john scalzi

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Fellow idiots.

[Vox Day is] a fine con man, in other words, and Correia and Torgersen fell for his con. Day was looking for a way back into relevance in science fiction and fantasy and they very happily gave it to him, and didn’t realize until after the Hugo awards were actually announced, and the backlash against the slates in full force, just how thoroughly they had been played. Torgersen delirously announced after the Hugos came out that the Puppies had “stolen the Enterprise”; he wasn’t aware that he and Correia were the redshirts in that scenario, or just how much and how closely the two of them would then be associated with Day’s feculent character and actions.

Well, now they know. At this point Correia and Torgersen have to decide whether they want to be known either as Day’s fellow travelers, or his useful idiots. Or both! It could be both. Neither of these options makes them look good; nor, obviously, fits with their own self-image of being Brave Men Fighting the Good Fight™. But in fact, they aren’t fighting a good fight, and in fact, they got played.

–John Scalzi on useful travellers.

Scalzi is back and he is mad. He’s usually a little more… coy about straight-up trash-talking other people in the industry, but I guess it’s not Srs Bizness Gloves Are Off time.

2017-08-23T09:53:40+10:0021st April, 2015|Tags: fandom, hugo awards, john scalzi, sff|

Interchangeable units.

Amazon’s math of “you will sell 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99″ is also suspect, because it appears to come with the ground assumption that books are interchangable units of entertainment, each equally as salable as the next, and that pricing is the only thing consumers react to. They’re not, and it’s not. Someone who wants the latest John Ringo novel on the day of release will not likely find the latest Jodi Picoult book a satisfactory replacement, or vice versa; likewise, someone who wants a eBook now may be perfectly happy to pay $14.99 to get itnow, in which case the publisher and author should be able to charge what the market will bear, and adjust the prices down (or up! But most likely down) as demand moves about.

(This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.)

–A John Scalzi book is a John Scalzi book.

I think Scalzi is mostly right here although he is only focused on one use case; unsurprisingly, as an established author, it’s the use case that benefits established authors.1 It’s true that if I’m going into the bookstore (or digital equivalent) to buy the latest from a particular author, I’m not going to be satisfied with something by someone else. (Well, I mean. I might still buy the second book, but I’ll still come back later for the first.)

But that’s not the only reason people walk into bookstores. Sometimes books are interchangeable units, at least within certain constraints. So maybe I’m going in looking for “an urban fantasy” or “a political non-fiction” or “something to read on the plane”, and, in those cases, maybe one book is as good as another. For debut authors, this is the use case I’d say most of us are interested in, because we’re in a position where we can’t just rely on either existing fans buying our stuff because it’s our stuff, or people hunting specifically for us because they keep reading our articles on the interblargs and finally got curious. We need to be an interchangeable product, and that’s arguably when price sensitivity comes into play.2

(There’s also a pride thing in here; authors don’t like to think of their beautiful baby books as being interchangeable in the eyes of consumers, but I guess that’s neither here nor there.)

Either way, definitely A+ to Scalzi’s last paragraph on cost of production. Because, shock horror! Market economics doesn’t actually inherently mean constant downwards pressure on prices. Think about Apple, for example, who are rumoured to make something like 80% profit on the sale price of their devices, who are the most expensive player in their market, and yet who do continuous healthy business. (And yes, for those who don’t follow the tech press; there are constantly articles about how Apple “has” to release lower-cost products to survive against cheap Windows/Android alternatives. Shockingly, Apple remains profitable despite not doing this.)

Of course, Apple is also, a) extremely good at branding and marketing, and b) in control of most of its distribution channels. So… yeah. Go figure.

  1. Scalzi does this a lot, in my experience. He’s a great advocate if you’ve been in the biz for a decade or so, not so great if you’re just starting out. Which is not something I suspect he’d be enthused to hear… []
  2. This is also why indie authors have traditionally been so obsessed over price; for a long time, it was their discoverability. []
2017-08-23T09:51:41+10:0013th September, 2014|Tags: books, john scalzi, publishing|

Just because it already exists doesn’t mean it always will.

The uninformed may fulminate about how publishers are parasitic middlemen, but in point of fact my publisher does a lot of work for me: Editing, copy-editing, art and design, marketing and publicity and distribution. I argue with my publisher on what my cut of the takings should be (these are called negotiations) but there is an exchange of services. So what is the exchange of service a subscription model would offer me? Does it offer enough to compensate for another potential slice to be taken out of my income? Does it offer enough to replace or at least augment the distrubtion model which already exists, and from which I benefit?

–John Scalzi looks for the value proposition.

For the record, I think Scalzi’s formula is right but his maths is wrong, i.e. he’s right to ask “what value do subscription services offer me [the author]”, but I think he’s wrong in the “slice to be taken out of my income” comment.

Or, I dunno. Maybe not. But if it really is “maybe not” then it’s because of the privilege Scalzi enjoys by being an established brand (and, to a lesser extent, the demographics of his target market). Basically, there’s an assumption in here about money coming in from “specific readers”, i.e. people who are looking to specifically obtain a Scalzi book, versus “general readers”, i.e. people just looking for a book.  Authors whose sales tip towards specific readers probably would, in fact, do better on average with raw sales rather than subscription royalties. But authors who are still mostly getting sales from general readers–and these are going to be the midlisters and debuts–would, in my opinion, gain advantage from the discoverability of being involved in a subscription service.

Maybe the solution in here would be to only include some of an author’s books in a sub service; the first n in any ongoing series would seem to be the sweet-spot here, similar to how selfpub authors traditionally use free book promos. That way you can (hopefully) get readers hooked on the “free” first read enough to cough up for subsequent instalments.

Of course, this is sort of irrelevant under KU’s current model for tradpub books (full royalty either immediately or after 10%). A model which is probably 99% of the reason why Big 5 publishers don’t have any incentive to officially join the program; Big 5 knows they have the content Amazon needs to attract people onto the KU platform. At the moment (standard caveats about posts queues, etc.) Amazon is including that content in the service as if any read counts as a full sale. There is no negotiated term Big 5 could make with Amazon that would be better than this, meaning, as it stands, they have no incentive to participate as official partners. If the service proves successful, I’m sure this will shift, and Amazon will start locking Big 5 books out unless the publishers sign official agreements; inevitably ones on worse terms than what they’re currently getting.

Big 5 have been lagging behind the ‘Zon at every turn so far, so I don’t hold out much hope this one will be different. The wildcard here will be whatever Apple does with Booklamp, particularly given their relationship with the Big 5 seems to be more amicable.

No matter what happens, I think the bottom line is that ebook subscription services are shaping up to be the Hot New Disruption. Resist and perish, and all that.

(Sorry, libraries…)

2017-08-23T09:51:41+10:004th September, 2014|Tags: amazon, apple, john scalzi, publishing|

Publishing is a business.

Publishing is a business. As a writer, you are enaging in business with others, sometimes including large corporations. […] They will seek to extract the maximum benefit from you that they can, and from others with whom they engage in business, consistent with their current set of business goals. This does not make them evil — it makes them business entities (they might also be evil, or might not be, but that’s a different thing). If you’re treating these businesses as friends, you’re likely to get screwed.

And for God’s sake, don’t confuse being friends with people at those businesses with being friends with the business.

–John Scalzi, publishing still business, film at 11.

2017-08-23T09:53:41+10:0025th August, 2014|Tags: john scalzi, publishing|

In the system.

In fact, you don’t actively have to go out of your way to discriminate in order to participate in discrimination — that’s kind of the point. Some of that is already built into the system that everyone is part of. You get it, positively and/or negatively, no matter what; everyone does. You may then also decide to support discrimination in one way or another, and that’s the thing that changes you from being (for example) sexist to being a sexist. But to deny that baseline discrimination we all deal with because you’re not by your own lights actively trying to promote that discrimination is silly. It’s there, it’s real and it’s measurable, and you take part in it, one way or another.

–John Scalzi is sexist (and so are you… and me too).

2017-08-23T09:51:40+10:0022nd June, 2014|Tags: culture, john scalzi|

Critical thinking is a rare and valuable skill.

When you like a problematic thing, rather than reflexively defending it with the “I like it and therefore it can’t be bad and why are you making me feel bad about it,” response, go ahead and ask yourself why you like it even though you acknowledge it’s got problems. You might find after questioning it, you like it less — or more, because you’ve thought it through.

–John Scalzi likes problematic things.

2017-08-23T09:51:39+10:003rd June, 2014|Tags: culture, john scalzi|

Scalzi on “direct funding” in repatriation for piracy.

Waring for a Reddit link, but a pretty interesting read.

I know there’s a lot of rhetoric flying around about agents and publishers being parasites sucking the blood from poor, anaemic authors or whatever but, honestly? Not so much, hey.

There’s two factors in play here, asides from the issues of paying authors for their work. The first is paying all the supporting roles money for their work, and there are a lot more of these individuals than most people probably realise. Aside from the agent and editor you’ve got cover designers and interior designers. A non-zero number of copy and line editors who may be different to the developmental/structural editor. Lawyers who negotiate contracts. Accountants who prepare royalty statements. Sales reps who talk up books to vendors. Marketing and publicity people who help with the same. HR and IT and personal assistants and receptionists who keep the internal wheels of corporate life rolling. Hell, even the janitors and cleaners who keep offices liveable are getting paid out of the non-authorial cut of a book’s sale.

Are you telling me authors should get paid but janitors don’t deserve to? Because, if so, I kinda think you’re maybe a bit of an asshole. Sorry.

The second factor is that the non-author cut of a book’s sale also goes into the pot to fund the purchase of future books. While I’m sure there are plenty of authors who would disagree, I personally think this is a good thing; if I can do well enough with my own work to start up the career of a single other new author then that’s something I’d be pretty damn proud of. And it’s also something I feel that I “owe”, having been the beneficiary of exactly the same system.

So yes. Authors write the words but the words really are only a tiny cut of what makes a book a book. And everyone deserves compensation for their efforts, not just me.

2015-09-07T08:01:26+10:0020th April, 2014|Tags: books, john scalzi, publishing, writing|

See also: “social justice warrior”.

“Political Correctness” is a catchphrase which today means one of two things. The first is, “I have done no substantial thinking on this topic in at least twenty years and therefore anything I say past this point cannot be treated with any seriousness.” The second is “It is more important for me to continue my ingrained bigotry than it is for you not to be denigrated or offended by my bigotry, because I am lazy and do not wish to be bothered.” If in fact you do not intend to convey either of these two things, you should not use, nor sign on to a document which uses, the phrase “political correctness.”

–Scalzi says ten things.

2017-08-23T09:51:38+10:0018th April, 2014|Tags: culture, john scalzi|