Double down and go big, of course. Somehow I’m reminded of this ad when I consider the current state of publishing.
Which brings us to the picture at the head of this post. Anybody ever hear of Lima Locomotive? Here is what they did. That is a C&O RR H8 Allegheny. It is the largest and most powerful steam locomotive ever built. The locomotive was in the shed and there was no way I could get a side shot but the size of it boggles the mind. The firebox is the same size as a small house. The locomotive was designed to move mountains of coal and that’s what it did.
It was also obsolete before it was erected. It was rendered obsolete by this guy’s descendants.
This is Central Railway Of New Jersey 1000. If the H-8 spent it’s career moving mountains of coal the 1000 spent it’s career in the Bronx shuffling cars around a freight house. If it moved more than a mile it was by barge to the shop and back. It’s also 20 years or so older than the H-8. And was retired after the H-8. But the 1000 is important because of what it led to, which is this guy.
The EMD F unit. Now I don’t know which subclass of F unit this locomotive represents, and I’m not going to look it up because the F unit was the locomotive that changes everything. EMD sold 1000’s of them for two decades and totally transformed the railroad industry. The traditional railroad locomotive companies, like Lima which erected the H-8 were more or less caught flatfooted and tried and by and large failed to adapt and finally closed up.
Which brings us to publishing. The latest numbers from the Author’s Earnings(AER) report and the American Association of Publisher’s(AAR) reports have sort of created perhaps a dichotomy on the effect of ebooks and publishing. I’m afraid that like the locomotive builders in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s they are seeing things that are not there and no, steam is not coming back.
By and large the traditional publishing has not gotten ebooks. As far as I’ve been able to tell traditional publishing has tried very hard to do as little as possible with ebooks. When Jim Baen started to experiment with ebook in the early 2000’s many of us were mystified at how the other SF imprints didn’t seem to catch on. Jim experimented with all sorts of things and proved that most of the preconceptions about ebooks were flat out wrong. Ebooks didn’t hurt print sales. You didn’t need DMCA lockups, people would buy both print and ebooks, you could give books away and sales would still go up. Baen tried all this stuff and it all worked. Bean books became easy to buy and the whole thing was fun. Yet the traditional publishers ignored all of it.
Along came Amazon and kindle which could no longer be ignored and STILL the traditional publishers don’t get it. They insist on treating ebooks as if they are the same as print or like this being even worse. Seriously, this is just ridiculous.
$15.99 for an ebook of a fifteen year old novel. From a book that’s been out for 15 years and in Mass Market paperback for most of that. I’m sure that Mr. Banks appreciates all those royalties he gets from all those used books that Amazon sells. There’s money in the long tail, but you have to understand that you can’t charge the same for something that’s old and expect people to pay for it. $15.99 would be a price for an entire series, not just one book. Of course maybe Simon & Schuster should try selling the book for $0.99 and see what happens.
Of course the biggest problem the traditional publishers have is that while they were treating ebooks like pariahs other people were discovering that it was good way to get on the electronic shelf and get sold. Thousands of people have used Amazon and other’s facilities and put books up to sell themselves. And perhaps to nobody who’s been paying attention they ARE selling. It’s because who’s more likely to pay attention to their readers, an Anthony Weir or Simon And Schuster? Who’s going to be constantly checking sales, having sales and pushing their books in every venue they can? It doesn’t take a genius to understand what’s happening.
And what are the traditional publisher’s doing? Building H-8s.
Publishers, seeking to capitalize on the shift, are pouring money into their print infrastructures and distribution. Hachette added 218,000 square feet to its Indiana warehouse late last year, and Simon & Schuster is expanding its New Jersey distribution facility by 200,000 square feet.
Penguin Random House has invested nearly $100 million in expanding and updating its warehouses and speeding up distribution of its books. It added 365,000 square feet last year to its warehouse in Crawfordsville, Ind., more than doubling the size of the warehouse.
“People talked about the demise of physical books as if it was only a matter of time, but even 50 to 100 years from now, print will be a big chunk of our business,” said Markus Dohle, the chief executive of Penguin Random House, which has nearly 250 imprints globally. Print books account for more than 70 percent of the company’s sales in the United States.
The company began offering independent booksellers in 2011 two-day guaranteed delivery from November to January, the peak book buying months.
Of course some people, Mr.Scalzi for instance, don’t get it. The game has changed. It may be that people are truly buying more print from bookstores that don’t exist. Or it’s just a baby pushing the button, like the ad. I do know one thing.
That if traditional publishing doesn’t get out of it’s NY offices, look around and see what’s happening, they are going to be talking to Larry here, real soon now.
Update: The Gutenberg Bible was brought up in a comment as a beautiful book, which it was. It was also the product to a technology that was as revolutionary as ebooks. It wasn’t mentioned that printing blew across Europe and put thousands of scribes out of business. And changed the world. And put the troubadors and scribes out of business. In some ways the Gutenberg Bible is another CNJ1000.
Dave Freer has more over at Mad Genius club.