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April 10th, 2010

Mike Stackpole, who always has interesting things to say about Writing-As-Job, has another article on The Huffington Post today about the inevitable doom of Print Sales As We Know Them.

…once ebook sales hit 20-25% of book sales, print run numbers will fall to a point where the current consignment system for sales will break down. Under the current system, most books can be returned for credit, so for every book sold, two are printed. Those “returned” books have the covers torn off, and the guts discarded, so they cannot be put out into the market again. Ebook sales will create smaller print runs, driving up the unit cost, forcing higher prices which, in turn, will kill sales. Game over.

Note that he’s not predicting that books will go away — but that the publishing industry is going to have to make some serious changes to cope with the new reality of ebooks. Having already been through this story with comics -> webcomics, my view is that he’s absolutely right. Mr. Stackpole has long advocated that writers embrace electronic publishing as a means of controlling their own fate, and it’s true that with the ebook, it’s easier than it’s ever been.

However, there’s an important aspect of the writer/publisher relationship that self-publishing leaves as a big hole, to wit, getting your name out there to the public. While I have only myself as a poll sample, I know that I discover most of my new authors by browsing in a bookstore, and I suspect I’m not the only one. For somebody like Rowling or King, it may be that self-publishing is practically printing money from your computer. But what about somebody who’s more obscure, say a person who has a couple of mid-tier webcomics and a few decades-old RPG credits to his name? (Just to pick an unlikely profile at random.) If I were to jump right into the ebook arena, who would notice?

As much as writers chafe at their editorial overlords, publishers do provide something that a beginning writer can’t provide for themselves: a marketing machine. That a fledgling writer will get only the barest attention of that machine is undoubtedly true — but even that much is infinitely more than one can provide themselves when they work all day, write all night, and recover on the weekend. Fortunately, Mr. Stackpole is aware of the problem and provides some suggestions.

On the other hand, there’s one final aspect of the issue that ebooks simply cannot address, which is that part of “the dream” of being a writer is seeing one’s own work actually in a bookstore. For those of us who, despite the business’s sordidness, still love to go into a brick-and-mortar building stacked from floor to ceiling with books and long to see their own name enshrined on a tablet in that temple, ebooks will always be somewhat unsatisfying.

-The Gneech

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Originally published at gneech.com. You can comment here or there.

Dwarves, Drow, and Death-Dealing

Well, I managed to pull myself together and run Pathfinder this evening. The heroes found that one of the dwarves who needs their help most is in fact a former party NPC, the dwarf cleric of Moradin who joined them in their assault on the Fane of Tiamat at the climax of Red Hand of Doom. In the intervening years since then he has become "Archfather" (i.e., the bishop) of the Hammerfist Holds, but the invading drow desecrated his temple and stole its prize relic, causing Moradin to strip him of all his domain powers and unable to prepare any spell other than consecrate. (NPC: "I think he's tryin' to tell me something." PCs: "No shit, Sherlock.")

So the heroes, being heroes, headed down into the drow-held tunnels to clear the way. Storming the first row of drow barricades was something of a struggle, thanks to a mind flayer and a Lolth's Sting among their ranks [1]. While the drow warriors themselves were not much trouble, the mind flayer's stunning blast took out laurie_robey's sorcerer long enough for the Lolth's Sting to land a good poison-laced sneak attack, which took the sorcerer out for the remainder of the encounter. (She was also later frustrated in another encounter when her fireball got shrugged off due to drow spell resistance -- it wasn't her night!)

Probably the highlight of the evening was a relatively simple trapped, locked gate. In the middle of a corridor, just a metal grate that had obviously been put there by the drow -- it screamed "TRAP!" from every angle, but neither the PC nor NPC rogues in the party could find the trap to disable it. In the end they threw jamesbarrett's fighter at it, who (being a newbie to these things), tapped the gate with the pommel of his sword, setting off the 15d6 cone of cold that filled the whole corridor.

Oops.

Well, "surviving" a trap is certainly one way to overcome it! One rogue made his save and was untouched, but most of the rest of the party took a pounding, causing much hilarity as the normally laconic-to-the-point-of-being-mute NPC rogue spent ten minutes chewing out the fighter at the top of his lungs.

All in all, a fun night. So I'm glad I could make it happen.

-The Gneech

[1] Yes, it's Pathfinder, but this is still a D&D game.

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