one option, you need to offer them a better deal, either in pay or in other benefits so that they can tell current employer, “I’m outta here” and come work for you instead.

    Of course, other guy wants to keep the workers making them a bunchaton of money and not lose them to you. So what to they do? They see your offer and raise their own so the workers say “on second thought, I’ll stay here.”

    You, of course, still want to make money so you have to increase your offer still further. Now, you eventually hit some point where it’s not worth increasing your offer because the bunchaton of money you’d be spending for the workers reduces the bunchaton of money they’d make for you to “not worth it”. That’s called “market value” for the labor.

    Maybe you can play with things a bit. The other guy offers more money but you offer better medical (for instance) and some folk will like your deal better and some folk will like their deal better. Both of you get people working for you, maybe not all you would like, but some.

    And, well, I can go on with this but I’m probably past due to bring this to a close.

    However, I think I may have tomorrow’s blog post. If I remember. 😉

    • Had a coworker who in the course of 2 years left his job at my big box retailer for another, then returned. 4 times. When asked why he kept coming back his reply was simple- “They keep offering me more money.” He stayed at the same job description, and was good at it. If he had stayed with us, he would have received the same rate increase everyone else got- set by bean counters who consider people to be interchangeable widgets. By leaving and returning, he showed his value since his replacements were never quite as good as he was, and quit due to job pressure, leaving a vacancy for him to fill.

    • The people on the Left don’t much care for performance based competition for jobs. That’s unfair!

      Instead they prefer compensation based on the job description, not how well that job is performed.

    • 11B-Mailclerk

      I suspect that you have missed the -point- of “minimum wage” laws.

      Union contracts most typically base the hourly wage on a markup over “prevailing wages”.

      The “minimum wage” is a major component of calculating “prevailing”.

      Raise ” minimum” and most Union folks get an automatic and -across the board- raise.

      And who tend to be the most vocal advocates for raising “minimum” ?

      • And at least part of the original point of minimum wage to make sure there was a group whose labor wasn’t considered worth that and thus create/preserve an underclass. Gee, what group might that have been, and who would benefit from such an arrangement?

      • He knows that. He just doesn’t llike it.

      • Except in those instances where union-negotiated wages are *exempt* from so-called ‘minimum wage’ restrictions.

  19. Economics almost always runs off models, not reality. The few times people actually have the force of arms to force a test of the models millions die.
    The models being complex – as other have noted – politicians only embrace the parts of the model that allow them to spend irrespective of income.
    One has to have a fairly broad knowledge of unhealthy mental states, war and criminal acts such as fraud and counterfeiting to see why the models don’t work.

    • There’s still a lot of good in classical economics, and the Austrians did notable work, including Hayek’s theory of depressions, Mises’s economic calculation argument against socialism, and Schumpeter’s creative destruction theory of market processes. Unfortunately, with Keynes, we had the equivalent of medicine being taken over by doctors with an exciting new theory of why bloodletting and purging would cure disease.

      • For politicians, Economics is mostly a matter of justifying doing what they already want to do. They choose their course of action then find the economics theory to support it.

        Somewhat like the way middle-aged men choose sports cars.

        I will note that this is very much how Scott Adams has defined the process of persuasion. We reach our conclusions and then find reasons for those conclusions.

        • snelson134

          “Humans are not rational beings; Humans are rationalizing beings.” — Spock, in “Spock Must Die.”

  20. Pingback: Why is that genre dead? | Mad Genius Club

  21. Jeff Mauldin

    I’m not so sure that economics, at least as now practiced, is really good at explaining what has already happened. To explain the recent housing finance crisis I hear “money grabbing capitalist corporation” related explanations from leftists, “greedy loan reneging home buyers” from kids-these-days types and “politically correct government regulaions forced bad loans” from libertarians. The explanations for the great depression taught me in school as obvious explanations are disputed and more and seem more questionable to me now. I think economics explaining what happened is more of a history written by the winner type of thing. Whichever economic story gets the most traction wins the day whether true or not. And besides, if something can’t guide you as to what you should do in the future does it have any utility at all? Perhaps the only useful things are broad rules like somebody mentioned earlier. When price goes up demand goes down. More regulation squashes and distorts economic choices. I especially like one from Morgan Housel: people respond to incentives. Incentive some behavior and you get more of it, good or bad.

    • It depends on whether Economics is like a torch which can be used to shed light or bring heat — and most politicians much prefer to bring heat.

      Thomas Sowell write an excellent book on the origins of the Housing Crisis, a book generally ignored by polemicists on all sides.

      As for those general rules … not always. When price goes up relative to perceived value, demand goes down. See Bitcoin, IPOs and Dutch tulips for what happens when price goes up but perceived value rises faster. Now if only I could move those twenty issues of Howard the Duck #1 that I bought when the price reached $5. Heck, if only I had sold them when the price reached $10 or when the market topped at $20.

    • Of course, the answer could be D. All of the above.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Yes. Elephant.

        That the Left is fundamentally deeply wrong in their analysis and proposals does not mean that they don’t sometimes manage to usefully observe reality.

        They are persuasive precisely because some of the ills they discuss do at time appear real.

    • I’m not sure that really is Economics proper, rather than making a story out of economics– like the difference between saying “Challenger exploded because (human motivation)” vs “Challenger exploded when an o-ring failed, causing X, Y and Z.”

      For physics, it’s like the difference between saying “the guy was really psyched up, so he threw harder which made the ball ________”, vs “the initial acceleration of the ball was X rather than Y, which caused the ball too ______”.

      It just skips the stuff they figure is relevant and hands over conclusions.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Challenger exploded because (human mistake).

        Motivations can be tricky to establish, and thus must be considered uncertain.

        Your investigation team of outside engineering experts will give you a pretty reliable prediction of what actually happened, physically.

        You ask everyone involved why they made the decisions they did. They will give the best excuse they ever thought of for each decision. They are unlikely to leave out a better justification for the decision.

        Since it is physics, you can get fairly reliable models for what the effects of alternative decisions would have been. Compare the decisions made to the decisions which would not have produced a failure, or would have produced a less catastrophic failure, and you can make conclusions about mistakes.

        Finding the events that led to the bad result is hindsight. Studying the results of alternate decisions is forecasting. Economics forecasting maybe best described as subjective garbage.

        Perhaps the fundamental mistake in every public economic policy is failure to realize that the uncertainties mean that we do not, and maybe can not, have the tools to do informed design. It is the reason Chesterton’s Fence often gives me pause when I start building up steam for one of my radical conservative policy proposals.

        • Motivations can be tricky to establish, and thus must be considered uncertain.

          There’s an entire branch of ethical philosophy that’s basically beating this point to DEATH, and folks won’t get it.

          They keep forgetting that they are people, too, and if someone else’s choices are tainted by desires– so are their own….
          /sigh