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06:19 AM ET (US)
Laibach were great live in Glasgow a few months ago... looking forward to the Edinburgh Dark City festival this weekend, especially Icon of Coil.
David Bilek
08:18 PM ET (US)
FWIW, the URL should be www.dresdendolls.com rather than www.thedresdendolls.com.
The Baron
02:13 PM ET (US)
Aiie! looks like filth domain name theives have been at it again!
11:04 PM ET (US)
Wow! Wow! Laibach is new for me! This is good music to translate to! (116 pages of financial/SAP user manual from German to English needs *something* to stimulate the right brain....)
Dave Bell
04:23 PM ET (US)
Maybe the IT industry is certifiable (just say a job ad where the trainees require network admin experience -- are these people native speakers of gobbledegook?)

BBC 4 will be running <i>The Prisoner</1> every night, starting after Christmas.
Steve GloverPerson was signed in when posted
03:12 PM ET (US)
Charlie: http://www.ellenallien.de/
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
03:07 PM ET (US)
Ellen Allien? Doesn't ring any bells with me ...
12:54 PM ET (US)
If listening to FSOL, VNV Nation and Laibach makes one crazy, then a good chunk of the IT workforce is in danger of being involuntarily committed.

Btw, have you heard any Ellen Allien?
Radek Koncewicz
01:53 AM ET (US)
Well then, the technology is here, it's just not perfected yet.

These printing/binding machines might cost quite a bundle, but with the greatly decreased inventory management (how Wal-Mart got rich, from what I recall) and the lack of a middleman (books would no longer have to be shipped half-way across a continent [ink and paper could be ordered from local sources]), I'd expect the profits to quickly offset any immediate expenses.

As for not being able to flip through the books, well, what I had envisioned was a terminal system hooked up to the printing/binding machine. People would use it to "virtually" browse the insides of the available novels, read magazine/newspaper/public reviews, get referred to similar titles, etc. Simply put, they'd be able to use an internal Amazon.com. Sure, it'd cost an additional couple of bucks, but it would also potentially shrink the number of necessary staff members. Of course the stores themselves would probably end up looking a bit less personal, but they'd still contain non-POD books plus cool, high-techy machines and perhaps those delicious café lattes as well. A good marketing campaign--and there would definitely be room for one--could also give POD bookstores a nice jump-start, and over time the printing/binding machines would become cheaper and more efficient.

Now my info on such currently available gizmos is strictly third-hand, but they just don't seem that far off in the future. From where I stand, the POD-books' major obstacle is/would be side-stepping the current system. Bookstore chains would have to deal with worker unions, delivery contracts, publisher deals, lots of inner re-structuring, etc.

It also might be a more logical distribution system to implement in North America than Europe, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that someone out there will eventually make it happen.
Edited 06-21-2004 05:58 AM
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
08:39 PM ET (US)
The technology isn't here yet; that's the problem. Book printing machines that can do perfect binding and colour covers are, as I understand it, ferociously expensive to build and run: you're talking $50K and up for the machine. Next, the product they produce isn't quite as good -- the closer you want it to approximate a traditionally printed and bound book, the more expensive the machine (and the printing process) gets. Finally, the running costs for such machines are much higher than for a printing press geared up to run off a thousand or so copies of a single book -- up to an order of magnitude higher. When you buy a paperback, maybe 10-20% of the cover price goes on materials; if you buy a one-off POD book printed this way you're looking at 60-70% of the cover price being printing costs and materials.

This wouldn't be a killer, except that you're adding a delay to the bookstore browser's experience, a delay of several minutes before they can actually see the book, which is usually a necessary prerequisite to buying it. Someone who's in a hurry isn't going to want to wait -- especially at busy times of day when there's a queue. Someone who isn't sure they want a specific title will be loath to order a copy printed. And so on.

I think something like what you describe will happen eventually, but like the perfect ebook reader it's quite a way away. And it's going to be more like coffee shops acquiring book printers (to go with the free customer-attracting WiFi) than bookstores changing their model. I reckon they'll use ebooks as a promotional tool: pay $5 for the ebook, which is steganographically stamped with a rebate code. Send the ebook and the rebate code to the printer along with another $10, and collect a hardcopy to take away, where the hardcopy actually costs $14 if you buy it separately. Something like that might work.
Radek Koncewicz
11:47 PM ET (US)
From the sound of it, it seems like you guys think that the print book is already on its way out the door. I personally don't hold too many romantic feelings towards ink on paper, but many people do, and like Charlie mentioned, good e-book readers a while away.

Of course that doesn't mean the current state of affairs couldn't be improved. Robert J. Sawyer briefly mentioned an intriguing possiblity in his _Flashforward_ novel that I keep bringing up whenever I get the chance: print-on-demand bookstores.

Robert basically described a large Canadian bookstore chain completely changing its image, turning itself into a cafe/lounge area with very few actual pre-printed books available on the stands. The majority of the store's books were individually created and sold via a simple printing/binding machine connected to a data server that held books. A customer would select a book, pay for it, browse some magazines/catalogues or drink some caffe lattes while it printed, and voila, a few minutes later and a brand new paperback would be resting on their lap.

Now this wouldn't necesserily have to completely disturb the current publisher/distributor relationship; hard-cover encyclopedias, large atlases, children's pop-up books and guaranteed best-sellers would still fill the bookshelves via external suppliers. But the casual paperback, oh man, it could go through a veritable renaissance!

Aside from the two most obvious advantages of such an approach--i.e. the almost complete removal of both the middleman and inventory-management--a lot of other great perks could materialize: cheaper prices (for a product that's already fairly cheap), no worries about a book ever being sold-out, in-store Amazon.com-style browsing that would include intuitive algorithms suggesting related books/writers, more lax publishing procedures for aspiring writers (publishers wouldn't be so reluctant to risk publishing something new because the number of books sold would always equal the number of books printed), potentially higher payouts for everyone involved (on account of all the money print-on-demand would save, plus the expansion of the market through chic, new coffee-houses that would promote reading as being cool and totally back in), instant access to statistics such as who is buying what book and where (which would be just a neat thing for the public to view, but would prove much more vital to publishers and authors for the obvious reasons), and many, many more.

Bah, I might be needlessly ranting, but I honestly don't know why not a single book-chain--at least to my knowledge--has yet to try this. The technology to make it happen is already here, and dammit, I really want my books-on-demand!
Edited 06-18-2004 11:52 PM
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
05:40 AM ET (US)
Let me stick my neck out and say that I don't believe there will be good electronic bookreaders for a very long time. Not because the technology doesn't exist, but because the definition of good is a movable feast.

From a user's point of view a good bookreader should cost no more than a book and should be usable under all conditions that you can use a book. If it costs significantly more than a hardback book, it will be perceived as too expensive by a very large subset of readers (possibly a majority). If it breaks when you drop it, or expose it to moisture, it will be seen as too fragile. It must also have a very long battery life -- preferably of the same order as a solar-powered calculator (i.e. effectively infinite: if it's light enough to read the reader should have enough power to operate). Current PDAs combine the two drawbacks (fragile and expensive) with a third: poor quality displays, and although digital paper seems likely to solve the latter in the long run I expect DP display tech to develop in the direction of colour and high resolution before it develops in the direction of low cost.

There's a reason for this, of course. Book readers are developed by the electronics industry, not the publishing industry. The electronics companies concerned want to make profits, and it's harder to make a profit off a $30 item than a $300 one. This is why PCs tend to get more powerful rather than getting cheaper. There is a long-term downward pressure on overall costs, but in the 20 years it has taken the cost of a typical home PC to fall by 70%, its power has risen by several orders of magnitude.

There's a wildcard in this equation: what if people take to reading books on their phones, which have high resolution colour displays and which they accept the price of because it serves a perceived valuable other purpose? But the problem with that option is that the trend in phones for the past decade has been towards making them more compact. A phone that doubles as an ebook reader must of necessity be large enough to read comfortably (presumably without scrolling every two seconds). So the requirements of an ebook reader seem to be at odds with the requirements of a mobile phone, which rules out that option for now.

None of this invalidates the fact that the economics of ebooks may well have a huge impact on the way writers work in the long term. But I suspect it will take more than one, and possibly more than three, decades before this becomes a major issue.

Confession: I read ebooks on my Palm Tungsten T3. But I'm virtually the only person I know who does so -- most people I ask take one look at it and wince.
Matthias Neeracher
04:27 AM ET (US)
Matthias: think back to before you transitioned from being a library reader to a book-buying customer. You didn't have the disposable income to buy books, did you? In which case, you were not a lost sale.

True, but if I'd have had perfect library access once I had the income, I probably still wouldn't have bought books. OTOH, if I'd never had library access at all, I probably wouldn't have developed a reading habit.

On the subject of CDs and music -- one of the dirty little secrets of the music industry is that musicians make most of their money from merchandise and live performances.

I'm willing to believe that for music, but even there it mostly works for bands with established names, and with very few exceptions, this requires the whole promotional infrastructure at the disposal of The Man. For other creative endeavours, it's not going to work (Neither Stephen King nor Richard Stallman sell enough T-Shirts to make a comfortable living, AFAIK).

On the influence of free e-books on sales -- can I suggest you look at Eric Flint's editorials for the Baen Free Library experiment? He's got the actual sales data to back up the thesis that giving e-books away for free towards the end of the books natural sales cycle actually sells more copies of the paper editions.

Very interesting figures, but not entirely conclusive to me because there are no decent quality electronic bookreaders yet (Although, admittedly, there are laser printers). Therefore, the current state of the art is ideal for publishers, because readers can do plenty of sampling, but every sane reader will actually buy the book. A few years ago, I read Connie Willis' _Doomsday Book_ off a Hugo CD. Took me a week and gave me serious headaches.
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
12:56 PM ET (US)
Radek: I'm already aware my stuff appears on the net without my permission. I'd ask people not to do it -- at least to do me the courtesy of asking first -- but I'd be wasting my breath. My personal opinion is that as long as they're not making money off it, i.e. diverting income away from me, it's not a big problem. But for my official opinion, you'd have to ask my publishers.

Matthias: think back to before you transitioned from being a library reader to a book-buying customer. You didn't have the disposable income to buy books, did you? In which case, you were not a lost sale. Someone who can't afford to buy the product is not a potential customer.

On the subject of CDs and music -- one of the dirty little secrets of the music industry is that musicians make most of their money from merchandise and live performances. A CD with an autographed cover sold at a concert for $10 delivers $9 of profit to the band, compared with the $0.5 of a CD sold via a record label. Frankly, I think the people most threatened by music downloading are the record labels, not the musicians.

On the book sales thing, publishers don't keep books in print long, especially SF -- but that's not entirely their fault: the blame can be pushed down the chain to book distributors and book retailers. On the influence of free e-books on sales -- can I suggest you look at Eric Flint's editorials for the Baen Free Library experiment? He's got the actual sales data to back up the thesis that giving e-books away for free towards the end of the books natural sales cycle actually sells more copies of the paper editions.

The problem with the music industry is really that the middlemen call all the shots regarding distribution, and nowadays they have no real artistic ambitions themselves, so they work purely for maximum profit.

Yes, indeed. Luckily book publishers -- in fiction -- aren't much like that, because people who want to make money go into music or film instead.
Matthias Neeracher
04:45 AM ET (US)
Someone who will borrow a library book but won't buy a new one is not a pirate; they're not a threat to my income: because they're not a potential sale in the first place.

Why not? As far as I can remember my transition from library reader to book buying customer, it was triggered by a combination of (a) more disposable income and (b) worse relative access to libraries (the libraries were a bit worse stocked, and my tastes had become a bit more specific). If I had always had any book I was interested in available in a library, I might very well only own a fraction of the books I own.

If you want my idea of a real threat, it would be a rogue printer churning out counterfeit DVD's/CD's/books and selling them without paying royalties.

I can see why this would be so for books - because the physical copy is still vastly superior to the electronic copy. But why do you think so for CDs? Ethically, I would think that people find it easier on their conscience to download an illegal electronic copy than to buy a counterfeit physical copy. Furthermore, counterfeiting seems to be strongest in countries where personal income is kind of low to generate a decent revenue stream for the legal copy anyway.

Free downloads are free advertising,

Absolutely. That has always been an offsetting benefit of legal and illegal free copies to content creators.

and 80% of the sales of a book take place in the first three months after publication.

But isn't that partially the consequence of publishers not keeping books long in print, especially in SF? Even a well reviewed novel by a well known author such as Banks' The Use of Weapons has apparently not been in print in the U.S. for years. However, electronic stores (for music) semi-electronic stores (e.g. Netflix for DVDs, Amazon) and print on demand (for books) are starting to make it economical to keep much larger backlists commercially available. This should raise the tail end of the sales distribution somewhat, and might push out the point at which giving the book away is the commercially most sensible solution.

In the end, what I really want is to maximize my audience, while still earning a comfortable living.

Yes, I think that's what most content authors really want. The problem with the music industry is really that the middlemen call all the shots regarding distribution, and nowadays they have no real artistic ambitions themselves, so they work purely for maximum profit.
Radek Koncewicz
08:27 PM ET (US)
I'd hope to be giving away novels under a creative commons licence some time after paper publication.

Wouldn't that mean that you would have to publish the novels under a creative commons license in the first place?

Although the print industry has largely chosen not to get their hands dirty with draconic, anti-P2P crusades (a rather wise move, in my opinion), I'm not sure how fond it would be of a creative commons movement. I'm still amazed that Tor agreed to publish both of Cory's novels in this manner--and with their online versions immediately available to boot--but I have a feeling that their willingness to go along with the idea was mostly rooted in market-research. I'm not sure what conclusions the folks at Tor have now come to, but even if these conclusions are entirely positive, I somehow doubt that they're enough to immediately "enlighten" the print industry.

Incidentally, Charlie, what are your thoughts on your own copyrighted stuff appearing on P2P networks? Just right now I booted up eMule and did a global search for 'Charles Stross', and lo and behold, the Toast collection immediately appeared in rich-text format ready for download! Is it somehow rewarding and gratifying to know that someone out there went to the trouble of "ripping" and hosting your stories, or is the "Hey, that's my stuff!" feeling much more prevalent?
Edited 06-17-2004 02:58 AM
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