E-Books, Paperbacks, and Authors

The other day I was going over sales figures with my editor, and we got to talking about where the publishing market is going.  I knew that paperback sales had taken a huge hit, but just how huge I didn’t realize, although I was certainly aware that my own paperback sales had taken hits. According to my editor, on average, once you get below the huge best-sellers, like A Game of Thrones, Twilight, The Hunger Games, etc., on average paperback sales are now running at 20-30% of what they did fifteen years ago, if not lower in some cases. Authors who could count on selling 100,000 copies or more in paperback are now selling 20,000 -30,000, and the same is true of newer authors whose hardcover sales are at the low New York Times bestseller levels.  In more and more cases, publishers aren’t even issuing some books in paperback, but only in hardcover or trade paperback and then ebook format.  It’s not just a matter of price, either, no matter what readers claim, since, in real dollar terms paperbacks are either lower or only slightly higher in price [depending on which measure of inflation is used] than they were fifteen years ago.

What’s happened?

The immediate suspicion is that the “lost” paperback sales have been replaced by ebook sales, but the sales numbers don’t support that in the case of paperback books, although there’s a fairly good correlation in the sale of hardcovers, that is, for a number of authors, hardcover and initial ebook sales [at the higher price] are fairly close to former hardcover sales alone, although this results in lower author royalties.

There are a lot of other explanations for the paperback book sales decline out there.  Many cite piracy and ebooks as the reason, and just as many claim that “pirated” editions actually increase sales, although I’m skeptical of the latter argument on this. Here’s why. Over the past year or so, I’ve received more than a few emails and comments along the lines of “I first read one of your books as a pirated download.”  All of those who contacted me with that line went on to say that they now purchase my works, for which I’m grateful.

BUT… this raises several another questions.  Just how many readers out there are there who read one of those pirated editions and said, “Forget it!  This just isn’t for me.”?  And how many others read a few pages and turned away?  And how many people in that reading and interest bracket would have bought and tried a paperback twenty years ago?

These questions are very relevant, especially in the case of the decline of paperback sales.  Before the advent of ebooks and the subsequent widespread piracy – and it’s everywhere – a reader had to get a hold of a physical book, and that physical book had to be paid for, and that counted in sales. Even if the reader didn’t like it, and threw it in the trash or gave it to a friend, a copy of the book was sold, and someone had to make an effort to do something with the book.  In addition, after having invested in buying the book, a great percentage of readers would struggle through the book. In my case, this is particularly relevant, because many of my books are so complex that they develop slowly.  All you have to do is look at all the reviews to see that. In the “old” days, I suspect I hooked more readers because they didn’t want to “waste” their money.  Today, when readers scan a pirated ebook, they’ve invested nothing, and there’s no cost to them, and many, I believe, just turn away from something that doesn’t provide immediate gratification.

Add to this something I’ve also heard and read a lot about in the last year, and that is an attitude of entitlement – that readers “deserve” to know whether they’ll like a book before they pay for it.  What?  If you go to a movie, or rent one, or purchase a DVD, you don’t get to see it and make a decision to pay for it after the fact.  Even if you see in on cable or satellite, you’re essentially paying for it.  You can read up on restaurants, but you don’t get to eat the meal and then refuse to pay for it because you didn’t like it, at least not for long, and not without a great deal of unpleasantness.

Then… there’s simply the vast number of websites offering free downloads of books.  There are literally scores offering my books.  Would they all be doing this if there weren’t a demand?  I don’t think so.

I’ve been fortunate, in that, while I’ve taken some considerable hits in the pocketbook from this so-called market shift, I still sell enough that my publisher continues to publish my books in hardcover, mass market paperback, and ebook format. There are all too many good writers who have not been that fortunate and who are not good web-and-internet promoters… and their books no longer see print… or much in the way of new readers even when e-published.  In essence, they’ve been pushed out by cheap and usually inferior works by writers who aren’t as good in writing but who are far more effective at promotion… by a class of works that might be called “internet penny dreadfuls” [mixing anachronism and technology, so to speak].  That’s not to say that there are not some good authors who are e-publishing their own works, but they’re a very small minority among the flood of self-published ebooks.

Publishers can’t compete with this new class of “penny dreadfuls” – and they won’t.  To stay in business, they’ll have to chase the popular best-seller market, as is already happening with the proliferation of books about vampires, werewolves, zombies, or those which glorify violence of all kinds [yes, I do mean The Game of Thrones] while retaining those authors who have a dedicated following and discarding those whose sales drop off, while Amazon pushes for cheaper and cheaper ebooks [with the unwitting help of the U.S. Department of Justice].  The old model of publishers developing authors has almost vanished, and current trends will likely finish it off.

Technology changes things, including popular attitudes, and most of them won’t change back, and that means that the publishing field is changing and will continue to do so.  But…please don’t make the argument that pirated ebooks are good for authors, books, good writing, or literature.  They’re only good for the ultra-popular writers and the great self-promoters… and that narrows the range of available books in a very practical sense.

39 thoughts on “E-Books, Paperbacks, and Authors”

  1. Mage says:

    The death of the paperback market happened years ago in Great Britain. Charles Stross talked about it on his blog a year or two ago. It was just a matter of time before it hit the US.

    As a side note I buy very few paperbacks any more, but neither do I acquire pirated works. I go to used book stores or the library. Do you get royalties from library loans?

  2. No. Authors only get royalties on the books purchased by libraries… and those purchases are shrinking because governments fund most libraries and their funds are far less now.

  3. “BUT… this raises several another questions. Just how many readers out there are there who read one of those pirated editions and said, “Forget it! This just isn’t for me.”? And how many others read a few pages and turned away? And how many people in that reading and interest bracket would have bought and tried a paperback twenty years ago?”

    This actually isn’t functionally different from someone browsing at a bookstore, pulling a book off the shelf, reading a few pages, and returning as “This just isn’t for me.”

    Or at least, the differences aren’t as important as one might think.

    There’s the perceived difference that, in one case, what happens was “legal,” and in the other case, it isn’t. You’re allowed, and generally encouraged, to browse around bookstores to see what you like. Whereas downloading a copy isn’t quite so smiled upon.

    However, it’s also fair to say that these scenarios are quite similar. In both cases, a possible reader browses the work, decides it is not to their taste, and does not proceed to purchase it.

    I think the latter comparison is more relevant than the former.

    I’m not certain what effect illegal copying (I consider “piracy” to be an unjust attempt that thieves, erm, publishers, are making to steal a term that indicates a continuing-to-be-common crime whose perpatrators continue to be fairly much worthy of *literal* summary execution, namely piracy as the violent capture and robbery of ships on the high seas) is really having.

    In its absence, I’m not sure that there would be more and better science fiction writing being distributed. It seems to me that there are other things going on causing the underfunding of SF authors, and that so-called “piracy” is only one factor, perhaps being used as a distraction from more important factors. There’s clearly a LOT going on, not all particularly visible to readers in the marketplace.

  4. Joe says:

    I don’t think the problem is piracy, but oversupply and lack of demand.

    First, one sells more jam at a farmer’s market if one only have 5 kinds of jam on your table than if one has 15. People find it hard to make a choice with only 15 items, let alone thousands of books. It seems most people invest their time based on their friends’ recommendations and what is already popular.

    Second, few people have the time to read anything much these days (books, newspaper articles, …). In fact people who work come home too tired even to watch TV. And people who don’t work have little money.

    Third, many people borrow books from public libraries (library patronage has increased since 2010). If they like the book, they may buy it, probably used from abebooks.com which is only a click away… and is a lot more convenient than actually visiting a book store, which are few and far between nowadays.

    In every market the problem is the same. Having written a book in a technical field (which has done far better on the file sharing websites than it did in the bookstores), a fair number of unremunerated scientific papers, and having written software for various popular devices, some of which did poorly and some did well, and most of which has also been pirated, my conclusion is that having an interested audience matters more to selling than the quality of one’s work. This is not of course very flattering to one’s ego. But it means that if some piracy increases one’s audience, one may benefit in the long term. For instance, I don’t have a TV, so I don’t watch TV series. Yet I have bought DVDs for shows I discovered on youtube and hulu. Similarly I discovered you (LEM) from the copy of Adiamante in the free pile at my library.

    As to claiming people are “entitled” if they do not want to buy a lemon, I find your argument unpersuasive. In many countries people demand refunds for bad movies. People don’t bother with DVDs since the price of a rental is only ~2$ (Netflix). A business model based on tricking people into buying books they don’t want seems poorly thought out to me.

    All of this doesn’t mean that the market isn’t unfriendly to small creators. There are simply too many books/apps/tunes out there for people to evaluate, and too little time for people to investigate all the options, which pretty much guarantees that only the most famous products sell well. If you are rich and know your product will sell well, you can invest a lot of money in creating it, and in advertising it, which becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. If you’re a small creator, you can’t do that, and may well die in obscurity. This does not improves quality, as simply tuning in to your “local” FM station will demonstrate.

    Copyright is a solution to the problem of funding creators, and promoting the arts and sciences. It’s not working very well, rewarding dead authors’ estates and large publishing conglomerates, more than the actual creators. It also leads to inefficiencies in the larger economy. For instance few companies can afford subscriptions to relevant scientific publications written for free by professors eager to get their work known. Economies that have loose copyright laws can avoid these inefficiencies. I’m thinking of the rise of China for instance. Since cheap copying will soon spread to physical goods, I expect we’ll have to discard copyright and find a different means to fund and foster creativity.

  5. Publishers don’t “trick” people into buying books the readers don’t want. They do try to present them in a way that appeals to the widest possible audience. That’s not persuading the readers to buy a lemon. And, frankly, very few books put out by major publishers are lemons; although, as I’ve learned, readers tend to label anything not to their particular tastes as such.

    I do think you’re absolutely right about people having less time to read, but it’s not all due to work. Part of the decline in reading has to be because of the growth in social media. Anything that takes that much time is reducing time available for just about everything else.

    1. Joe says:

      I had not thought of social media. Good point.

      I was not implying that book publishers try to trick people, although I will state that books that give people the impression of having learnt a technical topic do sell a lot better than books that do not gloss over the details required to learn that topic… It might be more honest to say “learn a little chemistry in 21 days” than “learn chemistry in 21 days”, but it would not sell as well.

      Rather what I was trying to say was that I believe that it is is reasonable (rather than an entitlement) for readers to get what they expect when they buy a product, books included, for much the same reasons as why we have lemon laws for cars.

  6. Robert The Addled says:

    I’ve personally found that while I don’t visit physical bookstores anymore, I make good use of the ‘teaser chapters’ and ‘snippets’ placed on the web by Publishers and Authors – much like I used to read the back or inside jacket copy of a volume in a bookstore.

    Additionally, in a ‘the first taste is free’ kind of theme, some Publishers (in conjuction with the Authors) will place the first volume of a series online for free, with links to where to buy the others in the series. The Baen Free Library has turned me on to several Authors and/or series that I had previously discounted based on the ad copy/jacket material.

    Also the Social Media aspect of Author websites has an effect. I have about a dozen authors who’s websites I visit at least monthly. If they recommend an author or title – I do examine the available materials more closely than if I had just seen the title in a store or online without any context.

  7. Remi says:

    Mr. Modessitt, I was introduced to your books when I bought a used copy of “The Parafaith War” on impulse at Sam Weller’s. Neither you or your publisher received any money from that purchase, but I went on to buy many other new releases by you. Your e-books are pirated but the copies sold legitimately can not be resold or lent to friends, at least on Amazon. I don’t know how many times that beat up copy at Same Weller’s changed hands but none of the copies I’ve bought on my kindle will be read by anyone else unless I hand them my actual device(I would never part with it). That being said I realize this new type of restriction may not “even out” with pirated copies.

    Besides price and piracy we should consider that supply is exploding. You alluded to this when you mentioned “internet penny dreadfuls”. Some rejected amateur authors used to front money to a vanity press to print their books but most didn’t have the money and were never published. Even if they printed the books they had no distribution usually. Now authors that could not have afforded a pre-internet vanity press and could not have been contracted by even the worst pulp publishers are flooding the market with free or $1 books to get exposure. I used to see your books at stores with a limited amount of space, on the shelf somewhere between Ursula K. Le Guin and Larry Niven. Now you’re competing in a market more saturated than ever before.

    I agree with Joe’s last point. Content creators absolutely deserve to be rewarded but the copyright system is getting increasingly unsuited to a world full of free replication. It’s like scientists have given a personal cornucopia to every middle class citizen and IP lawyers are trying to put a coin slot operated lock on each of them with no success. Copyright worked pretty well in the past because it was still industrial facilities that contained the actual means of production. Now that the means of production are located in average middle class homes it becomes less viable by the year.

    Projects on kickstarter.com show an interesting alternative. You can’t force people to pay but you can hold your work hostage and demand ransom. Authors can release a sample of a book or simply describe the premise and refuse to release the book until they are given enough funds. It seems to be working surprisingly well. Creators can demand whatever they want, including tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they frequently get it. I don’t claim it can replace copyright in all instances but it’s proof of concept that authors can insure compensation in other ways that are viable in the internet era. Hopefully we’ll have even more viable models in the future.

  8. Jim S says:

    Money is certainly a factor. I went from buying 20 or 30 or more books a year to less than a dozen because the money to buy them wasn’t there.

    Time is also a factor; again, I went from reading 3 or 4 books a week to taking a week or more to read one book.

    E-books have undoubtedly influenced sales; my wife is very fond of her Nook reader, and, while she’s spent money on books there, she hasn’t bought many physical books.

    There are, I think, pros and cons to what’s on the shelves today. Many publishers seem to be only publishing series in the SF/Fantasy genres… and usually series by established authors. I’m sure that’s simply a result of market influence: buy a new writer’s book, promote it — and have it flop, or buy the latest book in some series that sold decently the first time… Yeah, go with the safer bet from a general business perspective.

    I also think that the simple truth is that we’ve lost a lot of bookstores, for lots of reasons. Sure, Amazon is there, but you don’t buy a book on impulse if it’s going to take a week till you can actually read it… And you don’t have the effect of browsing and tripping over something because it happened to be on a shelf.

  9. Robert The Addled says:

    Kickstarter is an important factor, but relies on some sort of socal media (maybe even an RSS feed?) to ALERT the fans. Even then – the ‘scarcity’ factor plays – One of my favorite webcomics has used Kickstarter to fund print editions of her strips – It is part pre-order, and part pay more for extras – such as autographed original prints and even a mention in the pages in the book about the Kickstarter drive.

    It isn’t much different than some authors auctioning an appearance in their next book for charity. Yet other Authors use the ‘redshirt’ concept – including fan names/handles from the forums on their websites for minor and/or throwaway characters.

    Web Artists also have been known to Auction original art on E-Bay, and I have even heard of the occasional signed early draft of a print author being auctioned, usually by the author in question.

  10. David King says:

    Mr. Modesitt – A question of what will happen to spread ideas, the changing influence of distribution, the shaping of opinion, an assault on the publishing world, political pressure – sounds like the underpinnings of a Modesitt story to me. My library card is still one of the most powerful symbols of a relatively open society, and ranks right up there – like the door into summer.

    I like all forms of books, but nothing beats a hard-back with a great cover. Works even when the power is off. I have everything you have written to date – and thanks for the larger edition of The Magic of Recluse. My copy has become well read. I agree that it is fascinating to watch change – but I will keep buying books – isn’t one of the ultimate political statements the vote of the dollar?

    Looking forward to what’s next, and thank you for great stories that make the brain work.

    David King

  11. Rudy says:

    Mr. Modesitt You have a book coming out shortly. Would you prefer that I buy it on my kindle or in hardcover? Would your opinion change if you knew that I might buy it in a second format later but am more likely to buy a physical book after a kindle than the other way around?

    1. If you’re only going to buy one version, I’d prefer you buy the hardcover. If you buy the kindle version when it first comes out, and the paperback version later, that nets me almost, but not quite as much, in royalties.

  12. Lailoken says:

    There is a fantastic book in that I think describes, in detail, many of the factors that changes the way ANY form of media is sold, how many sales it generates, and so forth. I would LOVE to have you skim (and hopefully read to completion) this gem. The book is The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired Magazine. I just finished it, and once the ramifications of what he was presenting started to soak, I couldn’t stop thinking of your posts… then he addressed Amazon directly.

    In any case, I await a further discussion on these matters from your point of view. I’m hooked, buddy!

  13. Beth Jewell says:

    I guess I’m too lawabiding. I haven’t found any of these pirated ebooks. I buy mine on Kobo and refuse to deal with the monopolistic Amazon. But when I go into Barnes and Noble (only full service store left standing where I live)the SciFi/Fan section is barren — nothing new to buy. Five years ago I was buying 1-3 books a week, including all of yours, because there were good writers to read. Now it is a struggle to find out what is coming out. Get the reader a central listing point that is NOT Amazon and does not require us to go from publisher to publisher. Give us honest links to the publisher where we can read sample chapters and buy in the various formats. Then link us to Amazon and the others. Give us a chance to be honest.

  14. Sandra Lord says:

    Changes in publishing is a hot topic presently and I recently read a piece by Kristine kathryn Rusch that I found very interesting and mainly agree with the summing up. The model for everybody has changed. See http://kriswrites.com/2012/03/14/the-business-rusch-scarcity-and-abundance/

    1. Kristine makes some very good points about the changing book market, but the one thing she does not address is the issue of quality in the new model. That may be because she’s a good professional writer, but quality matters to readers. Readers get upset over literally a few typographical errors in a book [the kinds that no grammar or spell checker will catch]. I suspect that there’s a subconscious trade-off among readers, not necessarily expecting the same quality from a $1.99 ebook as from a $14.95 one. But what happens if and when they’re all $6.99? Will readers demand quality or accept lower technical/ grammatical standards?

      1. Joe says:

        Your comment reminds me of another “genre”, where editors believed they were essential for quality (in this case accuracy): encyclopedias. This week the Encyclopedia Britannica announced its last printed edition would be the 2010 edition. I’m saddened, having spent many days reading my encyclopedia as a child, and having fond memories of spending time at my grandmother’s house reading the 1910 edition she had as a youngster… what a different world! Yet, I also have to remember that wikipedia was found to have similar accuracy to the Encyclopedia Britannica despite not having any editors, being far more searchable, far cheaper, and far more up to date.

        Who knows? Perhaps in the future, fiction copy editing will be done by volunteers. This has already started happening with technical books, where knowledgeable people read the first pass of the book and provide comments on what is clear, unclear or plain wrong.

  15. Some professional authors have already started this process with their “first readers” or “second readers.” This is a very effective process for catching typos, inconsistencies, and what I’d call minor errors. I’m not sure how effective it is with larger and less immediately obvious problems, but I suspect the larger the ego of the writer, the less effective “volunteer” editing will be. Of course, the result might just be publishing Darwinism.

    I also think there’s a difference in kind and not just in degree between factual/non-fiction books and fiction.

  16. Chick J says:


    I have read a few of your books. (46 and still reading them. The Parafaith War is one of the best SF novels I have ever read.) But I am now reading books on my nook. I haven’t brought a paperback or hardback in over a year. I have started buying all my books for the Nook. No, I haven’t use the so-call free-bes downloads. I am a firm believer in paying for another person work. If it is too expensive for me, I don’t steal it, I just get along without it. It used to be a lot of my friends would buy black boxes to get free cable, their reasons were the cable company were ripping them off.

    Now I would like the ebooks to be a little cheaper then the paperbacks. It is hard to buy at 7.99 for an electronic copy which you can’t trade or sell for a little money back like a paperback. But as long as you kept entertaining me, I will keep buying. ( Any hope for Major Jimjoy Earle Wright to star in another tale?)

    Long time fan,
    Chick J

    1. It’s unlikely that I’ll write more than the two books I’ve already written about Jimjoy, but… there is a short story about him [earlier in his career], which is included in my story collection Viewpoints Critical. The story is entitled “Second Coming.”

      It may be that ebooks will eventually be priced on a time-scale, that is, the longer since they’ve been initially released the cheaper they’ll be, but I don’t see this coming for a while, for the financial reasons I mentioned in the blog. It’s pretty hard to cut prices when you’ve lost a huge percentage of your mass market and when ebooks haven’t yet come close to making up a significant faction of the lost revenue. Contrary to popular belief, if you’re not making money on each unit, lowering the price and increasing volume won’t make you profitable; it will only increase both your revenue and your losses.

  17. rehcra says:

    It tends to increase the profits of the distributer or third parties though. lol for a couple sales quarters anyways.

  18. Mayhem says:

    I know I’ve raised this point before, but it still stands – the biggest problem I have with buying your books (and those of many others) is that the bookstores simply don’t carry them any more. I suspect it comes down to the publishers rather than the author, but there is exactly one bookstore in London that has a good range of back-catalogue genre fiction. If I go into a WH Smith, I’ll see a handful of bestsellers and probably a dozen fantasy authors. Waterstones tends to have 2-3 columns of shelves, even their flagship central london store only dedicates around a dozen columns. Go to Forbidden Planet and you’ll see three times that easily. But even there I found many titles were simply out of print.
    Charles Stross released his newest Merchant Princes book a year or so ago, book 6, and books 2 & 3 were simply not available in the UK. What kind of publisher backs up an author like that?
    For Mr Modesitt, who is very much a niche product, you’ll be lucky to find anything other than Adiamante, , 3-4 random Recluce books of different printings and *maybe* something else. Soprano Sorceress? Unavailable. Forever War? They reissued a collected trade paperback a few years ago that still floats around, but isn’t common. Viewpoints Critical took me six months to find – one store had two copies which weren’t on the website.

    I don’t know if it relates to a lack of anyone at the stores who care about the genre and are willing to push for more space, or if the publishers simply pay more to get their faster moving titles out there or what.
    I would be very happy if they even made particular stores specialise in different genres – I am quite willing to go a fairly long way out of my way to find a good bookstore.

    1. Part of the problem in England is that British F&SF publishers are hurting and there are very few F&SF lines publishing more than a few titles a month, and very few republishings of U.S. F&SF, except for block-busters. Another problem I have is that the head editor at my former British publisher didn’t personally like what I write. This is not surprising, because, for whatever reason, many editors in both the U.S. and England don’t, but in a constricted market, it becomes difficult. Because I do sell more than you’re seeing, I have a suspicion that much of what is imported to England never reaches the shelves, but goes to customers who put in early orders.

  19. Mayhem says:

    Long term I would see the long tail effect coming into play with Ebooks – once a product is digitised and properly edited, there should be very little need to do any maintenance on the title at all other than to possibly update the cover to a higher rez image or to format shift it as reader technology advances.
    At that point the traditional backlist discounting and promotion will come more into effect and older works can be cheaper – they will have earned back their costs already so discounting will be easier to do.

  20. Remi says:

    I found both of your comments interesting. I never would have guessed the situation was so different in England. Even in suburban US towns most book stores have a large sci-fi/fantasy section and I’ve found at least some of Mr. Modesitt’s books in every store I’ve looked for them in.

  21. Carl says:

    Here’s a sneak preview (with no spoilers) of the upcoming ninth book in the Corean Chronicles, which is sure to make more money than the previous entries:

    After a long but timeless moment, Mykella rose back up through the silvered surface of the table, exhausted and bruised, her insulating nightsilk covered in frost. As the cold mist dissipated, she was surprised to see Rachylana standing in the table chamber. More curiously, she was holding a strange but beautiful artifact made from red metal. It was a hand-sized cylinder, with a silvered top. The side of the cylinder had curly white lettering she didn’t recognise, running vertically, with a wavy line underneath. Mykella had never seen anything like it.

    Distracted by the artifact, she almost injured herself as she stepped down from the table. She had forgotten how drained she was. “What are you doing here? And where did you get that?” She realised she should have asked the more relevant question of what it was, but she was too warn out to think straight.

    “Good morning to you too.” Rachylana replied. Mykella sensed mild annoyance from her, that quickly returned to happiness. “I heard a noise from the table chamber, and came down and found it sitting on the table. It must have come through the long translation tube. It doesn’t seem like anything on Corus.” It didn’t seem like anything from Efra either, which worried Mykella rather than reassuring her.

    Rachylana handed her the beautiful cylinder, and Mykella took a closer look. The metal was surprisingly weightless, although she could feel a liquid sloshing inside it. There was a finger sized hole in the top of the cylinder, through which she could see the wondrous dark brown liquid. “You look like you badly need a drink. Try it, while it’s still chilled and frosty from the long translation. It’s delicious!” Rachylana said.

    “You drank it?!” Mykella shouted in surprise. Her sister had never been sufficiently cautious about most things in life. Mykella studied the liquid with her talent. She didn’t sense any poison, but as she extended a talent probe she felt a message in her mind. “Greetings from the world of Earth. We established a link to your world, to send you our greatest cultural achievement, as a gesture of friendship. We call it… Coke!”

    Mykella drank the “Coke” gingerly. The taste was amazing, yet unlike anything she had ever experienced. And she was surprised by the effervescent fizz of the bubbles that tingled her mouth pleasantly. She hadn’t realised how unbelievably thirsty her talent usage had made her. As she gulped it down quickly, she felt a surge of dark energy coursing through her in a rejuvenating wave. Her mind was sharper, she could stand up straighter, and she felt ready to take on the challenges she still had to deal with later that day.

    Sharing a Coke with Rachylana, she almost missed the blue aura slowly emanating from the table. It wasn’t a life-force colour she’d ever experienced before, certainly not from the table. As she stepped closer, a large bundle appeared. It was wrapped tightly in a thick red blanket, as though someone had tried to keep something warm in the chill of the tube. The red blanket had a symbol on it of two golden amber arches, linked at the base. The amber arches reminded Mykella of the great beauty and majesty of the Ancients’ architecture, and gave her a sense of peace and happiness. As she unwrapped it, she felt the warmth inside, and she smelled the most delicious aroma and she knew she would love it. She suddenly realised how unbearably hungry her morning’s activities had made her.

    This preview was proudly sponsored by Coca-Cola… Share a coke with your sister today! And McDonalds… I’m lovin’ it!

  22. Carl says:

    Writing that story was surprisingly fun, but it took a long time. I was really getting into it. Now I want to know what happens next! I guess I’ll have to wait for him to write book 9: “The Lady-Protector’s Dinner”.

    I didn’t mean to suggest you would actually sell out like that, by the way. I was just joking about the lengths piracy could force people to go to to make money.

  23. Wine Guy says:

    I think that Gresham’s Law, as applied to the publishing world instead of government, is operating with respect to book prices. What is being pushed aside are good writers (Dave Duncan = hard to find now, for example).

    That, coupled with a serious underappreciation for just how much things ACTUALLY cost to produce makes for a challenging market.

  24. Jason says:

    Mr. Modesitt,

    I wish I had answers for the all the uncertainties that lay ahead for authors, books and publishing.

    But, if it is small consolation, I greatly appreciate your work, and my 11-year-old son is on his 3rd books of yours and is really enjoying them. We will continue to, as I always have, buy your books from legitimate sources as you deserve to be paid for your wonderful books.

    By the way, any chance the Recluse series will make its way to either television, movies or video games? Also, have you ever considered a reader’s encyclopedia of Recluse? I have always wanted to see maps of Candar during the various time periods, among the numerous questions I have concerning the series.

    Anyways, thank you for your work. It is enjoyed and appreciated.

  25. I’d be more than happy to see the Saga of Recluce in cinematic, TV series, or video game format, but I’m not holding my breath. So far three different gaming outfits have paid for options, tried, and decided against developing a video game.

    1. Jules says:

      I was scanning through the internet contemplating buying some copies of your older Recluce novels, but hoping to find some cheap ebook versions. I realized after seeing this thread that I have never once bought a new copy of your works, despite being a huge fan. I even got a signed hardback in an awesome ‘$9.99’ bin. The majority of my large library is used books, aside from a few text books, my worn Harry Potter hardbacks that I HAD to buy at midnight, some stuff of Christopher Moore’s that I impulse bought years ago(that I’ve given away to friends after reading a few times) and some old school star wars books.

      I’m not sure of the solution, but we need another way to ‘pay’ authors that doesn’t involve the traditional store selling goods model. Especially now that online shopping has taken hold, many of us who have always been more about thrift than instant gratification will go there. And lets face it, people who read books like yours are going to tend to be more about big picture than instant gratification.

      Pirating is an interesting scenario because it is seen as taking away money I would have given to you, the creator. Yet when I buy used books, the money isn’t going to you either. Even though I’d rather just be giving you, the author, money and getting access to your book, I instead am paying the nice bookstore owner for still buying in to a dying business model. Of course, wanting to kill that particular side market is why the video game publishers have been going more towards a model than only allows people to buy a game and play it on one system…no resale possible. I don’t see how that would work for books, but I guess DRM laden ebooks are an attempt at that sort of a model, even though they lead to more pirating.

      That being said, now I’ll probably go buy an ebook on my Nook to at least support you a bit and wait until the next time I’m around my favorite thrift store to see if they have any good hardback copies.

      Side note: In regards to Recluce being something video game based…it may be hard, as crafting is such a large component of the magic of that series. Now if you could find me actual crafters who loved Recluce as much as I do and were willing to teach classes/sell videos, tying in some of the philosophies with real world applications minus the magic…I’d be in. I swear my best times out shooting have been when I imagined myself as a mage and tried to ‘feel’ the target. 🙂

  26. Carl says:

    I haven’t read Recluce yet. The magic system didn’t appeal as much as your other ones.

    Corean Chronicles would work well as a game or two though. It’s got a great mix of FPS, RTS, RPG, stealth and exploration elements. It’s got as much potential for games as Star Wars did.

    I’m thinking it should have a first-person view, but you can order your squad/company/battalion around, or lead from the front. Kind of like Star Wars Republic Commando. I’d also have experience points and talent abilities that level up. You’d start off as a ranker and work your way up to Colonel. There’d be some levels sneaking around as an individual and some as major battles.

    For talent powers, I’d like to see it done differently from the normal magic-meter thing where you have a fixed amount of manna. I want a system where people can choose to push themselves, but if they do they get tired and have trouble running, walking properly, seeing and hearing properly, shooting properly, eventually barely being able to stand up and stay conscious, etc.

  27. Amanda says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the problem with sales, piracy, and market shifts. I continue to love your books and buy them whenever possible. I’ve found them all over the world in my travels and re-read them periodically just to fall back into the wonderful, thought-provoking worlds you have created. Thank you so much!

  28. Lore says:


    I have gotten books from every possible outlet: pirated, libraries, used paperback stores, hardback sales, paperback sales, ebook sales, and even a few I just found lying around. As a book junkie who works in web development, I have been thinking about the publishing issue for years now.

    Book publishers must provide more value.

    I can go on Netflix for $10/month and watch thousands of shows and movies. To read the 19 Recluce books right now would probably cost me about $9 x 19 at Amazon = $171. I would be surprised if more than 10% of that money goes to the author. Does Amazon really need my $150? The business model is hopelessly out of date. Television is having some of the same issues but is evolving more quickly, as evidenced by all the apps on my ‘smart TV’.

    From publishers, I want this:

    – Create a central hub like Netflix or Hulu, where content is curated, reviewed and sold by names we trust (the publishers).
    – On such a site, I should know that a decent percentage is going directly to the author, preferably over 50%!
    – The titles should cost less, for example $2.50. In my admittedly half-baked research, lower prices lowered piracy within the USA music industry.
    – I should be able to subscribe to a series like Recluce and easily get notices when new books are available.
    – It would be a bonus if the site had user ratings, recommendations, and other tools to help me find books I want.
    – Particularly it should have a search tool like “Fantasy/Sci Fi” + has more than 3 books in series already existing (because I often don’t start reading til then).

    You and other established authors could be a driving force in making this happen. Maybe put together a Kickstarter so you can afford a sort of ‘lobbyist’ to start getting everyone organized and committed to a change like this.

    I’m off to buy your latest 4 Recluce books now (love your work!)

    1. I’m not opposed to change, but I’m not in favor of it until the “free rider” problem gets solved. Television and movies get around it by accepting, if unwillingly, a high percentage of piracy and low per-viewer revenue because the market is so large. Books are a very different commodity because the number of readers is far smaller, and individual tastes in books are at least as varied as for video entertainment. As for the music industry, the change may have been good for the consumer, but it’s been brutal for both song-writers and musicians, and frankly, the technical range of what’s easily available seems to be less and less each year. I worry that something similar is already happening in the publishing field, where sales are more and more concentrated among fewer and fewer writers. I’ve been fortunate, so far, to maintain a position between the mega-selling authors and those mid-list authors who either hold down a day job or barely survive on their writing income, and it’s been anything but easy.

      1. Lore says:

        It’s unlikely that you can prevent piracy of text (just too easy to copy it). But maybe one could encourage honesty by making it more convenient for customers to be honest, and much more importantly, by making us feel like we’re actually supporting the artists.

        Giving artists 10% of the profits makes it all feel pointless to try. Something definitely needs to change. 🙂

  29. Martinjet says:

    Hellow my name is Martinjet. Wery proper article! Thx 🙂

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