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April 2, 2010 3:26 AM   Subscribe

Cory Doctorow gives a talk at Bloomsbury on book pricing in the internet age (47min video)
posted by fearfulsymmetry (132 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was going to do my usual steampunk snark (and, yes, I do claim first use of that phrase)..but I decided, what the heck, I've got my coffee, I'll actually watch this before I comment.

But, I am afraid that, after about 10 minutes of it, I came to the realization that Cory may think more about profit points than he does about writing.....

Somewhere in my naive heart, I want my authors to be passionate about the topic they write about, passionate about the art of writing and about their love of communicating... I want them to starve to death as they bare their souls in wonderful strings of letters and words....

Maybe if Cory wrote books about economics, there would be a sync..
posted by HuronBob at 4:04 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anyone want to summarize?
posted by delmoi at 4:16 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


But, I am afraid that, after about 10 minutes of it, I came to the realization that Cory may think more about profit points than he does about writing.....

When you clicked on a link to a talk about book pricing, what did you expect to find?
posted by DU at 4:27 AM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


47 minutes? I'm with delmoi, can we get a summary here?
posted by Charmian at 4:49 AM on April 2, 2010


Anyone want to summarize?

Sure.

It's a 47min video of a talk by Cory Doctorow, about book pricing in the internet age.
posted by Usher at 4:51 AM on April 2, 2010 [27 favorites]


I was going to complain about how I don't have time to watch videos and wish that someone had posted a transcript instead, but then I realized I don't care that much.
posted by goatdog at 4:55 AM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Somewhere in my naive heart, I want my authors to be passionate about the topic they write about, passionate about the art of writing and about their love of communicating... I want them to starve to death as they bare their souls in wonderful strings of letters and words....

these words for no reason that I can articulate properly have simply and utterly a) silenced me b) left me speechless c) touched me somewhere deep inside, gently and softly as a whispering breeze that sometimes, but not quite, on a warm still summer night, on a porch, might rustle, for a moment, a leaf, one against the other and then, softly... disappear into the darkness, like a glow worm.

odd, i'm left with a tangible memory of the frog prince by disney, just seen on a flight, where the flickering glow worms light the way for tiana and whatsisname back to bourbon street
posted by infini at 4:57 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anyone want to summarize?

Well, he's giving free electronic copies of his novels away on his website, and allows the public to put the content in a different digital format. What are you going to expect?
posted by ijsbrand at 4:59 AM on April 2, 2010


I read Markers not too long ago, and while the ideas were great he's just not a very good writer. A sex scene written by Cory Doctrow is about the most un-sexy thing you can imagine. 47 minutes on book pricing in the internet age is tl;dw.
posted by fixedgear at 5:02 AM on April 2, 2010


I read Markers not too long ago, and while the ideas were great he's just not a very good writer.

If you mean Makers, I started reading that. I agree with half of your assessment. I didn't really notice any ideas that I could identify as his. I found some decade(s) old worship of the "startup" and even older ideas on economic dystopias and then gave up.
posted by DU at 5:06 AM on April 2, 2010


Aces! Another thread where the usual suspects can piss on Corey Doctorow! Are we going for range or volume this time, swell internet pals?

I am certain, as always, that fascinating and insightful commentary will ensue, rather than kneejerk snark. It's almost my bedtime, but I can't wait to catch up on unread comments in the morning!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:27 AM on April 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


I hate it when the plastic rapier of my sarcasm is dulled to wobbly rubber by bad spelling. Especially since I AM AN AWESOME SPELLER.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:33 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


A sex scene written by Cory Doctrow is about the most un-sexy thing you can imagine.

On the single occasion I could force myself to read Mister Doctorow's drivel, I read one sex scene so compelling that I have been unable to erase it from my memory, and can quote it accurately here, word for word. So here it is:

Vigorous sex ensued.

Yep, that is it, all three words.

Mister Doctorow's game is like many pseudo-hipsters, he enjoys manipulating the public into paying attention to pointless things, he gets off when he successfully directs peoples' attention into something so completely pointless that it could only be a measure of his influence. Coming up next on BoingBoing, a collection of 1930s Bakelite swizzle sticks from Lithuania, and their implications for modern day Trotskyism!

tl;dr everything Mister Doctorow produces is tl;dr.

P.S. I am inordinately proud that Mister Doctorow publicly declared his intention to punch me in the face if he ever meets me in person.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:39 AM on April 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


~~ La la la la. I've checked out everything posted on MetaFilter today. What, ho? 47 minutes of opining on a topic that interests me mildly. Hmmm. Watch, or not watch? Much easier just to see what everyone else thinks of the video.~~

Well? Not so much apparently. Saves me 47 minutes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:41 AM on April 2, 2010


Yup. Fascinating. And insightful.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:41 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, I did get introduced to that delightful phrase: "plastic rapier of my sarcasm."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:43 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I believe the plastic rapier of sarcasm is usually embedded in an olive or maraschino cherry that is submerged in delicious alcohol.
posted by sciurus at 6:36 AM on April 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


HuronBob:

"Somewhere in my naive heart, I want my authors to be passionate about the topic they write about, passionate about the art of writing and about their love of communicating... I want them to starve to death as they bare their souls in wonderful strings of letters and words...."

I'm not at all sure one has to starve to prove one's love of writing. Also, if one is starving, one is not likely to spend a whole lot of time thinking about writing because the primary thought one's having is shit, I'd like to eat now.

Beyond this, a facility for words and a facility for understanding business are not competing competence sets; if one is lucky one can have both without either compromising the other.
posted by jscalzi at 6:43 AM on April 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


I believe the plastic rapier of sarcasm is usually embedded in an olive or maraschino cherry that is submerged in delicious alcohol.

And it is almost always clear red or blue or green.

Who makes those things, anyway? I suddenly want to make a documentary film about them!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:45 AM on April 2, 2010



P.S. I am inordinately proud that Mister Doctorow publicly declared his intention to punch me in the face if he ever meets me in person.


I'd be interested in hearing that story.
posted by orville sash at 6:47 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm actually finding the talk quite fascinating, and I'm not really that interested in economics or business models or publishing, etc, although I am reasonably interested in it, just out of curiosity. I do read boing boing and have always found them to be quite anal and annoying with their obsession over privacy and also somewhat insensitive in their championing of illegal downloads of work by artists who have expressed a wish for their work not to be downloaded, consequently I am not that favourably inclined towards Cory and thought I wouldn't like this talk. But it is full of interesting analysis. I'm not sure how much of the economical analysis is new, but I guess at least some of the parts related to the internet are at least vaguely new. He also has some interesting anecdotes about people flying to other countries to get cheaper flights to third countries than are available from where they live. It is quite an insightful talk, to my mind, and quite interesting, not because I take a special interest in the subject, but just because it is quite interesting finding out things about the opaque world of economics. I didn't really expect him to know that much, I thought he'd be all "Down with outmoded business models! Long live the Pirate Bay!" etc, but he actually comes across as quite conservative, although I'm only halfway through the talk so far.
posted by rubber duck at 7:06 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's OK, Scalzi, we'll buy some merch. That ought to feed your muse.
posted by Wolof at 7:10 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


So wait, 47 minutes on the economies of book selling, by someone who is neither an economist, a selling author, or a book seller?
posted by orthogonality at 7:16 AM on April 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Generally speaking, listening to Cory talk about the publishing industry is kind of like listening to a candy striper explain the advances in virtual hip-replacement surgery. I know they've seen the machine work and I haven't, but they've never actually ever been, or will ever be, at the controls. A third-hand account is still a third-hand account, no matter who delivers it.

But it's Cory talking for forty-seven minutes.

Yeah, I know, he gives talks. Long ones. He's a pro at it. I've seen him do it once; very entertaining. And teh nerdy chicks fawn over him. It's a great racket if you can get in, but this is all coming from the same guy who rails about Apple's [very successful] roach motel business model and doesn't want you to be unhappy buying an iPad all the while, as we can clearly see in the video, Mr. Doctorow himself uses Apple products.

I know, he's just harking back to simpler, utopian times when everyone had a Big Wheel and hanging out at a dojo was the alternative to being a drug-addled troublemaker. And the organic PBR ran free from the faucets...

He's a fucking hipster. A tea-partier who rails against socialism while he uses the free internet at the library to file his weekly unemployment compensation claim. Yes, it's great to have competing perspectives and functional insight, but Cory has opinion and if his track record is any measurement of that, I wouldn't be betting my hopes and dreams on a guy who tells you to sell while he's buying.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:25 AM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


HuronBob, your naive heart just got pwned.

How about this: we want our authorial heroes to focus their rhetorical, narrative, and even practical talents on something other than making money. That is to say, we don't want to read novels about the writers struggle to monetize his ideas about monetizing his ideas, nor do we want to watch long videos about this topic.

Like many literate folks, I'm fascinated and ashamed by the death spiral of the mid-list authors I loved as a young man. I paid close attention when changes in US tax law disallowed tax write-offs for unsold stock, which shrunk print runs, and doomed the mid-list to a slow and agonizing death or to license work. The example I think of is Eric Nylund: dude wrote some seriously great novels on his own before he got pulled into the Microsoft HALO license because, well, he couldn't make enough money writing his own prose. I have similar anxieties about MeFi's own Charlie Stross, although he claims to enjoy the fantasy serials.

I'm crossing my fingers that ebooks will end up empowering the mid-list rather than further deepening the authorial class gap between new authors and blockbusters. The publishing world is a microcosm of the destruction of the middle class, and I care about it deeply, and I understand why authors who must eat and pay the mortgage care about it deeply.

I'd still prefer it if those authors spent their writing time on topics they're better suited to, perhaps from a division of labor standpoint. Leave the business to economists and agents. Nothing Doctorow says is going to change the industry, though for some strange reason he continues to accrue cultural capital for this not-making-a-difference.

(NOT-DOCTOROW-IST: I'm not a Doctorow basher, as I've liked his novels, but I do worry about this other role of his as geek thought-leader.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:28 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


btw, what intrigues me is the fact that one of my former co-workers (which reminds me of languagehat since he friended me the day i was a tad upset by actions of the above mentioned person, still I digress)

ja, as I was saying, this guy loved to read doctrow's stuff on his iphone - a very new habit afaics, so i asked him why was he reading them so diligently. he said cos a) it was free b) convenient to download to his iphone and so c) gave him something to read on flights and stuff. okay, but how are the books themselves, are they worth reading? his answer was interesting in light of the general consensus in this thread. he said that while the writing was not the greatest he'd read, some of the ideas were pretty interesting.
posted by infini at 7:28 AM on April 2, 2010


Orthogonality:

Cory Doctorow's a New York Times bestseller and his novel Little Brother has sold in the six figures. He also worked in bookselling in his dark past. He also follows publishing pretty closely in a professional sense and writes about the subject frequently for magazines and newspapers

Wolof:

My daughter's college education fund thanks you.
posted by jscalzi at 7:30 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


HuronBob: You can like or not like Cory or his writing, that's a matter of personal taste. But for god's sake, you can't fault him, of all people, for being too concerned with profit. There probably isn't an author anywhere ever who has given away more of his work for free than Cory has. Maybe he saw it as the best route to future riches, or maybe he saw it as an ethical imperative. I know him a little, and my guess would be that it's both of those things. But either way, the fact remains that if you wanted to you could get a copy of everything he's ever written without paying him a single penny.

So if he seems to be concerned with book sales and profits while he's giving a talk on fucking book sales and fucking profits you should probably chalk that up to the necessities of the subject, and not make broad sweeping imbecilic generalizations about what Cory is and is not concerned with.

Executive Summary: Don't be a fucking tool.
posted by rusty at 7:36 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


rusty: "you could get a copy of everything he's ever written without paying him a single penny."

But, you can bet, somewhere along the line, he's making a little change...

Executive Summary: really? you needed to go there?
posted by HuronBob at 7:47 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cory Doctorow's a New York Times bestseller and his novel Little Brother has sold in the six figures.

Who writes execrably and who self-promotes relentlessly.
posted by orthogonality at 7:56 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


BUT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, HE'S SOLD A LOT; HE MUST BE GOOD.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:58 AM on April 2, 2010


Well, I've watched to the end of the video now, the second half wasn't quite as good. He did explain at length how DRM was dumb in a way that was perfectly convincing, and he said that publishing in the future would be similar to publishing now, but he didn't really outline a way forward for the business-minded publisher except to not use DRM or stealth-DRM such as contractual and IP restrictions on ebooks, not worry about piracy as it raised the median price by taken the bottom end out of the market (people who would pay the least), and try to use social networking (or something similar) to market books by authors who weren't very good at selling themselves. So nothing earth-shattering. He mentioned that markets have shrunk as new formats have been introduced, and suggested that publishers should stop trying to use "price discrimination" and instead concentrate on market elasticity or something, that is, finding new markets, and also recommended keeping distribution chains non-consolidated, with numerous independent and competing distributors, as a way to maintain leverage against distributors. It seemed sensible and logical enough to me, and as I said I wasn't especially a fan of his before watching the video. Not sure why there is so much hostility towards him really, or why all of the comments are about him rather than the positions he was outlining.
posted by rubber duck at 8:04 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


jsavimbi: "doesn't want you to be unhappy buying an iPad all the while, as we can clearly see in the video, Mr. Doctorow himself uses Apple products"

... but not an iPad. So I don't really get your point; one can quite easily be a fan of some of Apple's older, more open products, while simultaneously being against some or their more recent sealed boxes. This is not even particularly uncommon, since Apple picked up a lot of adherents (including, IIRC, Doctorow and a few other notables) when they brought out OS X. A lot of the most vehement iPhone and iPad hate comes from people who only jumped on the Apple bandwagon when Jobs was doing his open-platform dog-and-pony show back in the early 2000s. Since then Apple has taken a rather decisive change in strategy (arguably, a reversion to their traditional preference for closed systems), one that has been very successful, but pissed off a lot of new converts in the process.

I agree that Doctorow is certainly an insufferable nerd-hipster, but I'm not sure his comments about Apple really have much to do with it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:17 AM on April 2, 2010


Rubber duck...

I think the hostility comes from a sense (at least on my part, I'm not speaking for others) that, at the bottom of a lot of his presence online is a sales pitch that you're not supposed to perceive as a sales pitch. It goes like this.

"Hey, Rubber Duck, buddy, we're both on the internet cutting edge, we're pretty cool, eh? We both dress pretty casual, I've got my hair cut real short and ride a fixie. Let's hang out all over the friggin online place, talk about cool stuff, put brass and leather on everything we own, and talk about science fiction, 'cuz, well, we're cool, right???? and...oh yeah, here's a book I wrote, and a website with ads, and, I'll sort of give it to you, but not really..."

And, at the end, there's just a bad taste about it all....
posted by HuronBob at 8:18 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mister Doctorow's game is like many pseudo-hipsters...

So... He's sincere?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:21 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


othogonality:

"Who writes execrably and who self-promotes relentlessly."

Neither of which is here nor there about your assertion that he's not a "selling author," that being something you held out to imply he lacks credibility regarding the topic on which he was giving a speech.

As for his writing execrably, that's a matter of taste, but the idea that his self-promoting is a strike against him as a writer seems a little off to me. A willingness for and a competence in self-promotion is often the difference between a writer who continues to publish and one who get dropped by a publisher. This goes back to HuronBob's desire for authors to starve while writing beautiful thoughts; it's a fine sentiment, except for the author.

Beyond this, Cory is a public figure who pops up frequently, so it's possible (although wrong) to cast everything he does as explicit "self-promotion," particularly if one has some pre-set antipathy toward him.
posted by jscalzi at 8:22 AM on April 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


Not sure why there is so much hostility towards him really

I think it's the years of relentless self-promo, combined with the varied $YOUR_ENTHUSIASMS_SUCK, the middling talent, and then the poop on top of the sundae was the association with the Violet Blue incident on BB standing in stark contrast to his years of vocal advocacy of transparency in all things internet.

I do like that you talked about the video and the ideas he proffered therein.
posted by everichon at 8:31 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Truman Capote, who knew a thing or two about self-promotion, wrote: "Self-promotion does not equal hackdom; it may simply mean that the artist would like to buy groceries, and often enough it seems to be the mark of an artist who takes his or her writing very seriously indeed."
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:41 AM on April 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


"Hey, Rubber Duck, buddy, we're both on the internet cutting edge, we're pretty cool, eh? We both dress pretty casual, I've got my hair cut real short and ride a fixie.

Let's save the fixie bashing for a bike FPP. One will be along shortly.
posted by fixedgear at 8:43 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would like to add that, while I am not much into Doctorow, I don't hew to the description I wrote above--that's just my sense of where the animus comes from. Remember, MeFites have gleefully piled upon complete nobodies for "crimes" far slighter than his.
posted by everichon at 8:45 AM on April 2, 2010


As for his writing execrably, that's a matter of taste, but the idea that his self-promoting is a strike against him as a writer seems a little off to me.

There are two distinct criticisms here: one is that Doctorow is self-promoting. The other is that he's taking on an air of authority while doing very basic and not very insightful economics. This whole 47 minutes is reducible to three basic concepts: barriers to entry, path dependence, and price discrimination. Doctorow offers a specific, probably correct argument, but it takes him a long time to get there, and he doesn't do as good a job as someone with the requisite training would do. So it's weird that he volunteered to speak on this topic, at this length, in this setting, but not particularly troublesome.

That said, there may be a relationship between the two distinct criticisms: why did it take Doctorow 47 minutes to discuss these basic concepts? One possibility: he was less interested in conveying information or an argument, and more interested in self-promotion. I'm not attributing that motive to him, as I cannot know his mind and I can think of other reasons for trying to teach publishers their business using small words and long anecdotes about the airline industry. But this self-promotion is at least a candidate explanation for an otherwise low-content talk.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:47 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd be interested in hearing that story.

This thread does not appear to be the place for it. Suffice to say, he did not like it when I pointed out a particularly vivid example of his bigotry.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:48 AM on April 2, 2010


This thread is so the place for it.
posted by everichon at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]




... but not an iPad

Out tomorrow, grab one if you can. My point is, Cory likes to tell people to do what he says, not as he does. He opts for a superior product when he decides to make a purchase, yet he tells everyone not to make the same purchase because of a certain political stance he's taken. That's hypocrisy, that's what that is. There's no other way to say it.

And yes, I will be buying an iPad and gifting it to my mum for Easter because for one, it's going to be the baseline for all non work-intensive computing devices for the next decade and two, I won't have to listen to complaints about "Windows", "emails", "Photoshop" and "internets" which has been the bane of my existence for the past two weeks due to my prior error in gifting her my old Dell laptop. Also, I'll be using it as a testbed, as I'll be telling the IRS, so win-win.

Aside: Also, most of the developers I know, including myself, use Macs. It's a rare treat to see someone pull out a WinBox. There's something to be said about that.

Listen, Cory's a good author, an interesting speaker and also a nice guy and I'm not surprised that many people emulate him; shit, for the money he's pulling in, so would I. If you have an hour to fill in your conference, he'd be in my top-ten picks to give a talk, but he's a poor predictor of the future and like most people, myself included, knows very little about the world outside of his focus and beyond entertaining you with fuzzy 40,000 ft. perspectives about technology, I'd take his opinions with a grain of salt.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:15 AM on April 2, 2010


Anotherpanacea:

"why did it take Doctorow 47 minutes to discuss these basic concepts? One possibility: he was less interested in conveying information or an argument, and more interested in self-promotion."

Alternately, he was told by the people who hosted his talk to speak for about an hour on the subject. Speaking as someone who does a fair amount of public speaking, one of the first things I ask, if it's not already been told to me, is for how long I'm supposed to speak. Sometimes it's a half-hour, sometimes it's an hour, etc. If I'm asked to speak for an hour, I'll speak for 45 minutes or so and then leave room for Q&A at the end.

Beyond that, it's not irrelevant to note that by his own description of the talk, Cory didn't solicit the speaking engagement, he was asked to do it, since, odd as it appears to people here, a major publisher in the UK is under the impression that Cory has knowledge and competence in the subject, and it's entirely possible they might be in a position to accurately assess such a thing.

Beyond that, it's Bloomsbury, not Cory, who recorded a private talk Cory made for the company in order to put it out in public later. Cory may or may not have been aware such a thing was in the offing; when I went to give a talk at Google in 1997, it was only after I got there that I was told the talk would be offered up to the public.

Beyond that, Cory's linkage to it on his own Web site is hardly an egregious crime of self-promotion, since that's kind of what personal sites are for. Someone else chose to take that posting and link it here; it seems unlikely that person is in the pay of Cory or his publicists.

So, the recap: A man very likely speaks at a requested length on a subject professionals in the field recognize him as having expertise on, at their invitation, at a private function which the hosts, not the man, record then publicly post, which he then posts solely to his own site, not anywhere else so far as we know, and certainly not here. And this is castigated as yet another example of his rampant self-promotion.

I see flaws in this overall argument.
posted by jscalzi at 9:17 AM on April 2, 2010 [13 favorites]


Cory likes to tell people to do what he says, not as he does. He opts for a superior product when he decides to make a purchase, yet he tells everyone not to make the same purchase because of a certain political stance he's taken. That's hypocrisy, that's what that is.

Do you know him to have an iPhone or to have pre-ordered an iPad? Did he have a public "don't buy Macbooks" stance when he bought his Macbooks? Unless one of these is true, I'm having some difficulty imagining what point you might have here.
posted by Zed at 9:38 AM on April 2, 2010


Zed, did you read my previous comment? The one with the links to it. Yeah, the one with the links to his blog posts about the unholy iTunes cartel that is Apple, the same company that makes the brand-spanking new white earbuds he wears in the video linked to at the top of the page.

I know he uses MacBooks, so you have me there, but why would he be wearing Apple earbuds unless he had, oh I dunno, an ipod/iphone/itouch? They're expensive at $30 for what they offer and not readily available as some superior offerings at a similar price point, so unless they're the only ones that fit his ear canal perfectly, as mine do for me, I can't imagine why he'd be sporting them like that.

Or maybe you only think it's ok to boycot only some of a company's products. Because in that case I'd have no point and hypocrisy would be meaningless.

So why the fuck should I believe a guy on one subject when he's inconsistent on others? Again, I'm always confused by a certain subset of mefites who take umbrage when someone calls into question the relative expertise demonstrated by the bb crowd and their associates in, yet again, single-link fpp's which offer very little aside from fandom entertainment.

Next up: Eva Longoria gives a talk on the true measurement of OBP in the post-steroid baseball age. Haters gonna hate.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:02 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


And this is castigated as yet another example of his rampant self-promotion.

First you take on HuronBob's admittedly simplistic nostalgia, now you attribute positions to me that I do not hold and was clear in distancing myself from. I see hyperbole remains is strong supply for novelists. Be careful: when supply is strong and demand is weak, prices (and value) will tend to fall....

How about this: another reason to question Doctorow's motivations is because his advice is not good advice, even though it is good for him to be giving it. It is a good evaluation of the marketplace, and is good strategy for publishers to adopt, but at the expense of most authors or readers. It benefits this author at the expense of others. Under the guise of giving informed advice, Doctorow advances the position that publishers ought to continue to ramp up the rent-seeking battle with distributors.

As Doctorow himself pointed out, all of the services that publishers supply can now be had a la cart, and the books can then be sold through Amazon's electronic distribution service. Rather than ask the obvious question ("Why then, do we need publishers?") he advises these publishers to battle this transition with all their might. Because his audience are buggy-whip manufacturers, he gives them advise on how to oppose the evil Henry Ford. But isn't the best advise when addressing the buggy-whip manufacturer to tell her to sell the shop and get into the car business rather than to band together against a common foe?

We've been asking why Doctorow takes the tack he does. As I've said, we can't know his mind. But let's interpret him charitably: having grown up around the publishing industry, he is attached to the slush pile and the long lunches with literati, and does not wish to see that world die. So he gives a talk about how to preserve it, with all its exclusivity, despite the fact that there are better alternatives on the horizon.

He compares his own situation to that of a sharecropper, which is pretty offensive but also perhaps demonstrates the problem. In deceptively pleading poor, we see that this particular brand of self-promotion has a victim. By masking his advice in common sense economics, he disguises the real economist's concern with the prescriptions he outlines. In preserving the publishing industry's bottleneck, Doctorow is trying to preserve the very discrimination that keeps most authors in the slush pile or eeking out a living, and a few making millions. With ebook innovations most of those authors will still fail, and a few will still become millionaire outliers, but more authors may be able to develop their voice, their audience, and their passion in a field that is still all-too-exclusive. Meanwhile, many readers will get more of what they want without paying the publisher's rent.

I've got nothing against promotion, self- or otherwise, but I prefer my favorite authors to promote their best work, not their general aura of authority. This video is not an example of the right kind of promotion: it's rent-seeking, pure and simple.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:06 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anotherpanacea:

"now you attribute positions to me that I do not hold and was clear in distancing myself from."

Apologies, Anotherpanacea. To be clear, I was not directly attributing that attitude to you; it is, however, a common attitude on The Blue.

"How about this: another reason to question Doctorow's motivations is because his advice is not good advice, even though it is good for him to be giving it."

I certainly have no objection to you having this opinion. Others might disagree, but reasonable people can disagree.

Jsavimbi:

"but why would he be wearing Apple earbuds unless he had, oh I dunno, an ipod/iphone/itouch?"

Because he already owned them and it makes economic sense to use them if you have them, rather than buying new ones? I have earphones left over from the iPod Mini I bought years ago even through the Mini is long gone. Likewise, it's entirely possible Cory might have a Mac he purchased years ago; it just happens to run some variant of Linux now.
posted by jscalzi at 10:16 AM on April 2, 2010


Yeah, jsavimbi, I read your previous comment. With the links. To rants making specific points against the iPhone and iPad that never applied to the MacBook.

Does having ever liked a company's products mean a blanket endorsement of everything they do in the future? If you decide you don't like the direction a company is taking with some of its new products, must you immediately destroy the old products you already have?

Apple's recent products involve the sort of closed and controlled computing environment Doctorow's always spoken out against. Isn't it actually kind of reasonable to react differently when they're doing something different?

If he were to endorse them, that's the position I would find hypocritical. What he's doing, that seems consistent. What you're doing, that seems like looking for excuses to hate Doctorow.
posted by Zed at 10:36 AM on April 2, 2010


Because he already owned them and it makes economic sense to use them if you have them

Scalzi, please. That's weaker than anointing Doctorow a publishing expert because he once worked at a bookstore. Yes, I know the barriers of expertise are low in your corner, and by the way, you still owe us some homework regarding your last gaffe around these parts,

I, for one, as an owner of no less than six pairs now, am a fucking expert on the boondoggle that are those earbuds and I can attest that those he wears in the video are brand-spanking new, straight out of the box. Otherwise, I wouldn't have mentioned their newness. The shiny part fades after a week or so of use as the rubber begins to break down once exposed to continuos use and storage in an oxygenated environment.

And if you're going to go out on a limb chastising a company about their lack of openness and urge your following to boycot their products, you might want to be a little bit more careful about how you proudly display your shopping decisions, like say white earbuds the flagship product that automatically associates the wearing with the Apple brand and all of its connotations.

Buggy-whip makers, Scalzi, buggy-whip makers. You keep following people's advice to the letter.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:43 AM on April 2, 2010


What you're doing, that seems like looking for excuses to hate Doctorow.

Did you read the comment of mine where I clearly state that I think he's a talented and amicable guy? Did you read that one too?

I don't need any excuses. I have him saying "don't buy Apple" (on at least two occasions that I linked to, one today) and I have him displaying Apple products via video on his blog posted on March 26th of this year. Zed, which part would you like me to overlook? There's so much to choose from.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:09 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, I'm not the biggest fan of Doctorow, and there's several things on which I strongly disagree with him on, but I have to say: you guys are really going out of your way to be ignorant assholes here.
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


jsavimbi:

"I, for one, as an owner of no less than six pairs now, am a fucking expert on the boondoggle that are those earbuds and I can attest that those he wears in the video are brand-spanking new, straight out of the box."

Well, no, actually, you can't, and you look foolish for suggesting that you can. The best you can attest is that in your opinion, looking at the headphones in a small video box with not-particularly useful resolution, is they appear new and out of the box. Now, I just happen to have my 3rd generation ipod nano here with me (you know, the square one), and I'm looking at the headphones which came with them. The rubber is still on them and the shiny part looks pretty shiny to me. Now, maybe I just take better care of my things than you do, but in any event, my own personal and immediate experience is contrary to your attestation, so I am disinclined to give your attestation credence.

Also: seriously? "I own six pairs of iPod headphones and therefore I know those headphones are brand-spanking new?" This is an interesting criterion for asserting expert knowledge. It is at best an assertion of anecdotal knowledge. I could just as easily say "I own six pairs of iPod headphones and therefore I know those headphones are not new, merely well-loved and cared for." But I won't, because personally I would be loathe to offer a confidential forensic opinion about the age of a pair of headphone glimpsed from a middle distance on a low-resolution Web video. Because then I might look silly.
posted by jscalzi at 11:16 AM on April 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Executive Summary: really? you needed to go there?

Yup. It ensured that you would read the rest of what I wrote. Maybe you would have anyway, but I did want to be sure.

But, you can bet, somewhere along the line, he's making a little change...

And this is... bad? Do you do all your work for free? I don't. I don't expect other people to either.
posted by rusty at 11:23 AM on April 2, 2010


Or maybe you only think it's ok to boycot only some of a company's products. Because in that case I'd have no point and hypocrisy would be meaningless.

Well, I'm not going to put words in anyone else's mouth, but that was exactly my point in my earlier post, and I kinda suspect it's Doctorow's stance as well.

It is not hypocritical to think that the Macbook (or the iPod) is a great product, and thus buy one, while simultaneously thinking that the iPad is a crummy product that's going to lead to the devolution of the general-purpose computer, and not buy one and try to convince others not to, too.

Personally I think that makes more sense than trying to boycott (or call for a boycott of) all a company's products, which is unlikely to be successful. It's a lot easier to drive people away from one particular newly-released product that you find undesirable, and in doing so (if you can hurt sales) send a message to the company, than it is to convince people to give up the company's entire product lineup — particularly when the company has a lineup as varied as Apple's.

You run into the same thing with Microsoft haters — just because you dislike Windows (or IE, or whatever) isn't any reason not to consider buying a Microsoft mouse. It's not as though the purchase of the mouse is going to have any real effect on the company, so you're just cutting off your nose to spite your face if you pass up the good products because of the crummy ones. I respect and trust someone who dislikes Windows but has a Microsoft-branded mouse more than I'd trust someone who's just so full of ideologically-driven hatred that they can't even see the decent products due to the name stamped on them.

Pointing out that Doctorow is anti-iPad while still liking/owning other Apple products doesn't seem particularly significant; I'm sure there are a lot of other people in that camp. At least it shows that he's thought about the various products individually, instead of focusing and holding an opinion on The Apple Lifestyle in general.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:23 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


if he ever met me in person, he'd smash my face in

You must be a really small guy, charlie don't surf. I'm pretty sure Cory isn't going to be swinging fists with confidence at anyone larger than a small child.

Scalzi, I'm baiting you. With shiny things.

Scalzi, to remind: You owe us a homework assignment regarding your own fictitious, self-accreditation as a social networking expert. Either you provide the numbers proving your certifying your expertise or you write and publish an article that would be helpful to non-profits to include making the use of established social networking channels and web-based applications that they can also put to good use with little overhead. Like Facebook and Giveo. I work for neither and there are plenty of other examples out there.

As a skilled writer and expert, neither of these tasks should take you very long and would enable those non-profits seeking decent advice to make a clearer, more-informed decision at the time of deciding how to proceed with their online strategies. Also, you're not allowed to advocate for "starting your own blog" and "stay up all night to moderate the comments" nonsense, as we know that more turn of the century than current. That is your path to redemption.

Artw, you're too late; charlie don't surf just crushed it.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:37 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jsavimbi:

"Scalzi, I'm baiting you. With shiny things."

No, you're just showing that you argue poorly, make assertions you have no chance of proving, claim expert knowledge you don't have, that when you're backed into a corner with your bad argument, you attempt to change the subject in the hopes of drawing attention elsewhere, and that when none of that works, you offer up a "hah! I meant to do that!" defense. I suspect you may be twelve.

I walked away from talking with you the last time it became evident that you had no idea what it was you were talking about and there was no chance that your fundamental need to be right would allow you recognize that fact; and look, I'm going to do it again.

Bye, Jsavimbi. I'm done with you now.
posted by jscalzi at 11:55 AM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


You owe us a homework assignment ...

Really? This doesn't make you look good, you know.

As someone who's considered an expert in something - in the literal sense, as I'm an expert witness in several court cases regarding specific IT issues - I can say there aren't really any "numbers proving your certifying your expertise". I'm an expert because other people consider me an expert, and pay for my services as an expert, and my knowledge of the subject matter has convinced the people paying for my services that I'm an expert (and because the opposing counsel hasn't convinced the judge otherwise).

But I don't give my work away for free because some douchebag on the internet calls me out on something. I'm not saying you're a douchebag, but you're certainly coming across as one here, now.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:55 AM on April 2, 2010


I don't really understand the turn this conversation has taken, but it strikes me that y'all don't really want to discuss the publishing industry and what might be good for it.

I think that's too bad. Why don't we ignore the proper names involved and discuss the state of an industry we clearly all value?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:05 PM on April 2, 2010


I just got a half-dozen sets of headphones like that in the mail from Hong Kong. $1.99 each! I don't think Cory is wearing these headphones in there, but white headphones are not telling of anything at all.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:08 PM on April 2, 2010


This conversation always takes this turn. And with good reason.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:10 PM on April 2, 2010


PS- It occurs to me that we got bogged down because the video is too long, so most commenters have discussed the speaker rather than the speech.

Some folks above asked for a summary, so here's the gist: because of platform lock-in, Doctorow argues that publishers and authors ought to fight harder over licensing and copy-right than they do over pricing and profits.

On the face of it, this is a confusing claim, but his point seems to be that so long as publishers and authors fight over price, they lose the public relations battle and the real problem of path-dependent platform lock-in gets swept under the rug. As soon as Apple or Amazon get a critical mass of adopters, they'll have pricing power anyway, so Doctorow claims publishers ought to take the long view and avoid that eventuality. He's making a game theoretical point here, but I think it's highly stylized in a way that misses the appeal of Amazon, Apple, and other e-distributor platforms (like Steam or Audible, which is owned by Amazon.)

In my view, the Audible and Itunes winners are the producers and the consumers. Only the middlemen are getting squeezed, and that's because Apple performs the distribution service for less than its old media competitors in logistics and retail. We have good reasons to hope for the same thing from Amazon in the Kindle. For that reason, we ought to welcome Amazon's temporary least-cost monopoly. (But there's an argument to be filled in here about the role of least-cost monopolies in general....)
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:15 PM on April 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Hey, if you think I'm a douchebag just strap on a pair and say it. No need to couch terms on my part, Mr. Court-appointed IT expert. I won't mention that both sides have experts available in every case, because that would call into question your infallible expertise.

Ttfn, Scalzi
posted by jsavimbi at 12:16 PM on April 2, 2010


You're a douchebag.

BTW Haven't you pulled this exact same shit in threads related to Doctrow pretty recently?
posted by Artw at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


The reason these threads always get bogged down is because rabblerousers like Mister Doctorow express their political opinions as facts, conflating market forces with their desire to remold the market according to their half-baked, ill informed concepts. I dont see how a self-declared Trotskyite like Mister Doctorow can opine on Capitalism and be taken seriously.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:27 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


this exact same shit

I admit it, I didn't watch the 47 minutes of video a guy posted on his blog that made it over here in a FPP. You got me, Art. I'm sorry for being a twelve-year old douchebag.

If by same shit you mean pointing out that while he's anti-Apple (I provided two separate links to his posts) yet he advertises one their signature products in a 47 minute video of a talk he gives as being hypocritical, than yes Artw, I've pulled what is obviously the same shit that I've pulled countless times before when I point out inconsistencies in behaviors that are deemed by others to be unquestionable.

Matter of fact, Father Murphy just reminded me that I pulled this same shit with Popes John Paul II and Paul IV that I'm now pulling with Joey Ratzinger. He called me a douchebag too. father Murphy, not the Pope. I think I should either change my attitude and not question so much or just be stealthier about it. Which would you choose?

Guys, I'm sorry that the bb'ers past and present are easy and fun, but you have to loosen up a little and know that each and every time you try and pull the same shit, people are going to have some fun with it. It's not like we're quelling dissent or impeding the freedom of speech here.

And charlie don't surf really needs to provide linkage to his story, otherwise it didn't happen.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:45 PM on April 2, 2010


Hey, if you think I'm a douchebag just strap on a pair and say it. No need to couch terms on my part, Mr. Court-appointed IT expert. I won't mention that both sides have experts available in every case, because that would call into question your infallible expertise.

Well, actually, I didn't really think you were a douchebag, which is why I carefully avoided saying you were a douchebag. I'm not a fan of Doctorow by a long shot, and I think a lot of the criticism of him here and elsewhere is warranted. But apparently, you are in fact a douchebag.

You appear to have completely missed the point of my response, for what that's worth. So, let me restate it in tiny words that even you can presumably understand: there is no single metric that identifies expertise. What makes someone an "expert" is that other people think they are, and are willing to pay for their services.

And by the way, my expertise is far from infallible. But I'm not a douchebag, so I have that going for me.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:00 PM on April 2, 2010


And add more Googlejuice to my outing by linking to it on MeFi? I decline.
Don't bother searching for it, it's not my MeFi pseudonym that was outed.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:01 PM on April 2, 2010


But apparently, you are in fact a douchebag.

See? that wasn't that hard. Just call things what they are and let everyone else sort out their feelings.

I didn't miss the point in your tiny words, thank you very much, but I don't think you have a frame of reference in regards to what you were alluring to. The so-called "expertise" I was speaking about, and its incomplete homework assignment, is related to another topic of weeks past. Not today's.

But thanks for your resume and your thoughts, nonetheless.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:13 PM on April 2, 2010


I don't think you have a frame of reference in regards to what you were alluring to. The so-called "expertise" I was speaking about, and its incomplete homework assignment, is related to another topic of weeks past. Not today's.

Yeah, I read that thread too. But go ahead and enjoy your dick-measuring contest.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:51 PM on April 2, 2010


-fin-
posted by everichon at 2:01 PM on April 2, 2010


I realize that jscalzi is sort of a public figure and all, but for our purposes he's a member of this site, and we are really not supposed to talk to each other that way. Stop please.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:14 PM on April 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


In my view, the Audible and Itunes winners are the producers and the consumers. Only the middlemen are getting squeezed, Apple performs the distribution service for less than its old media competitors in logistics and retail. We have good reasons to hope for the same thing from Amazon in the Kindle. For that reason, we ought to welcome Amazon's temporary least-cost monopoly.

Oddly, Amazon can only compete with Apple by raising prices, because the middlemen were starting to get a better deal by working with Apple as a distributor. In fact, from talks to some of my Amazon buddies, people there are not happy about having to give more to the publishers. Amazon could sell some books at a loss to drive the platform as a whole, towards more profitable sales, but no more.

Along the whole publisher/Apple/Amazon/consumer continuum, it looks like the real winners were the publishers. (I don't know what writers/producers are getting out of digital sales, but it seems unlikely they would be getting any more than they were with printed works, and probably less per sale, I'd imagine.)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:23 PM on April 2, 2010


And charlie don't surf really needs to provide linkage to his story, otherwise it didn't happen.

Homework over Easter? You are a douchebag!
posted by Ritchie at 2:37 PM on April 2, 2010


I think the iPad looks nice.
posted by frenetic at 3:23 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Cory Doctorow, You Are a Consumer, Too."

Choice quotes:

"So what if you can't make iPad programs on an iPad. I don't complain I can't make new dishwashers with my dishwasher."

"The old guard has The Fear. They see the iPad and the excitement it has engendered and realize that they've made themselves inessential--or at least invisible. They've realized that it's possible to make a computer that doesn't break, doesn't stop working, doesn't need constant tinkering."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:36 PM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm also glad that I don't live in the fucking '70s and have to type in programs from a magazine anymore.

Shit, I'd forgotten about the copying from the magazine part.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:47 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah...

Anyhoo, here's a mostly summarized transcript (someone else will have to do the last ten minutes. Timecodes are in parenthesis.):



Business models are in flux, consumer expectations are often out of line with the realities of current practices.

Price elasticity vs. Price discrimination
Arbitrage comes into play
Reaction to arbitrage is obsfucation
Turns companies against its customers
Worries about arbitrage is reduction against low-priced offerings
Anecdote about stupid record company reaction against low prices, which undercut their actual profits
Google took different approach, drove prices through the floor, but increased demand for ads and more than made up the difference: Discovery of new market

Price discrimination is divying up the extant goods, Elasticity is growing the market. Internet firms were aware they were in a growing market and embraced elasticity.

Established (mature) markets have a good idea of their customers and try to figure out how to sell to them 'best,' while new markets try to assess potential markets. (after disclaimer that any market is entirely one or the other)

Gilligan's Island: Seven people marooned, every week they almost they get off but don't. Show had virtually no barrier to entry. Now TV is mature, figuring how to specialize. LOST is the same, but sacrafices volume for depth.

NYT has taken same attitude (allegedly) says they'll put up a paywall to maximize revenue from a small number of people.

Strategy harder to purse with Internet/Computers. Originally supposed to be saviour of price discrimination because easier to slice and dice (geolocation, demographics etc.) Internet actually completely destroid this.

Disney Vault worked really well until EBay came along. Putting it in the Vault takes money out of Disney's pocket.

Piracy is the alternative to obnoxious business practices.

(18:50)

Studios blocking Redbox.

Incredibly successful, but competing with high end sales. Want to window releases. One more reason to get it from Pirate Bay.

Piracy isn't all bad. Allows you to serve a market at the bottom end and exempt them from your profit calculation.

Airlines trying to serve Lisbon by lowering prices to America encourages British business travelers to spend an evening in Lisbon to take advantage of the price differential. Allowing 'free' to take out 'Lisbon' allows discriminatory pricing for Brits (metaphorically)

I've felt that ebooks act as an enticement. Most people who download read neither the electronic book nor the print book, they just throw it away. But a certain percentage buys the book and thats free sales for me.

I can't go back in time and do a controled experiment but I and my publisher are happy.

One of the problems with ebooks is that you can't lend them, and for most of history lending books has been the norm.

(23:02)

We now have fiat agreements/terms that says you may not loan it. It's making a moral case that if you loan a book you're stealing, and it's not compelling to me.

The story that in the 21st Century that you could do less with it, runs counter to the digital narrative. Used to be you bought a CD and ripped it and whatever, but now you buy on iTunes and what you can do is dictated by a lawyer's wishlist. People don't believe it.

Biggest risk of piracy isn't lost sales, although there have been some, it's that DRM fundamentally shifts the balance of power in sales channels, in distribution channels.

(25:12)

Look at Amazon's Kindle/Audible. Audible is 80% of the audiobook market. iTunes is the main channel. Audible has DRM, you get less rights, locks your audio to one device.

I spent ten thousand quid on audiobooks, the cost of switching to another vendor is the cost of tossing that library. Vendor lock-in.

DRM-free Kindel books status is unknown. Is it hindered by license/etc. from conversion? Amazon did not answer me. (Read-aloud was disabled) Wouldn't answer O'Reilly, etc. Prolly following contract law instead of DRM.

I tried an experiment. Asked Audible to do my book DRM-free, accept the boilerplate, but introduce a clause that says you're free to do anything allowed under copyright law.

They refuse to allow it.

(29:14)

Two books, they wouldn't do it.

Third book they would, but Apple wouldn't carry it.

Amazon/Apple can say no to non-DRM books, because they know they've got vendor lock-in.

Much bigger danger than what DRM is supposed to present.

(30:07)

Doctorow's Law: Anytime someone puts a lock on something and won't give you the keys, they're not doing it for your benefit.

(To the distribution people) Go to your electronic vendors and ask them: If an author wants to release with no DRM and no broader protections than what is covered by copyright law, would you let them? Do you think we're forcing you to have DRM? Or are you forcing us to have DRM?

(Some stuff about Amazon/Holzbrink that he corrects in the post text)

Is reading saturated (mature) or is there a big audience waiting to discover books?

Elasticity vs. Discrimination

Film peeled off all the stories that were better told on film, and left behind all those that demanded stage presence.

TV peeled off all the stories that were better suited for small screen.

Youtube did the same.

So, maybe all the good stories were taken by other media and there's little left for books.

(33:11)

OR, maybe people have slowed down readership because they're not being lured into readership the way they used to.

Tom Dougherty(?) at TOR has a story: Prior to the Eighties there were some four hundred distributors, most to non-bookstore venues. Unionized, so the Teamsters had job security, and got bonuses for books selling well. So there was enourmous incentive to get books to people, even those that never went to bookstores.

Growth of Big Box stores demanded national distribution. Distributors collapsed to three, to one.

(34:44)

That collapse, outside of bookshops, meant that people aren't discovered as new readers. And in turn don't discover bookstore.

If that's true, maybe it's time to turn the knob away from price discrimination and towards elasticity.

At one end you have free books, like me.

At the other end you have day and date releases. Mark Cuban bought theaters, distributorship, all on demand. Doing very well.

Airlines with transparent pricing are actually outperforming discriminatory airlines.

(36:54)

Next?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:53 PM on April 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


Wow. That was really interesting.
posted by koeselitz at 8:03 PM on April 2, 2010


Blazecock Pileon: "Cory Doctorow, You Are a Consumer, Too."

Jesus, what a ridiculous article. So Cory Doctorow doesn't like the iPad because he thinks the legal implications are unfortunate. Let him not buy one. You're saying he has to buy one because it's exciting and because he's a consumer? By that logic I'm required to buy every single fun little gadget that is ever released. Consumers have some say in it, and they're allowed to refuse to buy DRM-laden legal mind-traps if they want to, goddamnit.

Seriously, whoever wrote that has no idea what computing is about. The entire premise comes down to "I like freedom, but I like shiny stuff more."
posted by koeselitz at 8:10 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow.

Okay, I finally read this thread through.

I thought the fight between jzscasaalsdif and jszcdambinimi was interesting, but very confusing.
posted by koeselitz at 8:22 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Neither of which is here nor there about your assertion that he's not a "selling author," that being something you held out to imply he lacks credibility regarding the topic on which he was giving a speech.

Good point. Ok, I admit, he's sold books. Aftere giving them away. Because they mostly sucked.

But I won't let a minor point like that get in the way of my fun. I enjoy bashing Cory. Though admittedly, not to the extent that Cory enjoys talking about Cory.
posted by orthogonality at 8:31 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


He forgot to mention that he makes most of his money on speaking fees and scene-whoring, and could not make a living if he just wrote shitty books.
posted by Ratio at 8:32 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


In fact, from talks to some of my Amazon buddies, people there are not happy about having to give more to the publishers. Amazon could sell some books at a loss to drive the platform as a whole, towards more profitable sales, but no more.

It seems like it'll always be in Amazon's interest to push the .azw format for the same reason it made sense for Apple to push .acc. So running at a paper loss on the format is potentially very profitable, especially if it sells new devices and builds consumer platform lock-in. Lots of people still buy Xbox and Playstation games even though they're locked-in and the prices are higher.... But arguably this hasn't hurt game designers or players very much.

There are two possibilities: either people are really going to allow their book purchases to be locked-in and there'll be a fight-to-the-death between Apple and Amazon where one wins and becomes the standard and uses the monopoly to dictate prices to publishers, or the standoff will empower publishers as you say. The fact that the Kindle software runs on Apple, and that we haven't seen a redesigned Kindle for several years, makes me believe the odds favor Amazon slightly, but I don't think the current situation gives much indication either way: we've only experiencing the opening skirmishes in a larger conflict.

A third possibility is that people will just break the ridiculously simple ebook DRM and read their books on whatever platform they want. Doctorow seems worried that people won't figure out how to download Calibre, but I have a little more faith in our collective Google-fu. Unfortunately, the corollary to this seems to be that book piracy will become rampant. I regularly trade preprint pdfs with my colleagues, and I can see how easy it would be to become a book thief on a large scale. Books are small compared to music and video! That seems bad to me, but maybe it'll expand the market for lesser-known authors by getting them some attention.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:40 PM on April 2, 2010


Jesus, what a ridiculous article. So Cory Doctorow doesn't like the iPad because he thinks the legal implications are unfortunate. Let him not buy one. You're saying he has to buy one because it's exciting and because he's a consumer?
Yeah, that was absurd.
But you know what won't change these things? Refusing to buy an iPad, the stage for some of the most exciting software of the last decade.
Except, of course, it would. If no less people buy them for this reason, companies will stop trying to do those things.
posted by delmoi at 2:31 AM on April 3, 2010


This is becoming very weird so I opened up a MetaTalk thread.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:21 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


[last "you are fucking asshole" comment and weird other-site feud comment removed - you can go to MeTa or something but stop doing this here now, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:26 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


So running at a paper loss on the format is potentially very profitable, especially if it sells new devices and builds consumer platform lock-in.

They weren't selling some books at a loss to make money off the Kindle. They were selling some books at a loss, in order to drive a platform to sell other books at a larger profit.

That's why you see Kindle software clients for other platforms, Mac, Windows, iPhone, etc. — I don't have Amazon's accounting books in front of me, but it seems unlikely the Kindle hardware device in itself makes much of a profit.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:49 AM on April 3, 2010


Jesus, what a ridiculous article. So Cory Doctorow doesn't like the iPad because he thinks the legal implications are unfortunate. Let him not buy one. You're saying he has to buy one because it's exciting and because he's a consumer?

No, he's not saying that, even if the title is misleading. Doctorow's article wasn't "Hey, guys, I'm not going to buy one, hope that's cool." It was "I'm not going to buy one, and you shouldn't buy one, either, because it's going to ruin the future of innovation."

The response linked by Blazecock was basically "No, that's ridiculous. Go ahead and buy one if you want."
posted by ignignokt at 8:55 AM on April 3, 2010


Seriously, whoever wrote that has no idea what computing is about.

Is computing about tinkering all day, or is it about getting things done? Or is there a continuum along which everyone can define their needs and wants for themselves?

I don't have an answer for that, but I don't think the answer is nearly as clear-cut as people's individual expectations make it, yours and Mr. Doctorow's included.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:13 AM on April 3, 2010


Blazecock Pileon: “Is computing about tinkering all day, or is it about getting things done? Or is there a continuum along which everyone can define their needs and wants for themselves?”

Both, but mostly the getting things done part. That won't happen much longer if we choose products like this; it's not sustainable.

I get the feeling, to be honest, that most of the aggro in the article you linked came from the fact that they were Doctorow's opinions he was attacking. Which actually makes me sort of wish that Cory Doctorow worked for Microsoft or something; I think he's a convenient enemy.

What I meant by the "doesn't know what computing is about" comment is this: everybody, from the pragmatic businessman to the high school kid fooling around to the gamer to the inveterate Stallmanite coder, gets over the novelty of shiny toys by the time they're about nine and realizes there's more to it than that. Sure, it's fun to gaze at gadgets, but what matters more is what place the gadget will have in life and whether it'll work, both in an individual sense and in a larger economic sense. This is obvious too everybody, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 9:18 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


He forgot to mention that he makes most of his money on speaking fees and scene-whoring, and could not make a living if he just wrote shitty books.

I'm not sure about the scene-whoring, but Mark Twain also made a lot of his money from speaking tours. It was a reliable source of income for him, and because he was terrible with money (he liked to speculate in doomed ventures) he would go on speaking tours even though he disliked them, to support his family. I don't think (most of) Twain's books were shitty. It's hard to make a living writing books, shitty, brilliant, or otherwise, and pretty much always has been, so I wouldn't fault any writer who found another way to bring in money.
posted by not that girl at 9:25 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rest of the transcript/summary (note timecode correction at beginning):

Ability to controll prices is not necessarily conducive to maximizing profits.

(36:54)

(More confusion about German bookmarket he corrects in the text)

Try to encourage a competitive, even disorganized, distribution channel. Lots of players enable you to play them off against each other.

The Amazon fight was misplayed. Should have fought over allowing more compatability (eg, w/r/t the Kindle) rather than money. It would have been difficult for Amazon to claim that it's in the consumer interest not to be able to read our books on competitors' devices.

DRM doesn't work. The typist is an existant proof of why. Google has figured out how to turn every book in the world into a digital book. Scanning is getting easier each day. Harry Potter was available in 24 hrs, translated into German 24hrs after that.

Your strategy can't be about DRM. It teaches your readers to ignore copyright.

(40:35)

If I buy a book and it comes with a lock and/or 2600 word EULA, the lesson is that the terms make no sense, don't try to understand it.

Future of publishing is a lot like the present. Publishing is organizing. Tasks will change, but won't be ones that writers can't do themselves.

Negative example: Formatting for Amazon is complex, but getting easier. Agents will get good at it, Amazon is already good at it. You will never compete there.

If you think Amazon is the future, it's a scary place. As a writer, if I'm selling through Amazon, why don't I just sell to them?

A lot of writers are bad at charisma, social media. Could be a task undertaking by publishers. "figure out how to bottle Neil Gaiman"

Writers need guidance on flexibility for the future. Need guidance on understanding that locking themselves today may be problematic in the future. End up being a sharecropper.

EFF found terms for iTunes App store. Dreadful. Sharecropper terms.

Figure out how not to be sharecroppers, maintain your autonomy, and your writers'.

-Fin-
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:34 AM on April 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


That won't happen much longer if we choose products like this; it's not sustainable.

Honestly, it seems self-evident that products like this are working for Apple, but more importantly, for people who keep buying and using Apple computers to get things done. If people weren't able to do things with these devices, people wouldn't buy them, I presume. Amazon is scared enough of losing its book-selling business to Apple that it is cutting the same deals with the publishers.

All of this is even despite Cory Doctorow's odd insistence that you not buy an iPad for political, as opposed to practical reasons, even while he buys and uses other Apple products.

I get the feeling, to be honest, that most of the aggro in the article you linked came from the fact that they were Doctorow's opinions he was attacking.

The writer, Joel Johnson, stated repeatedly his agreement with Cory Doctorow on other issues, and is or was also a contributor to BB, apparently.

Sure, it's fun to gaze at gadgets, but what matters more is what place the gadget will have in life and whether it'll work, both in an individual sense and in a larger economic sense.

It's kind of early to say how successful the iPad will be, but people already get things done with the software they run on iPhones and iPod Touches, and developers already get things made for that platform. For every fart app, there are hundreds of useful tools, and so the market has already decided, apparently, that people find these devices workable and their repeat business sustainable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:38 AM on April 3, 2010


while I don't know Doctorow nor visit BB (visited perhaps 5/6 years ago) i have met people who'd probably be moving in similar circles particularly from gadget/shiny type news sites and there is an overwhelming tendency to a) be aghast that YOU don't want the latest shiny??? wtf is wrong with you attitude as well b) weird peer pressure of the sort "your camera is OLD and funny looking, don't you WANT the latest greatest?" [insert point a) here again]

for those of us who aren't driven to purchase or drool at the must haves or even conditioned to think that one's choice of consumer electronics defines one's self, this subset of youngish mostly men can be a trial to tolerate in social or professional occasions

worst was during the iphone fever that swept my particular industry since i'm steadfastly a gsm girl ;p
posted by infini at 10:30 AM on April 3, 2010


not that girl: He forgot to mention that he makes most of his money on speaking fees and scene-whoring, and could not make a living if he just wrote shitty books.

I'm not sure about the scene-whoring, but Mark Twain also made a lot of his money from speaking tours. It was a reliable source of income for him...


Yeah, why do you think I give classes all the time? it's not that I wouldn't rather be writing, it's that I just made two grand setting up a class last week. Which, I should add, is about $1600 more than I made in royalties off my (12) print books last period, and why I'm moving to self publishing instead of working with the big houses. Oh, and all told, I'll probably spend about 15-20 hours in the course of teaching that class, which is equivalent to a mere 2.5-3 days' worth of writing time.

Major publishing house royalties are for suckers unless you're Stephen King. Writers who want to pay their bills have to also be creative when it comes to making money these days. My upcoming self-pubbed book has made me 2x as much money during its preorder period than my other 12 books have in the past 6 months, so I don't fault anyone who gets speaking fees or does anything else to support their writing. It means they (me!) can keep writing, and that's what matters.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:35 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The entire premise comes down to "I like freedom, but I like shiny stuff more."

Wow, that's not true at all. The entire premise is: not EVERYTHING has to do EVERYTHING. Some things are appliances, like a dishwasher. I, for one, see no problem with a portable on-demand TV+ where I can store/use loaded (from my primary computer) and wireless-access stuff (which is how I use my iPhone). You think Joel is going to trade in his laptop for an iPad? That's just silly.

Steve wants to sell this to people who don't need a MacBook but also wants to sell it to people, like me, who already have one.

I am not interested in tinkering. I do not care (except intellectually, at a distance) about "computing." I care about writing, communicating with others, enjoying different types of media, presenting art and information, and editing photos. I am a grownup who has been doing these things, in various combinations, for many years now, and I have amassed quite a few tools with which to do them, some I customize extensively or configure elaborately and some that are "mere" appliances. The idea that everyone who buys anything that is called a "computer" has to want to tinker with it, or that every single thing called a "computer" has to offer a full range of tinkering and customization options is loony.
posted by caitlinb at 12:04 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


caitlinb: “I am not interested in tinkering. I do not care (except intellectually, at a distance) about "computing." I care about writing, communicating with others, enjoying different types of media, presenting art and information, and editing photos. I am a grownup who has been doing these things, in various combinations, for many years now, and I have amassed quite a few tools with which to do them, some I customize extensively or configure elaborately and some that are "mere" appliances. The idea that everyone who buys anything that is called a "computer" has to want to tinker with it, or that every single thing called a "computer" has to offer a full range of tinkering and customization options is loony.”

Nobody has claimed that you must be a tinker if you own a computer.

What some of us have claimed is that this device kills communication.

I think it's pretty clear why we think that. We aren't hoping to unscrew the back of this thing and rip out its guts and put them together. All I want is the ability to write a program that runs on it without going to Mordor and making a pact with Saruman.
posted by koeselitz at 12:17 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Or to buy a program written by an independent developer.
posted by koeselitz at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or even just download a program by an independent developer.
posted by koeselitz at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nobody has claimed that you must be a tinker if you own a computer. What some of us have claimed is that this device kills communication.

While I generally sympathize with this position [i.e. yes I think open devices are important for any number of reasons] you're again not addressing the issue. caitlinb isn't a tinkerer and again she does not care if she can run your apps on her device.

Years of having proprietary cell phones have accustomed people to not being able to run the applications of their choosing on their communication devices. I feel that people are reacting to the fact that the iPad is more of a fancy version of a cell phone [and heck the iphones are exactly the same and are whooee popular, right?] and yet people using it feel that they're using a computer, only it's the most closed-system personal computer ever made.

If buying a device is a political act, then don't buy an iPad, ever. If you think other people buying this device is a political act, you'll need to make better arguments. And I'd like those arguments to be made, but how is you not being able to make/sell your application because you're allergic to Apple a compelling case to people who just want a bigger screened iPhone?
posted by jessamyn at 12:39 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


the link that's in pileon's comment to the article on gizmodo we seemed to have been debating looks odd in my browser address bar... what's a juicerhub?
posted by infini at 2:58 PM on April 3, 2010


back to the topic at hand, so based on caitlinb's reference to "not everything has to do everything" it seems that iPad is not, therefore, a computer, but an appliance. one that will let me do what I'm doing right now, sprawl out comfortably and type this out on my lap - 'cept it will have to lie flat when I type and I can't see the screen, or I hold it up on my belly and poke the imaginary keyboard?

meh
posted by infini at 3:02 PM on April 3, 2010


What some of us have claimed is that this device kills communication.

What on earth are you talking about? People are communicating just fine with these things.

I think it's pretty clear why we think that.

I don't know about that use of the third-person plural.

All I want is the ability to write a program that runs on it without going to Mordor and making a pact with Saruman.

If you think writing apps for Apple or Google (yes, they lock things down, too) is really a metaphor for Lord of the Rings, maybe that's why you will never come to understand caitlinb's point of view.

That said, if your view of this is that warped, you always have the option to develop for another platform. Apple and Google don't have a monopoly on "Real Computing".

Or to buy a program written by an independent developer.

Who do you think is writing the apps that are published on the App Store? Only a handful (literally, you can count them on your hands) are written by Apple. Not many more are released by big companies. The sheer majority of apps are from independent developers and small shops.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:36 PM on April 3, 2010


What some of us have claimed is that this device kills communication.

Which is silly. It's not like everyone is having their home-built Linux [whatever device] with 100% personally written software and/or extensively modified hardware confiscated and replaced with an iPad. The iPad, like many Apple products, is a special-purpose niche device.

Were people outraged by the Sony Reader because you can't use it to write a book? Do people use smartphones as their primary specification, design, and coding environment when building software for smartphones? I don't use my MacBook to take macro photos of bees getting it on with flowers, and I don't use my digital SLR to color correct, generate multiple sizes and file formats of my photos, or manage photo libraries.

This kind of hyperbolic "wah you didn't build what *I* fantasized about"ism is as silly as the Apple fanboys who are surprised when, YET AGAIN, the shiny new Apple bauble does NOT, in fact, perform continuous blowjobs.
posted by caitlinb at 7:02 PM on April 3, 2010


Do people use smartphones as their primary specification, design, and coding environment when building software for smartphones?

Maybe they should. Simulators, however well designed, just don't give you the same look and feel and sense how its gonna work in the real world operating environment.

and I still can't figure out how to place a tablet on my knees for anything but passive consumption
posted by infini at 7:07 PM on April 3, 2010


So, yeah. I thought Cory's take on the position the publishing industry *should* have taken in response to Amazon's price-clench were pretty interesting.

Sorry, am I threadshitting on this iPad discussion?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:27 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


They've realized that it's possible to make a computer that doesn't break, doesn't stop working, doesn't need constant tinkering.

Wow, hyperbole. (Or Applebole?) iPad's don't break and won't ever stop working?
posted by MegoSteve at 9:11 PM on April 3, 2010


So, yeah. I thought Cory's take on the position the publishing industry *should* have taken in response to Amazon's price-clench were pretty interesting.

I just don't see it. There's no DRM strong enough to defend a text where you have access to the whole original message if you need it. Thus, there will always be easily-accessed DRM-breaking software, and the whole "Oh no! I'm stuck in Kindle-world" problem just doesn't arise. The average consumer doesn't have to break the DRM: they just have to find the DRM-cracking software online.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:20 AM on April 4, 2010


I just don't see it. There's no DRM strong enough to defend a text where you have access to the whole original message if you need it.

He makes that point himself. What I was referring to was the fact that the industry was fighting Amazon over price, and Cory is saying that they should have been fighting over choice.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2010


I'm one of these people that feels a real dislike of Cory. The dislike for me stems from the fact that the guy uses his popularity to say things about subjects he really doesn't know much about; then, in part because of that shallow ignorance, his words become rallying points for certain groups of people who'd rather avoid a deeper debate.

I was a long-time user of Hacker News, for instance, which for a period of time was in love with the guy. (Now they've become a little more critical of him, so good for then.) His arguments in favor of transparency and openness, which tend to be valid but lacking empathy for his opponents, were used to roundly bash, say, people who owned an iPhone/iPod touch. And I love debates—that's why I'm here—but the part I love about it is the part where somebody tries to illustrate the humanity on both sides of an argument, so that if you're blindly partisan you stop and go, "Oh. That's why people would disagree with me. That kind of makes sense."

Populist arguments like the one Doctorow frequently throws about just kill that. I'd jump into a conversation trying to explain why, for instance, I don't think buying a closed piece of technology spells future doom for creativity, why I feel the exact opposite in fact, and somebody else would link to a Doctorow piece, accuse me of being a sucker for marketing, and that would be that. No discussion. And that kills certain venues for discussion, because while I'd try and go into my love for marketing and how I don't think marketing equates to brainwashing, this other group of people would just point to their Doctorow piece and toss off insults. It's goddamn frustrating.

I'm sure Cory means no harm, I'm sure he's a friendly guy, but he does these little things that irritate me. I recall a piece where, among various tech predictions, he mentioned offhandedly that only kooks enjoyed opera and I wanted to slap him. Like, when you're trying to create a sophisticated humanist argument, going after an entire art form and denouncing the people that like it rubs me the wrong way.

And his science fiction works the same way on me, because it's so stylistically bland. I come from a background of poetry and dialogue enthusiasm, I really love writers who know how to make words sizzle, and Cory's writing makes it clear that he's not at all interested in that. It's not completely terrible, but I feel like there should be more there, and so I get bothered when people point to it as great science fiction without once indicating a consideration for the things about writing that I'm in love with.

Here's hoping that I don't sound like a douchebag hipster saying this, but it's that disconnect between his talent and his popularity that bugs me. I don't resent people who aren't ambitious artist sorts, and I think everybody has a right to like whatever they want, but when people use Cory's arguments or his writing without indicating they're aware of those things that I can't help but notice, I feel a little sad and alone. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I do. And when somebody who spends his life thinking about things and writing things isn't making every effort to develop his thinking and his writing, I start disliking them and every mention of their name like they matter.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:42 AM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


He makes that point himself. What I was referring to was the fact that the industry was fighting Amazon over price, and Cory is saying that they should have been fighting over choice.

Doctorow's counter-example is typists and fan translation, as in the German edition of Harry Potter. I'm talking about encryption. "Choice not price" is one of those things that sounds good but doesn't make any sense if you drill down into implications, which is why we were originally discussing his lack of expertise in these matters.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:11 PM on April 4, 2010


Doctorow's counter-example is typists and fan translation, as in the German edition of Harry Potter. I'm talking about encryption.

I'm not sure I see the distinction. His point was that there's always a workaround.

"Choice not price" is one of those things that sounds good but doesn't make any sense if you drill down into implications, which is why we were originally discussing his lack of expertise in these matters.

I think he addresses some of those implications at the end, but perhaps you have others in mind?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:58 PM on April 4, 2010


"Choice not price" is one of those things that sounds good but doesn't make any sense if you drill down into implications, which is why we were originally discussing his lack of expertise in these matters.

Keep in mind he is talking to publishers. By negotiating on price they may have made some more money for themselves right now, but they have handed Amazon additional market share. If the Amazon/Kindle pairing becomes dominant, next time they come to negotiate Amazon will have even more power.

If they had instead tried to get Amazon to open things up so that any ebook bought at any store would work on any device, they may have made less money now, but would (in his opinion) be better placed in the long run since there would be more successful players in the book sales market.

This is all very similar to how iTunes came to dominate the online music business, and even though iTunes has now moved into selling un-drmed songs (I think?) they wield far more power over the industry than the music publishers would like thanks to the dominant closed system they originally established.
posted by markr at 8:19 PM on April 4, 2010


If they had instead tried to get Amazon to open things up so that any ebook bought at any store would work on any device, they may have made less money now, but would (in his opinion) be better placed in the long run since there would be more successful players in the book sales market.

I understand the argument, as I've illustrated amply above, but I'm not sure you (or Doctorow) understand the way a negotiation between two businesses works. "Try to get Amazon to open things up" is not a negotiating strategy. There's no bargaining power for "open source your proprietary format and eliminate even the weak copyprotections it supplies." None: format negotiations are a dominated strategy, as Amazon has made it clear that they're far more committed to the .azw format than they are to the specific device called a Kindle. Even Doctorow understands that, but he doesn't seem to understand what that means. Perhaps he needs to study a little open-source game theory.

What Doctorow is talking about is public relations, not negotiations. What his audience likely understands, but he apparently does not, is that these are distinct. Which raises the question: why are they paying attention to him? I suspect they're not, but they're hoping the wider world will, thus contributing to the public relations battle while leaving the negotiations unchanged.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:59 AM on April 5, 2010


"Try to get Amazon to open things up" is not a negotiating strategy. There's no bargaining power for "open source your proprietary format and eliminate even the weak copyprotections it supplies."

"Do what we want or we'll go elsewhere" is very much a bargaining position (well, ultimatum. Same difference here.) In fact, that's what they did. They just did it over price, which (a) makes them look greedy, and (b) ultimately helps solidify Amazon as the only game in town. Cory is saying that they should take the long-term view and encourage open formats to avoid 'iTunes lock-in' under a different name.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:23 AM on April 5, 2010


Common Misconceptions About Publishing:
The publishing industry makes sense.


Oh, dear. I laughed out loud at this one. Wish I had time to read it -- Charlie Stross always shows me something new even when I don't agree with him. (And even then it's usually about technical stuff. E.g. I've decided he was wrong about that silly Palm netbook ever making any sense at all. But hey, I was wrong about that too.)

As for why it took Cory 47 minutes, it's probably because his primary analytical mode is narrative logic (a.k.a. story-telling). It's a valid and deeply human if (sometimes severely) flawed analytical mode with a <ahem> storied history. I enjoy it very much -- it's essentially the basis of Science Fiction / Speculative Fiction as a literary form -- but, as I said, it can be severely flawed. One of the biggest flaws is that it tends to admit a lot of excess data that ends up looking relevant to the argument because it's part of the story. Another is that the story-teller sometimes takes his/her own metaphors too literally (e.g., uploaded minds, computronium, multiple instantiations of self, post-scarcity economies, etc.).
posted by lodurr at 8:29 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


he forgot to mention that he makes most of his money on speaking fees and scene-whoring, and could not make a living if he just wrote shitty books.

How do you think authors make a living, anyway? Certainly not off their books -- not the vast majority, at least. Scalzi might be by now; Cory could be getting close. Most of the professional writers I know (and I know a few) couldn't survive on their book revenues. I know someone who's been on the NYT nonfiction bestseller list a few times -- she'd be pretty hungry without her day job.

I'm guessing Charlie Stross doesn't have to work in IT anymore, but as recently as the early '00s he was still writing columns for IT magazines to make ends meet.

Cory's really good at self promoting. Absolutely. So's Scalzi, to trot out a recent example. (And yes, he can behave like a dick sometimes, but he really truly does know a lot about social networking. Scalzi, I mean.) Thing is, you don't make a living as a writer without self-promotion and "scene-whoring" because if you want to make a living "as a writer", that's where most of your living is going to come from.

Really, we need to kill this whole myth of the writer as a pure artist who lives in an ivory tower. If you want to be Joe Heller and spend ten years just writing one book, you're going to have to get really lucky first; more likely you'll be Phil Dick and spend years writing a dozen books and a hundred stories and burn through two or three marriages and go hungry a lot. Art ain't pure; as Chandler put it, "there is no great art, there's only art."
posted by lodurr at 8:51 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Do what we want or we'll go elsewhere" is very much a bargaining position (well, ultimatum. Same difference here.) In fact, that's what they did. They just did it over price, which (a) makes them look greedy, and (b) ultimately helps solidify Amazon as the only game in town.

Price was a bargain they could win, as Amazon didn't have the same interest and could pass the costs along. "Choice" wasn't on the table, and frankly publishers would have faced an uphill battle with their own authors if they'd fought for less DRM. The point is that both parties had ultimatums that could be satisfied so long as they were different ultimatums.

"We'll go elsewhere" is laughable. Where were they going to go? B&N and Borders? The Sony Reader Store? In reality, they've got to make deals with all those companies. A publisher can't afford to ignore popular distribution channels. Recognizing that the sticking point was format, the publishers pushed on the one thing that they could: price. I'm still not sure they lost much PR in that struggle, either, especially because they've got their authors out stumping for them, and fans only really care about the authors, not the publishers and distributors. (It seems analogous to hospitals v. insurers: the hospitals generally win the PR struggle in bargaining because they can enlist the people we actually encounter, the doctors and nurses, to make their case. So the insurers look like the bad guys whether they win and keep costs low or lose and increase rates.)

But for the same reason, if the publishers had fought for less copy protection, it would have lost them their best asset. In my experience, many authors churlishly insist that their work be remunerated rather than freely distributed, and that the publishers protect that remuneration rather than bargain it away. Worse, many authors have a contractual basis to enforce that churlish presumption of pay-for-work via lawsuit.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:17 AM on April 5, 2010


So the insurers look like the bad guys whether they win and keep costs low or lose and increase rates.

Not sure that's a great example. Historically, medical insurers in the US have tended to win either way -- one starts to think they put up a fight just to seem credible. (Or is that what you were getting at?)
posted by lodurr at 12:04 PM on April 5, 2010


... if the publishers had fought for less copy protection, it would have lost them their best asset.

Which was what? That they contribute to Amazon's market solidification? That they subscribe to DRM controlled by someone else? (C.f. Amazon's removal of the "Buy Now" button during their negotiations.)

In the end, it's the same deal, but their stuff is more expensive. Not exactly an epic win, from a consumer's POV.

Or even a writer's, according to Cory.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:48 PM on April 5, 2010


I don't really want to re-litigate the health care reform debates, but historically plenty of insurance companies have gone out of business because they couldn't negotiate as well as their competitors. The "tendency to win" you're noticing is a backfilling selection bias effect: the insurance companies and publishing houses that are left are the ones that "tended to win," in the same way that the extant hedge fund managers have "tended to win." Losers don't last, so at any one time the majority of companies doing business are all winners. That doesn't mean that winning is inevitable.

In any case, it's not an example, it's an analogy. In middle-man sectors like insurance and distribution, I suspect that well-regulated monopolies are more beneficial and allow for more innovation on the producer's side than oligopolistic "competition." (I'm not really sure what regulation looks like in digital distribution, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.) Thus, like most fans, I don't really care if publishers get a raw deal, so long as authors are well-served by the e-book transition. The digitization of music has been pretty great for diversity and innovation, so I think I'm justified in hoping that the same will hold for text.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:49 PM on April 5, 2010


... if the publishers had fought for less copy protection, it would have lost them their best asset.

Which was what?


The support of their authors?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:51 PM on April 5, 2010




... if the publishers had fought for less copy protection, it would have lost them their best asset.

Which was what?

The support of their authors?


Did you listen to the thing? Part of his "what can publishers offer in this day and age" spiel was 'guidance' to understand that their long-range interests are that they not solidify Amazon as the be-all/end-all bookstore.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:12 PM on April 5, 2010


Rory Marinich- Thank you for doing such a good job explaining your take on Doctorow and why he rubs you the wrong way.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:30 PM on April 5, 2010


Did you listen to the thing? Part of his "what can publishers offer in this day and age" spiel was 'guidance' to understand that their long-range interests are that they not solidify Amazon as the be-all/end-all bookstore.

Imagine if Hollywood studios came out in favor of DRM-free movies: you don't think they'd face criticisms from a ton of high-profile actors and directors? Now take a stable of authors as large as Macmillan's, and tell me there aren't a hundred rhetorically powerful op-ed writers with big name recognition and ready-made tie-ins for op-eds about the injustice of their publisher's betrayal. Publishing companies are negotiating for a big, big tent. Just because Cory Doctorow is an author and an open-source advocate doesn't mean that all authors are open-source advocates.

Think about the textbook market, and tell me how to make a case to textbook writers who have been making a living churning out new editions that they ought to make their IP open source.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:23 PM on April 5, 2010


DVDs are effectively DRM free (in that their DRM is trivial to bypass.) Hollywood hasn't collapsed yet.

And textbook publishers? Really?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:34 AM on April 6, 2010


Hollywood hasn't collapsed yet.

Well apart from Spain and Korea, in the near future, possibly.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:36 AM on April 6, 2010


Well apart from Spain and Korea, in the near future, possibly.

I won't discount the stupidity of the MPAA affiliates, but I have a hard time believing that the MPAA associates would actually pull out of a market.

C.f. drug companies, or airlines, in the selfsame market.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:00 PM on April 7, 2010


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