Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Established in 1983 by SF publishing industry long-timer Jim Baen, Baen Books is a science fiction and fantasy publishing house that specializes in political and military science fiction and fantasy (though it does not restrict itself to these subgenres). Baen authors of renown include David Weber, John Ringo, Eric Flint, David Drake, Lois McMaster Bujold, Elizabeth Moon, Mercedes Lackey, Larry Niven, Robert Asprin, Spider Robinson, Robert Heinlein, and Esther Friesner . Although Baen himself is politically conservative (which has led to friction with and departures by at least one liberal author), he publishes works covering a broad spectrum of political philosophies.
One thing which sets Baen apart from other publishers is the large online community in which the publisher, authors, and many readers take part via Baen's Bar, a message board with personal forums for the publisher and each author. Sometimes authors will take advantage of reader expertise and research for upcoming books.
Another thing which differentiates Baen is Jim Baen's philosophy regarding electronic publication.
Baen was primarily a paperback publishing house until 1999, when Jim Baen decided to try an experiment with the burgeoning market for ebooks. He created a program called Webscriptions, which published electronic books in a serial manner harking back to pulp science-fiction magazines.
Under Webscriptions, a customer would pay a fee (originally $10, later raised to $15) to "subscribe" to the set of all novels that Baen was publishing in a particular month—typically 4-6 books, including both new hardcovers and paperback reprintings of older works. Three months before the books were due to see print, the subscriber would have access to the first half of an HTML chapbook version of each of the included books. The next month, the third quarter would become available. The month after that, the completed final edition could be read and downloaded from the site in multiple electronic formats (including HTML, RTF, RocketBook , Microsoft Reader , and MobiPocket ). Once a month has been completely published, the books that comprise that month may also be purchased individually for $5 each. Subscription information is stored on Baen's servers, meaning that a subscriber will have perpetual access to any month to which he has subscribed; he may choose to read it from the Baen website or download it to his own computer or PDA.
Where Webscriptions differed from many other epublishing experiments of the same era was that Jim Baen disdained digital rights management, choosing instead to publish Webscriptions material entirely unencrypted. Baen felt that piracy was at most a nuisance, and adding encryption would unnecessarily raise the cost of the books while getting in the way of readers' ability to use them. Although some authors were disgruntled over the prospect of having their material posted without encryption, many seemed to share Baen's view that encryption was unnecessary.
When Webscriptions was launched, an electronic version of David Weber's first Honor Harrington novel, On Basilisk Station, was made available as a free sample—and over the months that followed, On Basilisk Station very quickly became Baen's best-selling backlist title. Baen author Eric Flint was inspired by this, and by an argument he had been having with other SF authors, to collaborate with Jim Baen to create the Baen Free Library. The Baen Free Library is a section of Baen's website where several dozen complete books have been made freely available (by their authors' consent) for download in the same unencrypted electronic formats as Webscriptions uses.
According to the "Prime Palaver" essays that have been posted to the Baen Free Library site, the Baen Free Library has been an unqualified success. Flint writes that authors who have made their works available for free via the Free Library have seen a noticeable rise in their sales, even sales of books they have published through non-Baen publishers. In a March, 2001 New York Times article, Jim Baen says, "We are drifting from being a paperback house to a hardcover one because of the Net." Baen believes that this success can be explained by the majority of readers choosing to sample works in ebook format, but purchase for extended reading in a less eye-straining printed form.
Baen's next ebook initiative was to bind CD-ROMs full of ebooks and supplemental material into a series of hardcover first printings. These CDs commonly contain the complete series of novels preceding the print book (for those books that were latest in a series), other works by the same author, and works by other authors who consented to be included. Some also contain mp3 songs or audiobook readings, and John Ringo's includes samplers of the Sluggy Freelance webcomic. The CDs are prominently labelled with a permissive license similar to those proposed by Creative Commons: '"This CD and its contents may be copied and shared, but NOT sold."' As a result, these CDs were very quickly hosted on-line, copied into peer-to-peer networks, and streamed via BitTorrent.
Baen hardcovers whose first printings contained these CDs include:
- War of Honor by David Weber
- Hell's Faire by John Ringo
- The Far Side of the Stars by David Drake
- There Will Be Dragons by John Ringo
- This Scepter'd Isle by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis
- Wind Rider's Oath by David Weber
- Baen Books
- Baen Free Library & Prime Palaver
- Baen Webscriptions
- New York Times article
- A table listing the contents of the Baen CD-ROM, including listing books in each series
- BitTorrents for ripped CD-ROM's.
- Content of Baen CD-ROM's, browsable on the Web
- Content of Baen CD-ROM's, browsable on the Web
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