Book technology, printing, Polaroid film...

Rekrab

Usually wrong.
Over 1000 posts
[Split from this thread.]

My summer eBay sales were disappointing, over all. Some things went low, some went very low, some didn't sell at all. I know it's a bad time to sell most years, but I'm wondering if it isn't even worse now, due to the economy. Another independent boostore in our town is closing (or moving to another town, actually). In 10 years will there be any bookstores left, or will it all be Kindles and downloads from Amazon? Oh sure, thyere will always be some hole in the wall with ratty paperbacks, but is the bookstore with new books doomed?
 

jordan

lothario speedwagon
Over 1000 posts
i subscribe to this trade magazine for the book business, and every issue is about how to compete with ebooks, with the foregone conclusion that they will replace paper books... but honestly how many people do you see day-to-day (not just while traveling) who are walking around with these things? even the new cheaper kindle costs more than most people spend on books in an entire year just for the device. if you look at sales figures, ebooks account for a really small part of overall book sales. it really isn't the kindle that's forcing these stores out of business, it's the fact that publishers have massively raised their prices on most new books in the past few years in order to guarantee themselves a good margin when they sell on amazon. all kinds of independent stores have gone out of business as a result of the internet driving prices down, not just bookstores. the independent stores that survive are the ones that come up with creative things to do with new books that a big chain wouldn't think of, or to add to the experience by selling you something you don't get when you shop online. because honestly, most new hardcovers cost between $27 and $32, for a single hardcover book. when justine and i make a handmade hardcover using only deluxe materials and sell it for $28, we're worried that it's too expensive, but that's what you pay for a machine made hardcover in a bookstore these days - all because the retailer needs to be able to make enough margin on it when they sell it to amazon at a huge discount, so amazon can sell the same book for $15. and i'll freely admit to buying books like this on amazon - i try to support independent stores whenever i can, but i'm not made of money, you know.
 

mjp

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You can't convince people to pay substantially more for the same product. I won't. I know the ramifications of that kind of spending, but I do it anyway. If the price difference is small I'll always go with an independent seller, but another problem is you may think you're buying from an independent seller, but in reality they are owned by a large corporation. Guitar Center, for example, runs over 100 web sites under "mom and pop" brands that they bought, but they all sell the same shit, and the profit all goes to one place.

Younger people have been more likely to take to electronic books and magazines, but interestingly, the end result of that - at least in the magazine industry - has been increased sales of paper magazines. There's an inherent difference between thongs like books and music. Downloading music is the same as buying a CD - the experience of the music is the same. The delivery method is irrelevant. Reading material is different because we consume it differently. I don't think that is ever going to change.

And if worse comes to worse and all we're left with is huge chain book stores, eventually one of those chains is going to recognize that there is a fringe market out there that doesn't want bestsellers and they'll try to cater to that market. That's inevitable, because it kills those guys to leave any money on the table.
 

Rekrab

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Over 1000 posts
But the huge chains are also in trouble; it's not just the small independent bookstores. Borders is on the ropes. The chains will never recognize that there is a fringe market for non-bestsellers -- that's not how they think. To Borders, Waldens, etc., books are "product". They think big, common denominator, and they will die big. Quirky independent bookshops are more likely to survive, but only a few in each geographic area. Along with a bunch of shabby used paperback outlets. People assume that as long as there is a small market for physical books, they will keep being published by the big publishers, but that's not how economics works. Ebooks are much more profitable, and big publishers will move almost entirely to ebooks because they can make more money there. They will not bother with the small fringe market of physical books, leaving smaller publishers to pick up those crumbs. I heard some inside book trade gossip: an editor at a big NY publishing house said, in confidence, that she believes all of the big publishers will be doing only ebooks in five years, and for some reason I don't understand, she expects many editors to be laid off. I don't know why a change of format would mean you don't need an editor, but she was worried about losing her job. The writing is on the wall for physical books. They'll become like vinyl records -- still around, but a novelty done by the small presses.
 

mjp

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I heard some inside book trade gossip: an editor at a big NY publishing house said, in confidence, that she believes all of the big publishers will be doing only ebooks in five years, and for some reason I don't understand, she expects many editors to be laid off. I don't know why a change of format would mean you don't need an editor, but she was worried about losing her job.
They won't need as many editors because if they can go all electronic they won't need to put out as many titles - the profit margin will increase so much. Cost of "manufacturing" an electronic book is what, $20 an hour to pay some college kid to format it? That may not be their reasoning, but it's one way to look at it.

It's not going to go down like that anyway. They won't be able to abandon the paper book in five years. They couldn't survive on the decreased sales. The rise of electronic book sales is understandable, but they can't sell blockbuster numbers with those because the technology is nowhere near pervasive enough. If some kid gets excited over Harry Potter they can drag their parents into a bookstore and buy it. They are unlikely to be able to convince those parents to shell out $150 for a hardware reader (then another $15 for the "book"). And those million sellers is where all their profit is.

In any event, the move toward electronic is good for writers, the same way digitizing music was good for musicians. The more electronic the delivery method becomes, the less you need a publisher or a record label. The future may be electronic books, but the real future is someone like Bill who can produce a deluxe real-world version of a title they also sell electronically.
 

Rekrab

Usually wrong.
Over 1000 posts
They won't need as many editors because if they can go all electronic they won't need to put out as many titles - the profit margin will increase so much. [...]
Ah...I didn't even think of that.

[...] It's not going to go down like that anyway. They won't be able to abandon the paper book in five years. They couldn't survive on the decreased sales.[...]
But they think that's how it'll be. At some point, when the market shift to digital gains enough momentum, the big publishers will begin to dismantle the infrastructure required to make, warehouse and ship physical books -- much as photography companies are dismantling the real film infrastructure. Polaroid can't make its instant film packs any more -- they sold off the machinery, junked the documentation, laid off the expert workers, and now a small company is trying to reverse engineer instant film packs for the specialty art photography market. Once the big publishers abandon real books and allow the infrastructure of printers, binders, warehouses, distributors to fall apart, they won't be able to go back to it if sales are disappointing -- it'll be gone.
 

mjp

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Polaroid can't make its instant film packs any more -- they sold off the machinery, junked the documentation, laid off the expert workers, and now a small company is trying to reverse engineer instant film packs for the specialty art photography market.
You must be talking about The Impossible Project. They are using the old Polaroid manufacturing machines (Polaroid did not destroy them) and some of the Polaroid employees who have years of experience making the film. The head of the project also worked for Polaroid and left when he knew he could salvage the manufacturing machinery. Fuji also continues to make instant film. So you can buy film for your Polaroid if you've got the money to burn.

I see where you're coming from, but you can't really compare the machinery used to make Polaroid film (which is unique) and the machinery used to make books (which is common). The biggest pieces of machinery used to manufacture books won't be made obsolete because we still need to print things on paper. They'll just print things other than books. And the smaller more obscure pieces of machinery will find their way into the hands of small printers if the big publishing houses ever do decide to dismantle (which I still don't think will ever happen - how are you going to sell me a calendar with pictures of 12 precious kitties or a $35 blank notebook if you don't have any manufacturing plant?).

So even if you dismantled a huge publisher's physical plant, it could be rebuilt quite easily. Whether you could hire the people to operate it is another question. Skills die much more quickly than machines.

I guess I just see the move from giant conglomerate to smaller independent as a good thing. It will hardly mean the end of the book. In fact it may mean the rebirth of the book.
 

Rekrab

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Over 1000 posts
Yes, the Impossible project (is there anything in the arts you don't know about, mjp?) Polaroid agreed to sell the equipment and hand over the technical documentation (it's a very complex process making the instant film packs) but somehow much of the documentation got dumped, and the Impossible Project has had to reinvent the process through trial and error. With big publishing, sure there are many printing firms, but how many are set up to do large runs of big books, and then how many binding firms can handle those big jobs? I don't know, but if the number is small, then reductions in the number of books being ordered by the big publishers will result in eventual lay offs and shutdowns at some of those firms. It'll also affect the firms that supply the paper and the binding materials, and they'll cut back. Publishers may still still do small print runs of books but at some point the materials get hard to find, and there are fewer companies left to do the work. The supply chain breaks down. Publishers may end up killing the infrastructure required to print and distribute large numbers of physical books. Then thousands of small publishers will still be making real books but the big houses will be out of the business. Or at least that's how it seems to me. Film photography is just about there now. The only film I can buy and process at my local grocery store / big box is color 35 mm. All other film types are gone from the everyday market, although you can still order them on line and pay shipping.
 

mjp

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I know all about the supply chain breaking down, working as a printer at the very moment "desktop publishing" came onto the scene (computers/internet are at the root of all technology disruption these days). Small offset printing shops went from being one on every corner to maybe one in every town. If you're lucky. And that's what I mean by skill dying faster than machines - all of us printers had to retrain to do something else because the jobs disappeared. Now there's no one left to run the presses. I don't mean "no one" literally, but we are now rare where we used to be common.

Film is alive and well, and I'll bet there's a niche shop within 25 miles of you that can sell and process any kind of film you want (okay, they'll send it to a nearby large city for processing, but they'll take care of you). I just about shit when Ilford declared bankruptcy and Kodak stopped making black and white paper all within the same short period, it seemed like that door was closing, but other people stepped in to cater to the market. Just like they did for Polaroid.

These things survive in a different form, but they survive. If letterpress printing can survive, anything can.
 

jordan

lothario speedwagon
Over 1000 posts
can a mod split this discussion off into the all things not buk forum? it's a good rolling discussion about book technology, and i'm sure there are some people not posting on it because they don't read the b/s/t forum (and this is buried even one level deeper).
 

justine

stop the penistry
Over 1000 posts
I guess I just see the move from giant conglomerate to smaller independent as a good thing. It will hardly mean the end of the book. In fact it may mean the rebirth of the book.
THIS THIS THIS! i think this is exactly what will eventually happen. the digital revolution is gonna be nothing but a huge favour to us small presses. but let me tell you something: many of the people getting hysterical and histrionic about books disappearing into oblivion (this is not directed at you, david, but rather many other people i know) are still buying their books from regular old bookstores - they're not buying from small independent presses, presses who actually and lovingly make the books by hand. they don't give a shit about beautiful bindings and fine paper, so i don't see why they're getting so worked up about mass-market paperbacks disappearing like they're some rare and exquisite species of bird.

i only wish i'd had an e-reader through my university years - the number and weight of books/course readers i had to carry round every day was insane.
 

mjp

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i only wish i'd had an e-reader through my university years - the number and weight of books/course readers i had to carry round every day was insane.
That may be the only thing electronic books would be perfect for. But it's unlikely to happen considering the enormous con game that is the textbook market.
 

Rekrab

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Over 1000 posts
THIS THIS THIS! i think this is exactly what will eventually happen. the digital revolution is gonna be nothing but a huge favour to us small presses. but let me tell you something: many of the people getting hysterical and histrionic about books disappearing into oblivion (this is not directed at you, david, but rather many other people i know) are still buying their books from regular old bookstores - they're not buying from small independent presses, presses who actually and lovingly make the books by hand. they don't give a shit about beautiful bindings and fine paper, so i don't see why they're getting so worked up about mass-market paperbacks disappearing like they're some rare and exquisite species of bird. [...]
There are booklovers who care about printing, binding, paper, design -- as well as content -- and there are booklovers who only care about the next good read and like nothing better than a beat up paperback they can read in the bathtub. The later will never care about or buy small press books -- everything they want to read is available (or has been until now) in mass maket paperback. They may lament the end of big publishing, but that won't drive them to small press books -- it'll drive them to ebooks. People who care about the art of the book are probably already aware of the small press and buying selectively. They may buy more small press books as ebooks take over big publishing, but not much more, as their buying is probably driven by their reading tastes as well as the beauty and appeal of the books as physical objects. So I guess I don't see small presses benefiting hugely as big publishers get away from real books, maybe just a small increase in sales. Down the road, say 10 years after a big announced "Death of the Traditional Book", some people will be drawn to small press stuff out of a nostalgia for physical books, but again, I don't see that as a huge increase in sales, just a bump. I wish I was more optimistic about the future of real books, and I hope I'm wrong. A rebirth of the book would be a great thing to see.
 

justine

stop the penistry
Over 1000 posts
but that is exactly my point - people who don't give a shit about the book as an art object don't buy from small presses anyway, and i don't see what's so special about the majority of books that come from big publishing houses. there will always be a market for physical books, because they are collectible objects - it just may be that they no longer have as big a print run, or they will be marketed specifically towards collectors so they will be much nicer (and more expensive).

personally, i feel like if anything is bad for the book industry, it's second-hand book stores: i almost NEVER buy a book brand new. and unless it's one of the handful of authors i actually collect, i always resell it back to the bookstore so i can buy more used books.
 

Rekrab

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Over 1000 posts
Justine: you're right, most hardcovers from big publishers are not very impressive as physical objects. They are seldom really cloth bound any more, usually they're cardboard, patterned to look like cloth, but they wear badly. The big publishers hate the used book trade. They'd like to do away with it. There has been discussion about changing the copyright laws to prevent the resale of books by third parties, or to snag a royalty for the original publisher when a used book is sold, but I doubt that would really happen. Ebooks solve this problem of used books competing with new, which is another reason big publishing likes digital. Publishers have complained about Amazon advertising used books alongside the new books -- many people (the majority?) opt for the cheap used copy. I almost always buy used, except for new Bukowski collections or books I can't find used.
 

mjp

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There has been discussion about changing the copyright laws to prevent the resale of books by third parties, or to snag a royalty for the original publisher when a used book is sold, but I doubt that would really happen.
That exists already in the art world. Did you know that if someone resells a piece of art that you created you are entitled to a percentage of that sale?

Now guess how often that percentage is paid to the artist.
 

Rekrab

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Over 1000 posts
1/10th of 1 percent of the time? I had no idea. My brother and daughter are both painters who exhibit in galleries and sell their work but have never mentioned this, and probably never collected any of that sort of money. They probably know about it, but I'll ask. Amazing. So, if one of my old chapbooks with an original painting in it is sold on eBay, I should get a piece of that action? I wonder if eBay mentions this aspect of the copyright law anywhere in their information to sellers of art. My guess is they don't, unless there's a way they can get a part of that transaction, via Paypal. Is it a set percent that is payable to the artist, or does it vary depending on whatever?
 

mjp

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I think it's a set percentage, I don't remember. I don't think anyone really knows about it. I know I was surprised to learn about it years ago, and wondered how the hell you would enforce something like that. I think you'd have a hard time convincing the seller to cut off your piece of the pie.

Carol just told me it's a California law. She's going to look it up.

---

And we're back!

The law/concept is called Droit de suite, and it doesn't apply in America. But California does have a 5% "resale proceeds right" for artists, and it's supposed to be paid within 90 days of the resale. The resale price has to be over $1000 and the resale has to take place during the artist's life or within 20 years of their death. It does not apply to gallery-to-gallery sales.

If the seller cannot locate the artist, the 5% is supposed to be paid to the California Arts Council.

This comes from a book called Legal Guide for the Visual Artist.
 

nervas

more crickets than friends
Over 1000 posts
Great thread, so many valid points. My own personal experience, well 15 years ago if you told me Tower records would someday not exist, I would have laughed and said, yeah right. Never going to happen. I buy more books and music than anything else, even more than groceries and food! But I stopped actually buying books from bookstores like Borders, Barnes & Nobles, etc probably about 3-4 years ago. Just stopped completely. I'll still stop by both stores every now and then to look at magazines, and kill some time. However for the last few years the only things I've ever purchased in the retail bookstores are last minute gifts. For example, 2 months ago I ran in on the way to a bday party and bought one of those oversized books full of photographs of skyscrapers. It was like $6.99. And even that was after walking through wal-mart for 1/2 hour and not finding anything suitable for under 10 bucks. I have also found that even non-retailer, small independent bookstores usually overcharge when they have something of value. So many times I've seen Buk BSP hardcover or something similar and thought, YES! Only to find out they were charging lets say $125.00 when you could get in on eBay, Amazon, or Abes for $50.00! So I really don't frequent those either. I have amazon prime, which gives you free 2-day shipping on new items, and I have never seen a bookstore come close to amazon's prices on new releases. I have now collected a group of "friends," rather I should say associates that keep my acquaintence solely to buy them books on Amazon. They pay me for the book, but they have also found when a new release comes out, Amazon usually has it for $12-$18 bucks while Borders, Barnes & Noble, or even Target is offering it at their discounted price of $24.99! So, at this point I can't really imagine what would ever make me buy a book at one of the retailers, save for the above scenario, where it's a last minute gift and I had no other choice. I would think, once millions more get comfortable with on-line purchases all retail book stores will be done.

On that thought, someone gave me a bestbuy giftcard for my bday last month. I walked around Best Buy for 45 minutes or so the other day..I had about 80 bucks or so worth of merchandise in my hand and said, if I went home, bought all of this stuff on Amazon alone(yes some items would have to be bought used) I would pay about 20 bucks! BUT it's a giftcard I tried to convince myself, I never had the money in the first place? But it didn't work, I put all the stuff back and thought, well I have to go to 2 bday parties in Sept and 1 wedding in October, so maybe the giftcard will make a good gift for that. I remember driving home and thinking, man, why do people pay those prices, how long will it last? Then I thought about Circuit City and figured, well there may be something new someday, but things exactly as they are, even best buy can't last too long?

So when all is said and done, I have one final thought...

I look at record stores like Amoeba Records in Hollywood. I mean, they are very successful, sometimes it'll take you 35 minutes to find a parking spot. There's never less than about 25-30 cashiers ringing people up! You're also lucky to find them at a time, when the line is not 40 people deep. Yes, I know they have a prime spot, Sunset and Vine(hello Hugh Grant) and I know they might not be this successful around the country. However, the thing I wonder about... Amoeba sells USED and NEW items of pretty much everything a store like best buy sells(save for appliances, computers,cell phones. But eveything else is there from movies, records, cds, video games, etc.)Is it that simple? Is that too hard for Borders, or Best Buy to do? I know you can order used stuff from Borders, but it's not their physically on the shelf. So if I was at Borders and they had a new release for 27.99, but had a used copy of it for 19.99, that they paid someone 10 bucks for, I probably would buy it, to have it right there, right then. The store would still have made a profit of 10 bucks, rather than letting me walk out without making any profit. I would say its safe to say, every independent music store and book store sells used items. What would be wrong with walking into Borders and browsing used books, or walking into Best Buy and being able to buy a used dvd for less than a brand new copy? Maybe there's something I'm completely missing here, but it seems to me, it might work, to an extent.
 

chronic

old and in the way
Over 1000 posts
Whenever it's an option I prefer buying from a mom and pop type business over buying from amazon, even if it costs me a few bucks more.

On principle, I won't even set foot in a walmart.... they're job killers, wage killers and community killers. They wipe out all of the competition in any area where they set up shop, resulting in walmart being the only employer in town and paying wages so low that the only place you can afford to shop is walmart. That particular business model should be made illegal.
 

jordan

lothario speedwagon
Over 1000 posts
well, walmart has announced plans to expand with a series of 10-20,000 sq ft stores, thus allowing them to get into urban areas where the mega size of their supercenters has traditionally prevented them from going. hooray!

another side note about amazon prime - has anyone else tried it? i had a trial for a month and while i have to say it was nice, almost every book i got was horribly packed. when i order now, books usually come shrinkwrapped in a box with void fill... it has around an 80% rate of delivering me the book in "new" condition. with prime (which amazon supports by contracting shipping services from warehouses all over the country, rather than shipping from their central warehouse), the books usually arrived in those weird pancake mailers (the ones where a machine presses two pieces of chipboard together), and the corners were almost always smashed, as a result of the pancake machines, and they were also usually dirty, like they had been sitting in a warehouse with a bunch of used auto parts. in general, if there is a book i absolutely have to have in fine condition, i will buy it from a brick and mortar store, rather than from amazon.

the thing about the mom and pop stores is that there are a lot of new bookstores that simply offer nothing more than what you get on amazon. i don't buy from these stores, because i usually don't go into them in the first place, because they're boring. a good counterexample is this store in san francisco called "booksmith" - they have author signings probably 20 nights a month, and sometimes they get some good guys, or they will sponsor readings by more famous authors (crumb, palahniuk, yann martel, guillermo del toro, etc). i spend probably more from them than any other non-used bookstore around, because they support the literary community, and i would just feel like such a dick bringing in a bunch of amazon books tot he bookstore just to get them signed. (i met a guy at a signing one time who i always see carrying a push-cart to comics shows and author signings - he sells on Abe as Handee books), and he told me that he's actually been cut off at Booksmith, where the owner told him that he had to buy a new book for every book out of his stash that he got signed.

working in a couple industries (bicycle and then outdoor specialty) where i hear a lot about independent retailers feeling the pinch, i'm kind of over the idea that an independent shop deserves to exist simply because it isn't a chain. the ones that are successful offer something that you don't get online or from a chain - this is true in any industry. the price pressure from mass retailers (internet or physical) is the biggest threat to any business (not the individual bugaboos like e-books or whatever), but there are a bunch of independent retailers that are thriving because they know how to sell their product better than the companies who make all their decisions from a central office staffed by people with MBAs.

okay, sorry this post is only marginally coherent, and only tangentially related to the topic at hand.
 

mjp

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another side note about amazon prime - has anyone else tried it? i had a trial for a month and while i have to say it was nice, almost every book i got was horribly packed.
We have Prime, and I've received things in every kind of mailer, so I don't think it's strictly pancake. Also, all Amazon orders are shipped from all over the country.

But in general, I've never received a perfect copy of anything from Amazon. If you're looking for condition you have to buy retail and cherry pick.
 

Rekrab

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Over 1000 posts
Many of you may already know this, but publishers give big chain stores like Walmart and Costco a much better discount than they will give to independent bookstores. It's tough for the average small bookstore to compete with the chains on new bestsellers. It's not unusual for the independents to send employees to Costco to buy 5 or 10 copies of a new book when the title is out of stock from the distributor, and they can make money on them, marking them up to full retail price. So you may think you're supporting an independent (and you are), but the books may have come from Costco.
 

mjp

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"The midlist author will be consigned to ebooks. And if that happens, I'll stop writing. I'll just stop."

There you go. Just quit. That's the ultimate answer to changes you don't like; give up. Bravo.
 

Rekrab

Usually wrong.
Over 1000 posts
Some context might help. She's feeling burned out trying to survive as a writer. Part of the reward -- aside from the money she earns -- is seeing her books in print. Ebooks would rob her of that small but very real physical prize. I think I get where she's coming from. Sort of: "I'm dedicating my life to this? -- words on a screen, like a zillion unpaid bloggers?" Writers used to grow up dreaming of having books with their name on the cover. The physical book means a lot to old school writers, maybe not so much to younger ones who grew up around computers. Ebooks kind of kill that dream for writers. Or, she's a whiner. Depends on how you look at it. She's a damned good writer, if you're into punkish Lovecraftian horror.
 

mjp

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I don't know if it's whining, but it is bullshit. You're not at the mercy of whoever decides that something that you wrote should be "EEEEE booked" unless you let yourself be. What she's saying is if her previous publisher(s) go electronic, she'll just stop writing. Which means she doesn't care enough to find an alternative. And if she doesn't care enough about what she does to try to keep it alive, why should I care to read any of it?

Someone like her with an established name, especially, could create their own company to sell their own shit however they'd like to sell it. But rather than go that route, her response would seem to be, "Oh well. Because of what TRADITIONAL NEW YORK PUBLISHERS are doing, publishing's dead. Whatever. I quit."

That's not really my kind of writer. Or person.
 

Stavrogin

Over 1000 posts
I've read a few things by Kiernan and like her writing but that voice of hers is a little unsettling. I'd never heard her speak until I watched the documentary on Lovecraft:


Sorry for the off topic bit.
 

mjp

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that voice of hers is a little unsettling.
"The same way that I don't want to be thought of as a horror writer, I don't want to be thought of as a gay writer, or 'that transsexual writer.' In interviews it's something I shy away from addressing directly. I don't want strictly feminist critics saying, 'You have no right to be writing all these women from their point of view because you're not a real woman,' or whatever. I've never tried to keep the transgenderism a secret; I just don't put a big sign over my head. It does not define me.

http://www.locusmag.com/2008/Issue12_Kiernan.html
 
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Rekrab

Usually wrong.
Over 1000 posts
Yeah, she's not shy about expressing her opinions. You could call her strident at times. I'm sure she couldn't give a shit what anyone thinks of her. What I like about her writing is the intelligence and precision. I just finished her novel Threshhold (the only thing I've read besides some short stories and her blog) and it held my interest. I give up on a lot of novels, so that's saying something. I found out about her through the Lovecraft documentary. She was the best thing in it.

Her stand on ebooks may be Bullshit (I'm not a great judge of that) but I think it comes out of deep frustration with her life. She works very hard as a writer, if you believe what she says (and I do), and the pay is low, and no health insurance. Maybe she's just looking for a reason to throw in the towel and get a real job, and ebooks fits the bill.
 
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