Editorial – Feb 2015: Choices by GF Willmetts.


 Hello everyone

The world is full of choices. Not always how we choose to do things. Some we understand and others are often put upon us. Sometimes, there’s a developing trend and my senses heckle a little and so thought it would make a good discussion point for an editorial. As we’re top or near top of the tree as SF websites go, I think we can afford to take a little flak from some publishers on this topic as I discuss a developing trend that I’m seeing happen. SFCrowsnest is seen as giving honest observation with a measure of sympathy and looking at all viewpoints.

As you might notice, we review books and such from around the world. It’s understandable that some publishers from across the pond would want to be economical and only offer review copies as digital for speed and to save postal costs. Fortunately, these are only a minority and indeed will still offer a paper version if we request that way. Just because we’re on-line, doesn’t mean this is our medium of choice to read.

Always remember: the universe doesn't care.

What is now happening with some of the mid-sized publishers, even in the UK, are only offering only a digital review choice, mostly to, as they say, to cut costs or using up trees. The latter doesn’t make sense as most returned books from wholesalers warehouses are either sold at a cheaper price or pulped and reused for more books. When you match the cost of a book and a review against the price of advertising, the former is actually a very small part of the budget. Why make it any smaller? If there’s any lost in cost, then it’s sending to the wrong kinds of reviewers like newspapers who rarely review our genre or even send duplicate books but that’s a different story. With the Net giving quicker access between publicist and chief reviewers these days, it can be quicker to say no if I don’t think I can find a placement for a book than to say yes, so it isn’t as those we aren’t giving some area of control and save some creaking floorboards.

If the number of digital reviewers in my team is anything to go by, then it represents a quarter of the reading population which means more people prefer paper to digital still and even they will read paper still. Personally, I’m not that surprised. In our genre, we’re not all minimalists and a book on a shelf represents an achievement that we’ve read it that a digital copy can’t possibly show. Look at your own bookshelves and tell me if that isn’t true. Equally, not all of us can afford ebook readers or even like them.

There was a survey in one of the UK papers that is on the Net which gave an interesting observation that given the choice between digital and paper that people remember better from reading a book. I suspect to the most part this is because we’re used to scan reading when on-line, bone the information we need and move on. That’s not so clever when it comes to fiction where it needs more than that in concentration. With reviewing, it’s important to remember what we’ve read properly or we’re not doing our job correctly. As one of my reviewers reminded me recently, it’s a lot harder to earmark pages and cross-check anything from a digital book.

Some of this could be put down to conditioning, especially as many people of my age were brought up on paper books but all such research is still under development. As an observation, that although some people are being brought back to reading by digital books, this still isn’t the core audience which we actually represent. I suspect, in part, it is the contrast of black text on white paper that makes it easier for information to be stored in our heads. Digital just doesn’t just work for many people, myself included and often feels like fast food if it can’t be remembered. Considering the manufacturers have played with black on a light grey background and now backlist still makes me think they haven’t got the contrasts right yet and probably needs a more opaque white at a particular wavelength to equal paper. I often use the wry comment when given the choice by publicists to say that we’ve only just mastered cave paintings and look at how long they’ve lasted. Digital book hardware is still in its infancy.

However, the rub now is some publishers are only offering their review material digitally and reducing the choice option and I’ve turned things down for that reason than the merit of the book which is not a good sign, let alone helpful to a writer. As a consequence, they are also putting themselves out of the running to be reviewed which means we aren’t serving you reading here.

Although I doubt if this is going to percolate through all publishers, I can see a worrying trend that could get bad before it gets better if more choose this way if they all believe review material should be done that way. I should also say that this is not the choice of the publicists who are really after reviews but from their superiors in the companies and I really hope some of them are reading this and seeing this is a short-sighted decision on their part.

When it comes down to it, I would prefer the choice of format to be left open for us to choose than limited for us reviewers. That way we are representing the same kind of choices that you go through as the consumer as to how you want your material, be it book or even audio book. We can tell you what a digital format is like but the feeling from a paper book feels far better and that is often conveyed in the review.

A physical book offers a lot more different things than a digital. It has presence. It has a feel in our hands which is unmistakable and that often comes through in the review. You’re also likely to read the book all the way through because you spent money on it compared to an often cheaper digital version, not that I would want to see them increased to the price of paper as was done originally. My reviewer also pointed out that you can’t get digital books autographed so it’s hardly like paper books are going to die out any time soon. How can you do that with digital unless they email it into your e-reader? We reviewers are your representatives as to your choices. If you think I’m right or wrong, add your comments in the column below. After all, where is the choice in one or none?


Thank you, take care, good night and remember choices are there for selecting not for limiting.


Geoff Willmetts



Observation: It’s cold and chilly and yet no one’s responded to the article I put on-line earlier in the month recruiting reviewers. It isn’t as scary as it looks and I can nursemaid you up to scratch. Now that can’t be an itch you’d be glad to stop.

A Zen thought: The purity of a single snowflake belies the danger it presents in quantity.



Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

One thought on “Editorial – Feb 2015: Choices by GF Willmetts.

  • I love books and reading – but nowadays I tend to buy and read ebooks. That’s partly because I had to move 17 months ago after 45 years and the experience (you probably can imagine how many books, let alone other ephemerata, one accumulates in that time) is not one I care to repeat. As it happens I left a lot behind, for a couple of my sisters to clear for me as I was moving abroad; luckily they are both keen bibliophiles. As it happens a friend gave me an ereader as a going-away present and I have been happy with the thing, probably spending more than I might otherwise; certainly I have a lot of digital ‘books’ lined up. It does mean that I can spend more on limited edition hard copies of books I really fancy (those small, specialist publishers like Subterranean Press – that I know you review – keep producing interesting editions… ) so I still buy ‘real’ books (and if I’m desperate there’s a ‘pre-read’ bookstore downstairs anyway).

    So – I’m quite happy with the ereader. I do worry from time to time (though probably not often enough) about the effect on small bookstores as well as small publishers; I salve my conscience a little by the thought that I don’t have a Kindle so I’m not contributing to the Amazon effect (but I have a Kindle app on the laptop so I guess I’m not really fooling anyone). And I still have proper books – I just don’t intend to end up with several thousand volumes to leave for my executor to dispose of after my demise.

    As for your other pressing problem – now I longer live in the UK I lack one of your main reviewing criteria. However if you are really turning down books because there’s not a hard copy in the offing I’d seriously consider putting together some reviews for you to peruse before adding me to the digital reviewing list (I’m fairly sure that at least one of your regulars is somewhere in North America) – if you think that might be useful.

    For the record I’m in Canada. I’m a long-term SF reader and I also buy Big Finish stories (currently almost entirely for download – for the same reason as I’ve more or less stopped buying paper books, the space the discs took up!)


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