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Sunday, April 14, 2024

The book industry’s got a lot to learn from Elden Ring, says one of the world’s top fantasy authors (no, not George R.R. Martin)

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Brandon Sanderson is one of the world’s most popular and successful fantasy authors, and he’s something of a mould-breaker too. Sanderson isn’t just prolific but, having faced multiple rejections early in his career, a writer who’s pursued any and every avenue he can to sell his books: And for him, success has begat success to an enormous scale. Last year Sanderson (most of whose books are available from major publishers) launched a Kickstarter to self-publish “four secret novels” and 185,341 backers pledged just under $42 million to buy them.

Esquire’s run an excellent profile of Sanderson during which he talks about some of his beefs with the book publishing industry, how he’s dealt with them, and amazingly enough the inspiration he takes from something like Elden Ring. Sanderson goes through his frustrations with, essentially, that old-school book publishing model where you do a swish hardback which sells at a premium for a year alongside the ebook then (if it does well enough) a cheaper paperback and… well, that’s pretty much it.

Sanderson’s daily schedule includes two “discretionary hours” at the end of every day where he can do what he wants, and turns out what he wanted to do for a lot of 2022 was play Elden Ring with what he calls a “glass cannon build,” and the following two paragraphs are from Esquire:

“And no pants,” his wife adds. Sanderson nods: “I started as the wretch with no clothes on, and I got all the way through the first boss before I found pants.” It took him 14 hours to beat Malenia. “She’s the toughest boss I’ve ever fought.”

In some ways, Sanderson thinks the videogame industry is light-years ahead of book publishing. “They let you self-select your price point by getting these really cool items,” he says. Elden Ring, for instance, retailed for around $60, but consumers could spend a little more for a deluxe edition with a digital artbook and a digital soundtrack, or four times as much for a collector’s edition with a nine-inch statue of Malenia.

It’s an interesting and different perspective on the value consumers get from these digital editions. I usually don’t mind them except in those cases where the publisher over-sells it so much you feel like a lesser being for buying the standard edition of a game. But it’s inarguable that, when it comes to our favourite creators, we probably are willing to fork over a bit more for something with higher production values: Sanderson’s point being that, in the book industry, you often don’t get the choice.

It’s weird to see videogames bleed into the literary world in quite so obvious a manner, even if George R.R. Martin’s involvement probably made Elden Ring much more visible to his fellow fantasy authors than previous soulslikes. There is a point there though, much as many folk won’t want to hear it, about the value the games industry offers per dollar, and why so many of us invest our time and money there.

“One thing I think publishing is poorly equipped to deal with right now is letting people pick their price point,” said Sanderson. “They won’t say it, but publishers get really excited by the idea that we can get super-fans to buy three copies of the same book. But wouldn’t super-fans be happier if they could buy one really nice edition in all formats? Give them a bundle with the print book and the e-book. Reader-centric ideals will lead to long-term success for the publishing industry.”

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