2013 In Passing – Miscellaneous Thoughts

The year 2013 is on its very last legs and, from my point of view, sprinting to the finish. Like most years, it has had its good and bad points, the bad ones largely related to politics and government, which is scarcely surprising, since politics reflect the intersection of beliefs and power in the extreme, and the extreme of belief and the extreme of power represent the ugliest facets of human nature.

On the other hand, what is astounding, and I do mean that, is what Pope Francis has already said and demonstrated are his goals in rebuilding the Catholic Church, unlike the theocrats of the LDS faith who have now pressured the Utah legislature to undertake a massive lawsuit against gay marriage, a lawsuit that the Federal Appeals Court has already suggested the state will lose. And I have to say that I never thought that I’d see the leader of the Catholic faith more enlightened than any other major faith, even the LDS faith.

The last year has seen ebooks come close, from the figures I’ve observed, to undermining, if not destroying, the dominance of mass market paperbacks in providing comparatively lower-cost fiction in the field of F&SF. That’s a very mixed blessing, because with ebooks comes the ease of piracy, and regardless of what “studies” show, the sales and royalty figures for new releases indicate to me that piracy has had a definite negative impact on new releases. The upside is that ebooks enable longer and more profitable sales of an author’s backlist. How this will work out won’t be clear for several more years, I suspect.

The recent wave of state legislatures beginning to enact laws that allow gay marriage, as well as the accompanying court decisions and the significant shift in public opinion, give some hope to the idea that marriages in the United States might be better judged on whether they’re loving, supportive, and successful in matters such as raising children rather than being judged on whether they meet a particular theological criteria.

The public in general and the “education establishment,” on the other hand, for all the studies and rhetoric, still can’t accept the fact that student success requires not only good and responsible teachers, but also good and responsible students – and parents. Without all three, no real improvement or progress is possible, yet both parents and the education administrators, as well as politicians, continue dump all responsibility on the teachers… and, unhappily, I don’t see this changing in the near future.

The record profits of corporate America, the highest level of Wall Street stock indices ever, and the growing income inequality in the United States all go hand in hand with an economy that has still not fully recovered from the Great Recession. As I’ve said before, and as has Paul Krugman, the Nobel-prize-winning economist, it’s almost impossible to have robust economic growth with an economy based on consumption when you don’t have an export surplus and you don’t pay your workers enough to buy all that you produce. Not that anyone in corporate America or Wall Street listens to either of us.

So I’ll just have to take “consolation” [actually, it’s far more than that] in the fact that I’m still writing, still enjoying it, and still have readers who also enjoy what I’m writing. Here’s hoping you all had the best 2013 you could, and whether you did or not, my best to you for 2014.

10 thoughts on “2013 In Passing – Miscellaneous Thoughts”

  1. Kathryn (@Loerwyn) says:

    With respect to MMPBs; it seems to me from observing US publishers that the trade paperback is replacing the mass-market, which may account for some of the loss in sales. Trades are larger, often heavier, more expensive and generally just less portable. I would think they’re less appealing to the average consumer, but I could be wrong on that front. That said, I am personally more reluctant to try an author if they’re only available in trade paperback. There are merits to trades, but in my experience they’re a lesser format, *especially* the floppy-as-anything US trade paperbacks. They’re laughable. So whilst I’ll concede piracy is part of the issue, I think it’s worth looking at the bigger picture – trends in book-buying, format changes, what’s in style, and so on.


    But yes, Mr Modesitt, I wish you and yours a good 2014. If my memory’s correct you’ve got a few more books out next year (Rex Regis, another Recluce book – maybe even another another Recluce book?), and that should be most excellent.

  2. I think you’re absolutely right about the trend of U.S. publishers to go to trade paperbacks for reprints and books that they think won’t sell tens of thousands. That’s because they can do a smaller print run theoretically on a cost-effective basis, but to me what that does is just, as you suggested, shrink the paperback market more. As an example, the latest reprint of one of my own books — The Magic Engineer — just came out in trade paperback. Exactly how is that size going to fit with fifteen [soon to be seventeen] other mass market paperbacks of the Saga of Recluce? Needless to say, they didn’t listen to me or my editor.

    1. Kathryn (@Loerwyn) says:

      Indeed. I actually hate it when publishers rebrand books mid-series. An author in the UK I enjoy had a rebranding done of his series before the fourth and final book released, which means if you bought the books as they came out, you have a fourth hardcover (or if you bought the MMPBs, first and second mass-market) that sticks out. Same publisher rebranded another author, moving from the smaller MMPB to the larger one (which isn’t used much in the US, I believe, but is the main size in the UK) with a cover art change, and they completely messed up the launch of the seventh book by also including a trade paperback – why go for trade for the last three or four books? Why? And with The Magic Engineer, there’s a gap in the logic as they haven’t pushed a trade of Towers, which means people are less likely to buy Magic Engineer because there’s no matching second book. It’s bonkers.

      I, in truth, loathe trades. I have a number of them, and I find them horrible. They’re either extremely heavy or extremely floppy, they’re large (especially once you start getting 600pg+ trades) and there’s just no point to them for the most part.

      And I think, especially with this economic situation, that it’s counter-productive to think people will pay $13 for a slightly-higher-quality book than $8 (or less) for a small, well-sized book they can fit in their pocket or their bag without issue.

      In terms of ebooks, I’m still waiting for publishers to adopt the model that has served Baen extremely well for many years. The whole “DRM-free” shift of Tor/PanMac a year or so ago was just… pointless. Tor UK did a post a year on about it, and basically it was PR and marketing waffle that, if you read between the lines, did not necessarily translate into less piracy or ‘lost sales’. That’s because they didn’t have the infrastructure to support it, and the storefront they use (especially in the UK) is so shockingly terrible that you don’t actually realise it’s a store (of sorts). Baen did it first (at least in terms of major publishers), Baen did it better, Baen ARE still doing it better. Learn from those who are succeeding, no?

  3. Tim says:

    I will admit to having ditched most of my paperback library and replaced them with ebooks, though I have retained some hardbacks which were well-produced and (importantly) bound. I view this in the same way as replacing vinyl with cassettes, then with CDs and more recently with 24-bit downloads when these are available. So I believe the future will be in ebooks and that hardbacks/mass paperback or trades should be grouped together as a dying medium. A key enabler is the safety of these ebooks against device failure, and the recent availability of cloud solutions is certainly addressing that.

    Having said that, I have friends who still buy vinyl music as they are locked into it, and have invested heavily in high quality hifi. I suspect they are a dying breed however, in spite of what some hi-fi pundits are saying.

    So I think the issue is how to manage the production and retailing of electronic books in a way that does not stifle the genre and still remunerate authors. No easy challenge and I have no solution either. But pretending that paper media will continue for novels (as normal) for several decades is probably optimistic.

  4. I suspect hardbacks may remain and, if not, will be the last to go.

  5. Jim says:

    I wish you and yours as well as all my fellow Modesitt fans a great New Year. Oh, and confusion to politicians everywhere!

  6. Robert The Addled says:

    First off – I wish you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014 and beyond.

    Right now my preferred reading medium is hardcopy, Hardcover preferred. My paperbacks are slowly going the way of the Omnibus hardcovers (2 volumes covering 5 books typically).

    Having recently (October) jointed the modern smartphone world I greatly understand the appeal of E-books but generally feel that the publishers are shooting themselves by treating the marketing like hardcopy. The applications for reading them also make it hard to FIND the books you are looking for unless you actively organize them as you load them into your reader or phone, and the e-book stores are nearly useless unless you know what you want to begin with.

    The ‘you don’t own a copy of a book but only license it’ thing with the nook a couple years back, and the fact that you need to have a valid credit card on file to access the books that you may have ‘purchased’ years before irks me to no end. DRM hinders more than helps the process as well – I have friends who have tried the UltraViolet e-copy thing and been burned when contracts changed – again with the ‘you don’t actually own a copy of the media’ thing.

    Where I think E-books COULD have their biggest impact would be to OPEN genre to new readership. Low cost mass distribution of older titles to hook readers in, or to bring existing media to new markets. One example could be the (slowly) growing import market for Light Novels and Manga for instance – the true fans will want the hardcopy anyway to go with their E-copy – Niche specialty publishing market w/ a much larger e-market that feeds it. Much like how some popular paperbacks often feed a later run of hardcovers – even leather-bound anniversary editions.

    Again – Best Wishes to everyone. Lets make the new year a great one.

  7. Grey says:

    All I can say about ebooks is that the ease of purchase has sold me many more of your books than I otherwise would have bought in the ordinary course by this point in time. I don’t think my book-buying habits are unique:

    I have bought LEM ebooks in airports, on public transit and even on a tiny atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean with my legs dipping in the water, all because I was able to immediately satisfy an urge to move on to the next book in a series. (I even once bought an ebook of an LEM title I had just bought in paperback so I could read it in bed without a light disturbing my spouse.)

    That’s the self-indulgent side of things. More practically, my local book store has only three slim bookcases of scifi/fantasy, which generally means one or two books per major author. Given the choice of finding something interesting in the stacks versus waiting a few days for a special order, 90% of the time I’ll grab something off the shelf. (Indeed, it’s how I found LEM.)

    Doing a quick audit, I have three LEM paperbacks in my flat (I know I sent a few others on to relatives), and 36 LEM ebooks in my kindle library. Without ebooks, while I would have eventually special-ordered my way through the bibliography, I do doubt I would have obtained 40 LEM books by this point in time.

  8. Alan says:

    This is more a plug for a friend, but here we go. This is his situation:


    From: Sawa
    Subject: LEM – Rex Regis

    So I have the following problem. Because I’m from outside the US and associated markets any Kindle purchase I make costs me extra. First Amazon adds $2 to the price for “wireless whispernet delivery” nevermind that I don’t use Kindle but an app, and nevermind that I’ve never used this mysticlal entity calle whispernet, because I load books using my own WiFi at home. Than to make matters worse Amazon puts on a VAT tax of 23% on it although it isn’t based in my home country of Poland and doesn’t to my knowledge transfer any money to the national goverment.
    So my thought was this, maybe someone from the US market would agree to buy the book using the gift option? I have a paypal accont so I could repay you, either in advance or if the purchase goes through? The book I’m currently intersted in is Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt Jr. It’s published on January 7th, and Amazon will let me buy it for $18,13.


    I know we’ve discussed the book issues (Ebook, Trade and mass market’s costs) before. This is the first I was hearing that it was this bad outside the US. This would make a $20 book almost $25, for what is effectively no reason at all.

    1. Kathryn (@Loerwyn) says:

      Tor should sell the eBook DRM-free from their site, and it’s listed as being $15:
      I’ve no idea if there’s regional restrictions on this, though.

      As for the Whispernet fee, that shouldn’t be happening because no Kindles are being used (as such). But Amazon’s own page isn’t particularly helpful:

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