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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Juice Boxes - Best SFF Press for eBooks (2011)


Winner: Pyr




The first question would be, 'Why not an award for the best SFF Press, period?' The short answer is because it would be impossible and capricious. How do I compare something like Night Shade who does 25 books a year to Orbit who does 75? Or how do I look at Spectra who only publish SFF in relation to Doubleday who does SFF and scads of other stuff? I can't, so I won't. What I can judge, is who's making the effort to put out the best eBooks. And that's Pyr.

It shouldn't be new to anyone who reads this blog that I'm a dedicated eReader. The vast majority of books I purchase are eBooks and the vast majority of ARCs I read are electronic. Gone are the days of error ridden eBooks from major publishers (largely), but there's still a huge gap between the quality of hard copies and their eBook counterparts. Lou Anders, and Pyr, are changing that one eBook at a time.

Sure, their eBooks are almost never available on release day. And yes, they're not as affordable as those from Angry Robot or Night Shade (who both do a great job with their eBooks also). But for me Pyr has become the go to source for beautiful, professional eBooks. I'm sure you're asking yourself, what the hell is a beautiful eBook and what's important about it?

Writing this post, I pulled up a random Pyr title from my electronic library, in this case, The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith. The first thing I noticed was the cover. Believe it or not, a lot of eBooks don't come with covers. They'll start with the copyright page, or a text title page, or something else equally lame. The second thing I notice is the type settings - plural. There's a typesetting for the chapter heads, for the drop letters, and for the primary text. They even take the time to drop in custom scene dividers - no triple asterisk or hash tag here. And check this out - they've been proofread. In fact, I'm pretty sure Pyr puts the same editorial integrity into each eBook than they put into their hard copies. It shows.

Lou Anders w/Hugo.
Know what else? They aren't overpriced. While not 'cheap', I've yet to see a Pyr title in the $12.99-15.99 dollar range now so popular among the big-6 new hardcover release. I get that an eBook is almost as expensive to produce as a bound copy, less print and distribution costs. Still, there's a mental hurdle that many consumers have right now in paying more than $10 for an electronic copy. Until that changes, and I'm not sure it ever will, price matters and Pyr seems to grasp that, coming in at just under $10 even for hardcover releases.

Admittedly, this isn't an award I'm going to repeat in future years, but I felt compelled to recognize Pyr for being an leader in the industry. So thanks to Lou Anders (a proclaimed eReader himself) and his editorial team for making it a priority. Special shout out to Rene Sears, who I'm pretty sure does a lot of the heavy lifting.


###

If you missed my Thanksgiving post, I explained that I'm doing a series of awards. I'm going to call them the Juice Boxes. See if you can keep up here... so there are the Hugos. My name is Justin. Put those two words together and you get Jugos. Jugo in Spanish means Juice. The Juice Awards sounds like something O.J. Simpson would bestow on someone, so I added the box. After all, who doesn't like Juice Boxes?

I'll be doing a separate post for each category with a goal of having them all done before Christmas (we'll see). My award categories are as follows:

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26 Comments:

At December 7, 2011 at 8:03 AM , Blogger Aidan Moher said...

I'm gonna steal some of your ideas.

Also, great choice for this award. Pyr is king of the hill for eBooks and could teach some of the major houses a lesson.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 8:46 AM , Anonymous Odo said...

I'm sorry, but I strongly disagree. Pyr ebooks are not available outside USA. I live in Spain and I cannot possibly buy, for instance, Planesrunner by Ian McDonald in ebook (and I would). However, I can easily buy that book (and any other published by Pyr) in paper edition from a number of retailers (that won't sell me the ebook).

Yeah, I know they don't own the rights or whatever, but the situation is equally ridiculous to me.

Thus, I don't really think that a publisher that only sells ebooks to a fraction of the world deserves any recognition in thisndepartament

 
At December 7, 2011 at 8:49 AM , Anonymous Stefan said...

Totally agree with you, Justin. But, most importantly - Pyr also offer their eBooks through Amazon UK, which is so very awesome. I also have no problem waiting a little bit for them. Would it be nice if they were available at the same time? Of course, but if they're put together this nicely, and consistently without faults, then I'm willing to be patient.

I wish some more of the (small) US publishers would do this, too - especially if their authors don't have different publishers in Britain. (Night Shade this means you...!)

 
At December 7, 2011 at 8:51 AM , Blogger Justin said...

As Odo points out, there's a larger issue of rights and distribution here in terms of availability. It's just not something I'm smart enough on. I'm trying to line up some agent(s) to come talk more about this to me.

Maybe an acquiring editor or two while I'm at it. The globalization of the market needs to be addressed better.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:03 AM , Blogger Lou Anders said...

It's very simple. We are offered certain rights. Sometimes these are world rights. Somethings these are restricted to N. America or just the US. Why do agents retain rights to other territories? Because they want to be able to sell the same book AGAIN for MORE MONEY to SOMEONE ELSE. Authors like to feed their families, same as everyone else. For us to sell a product in a market we haven't contracted for is illegal. There are Pyr books (such as the Vampire Empire series or James Enge's sword and sorcery, to name a few) that are available internationally because we had those rights. But please stop complaining that we don't want to break the law.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:07 AM , Blogger Lou Anders said...

And Justin, thank you. Some people think ebooks are as easy as pushing a button. Truth is we may find as many as 50 formatting errors/typos in a book. Some Pyr ebooks go through three rounds of proofing before we pronounce them ready to go. It's time consuming, and takes up a lot of resources (four people in house working on it now), but we think it is worth it. We've always maintained that our brand identity was not a sub genre but a commitment to quality. We weren't going to drop that ball when the ebook revolution appeared. (and yes Odo we are taking World rights wherever we can get them, but we can't always get them. Often, a book is already sold in the UK and elsewhere BEFORE it's even offered to us.)

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:09 AM , Blogger Justin said...

Thanks for weighing in Lou, that makes sense.

International english language market seems tricky. For example, let's say I live in Spain and prefer to read in English. If Agent X sells the Spanish rights, that book ends up being translated into Spanish (I presume). I'm no longer (or never was) able to purchase the eBook in English.

I wonder if there's been any talk of English language international rights, versus translated rights, etc. I assume so, but again, not something I'm smart about.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:13 AM , Blogger Lou Anders said...

Yes, you can have World English rights to a title but no Foreign Language rights. We have this on a few titles. In which case, we could sell the english language version in Spain but not license the Spanish language rights, which would reside with the author.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:15 AM , Blogger Lou Anders said...

Audiobooks are another set of rights that may or may not be included in a contract. And then a third party audiobook producer (like Brilliance or Audible directly) has to license them.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:22 AM , Anonymous Odo said...

I have talked about these issues with Mr. Anders in the past and I really thank his patient explanations (now and then) but, really, I'm still non-the-wiser about why I can buy Pyr paper books from amazon.com but not the ebooks. It just doesn't make sense to me.

All in all, I really have Pyr and Mr. Anders in great regard, but I think that DRM and geographical restrrictions (whoseev fault they are) are not in the best interest of publishers, authors and readers. That's only my opinion, of course.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:24 AM , Blogger Lou Anders said...

Truth is that we can't sell paper books in to those markets either, but that third parties in those territories can order them in.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:29 AM , Anonymous Odo said...

See, that doesn't make any sense to me. After all, the paper book must go through customs and that should be an additional obstacle (one that ebooks don't have to face). I really don't get it.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 9:36 AM , Anonymous Odo said...

Stefan: Night Shade ebooks are readily available (with no DRM or geographical restrictions) through webscription.net. And $6 apiece, which is more than sensible. I buy them by the dozen (they are multiformat, so perfect for the Kindle or any other reader).

 
At December 7, 2011 at 10:55 AM , Blogger Stefan Fergus said...

Thanks for the tip, Odo! I'll check that out right now. Thanks.

Re: Selling US books in the UK - does it work the same as CDs? They're just imported, right?

 
At December 7, 2011 at 11:32 AM , Anonymous Odo said...

You're welcome, Stefan. Hope you like the site andnfind what you want.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 11:45 AM , Blogger Aidan Moher said...

@Odo — The scenario, as I understand it, is as follows:

- Pyr Books publishes a book with American distribution rights.

- Amazon.com or some other American distributor stocks the book.

- Italian/German/Japanese/Irish/South African bookstore orders the book through one of those American distributors.

- Book appears on their shelf, ready for you to purchase.

There's nothing illegal about selling the American edition outside of America; it's an imported good. It's just that the digital distribution of eBooks makes it easier to control where the novels are being released. Amazon, for instance, can control the regional distribution of their eBooks based on where the user is visiting the website from. For instance, in Canada, I can purchase eBooks from Amazon.com, but can't purchase them from Amazon.co.uk. You can't DRM a physical novel in the same way that you can DRM an eBook.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 12:13 PM , Anonymous Odo said...

Aidan: my complaint is that I can (and I have done it in that past) buy a Pyr book directly from amazon.com and they will happily send to my home in Spain. However, they won't sell me that same book in digital form. It may be legal, but it doesn't make any sense to me. If I can import the book, why am I not allowed to import the ebook?

 
At December 7, 2011 at 2:31 PM , Blogger Douglas Hulick said...

Odo:

At a guess (and this is JUST a guess): I suspect it is as matter of importing a physical thing (book) vs. selling digital information (e-book). Shipping the physical book may be legal, but selling an e-book in a closed market may not. It's not Pyr's decision, and may not even be Amazon's: it very likely has to do with intellectual properly/distribution/sales laws or the like. Trust me: publishers want to sell as many legal books as they can. :)

 
At December 7, 2011 at 3:08 PM , Anonymous Odo said...

Douglas: Thanks. Yes, I guess there is an explanation involving some legalese (though It still puzzles me that Mr. Anders said that they cannot sell the paper books either). Anyway, to me, as a customer, it makes not sense at all. Buying digital things should be much easier than buying physical things, not the other way around. They're imposing artificial restrictions for I don't know what reasons. I think that they (i.e., legislators, publishers or whomever is involved) should fix it asap.

 
At December 7, 2011 at 4:11 PM , Blogger Jordi Balcells Antón said...

AFAIK, a pbook is a product and an ebook is a service. That's why pbooks have reduced VAT in many countries in Europe, while ebooks have full VAT (4% and 18% in Spain). This difference between product and service also works with georestrictions and license rights: a pbook is sold on the seller's premises (where the bookshop is), while an ebook is sold wherever the customer clicks to buy (and download) a book.

Is this difference between a product and a service logical? No, but that's lawyers for you, they like to complicate things. Pbooks, ebooks and audiobooks (which can be physical as in a CD or digital as in files) are all simply books, whether you can touch them or not. They should all be subject to the same legal limitations.

I understand why agents prefer to sell rights to different publisher in different countries (read Charles Stross' excellent essay), but that's old thinking. A book may have to be moved from one place to another before it can be bought, but the internet (and a e-bookstore, and an ebook) can be accessed from anywhere. When ebooks replace pbooks, this georestriction will simply have to stop. Ebook rights should be sold per language, not per country.

Making it difficult for customers to give you money is not a good business decision. It's very simple, you see. If I cannot buy a given ebook, I have several options. I can buy the pbook and read it. I can buy the pbook, scan it, discard it and read it as an ebook. I can buy the ebook 'in the US' faking my IP and my physical address. I can probably download the ebook and not pay a dime (yes, as in piracy). I can always buy a different ebook instead, maybe from another publisher. Now, if I want to read a given ebook, which option is easier for me? Piracy. Is it good for the publisher/author? No, but it works. Piracy knows no boundaries.

Now, I am not directing my rant especifically at Pyr. Most other publishers face the same challenge. This is obviously a problem affecting the whole industry. I hope that agents, lawyers, publishers, and legislators wake up and smell the coffee before it's too late. A single big global publisher/retailer named Amazon is only good news for Amazon.

 
At December 8, 2011 at 1:39 AM , Blogger Pedro Roman said...

Jordi got it right. If I want to read an ebook, it's about time I can buy it from anywhere in the world, for any ereader.

Any restriction imposed on that respect, such as DRM or selling rights will make it easier and more attractive for paying customer to look for different alternatives, such as piracy.

If the publishing world doesn't evolve fast enough to satisfy the demands of their customers, books will face the same situation as music, films, etc.

 
At December 8, 2011 at 6:02 AM , Blogger Justin said...

And now that we've dropped the dreaded 'P' word, maybe this has run its course ;)

 
At December 8, 2011 at 9:57 AM , Blogger Douglas Hulick said...

Um, no. Sorry, but being inconvenienced is not justification for stealing, which is what piracy is. If you want to support the author and industry, you buy the book. That may require a bit of extra effort, but you know what? so does writing and publishing a book. Not being able to get what you want in the format you want *right now this very instant* is not a valid excuse for pirating any form of media. It's not exposure, it's not sticking it to the industry, it's not teaching anyone a lesson: it's theft justified through a sense of entitlement, pure and simple.

(Sorry, Justin, but I couldn't let that slide. I'll not add any more gas to the fire after this post.)

 
At December 8, 2011 at 10:01 AM , Blogger Aidan Moher said...

@Justin — The only way for any media company to properly combat piracy (which I don't condone in any way, shape or form) is to make legitimate, legal copies of their product easier to attain than the pirated copy. It's why iTunes has found such success: buy a song with one-click, play it on any device you own.

 
At December 8, 2011 at 1:32 PM , Blogger Jordi Balcells Antón said...

Aidan just stole what I wanted to say. You thief! :)

 
At December 9, 2011 at 1:05 AM , Anonymous odo said...

I've just seen this article on twitter: "Publishers’ insistance on DRM allows Amazon to lock them in to its garden"

http://www.teleread.com/drm/publishers-insistance-on-drm-allows-amazon-to-lock-them-in-to-its-garden/

 

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