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To Heck With Winning Awards: Orbit (Hachette) Goes Excerpt Only in the Hugo Voters Packet

Thehugo_sm SF publisher Orbit is taking a risky bet with this year’s Hugo awards. Orbit has 3 novels up for the Hugo this year, but rather than provide copies to voters this Hachette imprint has decided to only offer excerpts.

The Hugo award recognizes excellence in SF, fantasy, and related works, and it has become the norm  for the awards committee to put together a bundle of all the works (both short and long, fiction and non) nominated  for a Hugo.

The packet was originally gathered together by John Scalzi, with all of the content being contributed voluntarily by publishers and authors. Over the past few years it has become customary for the novels to also be included in the voter packet, but Orbit is bucking the trend.

This year Orbit has 3 novels on the shortlist, including works by Ann Leckie, Mira Grant, and Charles Stross, but Orbit won’t be providing ebooks for voters to read. Instead they will only be offering excerpts of the novels.

This decision, which according to Charles Stross was made by Orbit’s CEO, was defended on the Orbit blog:

We are of course very much in favour of initiatives that help readers to engage with important awards, and we are always looking for new ways to help readers discover new authors. However, in the case of the voter packets, authors and rights holders are increasingly feeling that if their work is not included in the packet it will be at a disadvantage in the awards. It’s difficult for anyone to know for certain whether this is the case, but either way we don’t feel that authors and rights holders should feel under pressure to make their work available for free. There are a lot of different attitudes to the idea of giving work away for free, but we hope most people would agree that writers and rights holders should be able to make their own choice, without feeling that their decision might have negative consequences.

I am told that for last year’s Hugo packet Orbit only offered password protected PDFs (Thanks, Edward!), so their decision to cut back to excerpts should come as no surprise.

Still, I think Orbit’s justification for this decision is a highly questionable argument. If you know that one option has potentially negative consequences and you choose it anyway, you can’t blame anyone but yourself for the blowback.

And yes, I suspect there will be consequences; some voters are already unhappy, but even the voters who have no opinion on this issue will be affected. I’m sure that many will feel that they cannot vote for a work they have not read. This is going to put the Orbit titles at a disadvantage.

And that goes double when you factor in the detail that both of the other titles nominated for the Hugo this year, one from Tor Books and the other from Baen Books, will be offered in multiple DRM-free formats (Epub, Mobi, and PDF). Speaking of which, last year’s Hugo Award winning novel, Redshirts by John Scalzi, was also offered in multiple DRM-free formats.

I don’t know about you but I think there is a connection between making it easy for voters to read a work and it winning the award. But even though there is no proven connection (frankly there isn’t enough data), there might be a connection so it is best to try to take advantage of that connection.

And even if there is no benefit from providing the free ebooks, Orbit Books handicapped their Hugo nominees this year by provoking negative attention both among voters and the media.

I hope that decision was worth the fallout.

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Guillaume May 15, 2014 um 9:40 am

John Scalzi ( author who created the Hugo voter packets), and a very able self communicator) has a more nuanced point :
"Giving away up to 7K copies each of three books is a lot, and Orbit is in the business of making money for itself and (hopefully) its authors."

I think a lot of people are getting a bit too used to get (legally or not) free stuff.

Nate Hoffelder May 15, 2014 um 10:15 am

The cost of giving away those copies is administrative, so looking at it from the viewpoint of 7k copies is bogus.

Guillaume May 15, 2014 um 10:54 am

I think Scalzi est knowledgeable enough to not speak about the cost of giving, but the opportunity costs of unmade sales ( 1K, 2K ?) because interested people got it for free..
Which I think is a valid argument.

Nate Hoffelder May 15, 2014 um 11:14 am

That is too nebulous of a concept to use as a basis for a business decision. Also, one could counter that argument with the potential opportunity gains of introducing readers to those authors. The potential gain and loss cancel each other out.

On a related note, thanks for pointing out Scalzi’s post; I am going to go edit mine to add detail and nuance.

Brian May 15, 2014 um 1:04 pm

I think the funny thing about the packet is that it is not "free". You have to pay to get a Worldcon membership and then you get access to the packet. If I am interpreting their site correctly you can get that for $40. If you had the three orbit books (which I haven’t read but was interested in getting) plus all the wheel of time books in the packet, you suddenly have a cheap way to get all of these books and a lot of people (like me) would have bought membership just to get the books. The bad thing about this is the authors/publishers actually don’t get any money from your purchase (i.e. you could have just downloaded them illegally from the internet instead). But since you are buying them, you unconsciously feel like you are paying the authors if you don’t think about it.

I think a better solution is to add a book packet that you pay for directly and the money goes to the authors/publishers. It should still be cheap (maybe $40) but now the books aren’t being given away for free.

fjtorres May 15, 2014 um 10:09 am

If you think awards matter, then the Orbit titles will be at a disadvantage. But this year’s voting is pretty much pre-set any way. It is going to be a cold day in the amazon jungle before Larry Correia gets a Hugo and, more importantly, Wheel of Time is going to be there as a safe, non-controversial choice.
The Orbit books weren’t going go win anyway so this way the authors can console themselves thinking orbit at least protected their financial interests. Such as they are.

Nate Hoffelder May 15, 2014 um 10:28 am

If Stross had been a freebie I think he could have won.

But I do agree that Correia had no chance; I like his work but let’s just say that he is too controversial to get many votes.

Jeffrey F. Smith May 15, 2014 um 10:37 am

I wouldn’t be so sure about Corriea. There are a lot of Baen readers who are buying the Worldcon supporters package that will allow us to vote just because we are so mad at how the so called main stream science fiction community is treating him. I still don’t think he will win, but it will be interesting to see where he lands in the final tally.

Peter May 15, 2014 um 12:01 pm

Careful with your assumptions. I’m hardly part of the "main stream SF community" (whatever that might be), I’ve got several hundred titles on my (virtual) bookshelf at Webscriptions, and I’ll be voting Warbound below "No Award." Not because of the author’s politics, and not because of the politicking involved in his getting on the ballot in the first place, but because it was awful.

My basic rule of Hugo voting is if I couldn’t force myself to finish it, it goes below "No Award", but this year has been particularly grim. I do believe this is the first year that I’ll be voting 60% of the final novel nominees below "No Award" (the Correia, the Leckie, and the Wheel of Time all made the cut.)

Edward Bear May 15, 2014 um 12:09 pm

I already know this: I’m voting for Correia on the basis of the *story*. I read Hard Magic (Book One) and it was excellent. I skipped Spellbound (Book Two) because I had too many other demands on my time. I read Warbound (Book Three) (Nominee), and then just HAD to go back and read Spellbound despite the fact that I already knew pretty much how it came out.

When you can’t put down a book, it’s a really good book. When you can’t put down a trilogy, the only word that applies is awesome.

And unlike Hachette, Correia and Baen respect their audience.

Steve Nagel May 15, 2014 um 11:06 am

Guess the publisher has to calculate the risk of winning against the cost of freebees. Guess they figure they have losers.

Edward Bear May 15, 2014 um 12:05 pm

Hachette’s CEO apparently doesn’t understand that bitch-slapping readers carries with it its own costs as well.

LS May 15, 2014 um 7:39 pm

I don’t know much about the Hugo award, but by my logic, who would vote for a book they didn’t get a chance to read? Excerpts are okay for deciding whether to read a book, but not if one deserves an award.

Whateveragain May 16, 2014 um 9:25 am

The Hugo awards have become irrelevant and even negative. Modern sci-fi has lost its way and Hugo supports this.

It’s all become shoving micro-chips up your butt and calling it the future.

carmen webster buxton May 16, 2014 um 9:19 pm

I always buy a supporting membership even when I am not going to Worldcon. One reason is the voter packet, and the other is, I get to nominate works for and vote for the Hugos. I do think this decision by Orbit is short-sighted. Yes, it would have meant giving away probably 5,000 copies or so of all 3 titles. But how many of those 5 thousand folks would have bought all 3 titles if it weren’t free in the packet?What percentage of voters will start reading the excerpt knowing it’s an excerpt? I generally start all of the novels but I don’t keep reading if I’m not interested, and knowing I’m not reading the whole book is going to make me less likely to keep reading if I am not 100% gripped by the story.

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