Analysing the Ditmars and musing on fan-voted awards and distribution

 

So, because I am still mostly stuck at home after surgery and have a very odd idea of fun, I have analysed the 2015 Ditmar shortlist to look for trends.

I won’t be making subjective judgements on the quality of the listed works or telling you what I’ll vote for – I don’t even know yet in many cases. Instead, I’m going to briefly look at the formats in which the works are available and their distribution.

Just to make it clear, I think this is a very strong list (from what I’ve read of the listed works) and am definitely not suggesting that any work had an unfair advantage due to its distribution (people had to remember and like the story enough to nominate it, after all). Furthermore, doubtless there were other books (and even stories in the same books) with similar distribution arrangements that didn’t recieve the nominations to appear on the list for whatever reason.

However, it can hardly be controversial to say that if few voting readers have read a work, it won’t get on the ballot. Therefore, I thought it was worth taking a look at how the listed works were available.

I’ll only cover the fiction related categories, and not those that consider ‘body of work’ such as Best New Talent. I’m not willing to do that much work and consider that many publications and variables. Also, analysing a category I’m shortlisted for might be a bit weird. (But yay! Shortlisting!)

This is vaguely related to the preliminary research I am doing for my thesis, but obviously it is not very detailed or conclusive. Also, I’m only looking at one year (although I have noted some of these trends before). To draw any solid conclusions I would need to collect substantially more data or I would have scienced wrong. 😛

If I have got any details about the works wrong, please let me know in the comments.

 

Best novel

 

  • The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette)
  • Bound (Alex Caine 1), Alan Baxter (Voyager)
  • Clariel, Garth Nix (HarperCollins)
  • Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule 1), Trudi Canavan (Hachette Australia)
  • The Godless (Children 1), Ben Peek (Tor UK)

Like last year, all the shortlisted books are available in print and as ebooks. This year, however, they trend more towards the major publishers. I have seen all these books in bookstores recently (so we can assume they have Australian distribution) except for The Godless, which appears to be available though Pan Macmillan Australia and has a B format paperback due out soon (as opposed to the larger, more expensive trade). In my experience as a bookseller, there is often a ‘gap’ where the trade paperback is either unavailable or book buyers are reticent to reorder just before the new format is due so this is due, so my having not seen it is not unusual.

In ebook form, these books are all available in a wide range of file types including ePub. I think it would be reasonably safe to say that these novels are all relatively easy for Australian readers to get.

 

Best novella or novelette

 

  • “The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “The Legend Trap”, Sean Williams, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Darkness in Clara”, Alan Baxter, in SQ Mag 14 (IFWG Publishing Australia)
  • “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter, in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3 (Review of Australian Fiction)
  • “The Female Factory”, Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Escapement”, Stephanie Gunn, in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications)

So where are Ditmar shortlisted novelettes and novellas published? How did readers get them?

Let’s take a look.

“The Ghost of Hephaestus” by Charlotte Nash was published in Phantazein, which is available in paperback from Fablecroft Press with worldwide postage included in the $22.99 AUD price. As an ebook I found it in a range of file types (including Kindle, Kobo and ePub) through different distributors including Smashwords, Amazon, Kobo and iTunes.

“The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams appeared in Kaleidoscope, published in both ebook and print by Twelfth Planet Press. The physical book is available direct from the publisher with shipping included and from an array of other online retailers. I found the ebook in a range of file types (including epub and mobi) and through different distributors including Smashwords, Weightless Books, Amazon, Kobo and iTunes.

“The Darkness in Clara” by Alan Baxter appeared in SQ Mag 14 (IFWG Publishing Australia). The story is available online for free and (I believe) as an ePub sent to subscribers.

“St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls” by Angela Slatter, was first published in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3. Issues of Review of Australian Fiction are available as ebooks only (as mobi or ePub from the publisher via Tomely). However, this story is also available in print and ebook in the collection The Bitterwood Bible. This book is available as a physical book and an ebook (in ePub and mobi) through the publisher.  The print book and mobi ebook are also available from Amazon.

“The Female Factory” by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter appeared in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press). The physical book is available direct from the publisher with shipping included. The ebook is available from the publisher (in ePub and mobi, I think) and I also found a Kindle edition on Amazon.

“Escapement” by Stephanie Gunn appeared in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications). Kisses by Clockwork is available in print from the publisher’s indiebooksonline.com store and in print and mobi on Amazon. It does not appear to be available in other ebook formats at this stage (someone please correct me if I am wrong on this).

Best short story

 

  • “Bahamut”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Kaleidoscope(Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Seventh Relic”, Cat Sparks, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “Signature”, Faith Mudge, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)

All the stories are either from Kaleidoscope or Phantazein. As previously mentioned, both these books have various ebook distribution options and are also available in print with reasonable shipping costs.

Best collected work

 

  • Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Phantazein, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)

The only book not already covered is The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications).  The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013 is available in print from the publisher’s indiebooksonline.com store and in print and mobi on Amazon. It does not appear to be available in other ebook formats at this stage.

 

What could this mean?

 

For the big publishers, the availability of both a print and ebook in various different formats is practically a given. But what about small presses? Is diversifying the availability of books worth it if you want to win a Ditmar?

Looking at this shortlist would suggest it is.

Almost all the shortlisted works are available in both print and ebook.

The one story that wasn’t available in print was available online for free. People love free stuff. Making a book or story free is an alternative and proven way of increasing readership, but means working with a different kind of financial model which is not suitable for all publishers.

One other interesting thing to note is that none of the shortlisted works are available exclusively through Amazon or any other single online retailer in both print and ebook.

In the cases where the ebook is retailer exclusive, a print edition is available to order from elsewhere.

This may just be a trend in how small presses distribute books, except that there were definitely eligible books which didn’t make the ballot that were retailer exclusive. Furthermore, there were plenty of shorter works by Australian writers published in books that were available through more limited channels. Some were even by the same authors who were shortlisted for stories in more widely available books.

Why might retailer exclusivity be a disadvantage? It would seem odd that it would make a large difference when a retailer like Amazon is so dominant in the market.

The answer is probably more complicated than missing a few readers who are loyal to other distribution channels for whatever reason. I think it probably also relates to differences between the Australian and larger US and UK markets.

As I am not going to survey heaps of people for this blog post I can only go on my personal experiences and those related to me by others. So here we go…

Personally, retailer exclusivity, especially Amazon exclusivity, is a deterrent to me as a book buyer for a number of different reasons. From what I’ve heard from other authors and readers (many of whom were eligible voters) I am not the only one who feels this way.

The main reasons for this are:

  • I prefer physical books to read for enjoyment. My work, writing and study involves a lot of time staring at a screen. I think that my subconscious automatically views text on a screen as ‘work’ and I don’t seem to relax and enjoy reading as much. And, as Amazon cares little for the comparatively small Australian market, the shipping cost for print books from Amazon is rather high (in many cases, almost the cost of the book).
  • Related to the point above, is that I don’t particularly love or trust Amazon as a business (certainly not enough that I’d buy from them if there wasn’t a huge discount involved), so I prefer to support other retailers, particularly indie bookshops.
  • If I want an ebook, the DRM is pretty annoying. I also prefer ePub format so I can read it in more different ways.

For these reasons, I have delayed buying books that are retailer exclusive and I assume I’m not the only one. I have many books to read and if there is no urgent reason to get a particular new one immediately I often decide to wait and pick up a print copy (without paying shipping) direct from the publisher at the next convention I attend. However, I can’t afford to fly all over Australia, so sometimes the next convention is after the deadline for award nominations.

All in all, the trends seen in the 2015 shortlist might suggest that within Australia (or even more specifically, within the Ditmar voting community) having a retailer exclusive print and/or ebook might reduce the number of voting readers you reach.

Having both a print and ebook would also appear to be an advantage. A number of the stories that appear on the Aurealis (judged) but not Ditmar (fan-voted) shortlist are stories available only in digital format.

Although speculative fiction has a high digital uptake compared to most other genres, many readers still like print books. I would hazard a guess that perhaps the type of dedicated reader who buys small press books may be even more inclined to want print versions of anything they don’t consider ‘disposable reading’. Personally, I would not put money on being able to reread my ebooks in 20 years, but unless my house burns down, I should be able to reread my print books.

Paper books may also play a prominent role in convention and literary culture (which a high number of voters can assumed to be involved in) and are physically there to remind people of their existence.

Locally published books, or those with relatively easy Australian distribution, also traditionally do better in local awards.

Overall, the data would appear to support the theory that the more times and different ways readers eligible to vote encounter a book, the more likely that a greater number of them will read and nominate it.

 

But it could also mean nothing

 

There is also a chance that the trends seen in the shortlist mean nothing in relation to distribution, and are the result of other factors.

It is hard to extrapolate too much, and probably impossible to reach any solid conclusions, from a single year of data.

I also I don’t know my sample size (how many people nominated things) and what they each read.

I also don’t know and therefore cannot take into account factors such as how many people read ebooks vs print books. For all I know, nobody who nominated a book read it in print (except me) or none bought an ebook of a shortlisted book that was available on Amazon though any other retailer.

My online searches to determine how a book was available also mean overlooking whether some of the physical books (that either did or did not appear on the shortlist) were also available at certain conventions or in specialty bookstores etc (where there might be a relatively high number of eligible voters).

Lastly, while looking at a popular award, I am not taking into account the popular appeal and quality of the works themselves (as I can’t objectively compare the shortlisted works to every work that wasn’t on there) and various other factors.

This might make the data meaningless. Or it might not.

 

What do I think?

 

Overall, regardless of whether this data actually means anything, I think diversifying the formats and channels through which your work is available is the smartest move for authors and publishers in the mid to long-term, when possible.

While there are often immediate financial benefits to retailer exclusivity, I believe that in most cases the overall benefits of more diverse distribution outweigh these in the longer term. The more I learn about the industry, the more I believe this to be the case.

Of course, the benefits of diversification are not limited to the likelihood of winning local awards. In fact, this is possibly one of the least important benefits. Availability diversification is also important for reasons of security (such as future-proofing your work for unforeseen changes in the market), accessibility, discoverability and a variety of other reasons (most of which I won’t go into now, but may discuss another time). If you can afford to still produce the book without retailer exclusivity, I would generally recommend you do.

This is even more important if a work incorporates a broader artistic or social goal. For instance, when producing a book like Kaleidoscope, an anthology of diverse YA stories, the publisher might weigh up the financial benefits of retailer exclusivity with the social benefits of broader distribution. If making the book available through more different channels means that just a few more young readers who rarely see people like themselves represented in stories read the book, is that worth more than the higher % of royalties?  In this case, I would say that if the publisher can still continue to produce books without limiting themselves to one retailer, they would also be wise to make it available in as many different formats and through as many different channels as they can. This appears to have been done with Kaleidoscope.

All considered, I think this is generally one of the cases where the more choices available to a potential reader, the better overall and in the longer term.

 

Header image: Book Lover by Daniel Go

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