Here we go again, with the existential crisis about game design…

While waiting for everything for Teratozoic to get here, I’ve been developing a card-drafting game. At first it was built around storytelling/story-building, a version of my first game, Paved With [my…] Intentions, expanded to create a complex multi-act storyline instead of a vignette… but I ran into technical and existential problems with crafting the story-space my imagined/envisioned game would take place in, so I dropped the theme—but my brain kept thinking about card-drafting games. (I’m sure, in part, because I bought several other card-drafting games to study, and have been playing them a lot.)

So over the last week, a complete game sprang forth from my mind & hands, with almost fully functional mechanics and no theme. By mid-week I picked a placeholder theme and re-skinned all the cards, and now I have a fun, fast-paced, competitive card-drafting game in need of more play-testing. The proto-theme is ‘Black Friday shopping’ and the best name I’ve thought of so far (which I haven’t yet Googled) is “Black Friday Blitz”, and it’s got an interesting double-drafting mechanic, where players are drafting from two different decks at once, passing cards in one based on where they’re sitting at the table (as in most card-drafting games) and passing cards in the other based on how fast they drafted from the first deck; it takes the fast-paced mechanic of card-drafting and adds a race element to it.

So far it’s tested pretty well, and I’ve already ironed out some kinks & shortcomings in the initial design, but the artwork is … basic. Nearly every “graphic” is actually a dingbat from one of the many dingbat fonts I have (or found, specifically for this project), which is nice on one hand (all vector graphics!) but is also … fairly weak, and somewhat incoherent (since they come from several different dingbat sets) and not really the sort of thing that, say, people would get excited about on Kickstarter. If I wanted to produce/sell it as more than a prototype, I’ll have to redesign the cards, probably from the ground up, and create 24 unique pieces of art (several of which represent abstract concepts, not easily presented by representative art styles) for the various cards in the current version of the game.

Unfortunately, right now I don’t feel like my own capabilities as an artist are well-suited to delivering on the ideas contained in “Black Friday Blitz”. This becomes a self-fulfilling situation; this is in the nature of being a creative person, that you can usually only do what you believe you can do. Additionally, the tone & style of the artwork which I envision matching that of the theme & gameplay is one which … I almost wouldn’t want to put my name behind. Which I almost certainly wouldn’t seriously consider buying, myself. I have no idea how to sell it, or who to sell it to. Which makes, say, including the cost of paying to hire an artist in a Kickstarter goal to publish the game… even more difficult.

I’ve been targeting POD for this game, trying to keep the rules simple enough to present on cards (since DriveThruCards doesn’t print rules), so I wouldn’t need any big, up-front investment to publish it. That doesn’t work without art. To hire someone else would probably end up costing $1k-$3k, which is no big deal if you’re raising $15k+ on Kickstarter to pay for mass-production, or if your last game was profitable, but my last game raised ~$6k and is projected to net me around $300 (in part because my printer died right before I needed to be able to print ~300 shipping labels, an unexpected extra expense)—I can’t afford to pay an artist to work on this game with the last one’s sales, and I can’t reasonably expect this one to outperform the last one by 3x+, when I can’t imagine who would even buy it. So then we end up back where most of my work lives, with me doing all the work—in this case, all the artwork.

Which brings me back around to my old existential crisis. What am I doing this for? How much effort do I want to put into creating a game I don’t think people will actually want to play? What’s it all for/mean?

I mean, I’ve been really excited & motivated to design the game, and even to play-test it. Like, after the last time it was played (Friday night), I made a couple of small adjustments to the game flow (and wrote out the basic rules for the first time) and I’m still itching/eager to test the new setup. Like, super excited to improve, polish, and play my new game. So on one hand, that’s great. I still love designing gameplay, and playing (at least at first) my new game designs.

On the other hand, I can’t seem to sever things like choosing an art direction and creating the art from the ideas of marketability, audience perception/snap-judgements, and the reactions game reviewers had to Teratozoic’s art style. Which makes even thinking about what the card art should look like transform into this evil, hulking, acidic thing I don’t want anything to do with. It associates the idea of taking the game from a prototype stage to a publishable stage with a feeling of failure, with pain, with suffering, with the idea of how far off the rails my life went to try to raise ~$6k for Teratozoic and how much worse trying to raise $15k+, especially for a much-less-obviously-marketable game, would be.

Now, there are potential alternatives. Perhaps I’ll come up with an easier-to-conceive-of-marketing theme to paste on, over the top of the existing mechanics & theme. Perhaps I’ll start taking mind-altering pills every day which will help me grind through the 24 pieces of art without collapsing into a pit of despair—and can then just dump the thing on DTC and forget about it. (That’s actually my current best-case plan.) Perhaps I’ll put together a compelling package & sales pitch for the game [mechanics] and sell the thing to a publisher which will figure out a workable theme, hire an artist, and otherwise take care of the things which are bugging me, right now. Perhaps I’m just experiencing a temporary mental and emotional slump, a part of my lifelong journey of depression, and I’ll have no trouble completing the game if/when my brain stops doing … whatever it’s doing. Perhaps I’ll be okay with setting the game aside once the gameplay has reached a satisfactorily polished conclusion, without art or public availability, like most of my prototypes.

I’ve definitely set up my life & business so as to not be dependent on continuous sales or product releases. I certainly don’t create with the intention of making money or accumulating fame. That I create at all has more to do with maintenance of my own mental health than with any other factor.

I think that right now I’m just testing out the limits. I don’t want to go *too* far into doing things which upset me or otherwise compromise my mental (&physical) health, but perhaps it’s not a good idea to shy away at the first signs of discomfort. Perhaps I should try to stretch myself, being wary of going too far.

Last time I went too far.

With Teratozoic, I went too far. Much too far.

This time, perhaps I can figure out a way to publish a game without going too far.

Trying to define my goals for Teratozoic

I’ve been thinking about this part of the problem for a long time, now. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, probably several times if you also follow me on Facebook, Facebook, and/or Twitter. I need to know what my goals are for this project. What I’m trying to achieve. How I’ll define success. (How I’ll know when I’m done.) I still don’t have it all nailed down.

Barring selling the game to a publisher, which is an avenue down which I am not likely to travel very far, I certainly have no intentions of pursuing traditional distribution into retail. The complications, expenses, frustrations, and challenges of dealing with distributors, retailers, or even with the scale of manufacturing (above and beyond any pre-sales/KS-sales) required to satisfy a supply chain are not something I want in my life. At most, I intend to have a POD version of the game remain available at DriveThruCards (with downloadable/printable instructions, and no box; DriveThru only prints cards), and (assuming a successful Kickstarter) to offer a small inventory of copies directly through—something in the range of: I’ll have to order ten or fifteen percent more copies than are backed for, in case of damage/loss/etc; any which remain after all copies have been shipped will be available for direct sales.

So why do a Kickstarter, at all? Well, because I’d like to include printed rules, and I’d like to package the game in a nice box, preferably printed. If I raise (at least) $1,000 I can afford to have 50 copies (read: At least 60 copies, in case of damage/loss/etc) of the cards, custom boxes, and nice rule sheets printed, I can assemble them myself, and I can afford to package and ship them (via USPS) to 50 different backers. For any number of copies sold between 50 and about 1,000 I’d be using the same suppliers/printers, doing the game-assembly (& shipping) personally, and have roughly the same (almost zero) profit margins. Since all but the most-popular new games (the top 15% or 20%) sell fewer than 500 copies, even with a wildly-successful Kickstarter that’s the range I expect to be in; the ‘hand-assembled craft-product with little-or-no profit’ range.

Since a key point I keep trying to explain to other people when they ask about how to succeed (or why they’re failing) at Kickstarting their projects is that you must bring the crowd with you to Kickstarter (they don’t provide the crowd, just the platform for transferring money from fans to creators), and I know that I don’t have an appropriately-large ‘crowd’/audience to know with any certainty that my project will fund at even as low as 50 copies, it is actually against my own advice to attempt to Kickstart Teratozoic.

At least, not now.

Not with 43 Facebook ‘Likes’ on my professional Page. Not with a mere 33 people opening the last email I sent my (still quite small, at 156 people) mailing list. If I saw someone posting about their failing/failed Kickstarter with numbers like those, I’d tell ’em the same thing. You have to do something to reach enough* people, and you ought to do it before the Kickstarter goes live. Based on my Kickstarter history and my current reach, I wouldn’t expect Teratozoic to find more than 10 or 20 backers; 50 is an almost-ridiculous stretch, and the 1,000+ required to have a financially-profitable venture is genuinely-ridiculous. Ludicrous.
*Enough people to have no doubt you’ll reach your goal with only the people you bring on Day 1.

Which is why I’ve been planning on sending out dozens of preview copies to board/card-game reviewers; to put my game in front of their audiences, which are orders of magnitude larger than my own, and hope some percentage of those viewers decides to back Teratozoic based on what they see in the reviews. Which is, theoretically, an excellent idea, and a good way to ‘cast a wider net’. It’s also why I’ve been planning to demo the game at Phoenix Comicon, with as many people as I can wrangle into coming over, and at game stores around town over the next few months, to build ‘buzz’ and let more people know of the game’s existence. It’s why I’ve been planning on ordering and assembling dozens of additional promo copies, to give them away to people who would be willing to teach their own friends & gaming groups how to play, further spreading the word.

Except fuck me if the cost of the preview copies doesn’t push the costs so high my new break-even point is around 250 copies, instead of 50. (Or ~$750 to $1k in patronage, in advance of the Kickstarter. Don’t ask me to explain the math, but suffice it to say that $800 from 2 or 3 people who mostly want to support me (but maybe also want a painting) is worth a lot more than $4,000 from 200 people who each want a copy of the game.) Which means those reviews had better be good, and had better reach many thousands of people, because there’s no way at all my own network (even with as much local promotion as I could stand) would ever reach those numbers.

Which leads me, perhaps, to the idea of running a pre-Kickstarter Kickstarter (or off-KS crowdfunding campaign), to raise $800+ to pay for marketing of Teratozoic. Because if I could raise funds to cover the costs of marketing and development, then the actual Kickstarter for the game is much closer to reachable, at possibly as low as a $200 (instead of $5,000) goal without threatening the project’s viability. Hmm… Interesting thought. I could put up two or three tiers, say $50 in marketing support gets you a preview copy of the game, $100 gets you a preview copy of the game and a Plus Subscription, and $400 gets you a monster painting*, a preview copy of the game, and a Patron Plus Subscription. (Yeah, yeah, the last two are basically just the regular subscription prices.) If I run it through Gumroad on my own site I pay half as much in fees (~5%) to get the funds, and I get the funds whether or not I hit the goal, and I get them immediately, which would all be benefits over running an actual pre-Kickstarter. If successful, that would relieve a lot of the stress I’ve been under, in planning this thing.
*One of my planned tiers for the Teratozoic Kickstarter is $400 (plus Shipping) to have an original painting (up to ~24×36″) made of your favorite monster (from multiple cards, assembled) or monster part (from one card) from Teratozoic.

So. I think part of why I don’t drop the plans/hope to get reviews done & reach a wider-than-my-own audience with the Kickstarter is that I don’t just want to get the game made, and I don’t just want to get the game made with the nicest version I’m able to produce, but I want that nicest-version of the game to be bought and enjoyed by as many people as will/could enjoy it. Not just those among my 30 to 300 fans who would enjoy it, but as many as I can imagine and afford to reach. With a book, it’s cheap and easy to get it in the hands of thousands or tens of thousands of readers/listeners, by giving the digital versions away for free. And I plan to offer the digital/PnP version of Teratozoic for free, but there’s so much expense and effort in turning a PDF into a playable card game that it doesn’t reach nearly as many people. I write my books to be read and enjoyed, and I (apparently) design my games to be played and enjoyed. So I guess that’s an important part of my goals: Not to make money, or to have brick-and-mortar distribution (the reach is not worth the effort, to me; the only reason I can see to go that way is money, which I don’t directly desire), but to have a nice, complete version of my game made, and to get it into the hands of as many gamers as possible without going to too much trouble or getting too stressed. Success will be delivering those nice copies of the game to players, without having had too many anxiety attacks in the process, or going into more debt.

I think the pre-Kickstarter fundraiser may be the answer to that. I’ll start working on it, now.

Update: You can now directly and easily financially support the marketing efforts of Teratozoic, as described; links are up at

Update x2: The fundraiser has now concluded. I was able to raise $550 of my $850 goal.

The Road to [somewhere] is…

So, I’m still hard at work on Teratozoic. I did a little play-testing and a moderate amount of calculation/maths this weekend & ended up revising the entire Era cards setup to better-balance the game against 1) going to 3 colors from the originally-designed 2, and 2) simultaneously adding support for up to 6 players from 4. (Actually originally 2, but that was many, many major revisions ago, now.) Ended up adding a 7th Era card, a new Era name (really re-named 5 Eras, but it’s mostly re-arranging names), and having to try to reconcile this with the fact that I ordered (effectively) 5 copies of the updated game from 3 printers last Wednesday. One printer let me change the cards, but put me at the back of their queue, another couldn’t change the existing order (but it was the one I was ordering 3 copies from) so I made a new order for just the 7 new cards (21 total cards in the new order, and shipping double the cost of printing). The third printer hasn’t gotten back to me, yet. Maybe I’ll call them tomorrow. So… things are advancing, I have more play-testing scheduled for next weekend, and [redacted] which was probably premature and has been stressing me out—I guess I’ll have my answer one way or another by Friday?

Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil PressIn other news, which I broadcast on all my Facebook pages, I actually published my first game on March 6th. It’s called Paved With [my…] Intentions and it’s … a bit of an odd duck. It’s the third or fourth game I’ve designed with narrative being one of the central pillars of its design, in this case quite obviously and literally. Mechanically it begins as a quick card-drafting game—each player starts with a stack of cards, picks one, and passes the stack to the next player, receiving a new stack from the other direction and repeating until they have a full set. In this case a full set is one card in each color of the rainbow, plus white. (No, not indigo.) Then players take the cards they selected and arrange them into a straight line where each card covers half of the card below it—because each card (except the white ones, which are on top) is divided into two halves and each half has a distinct chunk of story (and a numerical value) on it, and players have to choose one half of each card to be part of their story. Finally, each player reads the story they built, out loud, to the group, and compares stories and scores.

If they’ve put their cards in the correct color-order, every possible combination of cards forms a grammatically and structurally-valid story (though many, many combinations are quite-intentionally surreal and/or disturbing), each one carefully crafted as a possibility by me when I was writing them. It occurred to me recently that with this game I jump from having a few dozen published stories to having almost eighteen million published stories: There are 17,915,904 valid story formations possible from the 42 story cards in the deck. (Some assembly required.) Realistically, there are only a little over a million stories which make sense for someone to play if they care about their score, because of the way I devised the scoring of each story chunk, but almost everyone who’s played it so far has agreed that the scoring is clearly secondary to the story-building. (They also seem to think it’s a blast to play. Almost everyone has quite enjoyed the stories I wrote for this game.) So I’m clearly going to go ahead and start describing myself as the author of over 17 million stories.

(And I’m currently in early development on another narrative card game which, based on my current concepts, would result in upping that number to “over 128 trillion stories”, though I expect that total to fluctuate wildly as I hammer out the details of the gameplay and write the narrative chunks.)

Here are some photos of the cards I took, for the product page:

Sample hand from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press
A sample hand
Card detail, drawn from the sample hand, from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press
Card detail, drawn from the sample hand
The first half of the instructions, with an example rainbow-layout in the background, from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press
The first part of the instructions, with an example rainbow-layout in the background.
Second part of the Instructions, with a sample lineup of cards in the background, from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press
The second part of the Instructions, with a sample lineup of cards in the background.
Did I forget to mention that the game is for adult/mature players only? “Contains elements of comedy, horror, working in an office, sexuality, religion, dreams, and nightmares.” Oh, and as you can see in the 2nd rules card, there’s one other mechanic which makes things more interesting: many of the story chunks have occurrences of “[my…]” which, during the reading of the story, will be replaced by the red phrase on the player’s chosen white card. This creates much more apparently-coherent storytelling from an otherwise random combination of sentences and sentence fragments.

So it’s quite an odd game. Very light, very quick, almost-surprisingly functional. I did roughly zero testing, designing it and ordering my copy within (I think) 48 hours. There’s no art, only graphic design. (The font selection and the colors used are very specifically chosen for this project—I custom mixed (with math) CMYK colors for the rainbow of cards to suit my intentions for the tone of the game.) I have no idea how to sell it, no expectations that there’s even an audience for it, but it turns out that’s one of the core concepts of my publishing company: Publishing the creations I wanted to create, not the ones I think the market wants to buy. So I put it up for sale via POD, ordered myself a copy (and a copy for each of my Plus Subscribers), and that was that. No attempts to raise funds for a print run to give myself stock I wouldn’t know how to sell, just put it out there, put up some links, and hope for the best. Depending on how I decide to account for Plus Subscriptions, exactly, it’s already profitable.

((Note: If you buy a Plus or Patron Plus Subscription before the end of March, a physical copy of Paved With [my…] Intentions is included in your subscription.))

I am definitely doing my best to resist the urge to do the same thing with the production and distribution of Teratozoic. Teratozoic, I think, is broadly marketable. Potentially difficult to learn the scoring of monsters for, but appealing to people of all ages and capabilities (re: gaming). I’m going to keep working on Teratozoic. Dumping it straight to POD-only is the last resort. (But certainly still counts as publishing it, of course!)

Copyright terms, public domain, and me

Forgive me for not being as eloquent or popular about it as, say, MCM, who beat me to the punch by a couple of months, but like him (and I’m sure he wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last), I decided long ago to intentionally limit the term of Copyright on my books. He chose seven years, I chose ten, either is infinitely more reasonable than “author’s life plus seventy years”, and both are still significantly longer than the average book’s commercial lifetime in the modern age.

To clarify: I have put the first of my books into the public domain, and will continue to do so as they pass a decade beyond their initial publication. I don’t have good, hard “street dates” for when Lost and Not Found was “officially” published, but I know I definitely published & sold at least one copy before my 25th birthday—it was a big deal to me, at the time, to be a published novelist by age 25. An arbitrary goal, met. Today is my 35th birthday, so I figure Lost and Not Found is around 10 years old, and I uploaded updated versions of the eBooks all around this morning, with an updated Copyright page showing that I’ve put them in the public domain, using the CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication, CC0. The updated files will trickle out through the servers of the various eBook retailers over the coming days and weeks, and are immediately available from and Smashwords.

Additionally, I’ve decided to put the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut in the public domain now, too. By some accounts, I ought to have put it into the public domain last December, since I actually had a copy printed up (and I shared that copy (and electronic ones) around with many people) immediately after finishing NaNoWriMo in 2002. (I still have that copy of the book, here on my shelf, still titled Forlorn. It’s right next to my copy of the version of Lost and Not Found which I sold a copy of ten years ago this month.) By other accounts, there are a meaningful number of differences between Forlorn and the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut, and LaNF-DC wasn’t published until 11/30/2009, so I could reasonably retain Copyright on it until 11/30/2019 under my ten-year-term scheme. Instead, I decided to compromise and release it now. I could probably write a couple thousand words exploring my thoughts on the subject without ever providing a clear “explanation”, so I’ll just leave it at that.

What about future earnings, you may ask, or about my descendants? Aren’t I stealing money from my future self?

Nah. All my books are already available for free on my site and are published under pretty easy-going Creative Commons licenses; my latest, Virtual Danger, being available under a simple CC BY license, meaning you can do anything at all with it as long as you say I was the original author. The people who weren’t going to pay for my books already don’t have to. The people who are willing and able to pay for my books still will. Additionally, I’m not currently planning on having any descendants, and I figure if I want future earnings from writing, it means a future of more writing and more editing and more publishing and more marketing; money doesn’t just come out of nowhere if you leave an eBook available for a few decades—you have to actually do the work, and the part where I’m actually writing new stories/books is the part which typically takes the least amount of work.

What about other people profiting from my work? What if someone actually hires an editor, cleans up Lost and Not Found, makes it a really commercial book, and puts it out under their own name? (All lawful for public domain works, btw.)

Whatever. If they do enough work that it in no way connects back to me and my works, I’m not sure I would have had any meaningful claims under full Copyright. Plus, that’s clearly not the book I was trying to write, or the story I was trying to tell. Or, if they just repackage it (think most PD books, where they leave the author’s name & just want the $$), and it takes off and finds a lot more readers than I’ve been able to with ten years of work at it, it’ll still just send them my way, as the other 3 books in the universe are still mine and still under Copyright for a while, and readers who like my writing tend to like almost all my writing. Plus, I say they deserve whatever money they can get from the books; I haven’t been able to figure out how to break even on them, after ten years trying—good luck!

Additionally, the way Copyright has been interpreted for a while now, when you take a public domain work and create a new version of it (say, a movie based on a play or book or fairy tale), the new version gets its own new Copyright term. So if someone creates an updated or derivative work based on Lost and Not Found (or the Director’s Cut), they actually get Copyright over the new work (specifically the parts which they add/change).

What about your podcasts/audiobooks? Will you make them public domain, too?

Uhhh, sure. Yeah. I mean, that was my plan all along. And then I got to procrastinating, and I almost didn’t get Lost and Not Found updated by today and … well, see… I’ll have to re-record the outros and remix all the episodes (three times) and for the ones on Podiobooks/iTunes, that means running them through quality control again (taking up Evo’s time), and it’s a long process and a fair amount of work and, listen, I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point, but … I really don’t feel like recording anything right now, so … (I mean, heck, I’m supposed to upload Virtual Danger to Podiobooks this week, for release sometime after the final episode hits the Modern Evil Podcast on Friday, but I realized recently that Evo usually wants an audio “promo” to go along with it (even though I’m not sure they’re actually used, any more) and I haven’t recorded one yet, and if he insists on it I’m thinking of just putting off getting the book on Podiobooks for a few months, or until I feel like recording a couple of minutes of audio, whichever comes first—the rest of it, in three distinct versions, has been done since May) … uhh, for now let’s pretend I’m waiting until the ten-year anniversaries of the audio publications, which won’t start popping up until 2018, okay?

(and as a further aside, now that the text of the books is public domain, anyone is free to record a new audio version and put it out there in whatever way and under whatever license they please)

What comes next?

Dragons’ Truth, of course. It was initially published in … looks like May 2004. Then, technically, the first three books of the Untrue Tales… series; the first one was published 11/30/2004, the second on 2/26/2005, and the third 11/2/2006. I guess I have a year to decide how to put those out, since they aren’t really available individually, right now.

Additionally, I’ve been working, off-and-on (mostly off, of late), on a new omnibus edition of all the books in the Lost and Not Found Universe. I think I mentioned it here. It involves a complete revision of the text, applying everything I’ve learned (and quite a few things I’m trying to get myself to learn, about re-writing) in the last decade about writing fiction. If/when that project ever makes any headway, perhaps I’ll put out a new edition of Lost and Not Found, based on the re-written text created for the omnibus edition of the series. That version I might have to take the new Copyright term on, rather than going directly into the public domain, considering how much work it’s requiring. We’ll see how I feel, if and when I get there.

eBook pricing conundrum

For the first time in a long time, Mandy wanted the new Story Bundle. I thought, “5 books for $1? No problem!” Apparently since the last time we looked at it, they’ve raised the minimum payment for their “pay what you want” scheme to $3. The extra $2 shouldn’t bug me that much, but right now it feels like “Hah! We’ve tripled the minimum price!” Plus, rather than Humble’s straightforward “pay more than the average to get these bonus titles”, Story Bundle has fixed the bonus titles at a minimum $10 buy; I think they’d done that last time I bought a Story Bundle, and I went on Amazon and saw that the extra I’d have to have paid for the extra eBooks was less than what they were priced separately—probably the higher minimum price helps cover that gap better.

I understand the idea is to make money. As an author who sometimes gets frustrated at people who have artificial maximum price points in mind when they go eBook-shopping, it’s somewhat hypocritical of me to be reacting this way. Surely, these books are worth more than $0.20/each (which was how much I was gladly willing to pay for them), even though I’ve never heard of them, or their authors, and I’m perhaps being quite awful by balking at paying a minimum of $0.60/title.

This is a big part of why we so rarely use our kindle, though. Several times a year we have access to large local book sales where we can get hardbacks for $1 and paperbacks for $0.50 (if they’re library discards), or certainly most books for $3 or less at the other sales, which we can re-sell into the used market after we’ve read them—usually for as much as (or more than) we’ve paid, in book-buying credit. Last night we made a big haul to a couple used book buyers and got ~$175 in credit for a bunch of stuff we were done with; if I could use that credit on these eBooks, maybe $3 would hurt less. If it were less of a hassle to check eBooks out of the library, maybe we’d use the kindle more. As it stands, between checking books out of the library and buying them used for cheap, eBooks feel weird and expensive and limited and especially weirdly permanent; the older I get the more it seems that books are meant to be temporary things for any given reader, there while you’re reading but back into the cycle of other readers when you’re done.

I certainly don’t want these books forever, just briefly enjoyed and then (because they’re digital, and can’t lawfully be passed on) deleted. This is a bit of a weird revelation, for me, I think. Having put my book business indefinitely on hiatus has perhaps helped me get here, to see eBooks in a different way. Yes, maybe they should be priced a bit more like sticks of gum, less like precious artifacts or collectibles. (I think I’m getting to be the same way with films and games, too. Yes, perhaps I’ll pay $17 to see your movie on the big screen with my wife, or perhaps some fraction of my Netflix subscription to watch it once at home, but I’m certainly not going to pay $30+ to own it on Blu-Ray forever. Maybe $5, if we really enjoyed it, when we see it on that Black Friday sale.) No, that isn’t sustainable for anything but the most successful titles/authors(/creators/industries, and no, there isn’t a ‘big screen’ experience equivalent for books). I wonder whether fixing digital rights to behave more like property rights would change my mind.

Anyway, we’re already over budget for the month, so we’ll probably buy the 5 books for $3 next week, when we can put it on next month’s budget. A couple of bucks seems, somehow, like a reasonable price for something so utterly temporary, so unlikely to be used more than once in a lifetime.

… Perhaps it’s the sort of thing where we only want to spend a tiny amount on something we’re unsure of, but expect to use only once, and then if we love it we become more willing to spend more. Like I collect Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher and Pixar films; I know they’re great, and I’m glad to put more money down for them. (Though still usually used/discounted; seriously, $40+ MSRPs for a blu-ray?) Or like my fans/patrons collect my books & art; almost all of them tried my work for free, first. In the future where life is more and more about content, and the availability of fresh and potentially interesting content approaches infinity, certainly the price of entry will have to trend toward zero while the value we place on that which we discover (for free) we love will rise to undreamt-of heights.