Writer Norman Spinrad: Order To Net
I’ve got something I need to say and this is a good catalyst.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK?
For those of you who may think I’ve dropped off the face of the earth, or at least Europe, I am currently trapped in New York and trying to escape back to France. This is not proving easy. Thanks to various real estate catastrophes in Paris I lost my apartment there and thanks to the Parisian real estate market, which was requiring $20,000 or so, not counting rent, to secure a new one, and various other unpleasantnesses, Dona and I ended up in New York for what was supposed to be a short stay.
Thanks to her real estate problems here and a huge publishing mess involving two novels, a publishing screw-job, and an agent problem resulting from and/or caused thereby, I’m stuck here until I get it all sorted out, since New York is where the US publishing industry resides, and therefore where this mess has to be dealt with.
Fearing lawsuits if the whole story were put into print, I can’t go into it here and now, or at least not without consulting legal council. Suffice it to say that after receiving a Lifetime Achievement award from the hands of the mayor of Nantes in France, I arrived in the Big Apple to discover that, thanks to the state of the American publishing industry, various perfidies and lies on the part of denizens thereof, over thirty years as a published novelist and two dollars will get you a ride on the subway.
Let me pause here.
For those of you who don’t know who Norman Spinrad is, check this wikipedia entry.
That’s really an inadequate entry. A better idea of the impact of him and his work is elucidated in the introduction to this Locus interview.
All set up for the rest now? Good.
Continuing from Spinrad:
Well maybe it isn’t quite that bad. I got that award at the Utopials conference, there were a lot of American writers there, and I heard much worse. It’s a pre-revolutionary situation waiting for its Che, caused in large part by something called “order to net.” Say the chains ordered 10,000 copies of your last book and sold 8000. They order 8000 of the next one, sell 6000, order 6000 of the one after than, sell 4000, order 4000 of that, sell 3000, order 3000 of that…. You don’t have to be much of a mathematician to see where it leads, not just for writers, but en mass for publishers too….
As Ian Ballantine said to me long before it even got this far, “It started to go bad when publishers lost control of their distribution.”
At least I’m still in show business, and the escape route just may go through Hollywood. But that’s a state secret at the moment.
Emphasis added by me.
What did I just post yesterday? Let me excerpt the salient bit:
“Think of it like a supply chain,” said one publishing executive who would not speak for attribution. “If the newspapers have fewer ads, they’re running fewer book reviews, so therefore, for those books that don’t have a pre-established audience, there are fewer opportunities to appeal to the consumer. Therefore, there are fewer of those consumers going into the bookstore. The bookstore recognizes this, and they tell you your mid-list books aren’t doing shit, so they’re not gonna order them, or they’re just gonna order 100 copies. They can cut off those books, and then the publisher is faced with a tough decision — how am I gonna buy those books that I know I can only ship 100 copies of? What am I gonna do? Am I gonna keep doing it? Or am I gonna spend more [money] chasing established authors?”
Emphasis added by me.
Do you see now why I scream about eBooks, direct publishing by writers, and telling the dying dinosaurs of print to take their unjust contracts and shove them up their greedy asses?! (And Amazon, that includes you too with your criminal 65-35 split on Kindle eBooks!)
Writers — good, established career writers — are being euthanized.
Arbeit Macht Frei: Work Makes You Free
[Portal image: Zelfgemaakt in juli 2005. nl:Gebruiker:NielsB
Source: Wikimedia Commons]
That motto should be over the doors of every dying dinosaur print publishing house.
Writing for those bastards is the only career where you can wind up as Spinrad has stated:
[O]ver thirty years as a published novelist and two dollars will get you a ride on the subway.
Think about that: Thirty years. Thirty years to build an audience!
Did that audience suddenly all drop dead?
But to that audience, it has seemed as if Norman Spinrad has dropped dead!
How does he explain to readers he meets why his books aren’t available?
Try this on for size:
Reader: “I love your work. Are you doing any more?”
Spinrad: “I’m writing all the time.”
Reader: “That’s great! When’s the next book coming out?”
Spinrad: “. . .”
What does he say without looking like a lowlife?
Can he tell the truth and say the dying dinosaurs of print are a bunch of in-bred short-sighted pricks destroying writers every single day?
How can he open his mouth and not be perceived as a loser, not be seen as a has-been, not be looked upon as someone with the Mark of Cain on his forehead?
Go on. Try to tell me that is not euthanasia!
Every time I turn around, I hear from another writer — someone with more than one book published, someone with several books published over at least a decade of writing — telling me about his or her publisher getting skittish about continuing their professional relationship.
Suddenly these writers are looking at the possibility of the end of their careers.
Publishing Bastard A: “We get more sales from cat books. Buh-bye.”
Publishing Bastard B: “Yeah, you do good stuff, but why did Bastard A drop you?”
What chance does any writer have against publishers who are willing to throw money away on absolute shit such as this: Terminatrix: The Sarah Palin Chronicles. Go look through the preview. This is absolute shit. Yet time and money have been spent on that, instead of one of their writers whose work has been languishing without publicity, without space on a bookstore shelf.
Who are the eejits at that house who approved that? They should be fired. They should never work in publishing again. They’re smiley-faced murderers of writers.
But this is not a just world. And publishing is like a little, insular club. Even if they were fired, they’d wind up at another mega- global- conglomerate with a paycheck to cover their rent and yet another chance to display their writer-murdering non-talents.
What about their accomplices? Hey, Borders and Barnes & Noble, did you both buy that shit non-book? Did you both give it shelf space? If you did, I hope you lost your shirts on it. I hope the publisher sold it with a no-return stipulation and you wind up with a stack of them in your toilet facilities to wipe your asses with. And I pray you get an incurable rash as well as hemorrhoids in the shape of Palin’s face!
The only hope all writers have is eBooks.
Think about it:
1) An eBook reader has already shown affluence by investing in a reading device (whether it’s an iPhone or Sony Reader or another).
2) eBook readers have displayed above-average intelligence by recognizing the superiority of eBooks to print books.
3) eBook readers have already abandoned the limited choices offered at Borders and Barnes & Noble and recognize the coming infinite choices offered by the Internet.
4) eBook readers are serious about reading (no one buys a device for casual reading!).
5) Buying print books online has educated people in buying eBooks online.
6) Stanza on the iPhone has already doubled the population of people reading eBooks.
8) The price of a device such as the Sony Reader can only go down as manufacturing costs drop.
9) Sony’s commitment to an open wireless platform means Sony Reader owners can buy from anyone — which will include writers who direct publish.
10) Writers who direct publish eBooks have a better chance of connecting with potential readers on the Internet than they ever could with a printed book that’s not for sale in any store. And eBook = buy right now = instant gratification.
11) Freed from the dying dinosaurs of print and the Order To Net practices of the existing duopoly of Barnes & Noble and Borders, writers who direct publish eBooks can do sensible pricing.
The days of Writer Liberation are coming.
Anyone who signs with the dying dinosaurs of print is asking for the screwing they’ll get.
Today’s dying dinosaurs of print are tomorrow’s commoditized peddlers of eBook souvenirs.
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