Spent the morning writing


And you know what? It feels great.

I sorta expected my wife to push me to return to the convention today and make another go of it–socialize! network!–but no. Today has been work day, and I’m happy about it.

Anyway, regarding something said during a panel at Norwescon yesterday: Lou Anders was talking about ebooks, paper books, and pricing, and he said that one of the things keeping prices of paper books low was large print runs. If ebooks drive down sales of paper books, he’ll have to choose between a) smaller, more expensive print runs, which means higher prices, or b) the same old large runs of books, but with most of them stored in a warehouse and earning him a tax hit at the end of the year.

But I thought there was a c) that he was missing. If printers want to keep their businesses alive, they’re going to need to adapt to smaller print runs and downward price pressures. It seems like new technology would be the ticket here. (note: I know next to nothing about the current technology used by book printers, so clearly I’m typing this with my ass.)

I don’t mean printers in stores (although that would be tempting) because that takes forever. We’re a long way from having one or more of those in a store, handling large numbers of books at once.

But I suspect the price pressure from ebooks is going to hit printing presses especially hard. Is anyone familiar with the current state of their technology? So much has changed with printing at home in the last ten years (although obviously that’s very different) has book printing tech been changing too?

8 thoughts on “Spent the morning writing

  1. I can speak to this a little bit because the RPG industry is all about reasonably small print runs and the costs of that. From that perspective, I can say that printing has absolutely gotten less expensive and more accessible on the small end over the past decade or so.

    However, if this is a result of any technological improvements, I don’t know about them. The two factors I do know about come down to China and the Internet (which on some level are the same thing).

    First, it’s become reasonable for a publisher to consider doing a, say, 5000 book run overseas (overseas usually meaning China) so right off the bat, there’s some real price competition there.

    Second, it has become SOOOOOO much easier to shop around. Pricing of printing used to be a mysterious affair of who knew who, but as prices started to appear on the internet, the added transparency and communication has driven down prices. Small volume is still pricey, but it’s way better than it once was.

    Tangential to this has been the success of Lulu and the general idea of Print on Demand as a service, like a super-kinkos, rather than the traditional “Vanity Press” model. For small publishers, it allows a very low cost of entry if they have a product which they think won’t have a large audience. POD actually shares many elements in common with e-publishing in that regard. While POD is not impacting pricing directly (because, per unit, it’s the most expensive option), it’s created a backdoor into small, specialized markets, and demystified certain practicalities of publishing for many people.

    The future may be uncertain, but for the moment, there are a lot of good things going on if you want to make physical books.

    -Rob D.

  2. Brian

    That’s a bit interesting to read even if it doesn’t personally affect me at the moment. The only thing that concerns me is the talk over the last year or three about e-books slowing pushing physical books out. It’s not that I’m completely unwilling to read an e-book, sometimes it’s the fastest and only way to find and read a book, but honestly, I love the feel of a paperback book in my hands, being able to curl up with it and get lost in this or that books’ world.

    E-books just have never really caught me the same way, and e-readers, while admittedly useful, have never really seemed all that great. With a physical book, I buy it once, and then I can pick it up off a shelf anytime I want and read as long as I have a light source, but with an e-book you have those nagging little doubts in the back of your mind about power levels, file corruption and potential viruses, which I don’t really see as a conducive environment to a great reading experience.

    That all being said, I will read an e-book if it’s the only way, but I’d much rather continue to see paperback books coming out for $6-8/ea even if I have to worry a little bit about reserving a copy due to smaller print runs. At least then, I will still be able to curl up in a big overstuffed chair or a bed and enjoy the book in the that feels most natural to me.

    Also, thanks for the new universe to enjoy Mr. Connolly, it certainly is interesting thus far and the fact that you haven’t said much about the system of magic and the Outside, is I think a good thing. It means that you aren’t locking yourself into a single possible interpretation of that universe and then having to work to fit things into it. It allows you in my opinion to have the flexibility to do exactly what you want with the series as you get a better idea, rather than trying to rewrite that system later on when you have a new idea.

  3. Thank you for the kind words. I should mention, though, that most of the background magical stuff for the Twenty Palaces setting is already worked out. It just hasn’t been shared with the POV character yet.

    Let me ask you this: What if you could buy a home printer that could also bind your books? It’d be like any home printer, but you’d send an ebook file to it and an hour later or so would walk away with a paper book. Would you want something like that?

  4. Brian

    Actually I think that’s a really interesting idea, but of course there would have to be certain technical and monetary questions answered first. I think most important is, ink, binding, paper, and cover costs, as well as how big the printer is, and how much it cost(although this is a little less important as in the long term I imagine it would make a fantastic investment) and a few things I probably didn’t think of.

    But assuming that between the cost of the e-book, and the cost of materials, and the cost of the printer spread out over a long period, if the cost was reasonable enough, let’s say for example on par with current paperback prices, maybe $1-2 more, then yes, I could definitely see this as an alternative. I especially like the idea that once I’ve read the copy I printed out enough to make it fall apart, I’ll still have the e-book stored on a removable backup drive for example and can easily print off a new copy for a lot less than the first one. This has a lot of appeal to me as I’ve had to replace a few books over the years due to excessive reading, water damage, accidents, loss, and sometimes just being too hard on the books themselves. And I have to say, paying another $8 for a book I already owned, is kind of irritating.

    But, on the whole, I like the idea, and I could see it as an alternative to authors having to find publishers or printers in order to release their work to the public. In fact, you could almost see something like that as the rebirth of the printing press(albeit the e-book has already done that) as new authors could immediately upload their novels to their own websites and marketplace websites in order to get their work out there.

    The only problems I really see with that idea are these. First, even with a Digital Rights Management system in place, someone will find a way around it, and then just like with e-books now, people will download them from torrent and index sites, and then print of their own copies while you get nothing for your work.

    Second, I think the sudden ability for so many new authors to put their work out there in a way that people can immediately print their own copy up will potentially degrade the quality of work. As annoying as they may be, those editors and publishers, and focus groups, and beta-readers(not sure what the word is for them,) they are necessary in order to help each author fulfill their potential, just as much as the fan reviews do. Think about how many potentially great series would be ruined because someone released it 6 months, a year, 5 years too early because of the ease with which they could get into the marketplace in this scenario. Even if they went back years later after they had attained a certain renown and a more polished writing style, who would want to buy another copy of a book that was initially poorly done just because the author is a better writer now than he was back then.

    I think I got what I was trying to say there across, but to be honest, despite my love of reading and my willingness to increase my vocabulary, I frequently find myself having trouble putting to paper what is floating around in my head.

    And by the way, thanks for the response, and the interesting question you posed.

  5. Brian

    PS – I never really understood why e-book prices so closely mirror physical book prices. I can understand some of the pricing on a physical book because you are talking about the paper, the ink, running the typeset machines, the binding, the artwork, the minimum size print runs, shipping costs, etc..

    But with an e-book, you could get any English Lit. grad student who needed to make some extra money type it up for you and format it, then post it at a marketplace website such as Amazon.com or B&N.com and save what I would imagine to be a fair amount of money. And of course from the consumer end, all it would take is for your hard drive to become faulty and suddenly you’re missing hundreds of dollars worth of e-books you purchased. And unless I’m mistaken, not having purchased e-books before, I don’t imagine you can go back to the website you purchased them from and tell them you’re computer died and you need a replacement copy.

    At least with a physical copy if your house burns down, or floods, or ripped apart my some other natural disaster, you get an insurance check which depending on the cost of other home repairs and necessities, could cover the replacement cost of a portion of your personal library.

  6. E-books and p-books cost just about the same because most of the cost comes from making the words, not the actual paper book. Creating paper books is actually pretty cheap, as is shipping them in bulk. What’s more, creating a hard cover is only slightly more expensive than a mass market paperback–only two or three dollars more.

    The reason hc costs triple what mmpb costs (and ebooks cost about the same as mmpb) is that those prices are what the market will bear.

    That’s how it seems, anyway.

    Oh, and you can’t have an intern format a novel; they actually have book designers. They’re people who carefully lay out the words on the page to make them easier to read.

  7. Brian

    Is the book designer the one who types the book up for e-book release as well or is that yet another person getting paid to take part in the process of publication? That’s kind of where I was going with that comment. Assuming that it’s another person, then having an intern type it up, for some kind of job training, or extra credit for his college course, you would cut out one person from the process who is having to be paid to do the work. Of course there are other issues there. Someone would probably have to go back and check his work since he isn’t being certified by a company to do that kind of work, as well as he would undoubtedly have other work he would need to do that would limit the time and effort he would be able to put into transcribing the novel into a digital copy. And then of course, you would also potentially be putting the person he is replacing out of work, so that’s a downside at least for that guy. But just a random thought all in all.

    But thanks for the information, it’s interesting to hear how a book gets from the author’s brain to my hands.

    As to what you were saying before about the system of magic in the Twenty Palaces universe, I just meant that even if you have it already written down and planned out, by not revealing it to the reader through the PoV of the main character, it allows you to change it as necessary if you come up with a new idea on how it functions rather than trying to retroactively change it in a way that might alienate current fans.

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