Mission of Honor E-Arc
February 10, 2010Posted by on
WARNING THIS WILL BE A LONG POST
In my very first blog post I mentioned the publishing house of Baen Books while talking about DRM. In this post I’m going to talk specifically about why I believe Baen Books is the best publishing house and the model all others should follow. I also will be talking about the latest Honor Harrington book too.
Baen Books was formed by the late Jim Baen, who was known across the publishing world as a visionary and later on you will see how much of a visionary he was. Jim Baen back in 1983 formed Baen Books which specializes in adventure, fantasy, military science fiction and space opera genres. Over the years he not only signed some of the biggest names in Scifi/Fantasy but discovered quite a few of it rising stars. If you are a fan of David Drake, David Weber, Lois McMasters Bujold, Mercedes Lackey, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein you have probably read a Baen Book.
Second: What made Jim Baen a visionary?
Back in 1999 Jim Baen saw the power of the internet and he foresaw things like the Kindle. In that year he started an e-book operation with Arnold Bellamy called Webscriptions. There they sold e-books without a shred of anti-piracy software on it and in multiple formats to make it easier on Baen customers. He also started not just a company website but an interactive community between himself, the executives of Baen, the authors and the fans. Fans could log into what became known as Baens Bar and actually talk to Jim Baen himself and his top executives, tell him what they liked, what they didn’t and also interact with the people that authored their favorite books. I will speak more of Baen’s Bar later but we will move on to the Baen Free Library and where Jim Baen put his money where his mouth and his principles were.
Back when e-books first started was the era of Napster and the Record industry running around screaming how “piracy” was killing the recording business. They stated they had to be able to slap very restrictive anti piracy software (DRM) on to save themselves and the “recording artists”. The Major Publishing houses seeing all this followed suit using DRM on any e-book they released.
One of Jim Baens authors not only disagreed with this, he disagreed strongly and talked to Jim Baen about it. Instead of myself trying to tell this tale I will just copy the best part here and then let you go read the rest for yourself.
by Eric Flint
Baen Books is now making available — for free — a number of its titles in electronic format. We’re calling it the Baen Free Library. Anyone who wishes can read these titles online — no conditions, no strings attached. (Later we may ask for an extremely simple, name & email only, registration. ) Or, if you prefer, you can download the books in one of several formats. Again, with no conditions or strings attached. (URLs to sites which offer the readers for these format are also listed. )
Why are we doing this? Well, for two reasons.
The first is what you might call a “matter of principle.” This all started as a byproduct of an online “virtual brawl” I got into with a number of people, some of them professional SF authors, over the issue of online piracy of copyrighted works and what to do about it.
There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences!
Alles in ordnung!
I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:
1. Online piracy — while it is definitely illegal and immoral — is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We’re talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.
2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.
3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market — especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people — is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The “regulation-enforcement-more regulation” strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.
In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors — how about you, Eric? — were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.
The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a “loss leader” for Baen’s for-pay experiment “Webscriptions” for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it’s become Baen’s most popular backlist title in paper!
And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.
Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode and checking out Mother of Demons, they either had or intended to buy the book. In one or two cases, this was a “gesture of solidarity. “But in most instances, it was because people preferred to read something they liked in a print version and weren’t worried about the small cost — once they saw, through sampling it online, that it was a novel they enjoyed. (Mother of Demons is a $5.99 paperback, available in most bookstores. Yes, that a plug. )
Then, after thinking the whole issue through a bit more, I realized that by posting Mother of Demons I was just making a gesture. Gestures are fine, but policies are better.So, the next day, I discussed the matter with Jim again and it turned out he felt exactly the same way. So I proposed turning the Mother of Demons tour-de-force into an ongoing project. Immediately, David Drake was brought into the discussion and the three of us refined the idea and modified it here and there. And then Dave Weber heard about it, and Dave Freer, and. . . voila.
The Baen Free Library was born.
This will be a place where any author can, at their own personal discretion, put up online for free any book published by Baen that they so desire. There is absolutely no “pressure” involved. The choice is entirely up to the authors, and that is true on all levels:
— participate, or not, as they choose;
— put up whatever book they choose;
— for as long as they choose.
So here we are over 10 years later and what became of Webscriptions, the Bar, the Free Library and how has it affected Baen Books?
Lets start with the last first:
Baen was an outspoken opponent of DRM, regarding it as harmful to publishers and authors as well as readers. He flatly refused to use encryption or even Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) and was quite vocal in lambasting e-copy protection in any form as an act that was cutting the throat of any publisher that adopted it. This stance was quite controversial at the time, but after seven years, other publishers are adopting the same policy, and Baen Book’s hardcover sales numbers have soared in direct relation to the number of titles available as inexpensive e-books, while the competition’s remained flat or declined in the same period. As another measure, in comparison, e-royalties paid by Baen run circa 5% of a hardcover royalty over the same period, other publishers have paid out less than 1% comparatively on average — typical period numbers are a difference of four figures to two figures in e-royalties.
Baen Books has grown steadily since and established a large readership among fans of accessible adventure SF, publishing books by authors such as David Weber, John Ringo, Eric Flint, David Drake, Lois McMaster Bujold, Elizabeth Moon, Mercedes Lackey, Larry Niven, and many more. According to Eric Flint’s “Editor’s Page” Column just after Baen’s death, once tiny Baen Books had been voted the second most looked for “label” among science-fiction fans, up from fourth in 2004, and seventh in 2003. The rapid growth in recent years is credited being due to Jim Baen’s visionary electronic marketing strategy — by seeming to court piracy, ignoring encryption and by giving away free titles on CDROM (See “Electronic marketing strategy” under Baen Books), by offering bundled “bargain samplers” and e-ARCs — Baen’s e-marketing pulled in sales. People could sample the wares, decide they liked it, and picked up a tangible book to read — which given the series orientation of the SF genre, translated into more than one book. In short, even as the average small town library is trimming titles carried and stocking up on audio-visual media, Baen took advantage of technology to counteract the former “boost” gotten from libraries buying titles and keeping them around.
Some of what I’m now going to talk about next was mentioned briefly earlier.
The Webscriptions site is not just a place to buy e-books or even to buy a dead tree copy (paper) to have mailed to you. It is more like going to a bookstore but one that just happens to be coming to you instead of you going to it.
How does it work like that? Simple you can go through the Baen library of books on Webscriptions and read sample chapters of all the books and not just the old books either. You can read samples of the newest releases and even books that haven’t seen print yet.
I know you are asking “Say what? Not even in print yet? How can that be?”
That is another thing about Baen Book, you can actually buy the e-book version of most of their titles up to 5 months before they go to print. Take your time I’ll wait until you pick yourself up off the floor and close your jaw…….before dropping you again.
The way that Baen is able to do this is that they offer what is called an electronic Advanced Readers Copy or e-Arc for short.
What is an e-Arc? Glad you asked, an e-Arc is the final draft turned in by the author to Baen. This is the final version of the story and the only thing different between it and what goes into print is that the final spellcheck and proof read needs to be done. So Baen makes this “final draft” available for sale 3 to 5 months before the print version goes on sale in a bookstore, which brings us to price. So of you may have been following the recent tug of war between some publishers and Amazon over e-book prices, well Baen wasn’t one of them. Baens pricing structure is unique and here is how it goes.
The e-Arc e-book costs $15.00, now this seems high especially since it’s not the “print” version, but remember that hardcovers cost $25 to $26 or more and here you are getting the same story 3 to 5 months before anyone else. So then the Hardcover comes out and the normal publishing cycle goes into effect all the way down to paperback books. Here is the thing the e-book price drops from the e-Arc to the “print” version just like the Hardcover does to paperback and you can typically get the “print” version for the same price as the paperback or less. That’s right you can get a Baen “print” version e-book for anywhere between $3 to $6.
Also as I started this section during that entire time since the e-Arc went on sale you could read sample chapters to see if you might like the book first. Just like being in the book store and pulling a book of the shelf, reading the backcover and scanning through the first couple of pages.
Now here is another area were Webscriptions is different: It is also like an online serial magazine in a way. You can purchase 4 stories for the price $15 but you get the stories in sections to read over time, which is a great budget saver. I might have got a few things wrong so why don’t you read it for yourself at the Webscription FAQ page here: http://www.webscription.net/t-faq.aspx
The Baen Free Library:
The Library is still going strong and was last updated in Dec of 2009. In the Library you will find some stand alone books such as Eric Flint’s “Mother of Demons” but also many of the first couple of books in series such as the David Webers “Honorvese”, Eric Flints “1632” Universe, David Drakes “Cinnabar Navy” series and Mercedes Lackeys “Bardic Voices” series.
I know some of those series are old and have so many back books in them (Honorverse) that if you now read the first one and liked it, you still couldn’t read the latest and greatest since you would need to try and track down a copy of all the other titles in the series and read them first. Yes that would be a chore and the cost of trying to buy each and everyone of those Honorverse books, however don’t fret I’ll let you in on a secret. You can read alot of these stories online, for free and no I’m not talking about some pirated copy either, Baen knows all about it and the authors even feed the site administrator tidbits. You can read the entire backlist of the Honorverse, The Cinnabar Navy Series, the 1632 series and many more at this site:
It is run by Joe Buckely, who has an interesting relationship with Baen. It seems that the authors are determined to make Joe the record holder in several SciFi catagories such as the “Most annoying fictional character”, The most spectacular death and the most times being the inspiration for a character that dies. Trust me people if a Character, Ship or AI is patterned after Joe it will have some very unique things happen to him/it and typically in a spectacular death scene.
Now how was Joe able to do this, simple really he just published online the promotional CD’s that Baen gave away in some of their books. Yes Baen hands out CD’s that have not just a few books on them but almost entire series such as the Honorverse. Baen is fully cognizant of the site and seems to have suffered no ill from it.
Is still there and still growing. In it you will interact with Arnold Bailey who runs Webscriptions, Toni Weiskopff the person that took over running Baen at the untimely death of Jim Baen and multiple authors such as Eric Flint, David Weber, Michael Williamson (MadMike), Col. Tom Kratman and many others. Also there is the famous Slush Pile for Baen books where those that want to give it a shot can put a story up, there is also the 1632 Slush Pile where Eric Flint has and does pull stories for his online “newspaper” set in the 1632 Universe the Grantville Gazette (If Eric uses your story he does pay you for it at industry rates and your characters may even make it into the main story of 1632). You will also find that the authors publish snippetts of their up coming works, an example of this was that about %50 of the book Storm From the Shadows by David Weber could be found at the Bar before the book hit the stores, for free. Of course there is the forums for talking about your favorite books and speculation on what will happen in the future.
Now after all this we get back to the Headline for this piece which is the e-Arc of Mission Of Honor, which I was able to buy, download and read while waiting for this latest snowstorm to finally stop. Thanks to Baen I got to read a good story in the comfort of my home while the weather outside was frightful and I advise that anyone looking for something new to read visit one of the links I provided and join in.