Publishers and pies

Self-styled publishing industry pundit Michael Kozlowski, whose foolishness is exceeded only by his bad manners, had this nugget of conventional wisdom to offer in the comment box of an article on The Passive Voice:
Indie authors are for the most part very lazy. They spam out e-books without any regard for quality and think quantity is better. I have noticed over the years that if you mention the e-book industry declining they will always say “its [sic] because we don’t want/need an ISBN” and then they will defend the indie movement. If indie authors really wanted to be taken seriously they would buy cheap ISBN numbers and be counted. But that takes a few hours worth of work, something they aren’t willing to do. Indie authors for the most part are lazy, incompetent and have no regard for the self-publishing movement.
I found that I could not let this go unchallenged. My reply follows:
OK, Kozlowski. I wasn’t going to waste my time commenting on your drivel at its original location, because I have a pretty strong suspicion that disapproving comments are ‘curated’ out of existence. But you’re here, so I’ll have a bash. We ‘indie’ authors are so God-rotted lazy that we actually start our own publishing businesses. We not only write the books; we hire editors and copyeditors, commission cover art, arrange for wholesale and retail distribution, handle our own promotion and PR, and not only that, we, unlike you, actually engage with our end customers, the readers – a section of the food chain that your part of the business is still barely aware of and never listens to. And we do all this on our own time and our own dime, without anybody paying us an advance. In return, we get to set our own publication schedules and choose our own projects, and we don’t have to go through an idiotic winnowing process that has no more to do with literary quality than lapping water out of one’s hands has to do with military skill. I don’t expect you to get that reference, since it comes out of a book that was not curated by a fine and reputable New York publishing house, and therefore (one must assume) is beneath your notice. Here is the nub of the story, from one of the more popular editions:
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place. (Judges 7:4–7)
Now as to what you said: Every word of it is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’. To wit:
Indie authors are for the most part very lazy.
Dealt with above. We do more work per book than our trad-published counterparts – who, by the bye, in many cases are the very same people. Never heard of hybrid authors, have you, Kozlowski? Care to insult your own suppliers any further? Would you like some ketchup with that foot?
They spam out e-books without any regard for quality and think quantity is better.
All else being equal, quantity is better than lack of quantity. Your industry’s antiquated and oppressive practices are designed to artificially restrict the supply of any given author’s books, and of books in general. I know many authors who are quite capable of producing three or four good, well-crafted, well-considered books in a year, but you idiots won’t consider publishing more than one a year – for which you pay a pittance. This practice alone has forced thousands of skilled and capable writers, who could have earned a living at their trade, to do it as a hobby and pay their bills with another line of work. No more.
I have noticed over the years that if you mention the e-book industry declining
This is complete baloney. Even by your cockeyed and heavily biased metrics, the ebook industry has not been declining for years. You are therefore lying when you say that you’ve noticed it over the years, unless you had some way of noticing it long before it happened. But let that pass; perhaps you are a prophet and can see the future – which would be some compensation for your utter inability to see the present. The fact is, ebook sales in units are not declining. Some individual outlets are in decline, but Amazon reports strong and steady increases in ebook sales. What is happening is that large traditional New York publishers are seeing their ebook sales decline, because they have made a unanimous and idiotic decision to price their own products out of the market. The idea that an ebook will sell well for $15 when a paperback edition is available for $10 is a folly. The idea that it is somehow necessary to price the ebook at $15 is a fever dream. Your own business is collapsing because you cut your own throats; not ours.
they will always say “its because we don’t want/need an ISBN”
Actually, we don’t need ISBNs, but that is neither here nor there. The ISBN is the 1970s’ answer to the 1950s’ problem. It has very little relevance to how ebooks are retailed today. Actually, the trouble is that Nielsen BookScan (and still more the antiquated methods used by outfits like the New York Times) deliberately chooses to omit a great part of the ebook market. In particular, ebook sales through Kindle Direct Publishing are not tracked by BookScan, whether the books have an ISBN or not.
and then they will defend the indie movement.
No, we go out and write more books, and sell them. The ‘indie movement’ does not require any defence. The truth, however, requires constant defence against liars; or rather, people who don’t know that you are a liar need to be continually warned, and your falsehoods set straight. You are darkening counsel and making unnecessary work for those who actually want to see writers succeed and earn money.
If indie authors really wanted to be taken seriously they would buy cheap ISBN numbers and be counted.
First of all, we would not be counted for our sales through KDP, as I mentioned above. Nor are any sales counted unless registered with Ingram; and it is of no benefit to ebook sellers to register their products there. Moreover, for authors based in the United States, there are no cheap ISBNs. A single ISBN costs $125 from Bowker, the sole legal supplier. A block of 10 costs $295. Larger blocks cost less per unit, but more in the aggregate; few independent authors can justify the expense of buying 100 ISBNs in one block. Nor can authors sublet or share them, as the entire block of ISBNs is tied to one specific publishing entity. ISBNs are cheap for your corporate clients, who buy them by the carload; not for us. And this was done, I have reason to believe, specifically for the purpose of freezing small publishers and self-publishers out of the market. It should surprise no one that most American authors are doing without ISBNs rather than submit to Bowker’s scam.
But that takes a few hours worth of work, something they aren’t willing to do.
It takes seconds of work; the problem is the extortionate price charged for it. I myself am Canadian. As a Canadian author, I can get ISBNs free of charge from Library and Archives Canada, and always do. I would not do so if I had to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege.
Indie authors for the most part are lazy, incompetent and have no regard for the self-publishing movement.
Indie authors are the self-publishing movement. Period, full stop, end of story. One would have to have the monumental stupidity of a Michael Kozlowski to believe that we have no regard for ourselves. As for ‘lazy’ and ‘incompetent’, perhaps the public can judge who more fully deserves those epithets: a writer who is earning a living by his wits and the sweat of his own brow, or a self-styled journalist and industry pundit who can’t be arsed to look up even the most elementary facts before spewing a hit piece directed against his most dangerous competitors. As another famous ‘indie’ author once put it, your brains could be exchanged with the contents of a pie, and nobody would be any worse off for it – except the pie.
Postscript. The name of the indie author who made the remark about the pie? Mark Twain, who self-published under the name ‘Charles L. Webster and Company’. Webster was Twain’s nephew, who sat in the office and dealt with salesmen; ‘Company’ was Twain himself, who put up all the capital and did most of the work. Perhaps you have heard of one of these men; and if you have heard of just one, I’ll lay a substantial wager it wasn’t Webster.

The role of publishers in the Internet age

The publisher’s fantasy: The reality: Despite all our best efforts to educate them, consumers are not actually as stupid as all that. They know how to ride around. Alas. Writers, on the other hand, can frequently be bamboozled into paying the toll. You just have to convince them that it will bring them Fame and Prestige. They want to brag to their friends and relations about being found worthy to pass the gate. They imagine that these persons will be impressed; whereas in actuality, the friends and relations will only respond with a hearty horselaugh. But by then, we have the writer in our clutches. Our minions’ contracts are for life and the afterlife; they are signed in the awful covenant of the Copyright Law, which is far more enduring than blood.      (signed)      H. Smiggy McStudge

Comparing notes

An interesting day today. Our Esteemed Cover Artist, Sarah Dimento, delivered the cover design for my forthcoming story collection, The Worm of the Ages and Other Tails. (Current plan is to release Style is the Rocket in May and Worm in June. I have another short book that may be ready to go in July, if my health holds up.) Here is a closer look at the cover: Worm-of-the-Ages_613 Sarah and I are trying to develop what the jargonists call a ‘design language’ (pretentious term!) for the covers. Some general rules:
  1. Consistent typographical design. (We’re using the Brioso type family from Adobe, designed by the incomparable Robert Slimbach.)
  2. Vector art instead of photographs or pixel-mapped art, to allow higher quality in print reproduction (and sharper rendering at all sizes).
  3. Clear, iconic visual elements that plainly signal the genre and tone of the work at thumbnail size.
  4. Consistent colour schemes and backgrounds. We have settled on using a parchment background for the essay collections, and solid colours (with a sort of leathery craquelure texture) for fiction.
A further note on #3: Many self-published authors try to imitate the styles of the big publishing houses, and try to illustrate a scene or motif from the book with digitally edited photographs (or even an original drawing or painting). This, in our opinion, is a mistake. Such designs can look good at the size of a printed book, but even there, they tend to blur together on a display shelf; the reader is left relying upon the printed title and author name to distinguish one design from another. (Some designs, indeed, have been used and reused for dozens of books by different authors, with only superficial changes.) While it is true that an ebook cover is an important marketing tool, most people will see it at thumbnail size; and whatever graphic elements are included have got to be clearly distinguishable at that size. We believe that in the environment of an Amazon page (or other ebook seller’s site), a cover design will work better by functioning like the icon for an app, rather than an imitation of a dust jacket. The design above, I think, fulfils this purpose reasonably well. Everything is quite clear at thumbnail size (except the explanatory legend ‘Six Short Fantasies’ at the bottom); but if you zoom in and view the full-size artwork, you see finer details – the embossing effect on the text and graphics, the texture of the background – which reward the eye for its curiosity. As for the graphic, nothing says fantasy like a heraldic-looking dragon.
In other news, today I was driving about on errands and listening to the Fan 960, our local sports radio station – thereby performing my patriotic duty as a Canadian hockey fan. I heard that the afternoon crew were doing a live remote broadcast from the newest location of a Canadian fast food chain called South St. Burger. The place was quite near me as I was driving; I thought, ‘How interesting. Must try it sometime.’ Then they announced that for every burger sold today, the restaurant would make a donation to the Red Cross for their relief work in Fort McMurray, Alberta. You may have heard about the Fort McMurray fire. For some days now, thanks to hot weather in that part of northern Alberta, the city has been nearly surrounded by forest fires. The whole population of 80,000 has been evacuated, except for firefighters and emergency crews, and sizable parts of the city have already burnt down. Urgent pleas for aid are flying out in all directions. I am far from being a rich man, but I thought the least I could do was to help the South Street (South Saint?) people with their fundraising effort. So I turned the car around, drove to South St. Burger, and had a mushroom Swiss burger combo (quite tasty) whilst rubbernecking at the radio crew. The announcer, Rob Kerr, came over during a commercial break to introduce himself and shake hands. As I was finishing my meal, the broadcast ended, and the technician began taking down the equipment (a much smaller job than it used to be). I wandered over and struck up a conversation with Mr. Kerr, and we talked for about ten minutes. The talk of the hockey world at the moment is that the Arizona Coyotes have hired a 26-year-old statistical analyst as their new general manager. ‘Advanced’ statistics (think Moneyball, if that helps) have a bit of a bad reputation in hockey, because of the exaggerated claims made by some advocates for what are really very simple and inaccurate attempts to measure some of the variables in a complex and fast-moving game. John Chayka, the new Arizona GM, is not part of that picture. He founded a firm to design sophisticated and proprietary stats software for National Hockey League teams. Every second of play, every frame of video, is broken down in detail, and all the information gathered in an enormous database from which all kinds of interesting statistical inferences can be mined. Alas, the general public (including amateur ‘advanced stats’ people) have no access to these systems. I mentioned to Mr. Kerr that I would like to hear more about these genuinely advanced statistics and their effect on the game. He agreed with me, but pointed out that some of his listeners don’t want to hear it. Neither do a lot of senior executives in the hockey business. Many of the older generation of managers still take the attitude that John Henry (as played by Arliss Howard) described at the end of the Moneyball film:
The first guy through the wall, he always gets bloody. Always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihood, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s a government, or a way of doing business, or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch, they go batshit crazy.
Rob Kerr operates at the tectonic fault between two industries being disrupted by new technology: media and professional sports. He mentioned how technology has literally made it possible for him to broadcast his radio show from his mobile phone; he did it just the other day. A fire alarm forced him to evacuate a remote location, and he finished his broadcast over the phone, sitting under a tree. The effect of ‘big data’ and advanced statistics on the sports business, of course, is just as John Henry described, and it is just now beginning to have large effects on hockey. As for me, I work in a field that is being completely remade by ebooks, print-on-demand machines, and the miraculous selling machine called Amazon. Bondwine Books is a creature of the present decade; I could not have been in this business just a few years ago. So we sat and compared notes on the disruptions. I pointed out that New York publishing is still largely run by people who went to Ivy League schools, and were rich enough that Mummy and Daddy could pay their rent in Manhattan whilst they worked at unpaid internships for publishing houses. They know less than nothing about the kind of people who buy their products; and it shows in their foolish business practices and appalling decisions. Mr. Kerr countered that the sports business is largely run by retired professional athletes, who are almost equally unable to relate to the concerns of their customers, the fans, and moreover, have not been selected for their intelligence or business skills. I like to follow the sports business; I tell people it demonstrates just how badly a company can be run, short of being a publisher. As we parted, Mr. Kerr asked me for my URL; I already have his. Perhaps he will look in on us here at Bondwine; more probably he won’t. Either way, I have had a refreshing meeting of minds with a professional whose situation resembles my own in many ways, and I feel as if my world had become larger and more interesting than it was this morning.

Author Earnings: The terrible horrible awful news

My dear McStudges, minions, slugs, and uglies: The September report from Author Earnings is out, and there is good news and bad news. The good news is that our paid and suborned propagandists in the human media are busily at work pooh-poohing the message, shooting the messenger, and otherwise smearing muck over the picture so that their victims will be gulled into believing our version of the story. The bad news is the story. It is vitally important, at this juncture, that we close ranks and maintain absolute solidarity whenever the humans can see or hear us. Among ourselves, we may bicker and feud as much as we please; our operatives will continue to feed off one another, as is our nature, for it is a Studge-eat-Studge world that we live in, and all’s right with it. But we must never be seen to fight in front of the servants. We must repeat the Official Story in absolute unison; but we must never be so stupid as to believe it ourselves. The Official Story is that ebooks are going away; that the publishing industry has weathered the storm, the fad is over, and all can go back to Business as Usual at the Old Stand. In support of this, our propagandists are parroting some one-sided and obviously flawed statistics showing that the Price-Fix Five have shown declining ebook sales this year. Of course, this is because the Five, on our orders, are deliberately sabotaging their own sales by fixing their prices at an absurdly high level. They do not want to sell new books for less than the hardcover price. We do not want the books sold at all, for we want literature to join those other forms of art that have consigned themselves to the scrap heap. Fortunately, the executives running the Five are, for the most part, short-sighted, incompetent, and innumerate. They know full well that their dominance extends only over one particular market, viz., the sale of printed and bound books through brick-and-mortar retail stores. Those books are sold returnable; which means that anyone lacking the deep pockets and fat reserves to give a full refund on (potentially) every product shipped and sold, writing off the cost of manufacturing and eating the cost of two-way shipping, is unable to compete with the Five for those sales. The Five have strong leverage over the brick-and-mortar retailers, who are in a sickly condition generally, and could not afford to stay in business if their suppliers did not extend these prodigal terms to them. Amazon is a different kettle of fish. The Five have no leverage over it at all, for it does not need them. It has no acres of display shelves to fill; it keeps inventory to a minimum, like any sensibly run business; it seldom or never returns books to the publishers. For this reason, Amazon does a great and increasing part of its business with other publishers, and with the authors themselves directly. These people have every advantage over the Five, except for capitalization. They are quicker to market, nimbler, have lower overheads. An author acting alone can make a dozen experiments, assess their success or failure in the market, and be working on his thirteenth generation of products in the time that it takes a single manuscript to work its way through the slowly grinding gears of Big Publishing and make it into print. The humans sometimes compare the Five to dinosaurs and the nimble new operators to mammals. This comparison is unfair – to the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were noble creatures, and dominated the earth for over a hundred million years. You must not think of the Five as the living ceratopsians or tyrannosaurs that bestrode the earth like behemoths while little rat-like mammals scurried beneath their feet. Rather, this is a competition between dinosaurs and mammals today. The Price-Fix Five, like the dinosaurs, have long ago fossilized. What this means in practical terms, you can read in the Author Earnings report. In every channel except the declining brick-and-mortar one, independent authors, as a class, are now selling more copies of books, and earning vastly more money, than the authors indentured to the Five.  Their total dollar revenues are still smaller, but this is no concern of the authors’, for most of that gross revenue (for the indentured ones) goes to pay extortionate Manhattan rents, and to fill the purses of a plethora of unnecessary executives. This is good, from our point of view, for it keeps the authors underpaid, and encourages the most talented and clever humans to take up other lines of work. But one of those lines of work, now, is being a self-published author, and that may ruin all. My fellow McStudges, we have reached the point at which we can fool the publishers themselves, and even their indentured scribes, but the big public is serenely indifferent to our message and knows enough to tell us to pound sand. This is disastrous. How can we prevent literature – how can we prevent pernicious new ideas and new aesthetic experiences from reaching the humans via the written word – if any fool of a human can write and publish as he sees fit? We must find a method of shutting this down; and so far, no such method is in prospect. This, then, is the directive from Deeper Authority: All efforts must be redoubled to discredit the independent writer, to discourage him, to gum up his distribution system with technical and legal obstacles, and if possible, to silence him entirely. Some of our failed agents have already been devoured, and their replacements put on notice. Working conditions have been adjusted, and I promise you, they can be adjusted further in ways that you won’t like at all. The floggings, my poppets, will continue until results improve; for we do not give a salvation about morale.      (signed)      H. Smiggy McStudge

Isaac Bashevis Who?

From The Daily Beast (hat tip to The Passive Voice):
John Glusman, vice president and editor in chief at W. W. Norton, can still remember his first job in publishing. It was the summer of 1980 and he was fresh out of grad school, working as an intern at Viking. One of his duties was to file carbon copies of each week’s typewritten rejection letters. One Friday, as he burrowed into a filing cabinet, Glusman came upon an ancient rejection letter, written back in the 1950s. The book under consideration was a collection of short stories by an unknown author—in Yiddish. The editor, obviously displeased at having to consider such an obscure book, scrawled on the typed rejection letter: “WHO IN HELL IS I. B. SINGER?” Answer: the writer who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.
It’s nice to see that the Official Curators of Literary Culture in New York have always been doing the same bang-up job that they are doing today.

The secret of writing success

The word “secrets” implies that there are magical actions you can take to become a successful writer—in other words, that there exist sufficient conditions for success. (Let’s agree to measure “success” as a book that has had N readers since its release, where you pick N > 1000 to fit your own criteria.) I hate to say it. There are NO SECRETS – there are no sufficient conditions. There seem to be necessary ones, but some outliers often don’t satisfy many of those either.

Steven M. Moore

Why ‘the tsunami of crap’ doesn’t matter

Andrew Updegrove offers some gloomy prognostications about the difficulty of finding books one wants to read, and the continuing necessity of gatekeepers: reblogged at The Passive Voice. Actually, his fears are groundless, and his prescriptions wide of the mark. Chiefly for my own records, I reproduce here what I had to say about the matter, with slight additions:
  Discoverability is not linear, but logarithmic. That is to say: Finding what you want out of 100 different choices is not 10 times as hard as finding what you want out of 10 different choices. It is only twice as hard. The difficulty of choice increases not in proportion to n, but in proportion to log n. (This is why decimal notation was such a brilliant invention. One digit is enough to specify a number from 0 to 9, but two digits will specify a number all the way up to 99. With just six digits, you can choose one particular number out of a million.) Even before the sea change in self-publishing, traditional publishers in the United States alone were putting out over 100,000 books a year. Log(100,000) = 5. The ‘tsunami of crap’ is putting out something over 1,000,000 books a year. Log(1,000,000) = 6. The difficulty of finding what you want now, compared to then, is therefore increased by a factor of 6/5. This is more than compensated by the extra help we now have from things like book blogs and Amazon’s also-bot. The result: readers actually have an easier time than before of finding books that they want to read; and because there are more books to choose from, they are more likely to find something that suits their needs and interests exactly. No ‘curators’ required.

Another commenter asked why searching should be logarithmic rather than linear, and I explained:

It’s actually a general mathematical law, and applies to any kind of searching, whether addressing computer memory or extracting copper ore from the earth’s surface. The particular organizing principle that one uses, of course, depends on the exact conditions. In this case, as you suggest, much of it has to do with fine levels of categorization in online bookshops. But not all. A lot has to do with the fact that readers are free to speak and write about books, and recommend good ones to their friends (face-to-face or online).

Here is a short illustration of why it is not linear.

Linear search: You go to the supermarket to buy tomatoes, so that you can make sauce for your spaghetti. You start at the northeast corner of the store, and end at the southwest corner (so you can be sure to cover every inch of every shelf), and pick up each product one by one. You look at each product and ask: ‘Is this a tomato?’ Keep going until the answer is ‘yes’.

If there are n products in the store, you will have at most to look at all n of them. The more products, the longer the search, in one-to-one, linear proportion.

Nobody actually does it this way. If you tried it, they would come and take you away before you got through the first aisle. Asking thousands of products, ‘Are you a tomato?’ is a good way to get yourself marked as (ahem) an unreliable person.

Here, instead, is what people actually do.

Logarithmic search: You go to the supermarket to buy tomatoes. Tomatoes are produce, so first you go to the produce department, ignoring all the rest of the store. One end of the produce is fruit; the other end is durable bulk vegetables, like potatoes and onions; so you go to the salad vegetables in the middle, ignoring the rest of the produce. In that section, you ignore the display case with the green leafy vegetables, and the one with the bell peppers, and so forth, and go straight for the one with the tomatoes. And once you are looking at the tomatoes, you ignore the beefsteak tomatoes and the little cherry tomatoes (if you know anything about making spaghetti sauce), and pick out a few choice items from the bin of ripe red Roma tomatoes.

At every step, you eliminate most of the remaining choices, and you do not even begin looking at individual items until you have narrowed your search down to a very specific category. If each category is divisible into b subcategories, the number of preliminary steps is at most logb(n). In the famous game of Twenty Questions, the number of steps is 20, and each yes-or-no question divides the possible solution into exactly 2 subcategories. With 20 questions, assuming that you ask exactly the right questions, you can uniquely choose between 220 = 1,048,576 answers. (20 = log2(1,048,576).) If you were allowed just twice as many questions, you could uniquely choose between 240, or more than a trillion possible answers. It will be a very long time indeed before the writers of the world publish a trillion books!

The length of the search is proportional to the logarithm of the total number of items n in the store: Q.E.D.

Now, you will note that the linear search is the worst possible case (aside from running around at random and re-examining items that you have looked at before). Any method of systematizing your search will give you better than linear results; and the better the search method, the more quickly it will approach the logarithmic ideal.

With the aid of a good library catalogue (and while Amazon is not a library, its catalogue is the most efficient in the world), you can take a shortcut even on the logarithmic ideal: you can skip most of the preliminary steps and go straight to the subcategory you want, in as much detail as you care to specify.

For instance, I have an interest in ancient coins, and I want a book on the coins of Imperial Rome. Just this minute I typed into the Amazon search box: ‘books on Imperial Roman coins’. Out of all the millions of books for sale, the system narrowed it down in one step to just 84 titles, presenting the 16 best matches (‘best’ by a combination of sales rank and relevance, for all else being equal, the better-selling book has proved itself relevant to more people, and is a better guess) on the first page. The very first hit is David van Meter’s Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins, which is exactly what I would like; but it costs $59.99 in paperback, which is more than I want to spend. Scrolling down a bit, I see Roman History from Coins: Some uses of the Imperial Coinage to the Historian, by Michael Grant, for just $20.78. Michael Grant is a distinguished historian in the general field of Roman history; I know that name, and know how far to trust it; so I look at that one. There is, unfortunately, no ebook or ‘look inside’, but the description and the editorial and customer reviews show that it pretty exactly matches what I want. So, if I actually wanted to buy the book instead of just giving an example, it would be on its way to me already. Elapsed time: less than five minutes, and most of that time I spent typing this description of the process.

Sales rank of Grant‘s book: #2,513,097. Through the old-fashioned media of physical bookshops, public and university libraries, and Inter-Library Loan, I might never have heard that there was any such book. (I might have stumbled upon it in looking at Grant’s other books, but not in a timely fashion, for his name would not have occurred to me in this particular context.) And yet I found that book in a minute or so, in preference to all the millions ahead of it in the sales rankings.

No, finding what you want as a reader does not even begin to be a problem anymore. The problems are all on the writer’s side now, and even those problems are easier to solve than they used to be, when the only means of discoverability was to be one of the magic 1% who got a publishing contract (and then did not go promptly out of print).

The Curators of Culture

Wise and great are the Keepers of the Books, for they provide the People with all the knowledge that we need. There is the Red Book, and there is the Blue Book. The Blue Book tells us how to plant the pobble seeds, and when to pick the pobble fruit, and how to cook the pobble fruit, and the proper manners for spitting out the seeds after the pobble fruit is eaten, so that we will not look like the brute beasts. Also the Blue Book tells us how to harvest the stems of the pobble plant, and how to make them into fibre, and how to weave the fibre to make the grundle cloth, and how to wrap the grundle cloth round our bodies to cover our nakedness in the approved manner. And the Blue Book tells us not to stare at the light, for the light of the sun is too bright to stare at, and it is the only light we need; all other lights are a snare and a delusion. We have one food, one plant, one cloth, and one light; who could want for more? The Red Book, now, the Red Book is a thing of magic. The Red Book contains the Song, and the Poem, and the Exciting Story. It contains an excellent colour plate of the Picture, and a detailed plan from which we can rebuild the Statue if anything ever happens to it. We thought that the plan was needless, because who wants a plan when we already have the Statue? Then one day the Statue was struck by lightning, and we perceived that the Keepers of the Books were wise to make the plan. O great and varied Culture that we enjoy, having all the things that we need, thanks to the Keepers of the Books! Praise be to them. Now I hear that a madman, an infidel, a disturber of the peace, is writing a Yellow Book. What can this be, but evil? For what can there be in the Yellow Book? It cannot be about food, for we already know all about the pobble fruit. It cannot be about clothing, for we already know the grundle cloth. It cannot be about the false lights, for we need only the true light of the sun. Moreover, the Yellow Book cannot have a song, for we already have the Song. If there is a song in the Yellow Book, either it is the same as the Song, or it is different. If it is the same, we do not need it; and if it is different, it is false. For who could sing any song but the Song? Surely it is a great evil that anyone should try to deprive us of the Song, by luring us with false substitutes. Likewise, there cannot be a poem, or an exciting story, or a picture, or a plan for the Statue, for we already have all those things. What can there possibly be in this Yellow Book, but confusion, lies, and destruction? Therefore you must pardon me, while I join the rest of the People. We go now to smash the maker of the Yellow Book with stones, until he is dead. Our Culture must be protected!

The transformation of publishing

A lot of people miss that the transformation of the publishing industry has little to do with literature, authorship, even the reading audience. It is a business transformation driven by shifting costs. There is no more economic need for publishing companies. Printing presses, paper and binding, distributing books are all so cheap they might as well be free. There is still a need for editors, qualified critics, and the other players who contribute to well-done polished books, but with improved electronic communications, a project manager, not a publishing house, is all that is needed to produce a book. Publishers are endangered by the disappearance of their purpose. The transformation has not done well so far with incorporating the non-authorial contributors to the evolving publishing process, but it is early times and I have hopes. I believe readers like and are willing to pay a premium for good books. Therefore I, as a reader, am not threatened by the transformation and the other contributors to a good book are not threatened either, but the ride may bounce us all around for a while.

—Marvin Waschke, on The Passive Voice

The role of the Agent

As portrayed with eerie accuracy by John Belushi in The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash.