Monday, May 25, 2015

John Scalzi's Big Record Book Deal

Vox Day, one of the instigators of the #SadPuppies culture wars thingy, passes along the news that John Scalzi has a new and quite remunerative book deal.
John Scalzi, a best-selling author of science fiction, has signed a $3.4 million, 10-year deal with the publisher Tor Books that will cover his next 13 books.

Mr. Scalzi’s works include a series known as the “Old Man’s War” and the more recent “Redshirts,” a Hugo-award-winning sendup of the luckless lives of nonfeatured characters on shows like the original “Star Trek.” Three of his works are being developed for television, including “Redshirts” and “Lock In,” a science-inflected medical thriller that evokes Michael Crichton. Mr. Scalzi’s hyper-caffeinated Internet presence through his blog, Whatever, has made him an online celebrity as well.

Mr. Scalzi approached Tor Books, his longtime publisher, with proposals for 10 adult novels and three young adult novels over 10 years. Some of the books will extend the popular “Old Man’s War” series, building on an existing audience, and one will be a sequel to “Lock In.” Mr. Scalzi said he hoped books like “Lock In” could draw more readers toward science fiction, since many, he said, are still “gun-shy” about the genre.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the executive editor for Tor, said the decision was an easy one.
Ignoring Day's complaints about the nature of how Scalzi got the deal (coff professional jealousy coff), what interests me is how much this looks like a traditional record deal before the rise of the Internet as a sales and distribution force. Historically, such deals have been terrible for the artist, because they chain the creator to a single publisher and distributor; if the creator gets ├╝ber-successful, the deal can look horrible in a hurry (c.f. Prince). Essentially, there are two bets going on simultaneously, both halves of which look dubious to me:
  1. From Tor's perspective, that Scalzi will continue or improve upon his current popularity.
  2. From Scalzi's perspective, that he will need the services of a publisher and distributor. Also, that his star isn't on the ascendant.
It's interesting that this is even being done. It seems almost certain one or both parties will regret it, but why?

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