The OF Blog: So the SF publisher Orbit made a decision that seems to have irritated "fans"...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

So the SF publisher Orbit made a decision that seems to have irritated "fans"...

The UK-based publisher Orbit made an announcement this morning that they were only providing "extended previews" of three novels in the Hugo Awards Best Novel category for the Hugo voters' packet.  Here is an excerpt from that announcement:

We appreciate that some Hugo voters might be disappointed that the entire novels will not be available in the packet, and we would like to offer a word of explanation.

We are of course very much in favour of initiatives that help readers to engage with important awards, and we are always looking for new ways to help readers discover new authors. However, in the case of the voter packets, authors and rights holders are increasingly feeling that if their work is not included in the packet it will be at a disadvantage in the awards. It’s difficult for anyone to know for certain whether this is the case, but either way we don’t feel that authors and rights holders should feel under pressure to make their work available for free. There are a lot of different attitudes to the idea of giving work away for free, but we hope most people would agree that writers and rights holders should be able to make their own choice, without feeling that their decision might have negative consequences.

We would like to make it clear that this was our decision, and not one requested by any of our authors. It is a complex issue, with many different perspectives and opinions, and we believe that we are acting in the best interests of our authors while continuing to support the voter packet.
Going forward, we very much hope that awards administrators give careful consideration to voter packets, particularly in those categories in which shortlisted works are already widely available, and that they continue to look for new ways to encourage participation in awards.

 Predictably, there was some fannish outrage (or one of two emoticons that these people express online, the other being squeeing, or so it seems to this jaded observer):

Please, please, PLEASE reconsider this ill-advised decision. The bad publicity this will generate will end up hurting far, far more authors, not to mention your company, than it will help.

I know I, for one, will always think poorly of Orbit from now on.

-Matt Phelps
Sustaining Member, Loncon3

Tor: “Sure, here are all fifteen Wheel of Time books.”
Orbit: “HAHAHAHA, no books for you.”
Doesn’t look great.

 Hmm, sounds like Orbit has ex-RIAA members on their board. “We can’t give it away. We’ll lose de moneys.” “It’s been shown that sales actually improve when copies are given away or even pirated.” “WE CAN’T GIVE IT AWAY. WE’LL LOSE DE MONIES!!!”

You’d be giving away what, 2000-3000 free copies of each book with the Hugo packet? You give away more than that between ARCs, free copies, requests for blurbs, and other promotional materials – often to people who won’t even read them. So this is not a matter of loss of sales or giving away things for free.

The point you’re missing is, Hugo voters are hard readers. This means they can’t read everything. Which means, having to read a ton of new material before the deadline for the Hugo votes, they will read the stuff in the voter packet before everything else – unless they were planning to read your books already. And personally, I can’t in all honesty vote any position for a book based only on hearsay or an extended preview.

Also, Hugo voters are also people who write reviews and gush about books and make ripples. They will talk about this, fairly, but honestly. And there’s really few positions from which this looks like good advertising for you and the books involved.

So no, the readers will not penalize your authors because of this decision. You penalized them and, apparently, without even consulting them.

And finally, one posted elsewhere that I see Nick Mamatas has quoted on FB:

 "As a supporting member of Loncon3, I feel a responsibility to the field of science fiction to encourage sensible ebook practices by publishers, so I feel compelled to rank all three of these novels below 'no award.'"

While part of me does think it'd be a nice gesture if Orbit were to include full works, they certainly are well within their rights not to do so, especially considering the attitudes present within this sampling of reader/fan comments.  Why should something done as a publicity matter, one always subject to changing conditions, be now considered a quasi "right?"  Sure, readers have the power of the purse to sway decisions, but considering the very low numbers of sales involved at this point (I seem to recall reading somewhere where one of the Best Novel finalists had sold less than 200 copies in all of 2014 for a work released in early-to-mid 2013), I imagine the threat of "lost sales" is not exactly a sound one to make, considering there is very little "bump" that might conceivably take place at this point in a book's "life cycle."  So for the commenter who cites the possibility of "2000-3000" free copies as being somehow less than ARCs, review copies, blurb requests, etc., I have to blink twice rapidly, rub my eyes, and wonder if that person has any firm grasp of business.  Yes, promo copies help drive interest, but only in rare cases are there 2-3K promo copies distributed, as that would make up over a quarter of total print runs in most cases.

But beyond this lies this odd expectation that because some pay hundreds to hole themselves up in second-rate convention centers to be around like-minded people, that they should get e-copies of everything nominated for free.  Sure, some publishers can afford to do this and do so for outreach efforts.  But it is their prerogative,  not that of the WorldCon organizers and their supporters.  Bemoan the decision all you want, but know that while you might feel aggrieved about not getting a "free perk," it is in the end a perk, something tossed in as a lagniappe, not something vital.  Those of us who do purchase books and who read various finalists by using the old-fashioned "I think I'll buy a copy of this, instead of checking it out at the library" can only shake our heads in wry amusement.



Charlie Stross said...

You’d be giving away what, 2000-3000 free copies of each book with the Hugo packet? You give away more than that between ARCs, free copies, requests for blurbs, and other promotional materials


Remember, this worldcon is in the UK. Typical hardcover sales of a midlist SF title in the UK are on the order of 2000-3000 copies; typical midlist paperback sales are in the range 7000-10,000 copies. This is a very small market compared to the USA; the UK population is one-fifth the size, so you should downsize all your expectations by 80%. It'd be surprising if they gave away as many as 100-200 ARCs and free promo copies for any one title.

Meanwhile, Loncon 3 is expecting on the order of 8000 attendees and there have been over 1000 supporting (non-attending) memberships sold since the Hugo shortlist was announced; many of these are allegedly people hoping to get Free Stuff in the voters packet.

Lsrry said...

Thanks for the info, Charlie, as that jibes with my understanding of it (I'm an American, but even 2-3K here is unusual).

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