71ANMVFFT8L._SL160_AA115_.gif.jpegNY Magazine has a series of articles where authors pick their favorite books in the genre that they, themselves, write in. William Gibson is one of these and he picked:

Tiger! Tiger (The Stars My Destination) by Alfred Bester
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Arslan by M. J. Engh
The Crystal World by J. G. Ballard
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Pavane by Keith Roberts
Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
Great Work of Time by John Crowley
Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling
334 by Thomas M. Disch

I checked the Kindle, Sony and Kobo store and pickings are pretty slim. Kobo and Sony have none and Kindle only has Random Acts.

Sigh – I guess we have a ways to go


  1. They didn’t check bittorrent search engines and all of the places where one might find Gibson novels available for free (if, technically, illegal). Says something about the disconnect between publishers and the real world, I guess…

  2. For Science Fiction, at least, you sometimes need to go to alternative ebook stores. I typically use inkmesh for searches since it has good coverage. In this case there is only one additional hit: Arslan by M. J. Engh is available at 7 sites, including B&N. So the pickings are still slim.

  3. I did a check for non-legit versions and the following are available:

    Tiger! Tiger (The Stars My Destination) by Alfred Bester
    Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
    Arslan by M. J. Engh
    The Crystal World by J. G. Ballard
    The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
    Pavane by Keith Roberts
    Great Work of Time by John Crowley
    Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling
    334 by Thomas M. Disch

    That’s 9 out of 10 – the only one missing is Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence, and as you point out that’s available on the Kindle store. SF, fantasy and books of interest to geeks tend to have better coverage.

  4. Yes, we have a way to go, but…

    It’s the publishers that have a way to go, not the stores and the posts title says. I’d pretty much guarantee that if the publisher’s making a given title available then the stores will have it.

  5. I’m not really surprised.

    Take, for example, The Stars My Destination. My copy is copyright 1959. I have no idea if it has been reprinted recently. Is it worth someones time and effort to prepare an ebook version for sale? How many copies might you reaonably expect to sell?

    Currently, not all publishers are releasing ebooks. Of those publishers that do sell some ebooks, not all of them issue all of their _new_ books as ebooks. No publisher, that I am aware of, has released their entire backlog of paper books as ebooks.

    I would be happy if we could get all NEW books released as ebooks. The backlog will be filled in, at least for the better books, as it comes into the public domain. (Assuming, that is, that the copyright term isn’t extended again, and again, and again.)

  6. @Gary Young:
    Yes, lets take THE STARS MY DESTINATION.
    It is arguably *the* best SF Novel of the 20th Century and a seminal work that many SF writers regard as their favorite. It is also a timeless story that is not dated or time-locked.
    You could teach a semester-long University-level writing class off the techniques in that story alone.

    It is a story that by all rights shoud be generating as much income as Farhrenheit 451 or 1984 (more, possible since the thing is also *fun* to read) but instead generates near zero revenue for anybody and won’t until BAEN finds a way to grab the ebook rights. Because BAEN seems to be actively looking to get those seminal back catalog titles from other publishers into *their* active catalog.

    Given the abundance of pirate editions of THE STARS MY DESTINATION (and Bester’s other works) it would not be hard for the rights holders to simply grab a version off the darknets, add in their copyrights and DRM, and publish *that* because it would be better proofed than 90% of the new release ebooks they are shoveling out.

    Economically speaking, back catalogs are gold mines the BPHs are ignoring; they are sunk costs that can generate lots of long-term revenue for minimal cost.

    Given Sturgeon’s Law, focusing on new releases only for ebooks and letting the back catalog lapse into the public domain is the single stupidest way for a BPH to go belly up, right there with price fixing…

  7. Felix:

    (What’s a “BPH”? I will just take it as a “publisher.”)

    Overall, I agree with you. Most publishers are nuts. They are trying desperately to push their heads farther and deeper into the sand.

    And yes, whoever owns the rights to ‘The Stars my Destination’ could probably make money by finding a publisher to re-release it in digital format.

    My point, however, is that since the publisers ARE incredibly stupid, and won’t even release their current catalogues as ebooks, there is little or no hope for the back-catalogue at this time.

    And, from a practical point of view, most of the back catalog will never be available electronically.

    Even for Baen Books, and I buy webscriptions religiously, converting and re-releasing everything that they have ever published before 1999 is just not going to happen.

    Some days I think that the best thing that can happen is for the “big five” publishers to go bankrupt as quickly as possible in the hope that they will be replaced by someone who has a clue.

  8. Converting and rereleasing is something Baen *has* done, you know. And they are doing it even as we speak. Both from somebody else’s print catalog (most recently adding Heinlein books) and from their own catalog (to support epub on pre-2008 releases).

    The key with Baen is that there is every indication that they use modern workflow tools in their production process which keeps the manuscript in electronic form every step of the way to the printing plant so ebooks are an easy intermediary byproduct of producing a print book.

    Most BPHs (Big Publishing Houses, to distinguish them from the small and medium-sized publishers who aren’t clueless) are still stuf with a 18th century business model and 20th century publishing processes. (I’ve heard of Madison ave Publishers that rely on sneakernet and ftp servers for document flows.)

    Expecting those types to understand concepts such as sunk costs, long-tail sales or something as basic as product arketing to the end-user is simply too much.
    A good book is a good book regardless of whether it was written yesterday or in 1959.

    And the really good stuff is timeless; classics get to be classic by surviving the test of time.

    The reason Google is s actively trying to acquire a monopoly on so-called “orphan” works is that they understand there is gold in them thar hills and the BPHs who actually own the rights are too hung up on lookingfor the next big thing they are neglecting the value of their existing assets.

    That said, there is one (semi-valid) reason why a lot of publishers are nelecting their back catalog; they don’t actually own it and they are too (proud, stupid, cheap; pick one) to use their existing relationship with the author to negotiate a secondary contract for the erights they don’t own. It is beneath them to go ask for something they believe is theirs by dvine right but which every court has said isn’t. (Presumably they are hoping for a miraculous new ruling reversing decades of precedent.)

    They would rather dish out a Million dollar advance to the latest made-up “true-lfe story” to pops up on Oprah or the NYT than to actually spend that money getting a thousand back-caalog titles out in ebook form.

    Now, if they actually took notice of the music industry, where the back catalog is pretty much the only thing keeping the studios afloat…

  9. At a dinner this past weekend, the conversation turned to ebooks and their availability (to Canadians). Seven of the ten people present had ereaders (all Sony models, interestingly). Everyone expressed some frustration at regional obstacles. The three most voracious readers, each of whom reads one or more books a week, were the most animated on the topic and eventually each confessed to having “given up” trying to buy ebooks through legitimate online stores.

    The conversation became, which torrents have the best selection of titles and authors.

    DRM won’t solve this. Sorting out rights and recognizing the Internet doesn’t recognize geographic lines in the sand will.

    I left the dinner with indigestion.

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