Thoughts on Some News: Tor VS Libraries, and the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Relationship

Hey there, readers. I hope you’re having a good weekend! Mine is looking up. I’ve got some writing to do today (when do I not, right?), but before I dove into it, I really wanted to get a quick post up on some recent news items that have hit recently.

The first one is Tor’s (sorta stealthy) announcement that they will no longer be allowing Libraries to purchase ebook copies of their books following the first four months after release. You can read one of the first breaks about this happening here, but the gist of it is that Tor is no longer allowing libraries to purchase ebook copies of their lexicon for the first four month of a books release, their stated reasoning being that these library copies are cutting into Tor’s profits, and so they’re seeking to mitigate this. According to some, this it Tor ‘thinking about the authors’ and acting in their best interest.

Bull. This is Tor being, well, Tor. As some of you might know, I haven’t bought a Tor book in years. I actually boycotted them after the last book I purchased from them, an ebook titled Silentium, tried a different underhanded scheme, this one being cutting the last chapter of the book from the ebook copy and making it a “physical copy only bonus chapter.” If you wanted to read the end of the book, you had to either buy the hardcover or wait for the paperback!

This move? It’s that kind of thing again. Someone over at Tor seems to have a serious dislike of ebooks and those that read them, with this latest marketing tactic being their newest move to drive people away from them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen the way they think it is.

But let’s step back for a moment. I mean, could Tor’s assertion have any real weight? Personally, I don’t really think so. It sounds more like an excuse to try and scrabble for cast than any sort of decision with real weight behind it.

For starters, libraries do pay for their copies, and at a higher rate. With ebooks, especially, publishers drive a very hard bargain, often limiting libraries to a limited license based on either time or a set number of checkouts. For example, one librarian pointed out that each of their digital copies from one publisher needed to be “renewed” every 24 check-outs, and they had multiple copies of that license that they had purchased (because a library can’t just make infinite copies of a digital book, so for a popular ebook, they’ll have multiple licenses).

These licenses don’t come at the same price as a regular patron of the arts, either. Libraries often pay a “premium” price direct from the manufacturer to make up for the fact that they’re going to be loaning it out. So a $30 hardcover? They’ll plop down $65 or more for it … in exchange for getting it immediately and direct from the publisher.

Furthermore, it’s not like those copies vanish into the ether, either. Library patrons often are looking for an author or series because they’re fans, which in turn inspires the library to carry more of them and always have a copy on hand. Which in turn leads to steady sales as books (physical or timed ebook license) don’t last forever.

Furthermore, those readers often go on to become fans. I found The Codex Alera at my local library and took a chance on it. Same with Mistborn and books by Terry Prachett. Guess what I started spending spare money on to add to my bookshelf? Granted, I stopped buying Sanderson books (sorry Brandon!) when I boycotted Tor for making a move a lot like this one, but the rest of those authors? I’m filling my bookshelf with them, and many more besides. I would expect that libraries are often many readers first encounters with a number of their favorite authors that they later buy.

But there’s more to it than that. Tor’s strike is only against ebooks. Which I find interesting. They’re not stopping selling physical copies to libraries on day one. Just the digital ones. Which, as many have pointed out, do generate constant money as they have limited-use licenses.

So why block just ebooks if libraries are being such a drag on sales? Well, I obviously can’t say for certain, but it comes back to that theory of mine about Tor’s anti-ebook bent.

See, ebooks are a thorny problem for the publishing industry. Like the MP3, which suddenly meant that anyone with a copy of Garageband and some mics could sell music, ebooks are the harbinger of a much more open market. Anyone can write and put a book up for sale to the masses, when before self-publishing limited your audience … Well, about as much as it does a street busker. Granted, a lot still has to happen for success, but with the rise of ebooks, it’s happening more and more, and indie-pub, once the tiny, less-than-1% of the book industry, has now grown to be about 3% of it … and growing. Hits like Wool and The Martian, which all began as ebooks, are scaring publishers, who see it as their pie being infringed on.

But if they can make ebooks a less popular way to read books … hey, the growing indie crowd might slow, or vanish altogether, and the publishers can go back to deciding what sells and who is popular, rather than the market! Gotta get rid of the alternatives.

If Tor had just blocked all copies up front, and didn’t have a prior history of really trying to delegitimize ebook copies of their stuff, I wouldn’t be as suspicious that this is Tor trying to make another strike against ebooks. But given prior behavior, as well as nervousness across the large publishers as a whole about the growing indie-share driven largely by ebooks, this move of blocking ebooks from libraries for a set period seems more like a desperate plea to drive physical sales and inconvenience ebook readers with hope of kicking them down a notch rather than really driving “sales” for their authors.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?

Now then, on to that second bit of news. This one is an interesting one: A study found that, among those who read books, those who read Science-Fiction and Fantasy had the most realistic expectations and understandings of good relationships, and tended to make the best romantic partners.


You can read an article on it here, but I think there is an important point to note: The study ended with the conclusion that their data meant one of two things—either their readers were best at relationships because of reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy … OR that those who wanted the most realistic relationships in their reading gravitated toward Fantasy/Sci-Fi … which just happens to have the most realistic offerings for writings about relationships.

Personally? It could be a bit of both. One reason I enjoy Fantasy and Sci-Fi so much is that the characters and relationships are often a lot more real than most other books. They’ve got depth to them that a lot of generic thrillers or “realistic” fiction never approaches.

So I could see it going both ways. More realistic situations, leading to more realistic expectations in tandem. One boosting the other.

Either way, an interesting report. What do you guys think?

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Some News: Tor VS Libraries, and the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Relationship

  1. Tor is trying to live in the past. This is the same attitude that has led them to take over and at the same time robbed of most of its former value the Hugo Awards. They are using financial necessity as an excuse, but their financial woes originate from that same backward-looking attitude.


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