Jerry Pournelle: Chaos Manor Holiday Style

At aNewDomain, Dr. Jerry Pournelle is in the house — Chaos Manor, that is. Here’s his take on e-readers for the holidays and his annual holiday greeting to all you readers. Welcome back, Jerry!

‘Tis two days before Christmas. My upstairs bathroom is occupied by workmen putting in the new floor and we slept late. The weather outside is gloomy and chilly, a bad day for Southern California. But for most of the United States and Europe it would be called a mild winter day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about eBooks over the holidays. Sales of eBook readers including eBook capable tablets (such as the Amazon Kindle Fire) are high and projected to get even higher. That means, I presume and hope, that sales of eBooks will be high, too. This is great news for writers.

Whether eBook sales will entirely compensate for the loss of book stores isn’t certain, but I’m pretty sure it will more than compensate. When eBook sales first began to be significant, the attention was focused on their effect on best-sellers, and there was great concern over that; but in fact the biggest effect, so far as I can tell, has been on backlist sales. My Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer were both best sellers in their time.

They were reissued a few times, and enjoyed a spike in sales each time, but there wasn’t a lot of steady sale in the past few years. This is presumably because most book stores have limited space for back list books, and what space they devote to the back list comes out of space they could give to mid-list author new books.

With eBooks there is no competition for shelf space between new mid-list books and older books. They’re all available, and the store is always open. Both Mote and Hammer have been selling quite steadily as eBooks, and in fact have now sold more as eBooks than they did in their last print reissues. Other authors can tell the same story.

Good stories have always sold during hard economic times. It doesn’t cost much to wrap up in a blanket and curl up with a good book on a cold gray day. Of course, in a bad economy, a lot of the story sales were in used books, so the effect on story tellers was indirect.

But this year it’s different. The used book stores are dying out just as the independent and mall book stores are vanishing in all but a few fortunate places. There remain the Huge Book Stores and the eBook sellers. eBook readers deliver  ever better user experiences  while falling in price. The effect has been good for story tellers. That’s one bright spot in the gloom.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jerry PournelleChaos Manor

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