At my blog, Auxiliary Memory, I’ve been adding Amazon Affiliate links to all the various lists of science fiction books I’ve created. This tedious activity is quite informative. The most obvious trend I spotted, is we’re moving away from mass market paperbacks. They still exist, but far fewer in number. How many people are buying them? Even more surprising is how often I see a mass market paperback cheaper than the Kindle edition. A common price is $7.99 for the ebook, and $7.19 for the mass market paperback. And if you’re an Amazon Prime customer, the price of shipping is built into the paper price. Are they encouraging people to keep buying paperbacks? Or, are ebook prices fixed, and Amazon is discounting the paper?
On the other hand, many classic science fiction novels are only available in Kindle editions, or Kindle and Audible editions, so the only choice is digital. And the prices for Kindle ebook editions are all over the map. Currently, you can get many of Greg Egan’s great novels from the 1990s for $2.99 each. But other books from that era go for $7.99, $9.99, $11.99 or even $13.99. I can’t believe they price older ebooks equal to cheaper trade paperback editions. But then, the prices for trade paperbacks are moving closer to what hardbacks were not many years ago, and the prices of hardbacks are soaring.
I found it quite disturbing how many books are only available in digital. My all-time favorite science fiction novel, Have Space Suit-Will Travel can only be bought in an ebook or audio editions. The Kindle is $6.99. Several of Heinlein’s books are only available in these formats. Does that mean fewer people are reading Heinlein? Or, do his fans prefer digital editions? I can understand the flood of forgotten novels from decades past having only Kindle editions. I doubt there are enough buyers to make a print edition break even. And ebooks have been wonderful for bringing back classic SF long out of print. Recently most of Clifford Simak’s novels and short stories showed up in new digital editions.
I tend to think pricing for ebooks is related to the fame of the book or author. Dune, a classic from the 1960s, goes for $9.99. The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson, from the 1990s goes for $11.99. In the old days, age meant cheap paper editions. I remember buying pocket books costing 35 cents off of twirling wire racks when I was a kid. It’s hard to imagine children plunking down $10 for a Sci-Fi wonder today.
Since I’m adding Amazon Affiliate links I have to decide which is the edition people will most likely want. For the most part, I’ve settle on Kindle editions because they are often cheaper compared to trade paper editions, the common print format. If you consume science fiction versus collecting it, going digital is more thrifty. Digital also seems science fictional too, but I do know that many people still prefer to read off of paper. And I have to wonder how many people prefer spending $14.95 for a trade edition over $7.99 to read a Kindle edition?
Since I’m adding links to the Classics of Science Fiction list, I’m assuming most people are going through the list reading the classics, and not collecting. I’ve been building my own digital library of the Classics of Science Fiction list on the cheap. The Kindle Daily Deals, BookBub, Early Bird Books and LitFlash all send me daily reminders of ebook specials. I’ve bought dozens of books from the Classics of Science Fiction list for $1.99 each. I’m still kicking myself for not buying Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick and Blood Music by Greg Bear from yesterday’s deals. I saw the emails and thought, “I’ll do that in a minute,” and then forget. Damn. Today they are $6.15 and $7.99. Jack Faust has no paper edition, and Blood Music is $13.99 for the trade paper. Although you can get a used hardback copy for $0.01 and $3.99 shipping.
Most of my science fiction collection is digital now, either Kindle or Audible. I only buy paper if it’s much cheaper, the only available format, or I can’t get it from the library. In this regard, I know I’m atypical. I think most science fiction fans prefer to build large collections of visible books. Yet, is that practical with the rising cost of printed books?
I’ve committed to digital. All my Kindle and Audible books are available on my iPhone, which goes with me everywhere. That’s rather futuristic, because I’m carrying around a couple thousand books in my pocket. In the past, when I moved and loaded 2,000+ books in boxes into a truck, it was a huge pain in the lower back. It’s hard to believe I now carry that many books with me everywhere I go.
Ever since 2002, I’ve been buying classic science fiction at Audible.com. I love listening to all the great science fiction stories I first discovered in the 1960s and 1970s. I now prefer to hear a book over reading it. I’m not much of a reader — my inner voice is so dull compared to professional audio book narrators. Listening makes a story come alive in a way that reading with my eyes never did. And it’s a special pleasure to “reread” all my favorites this way because it makes them feel new again.
On April 28th Audible.com released 11 Philip K. Dick novels, a 5-volume collection of his complete short stories, and one novella to their already extensive collection of PKD on audio. I assume the 5-volume audio collection contains the same stories that old print edition I own, The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick published by Citadel Twilight back in the 1990s. Each audio volume has been re-titled from the Subterranean Press edition. Audible, as it often does with short story collections, doesn’t list the stories, and that’s annoying. Each volume is around 20 hours long. Check out the sample recordings. This is a huge dose of PKD – almost 100 hours – maybe an overdose. But I’m going to eventually buy them all.
What’s really exciting for me, is they have published six of the nine literary novels on audio that haven’t been produced before. These include (with date written and date first published):
- Voices from the Street (1952/2007)
- Mary and the Giant (1956/1987)
- Puttering About in a Small Land (1957/1985)
- In Milton Lumky Territory (1958/1986)
- Humpty Dumpty in Oakland (1960/1987)
- The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (1960/1975)
Previously published on audio were the other three mainstream novels.
- Gather Yourselves Together (1952/1994)
- The Broken Bubble (1956/1988)
- Confessions of a Crap Artist (1959/1975)
I wrote about PKD’s literary novels at SF Signal. Confessions of a Crap Artist is my all-time favorite Dick novel. He might have put more work into his literary novels, because at one time he wanted to break out of writing science fiction and go mainstream. It would have meant more money, and he would have proved himself as a “real” writer. Now he’s probably the most famous SF novelist on the planet.
Audible also came out on the 28th with (some are books with new narrators, and some are new to audio):
- Martian Time-Slip
- Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
- Dr. Bloodmoney
- The Cosmic Puppets
- “Nick and the Glimmung” – novella
Here are PKD’s novels – red means there’s no audio edition at Audible.
- Gather Yourselves Together (1950)
- Voices from the Street (1952)
- Solar Lottery (1954)
- Mary and the Giant (1954)
- The World Jones Made (1954)
- Eye in the Sky (1955)
- The Man Who Japed (1955)
- The Broken Bubble (1956)
- The Cosmic Puppets (1957)
- Puttering About in a Small Land (1957)
- Time Out of Joint (1958)
- In Milton Lumky Territory (1958)
- Confessions of a Crap Artist (1959)
- The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (1960)
- Humpty Dumpty in Oakland (1960)
- Vulcan’s Hammer (1960)
- Dr. Futurity (1960)
- The Man in the High Castle (1961)
- We Can Build You (1962)
- Martian Time-Slip (1962)
- Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1963)
- The Game-Players of Titan (1963)
- The Simulacra (1963)
- The Crack in Space (1963)
- Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964)
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964)
- The Zap Gun (1964)
- The Penultimate Truth (1964)
- The Unteleported Man (1964)
- The Ganymede Takeover (1965) with Ray Nelson
- Counter-Clock World (1965)
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1966) (as Blade Runner)
- Nick and the Glimmung (1966)
- Now Wait for Last Year (1966)
- Ubik (1966)
- Galactic Pot-Healer (1968)
- A Maze of Death (1968)
- Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1969)
- Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)
- Deus Irae (1976) with Roger Zelanzy
- Radio Free Albemuth (1976; published 1985)
- A Scanner Darkly (1977)
- VALIS (1981)
- The Divine Invasion (1981)
- The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982)
Thank you Audible, and all the publishers. I can listen to practically everything PKD wrote.
“The Human Division,” John Scalzi’s eagerly awaited return to the Old Man’s War universe, is available at Audible beginning today, January 15. Even more exciting, the first installment of this innovative “episodic narrative” will be available free via Audible’s Facebook page. Episodes 2-13 are available for pre-order and will be released weekly, for $.99 each, through April; fans who choose to pre-order all 12 remaining episodes will automatically receive a new installment of “The Human Division” in their Audible library each Tuesday through April 9. For more information, see here: http://bit.ly/HumanDivisionFREE.
If you’ve not tried audio books before and you’re a Scalzi fan this is a great chance to give it a go for next to nothing. Audiobooks are rarely this cheap and the serial delivery is pretty sweet – like listening to an old time radio drama. Check it out.