From author Eric Flint:
I ran across this blog by the author Kristen Lamb:
…while reading this article by Rachel Kramer Bussel in Salon magazine:
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or who has read any of the essays I’ve written in the past on copyright laws and online piracy that I generally agree with Bussel’s stance and disagree with Lamb’s. But there are some issues involved that Bussel doesn’t address which I think are actually more important than the ones she does. Another way to put it is that I don’t think she goes far enough. The essence of her argument is that the situation is more complicated than Lamb presents it as being, and is not an either/or situation. While it is true that a book sold in a used book store may represent an immediate loss to an author, it can be made up for in the long run by exposing more people to that author.
. . . .
The central and most critical aspect of publishing as a business, seen from the vantage point of an author, is that the market involved—call it the book market, if you will—is possibly the most opaque sales market in existence. It’s certainly one of the top ten most opaque markets.
What do I mean by an “opaque” market? It’s a market most of which is invisible to its customers. Hidden, in this case, not by subterfuge but by sheer volume of product. The characteristic that all entertainment industries share, and which makes all of them very opaque, is that each individual product has to be unique. Every book has to be different from every other book. Every song from every other song, every movie from every other movie—and every painting or sculpture or art photo from every other one of that type.
That is very unlike most markets. If you take the automobile market for comparison, there are not all that many auto manufacturers and each of them produces a relatively small number of products—perhaps a dozen models; not more than two dozen. So anyone seeking to buy an automobile can research the entire market fairly quickly and fairly easily.
In contrast, every year in the English language somewhere in the vicinity of one and a half million new titles are produced in the book market. Even if you narrow the market down to a specific genre, the scale still dwarfs that of most markets. To use my own genre as an example, the number of new titles in fantasy and science fiction coming out in the English language every month exceeds the number of automobile models coming out in an entire year.
Walking into a bookstore to look for a new book you might be interested in buying is analogous to walking onto the lot of an automobile dealer and being presented, not with many slightly different versions of a few models, but with thousands of models—or tens of thousands, in the case of big superstores.
Nobody can keep up with this scale of production. Not even professional book reviewers can do it, much less the average reader. It’s like being caught in the middle of a blizzard, except the individual particles are sales products instead of snowflakes. That’s what makes the book market so opaque.
The inevitable response of customers is to be very conservative in their buying habits. Some book-buyers (thankfully for new writers) are more adventurous than others, granted. But it’s still the case that the vast majority of books purchased are books written by authors with whom the reader is already familiar. That’s especially true in the fiction market, where there are many fewer “signposts” than there are in the non-fiction market. What I mean by signposts is that someone interested in reading about, say, the history of New England in the 19th century can do a search using those words and if they turn up a book titled The History of New England, 1812-1905 they’re off to the races. There’s no guarantee that book will be one that they like when they read it, but at least they’ve gotten a start. There are very few such signposts in fiction writing.
Link to the rest at Eric Flint and thanks to Chris for the tip.
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