by wjw on April 7, 2012

A question for you all.

I’ve been engaged in the lengthy project of converting all my out-of-print works into ebooks, a project which has been a modest success, and which stands to keep me in beer money for a while.   (Or it would if I actually drank a lot of beer, which I don’t.)

But I can also make the same books available via print-on-demand.  I haven’t done a ton of research into this, but I believe I could make the books available as hardbacks on quality paper with dust jackets for around $40.00 each.  And less money for less classy bindings.

But would anyone buy them?  (And by “anyone,” dear readers, I guess I mean you.)  POD publishers— does that make their authors POD people?— say that their average sale is maybe 150 copies.  Some have deals with distributors like Ingram but that doesn’t mean the books will actually appear in stores unless someone makes a special order.  Plus, most POD publishers require some money from the author up front, and quite frankly I don’t like losing money.

So would you buy a $40 hardback if it had my name on it?  A $20 trade paperback?

No pressure on anything.  Just wondering.

TCWriter April 7, 2012 at 7:15 am

It’s hard to see a lot of print sales coming from backlist books when so many used copies are available (and so many easy ways to buy them).

Any chance you could create a special, limited edition of some kind? Payinng $40 for a hardback doesn’t make sense if you can buy one for $9 used, but a 20th Anniversary edition — featuring some new rich tasty goodness from the author – might get me to pull the trigger.

Dave Bishop April 7, 2012 at 7:55 am

Sorry, Walter, but I’m currently down-sizing my library – which is too big for my tiny house. From now on I will be buying more e-books in preference to paper ones.

Strangeattractor April 7, 2012 at 7:58 am

I’d at least consider buying a book.

I bought a print-on-demand book from a blogger I read, Venkatesh Rao. He says “if you want to do it the right way, and enjoy all the advantages of being a publisher rather than an author, Lightning Source, a division of the biggest book distributor, Ingram, is the only path.”

The book I bought from him had high quality physical characteristics. It smelled like a regular book and had better quality paper and ink than books I’ve bought from Lulu. It also had terrific content, but that’s another story.

One possible downside to using Lightning Source for print on demand is that Amazon has been playing games with them and favouring their own service Createspace which is a competitor. Many Lightning Source books are not being kept in stock and show a waiting time before they can be shipped, whereas Amazon used to keep one copy of those books in stock, and the Createspace books tend to show up as in stock.

Anyway, if you do decide to go for it, Lightning Source might be worth looking into. Speaking only for my own taste and experience, the book from Lightning Source was much better than the other print-on-demand books I’ve bought. It smelled better, the text looked crisper, the paper felt nicer in my hands.

Anonymous April 7, 2012 at 8:24 am

I would for hard-to-find titles (used from US to Europe != cheap anymore). My e-copy is a reading copy, but I like physical editions to lend/refer to. $40 seems fair.

Zora April 7, 2012 at 8:56 am

Sorry — I buy ebooks these days, unless I just can’t find an e-copy.

Urban April 7, 2012 at 9:17 am

40 is a lot, so almost never.
20, perhaps. But it’d have to be a special edition of some kind.
And since I actually have your out-of-print SF books even that would be unlikely.

e-books: Yes, because that’s a clear added value even if I have the paper version.

Michael Grosberg April 7, 2012 at 10:15 am

I’ve gone digital. No more paper books for me (unless there’s no ebook version, of course).

Hildo April 7, 2012 at 10:54 am

ebooks for backlist; new books in paper and ebook. Mind you, I have hardcovers for many of the older books, and paperbacks for the rest, except for the pirate books you mentioned earlier – those will be new to me when the ebooks come out.

Alex Baxter April 7, 2012 at 11:08 am

I only buy ebooks now (and am waiting breathlessly for Metropolitan and City on Fire!). Also, I haven’t been impressed by the quality of POD books in the past – though the technology may have improved by now.

Ken Thomas April 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Looks like I’m swimming against a digital tide here, but I’d like to have quality hardcover copies of some of my old favorites that are deteriorating. The Maijstral books for example. Days of Atonement, Aristoi, Angel Station. I’d shell out $40 bucks for any or all of those.

Stacy April 7, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I’m a digital convert as well. So much more convenient for me to have at hand wherever I am. And $40 is just a little more than I’d be willing to spend on books I’ve already read.

But I do appreciate your making your backlist available electronically. I’ve read all these, but I’ve been snapping them up as they become available.

DorjePismo April 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I’ve gone entirely e-books. I read when I get a chance, which isn’t that often and can be any number of places. I’d pay more for e-books of your works, especially if the license allowed me to share them or give them to someone when I finish. The ideal would be a service that had competent syncing among devices like Amazon, but treated its authors better. The 20-something techies I work with grew up on MTV and instant messaging, so I don’t see going back to hard copy as a major trend at this point. Although, if they read enough Stephenson, maybe neo-Victorianism will catch on. More likely, though, they’d bind their e-book readers in leather with brass trim.

Patricia Mathews April 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm

The problem is, Walter, that I already own most of those books in hardback anyway. I buy them new at cons for the most part.

Ralf The Dog. April 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm

It is hard to pack 5,000 books into your laptop bag, when going on vacation. It is quite easy to pack one iPad. My library has grown past the point of manageability. Ebooks create less eye strain. Paper is good for museums. If you want to do something crazy, that will give you no return, I would say, do something more creative. Perhaps, turn one of your books into a musical comedy and try to get it on Broadway.

Not Todd April 7, 2012 at 11:03 pm

The only thing I’d shell out $40 for would be your Privateer books in one volume.

Bill M April 8, 2012 at 12:29 am

It’s strictly ebooks for me these days. My house is bursting at the seams with my printed book collection.

Ralf The Dog. April 8, 2012 at 3:08 am

Save a tree, kill an electron!

Pete Johannsen April 8, 2012 at 3:15 am

Well, I would certainly buy some…but I’m the guy who gets tattoos related to your work. Not exactly a neutral market survey.

wjw April 8, 2012 at 4:00 am

Sounds like there’s not a huge demand, which is pretty much what I expected.

If I do this at all, it’ll be because it’s kind of a cool project rather than money-making project, and I’ll avoid any publisher that requires me to cover any costs up front. (, which does a good job of printing my calendars, may fit the bill.)

Anyway, I’ll be taking care of the ebooks first.

John.Appel April 8, 2012 at 7:37 am

Of course, if you want to tap the current zeitgeist in the hippest way possible, launch a Kickstarter campaign for a special omnibus containing, say, Hardwired, Solip/System, and Voice of the Whirlwind. Or the two Metropolitan books. Or something like that. Anything on Kickstarter seems to be cool by definition, but it also seems to pull people in who otherwise might not hear about a given artist/author/etc.

Otherwise, I’m with the others. I have dead tree versions of many (not all yet) of your books, including a very well-worn copy of Hardwired, and I’ve been filling in with e-books (Nook format) as you release ones I don’t already have. A PoD version would have to be something really nifty.

TJIC April 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Exactly what TCWriter said.

When I want a 20 yr old book I buy a used copy at Amazon.

…but bundle that with a short story, a six page essay on what you were thinking when you wrote the book, and a ten page interview wherein you respond to questions you solicited in this blog…and, yeah, I’d drop money on that.

Want to cinch the deal?

(a) limited edition
(b) signed

Thomas Lindgren April 8, 2012 at 7:24 pm

For what it’s worth, I’d buy a hardcover of whatever follows up on Metropolitan/City on Fire. $40, no problem. Must be packed and shipped with care.

(Come to think of it, I’d probably buy two.)

Christopher Thompson April 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Considering the fact that “Voice of the Whirlwind” is my all-time favorite book and that I have read five separate copies of the novel until their bindings crumbled and failed (my dad once asked me if I had any good sci-fi books that he could borrow to read, and I handed him VotW and told him of the five copies that had passed on before it. He handed the book back to me like an accident-prone child handing a collector back a Faberge egg, worried that he might somehow ruin my treasure.), I would say “Yes”, I have an interest in Print-on-demand, especially since a service (I forget the name at the moment) exists for you to do autographed POD, I would certainly be one of those in line for a dead tree edition any time I wanted one instead of having to scour used book stores and Amazon, etc.,

Anonymous April 8, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I would love to own Solip System in paper format; $40 is a lot, but for that story, yes, I would very much like to own it. As I would like to own, and I am willing to pay $$ for everything that relates to the Hardwired – Voice of the Whirlwind universe – but not $59 for a used book, as is currently the asking price on Amazon.

(I own Facets – but is there more stories to the HW – VOTW universe that I have missed?)

– marcus

Ken Thomas April 9, 2012 at 5:00 am

Marcus, Solip:System can be found in a WJW short-story collection called Frankensteins and Foreign Devils, which was published by NEFSA in 1999 or 2000. In addition to S:S, it contains Prayers on the Wind, which is my favorite WJW short story, and quite possibly my favorite work of short fiction from anybody, ever.

And I just wanted to chime in here and add to Thomas’ point – I’d be willing to pay a lot more than $40 to know what lies beyond the shield.

Ralf The Dog. April 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Ken Thomas, it’s dancing planets.

mearsk April 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm

There are certain books that I originally bought in paperback that I would love to own in hardback. These are the books that I read repeatedly, such as the Dread Empire’s Fall series. I would pay $40 for that, especially if it has a nice cover.

DensityDuck April 9, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I think the issue with Metropolitan is not getting it done, but that nobody at Harper knows where the rights actually reside and they don’t think there’s enough money in it to be worth the bother.

Jerry April 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm

I seem, along with Ken Thomas above, to be “swimming against the digital tide.” I’ve already switched to e-books by default. But. . . .

Wow, an actual, beautifully-bound, small-run book, custom-printed, personally inspected, approved and autographed by YOU!

What, are all the other people missing the point? Collectors choose items for their scarcity, beauty and history. You could read, say, the Declaration on a screen, and the magesty and strength are all there, of course. But if you could get close to – or even touch – the actual, the original parchment sheet on which the Founding Fathers pledged so much – wouldn’t *that* make an impression?

Mr. Williams, I already own a signed trade copy of Solip:System. I would happily pay forty dollars apiece for Voice of the Whirlwind, Hardwired, and each of the three volumes of Metropolitan [three volumes, hint hint three]. Now would $40 be your cost to produce or the cost for us to purchase? I’d gladly pay a reasonable markup. I’m totally serious, give me the word and I’ll send you cash, credit card info, money order, whatever. Just don’t go nuts and contact my evil ex-wife for pricing strategy.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.