Monday, December 07, 2015

Appendix E

So, I'm out of the loop of what's going on in D&D—the last edition that I bought was 3.5, and I was kinda resentful about being asked to buy 3.5 so soon after buying 3e (actually, I only partially bought 3.5.  I used the SRD to cover for the books I didn't buy.  But I did buy a lot of supplements for it, at least.)  Unless you count Pathfinder, which I also bought, because heck; it was only $10 for the pdf.  It was worth it for the art alone.  I never read Pathfinder all the way through, however.

So I never bought 4e.  I never bought 5e.  I haven't even seen 5e, because I haven't really been in a game shop in quite a while.  But I understand that they've created an Appendix E, which is like the Appendix N but with new additions of stuff that's come out since the Appendix N was published.

I applaud WotC nod to the past, and attempt to carry on tradition, but I wonder if they've also kinda missed the point.  Jeffro points out, and I think he's correct about one thing: the original Appendix N works don't really inform D&D all that much anymore in many ways, and the players of D&D, unless they're of a somewhat older generation, don't really read that material anymore.  Part of this is ideological—certainly that's true now specifically, where with Amazon it's relatively easy to get your hands on early books, either in old, used print versions, or often in dirt cheap (sometimes even free) ebook versions.  It's a golden age of availability of older books, but many people are eschewing the opportunity because they think that older authors are "problematic" or "triggering" or whatever.  A casual glance at the reviews of many older writers, like Howard, Lovecraft, Burroughs, etc. should highlight several of these ridiculous cowards and complicit weirdos who can't bother to review a work without hand-wringing about the "casual racism" or whatever that is apparently their only significant take-away.

But this is now.  These people, unlike me, are finding these works for the first time in many cases, because they've never looked at them before.  They weren't available before.  This has created a generation gap if you will between older science fiction and fantasy fans and the newer, younger ones.

A fascinating riff off of Jeffro's original post is this one by Kris Rusch.  Here's a few portions of it.
Inflation hit in the late 1970s, eroding the amount that a dollar could purchase. Then extreme budget cuts in the early 1980s targeted funding for libraries (among other non-defense programs). [...]  Less money for libraries meant a shift in the way that libraries handled their collections. Libraries needed patrons to show up and then support organizations like Friends of the Library, so libraries cut back on book orders and increased periodicals they carried. Interlibrary loan became important. As long as the book was somewhere in the system, then someone could order it and wait and wait and wait. [...]
Midlist books got published, but older titles? Important titles? The first books in a series or books by authors no longer producing new work? Those books were the first to leave the inventory. 
Publishers stopped reprinting them, but kept them as company assets unless the writer or the writer’s estate asked for a reversion of rights. 
The changes in the way that books reached readers continued in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. The rise of the superstore bookstore chain started then, with Barnes & Noble leading the way. These huge bookstores needed “wallpaper,” books that would sit on those far walls, almost as decoration. The bookshelves in the middle of the stores held the newer material. The older stuff went back on the walls. [...]
The superstore chains were good for writers with established careers because the superstore chains, unlike the chains before them or the smaller independents, carried an entire series, and often the writer’s entire backlist. Writers could walk into a Barnes & Noble and find their own books that had been published two years ago, still stocked. 
But other changes were happening in this period. Libraries still suffered budget cuts, and those were growing. Libraries got closed all across the country, generally due to lack of funding. [...]
That lead to many readers hearing about books but never being able to find them. For years and years, going to a used bookstore was like treasure hunting. Maybe this store will have that book I’ve been searching for. Maybe, maybe, maybe. 
Really rare books could often go for hundreds of dollars or more. 
Then the real death knell hit. 
Those other stores—those not-bookstores that carried books? The grocery stores, truck stops, drug stores, restaurants? They all got their books from a little local distributor down the street. [...]
Grocery stores also chained up during these two decades. Instead of the regional large stores or the mom-and-pop stores on the corner, large grocery chains dominated. These chains funneled their invoices to corporate, and corporate hated the regional book distributors. The product was the same—books—but the invoices came from thousands of different distributors, sometimes with invoices as small as a few hundred bucks. 
So giant grocery chains (my memory says Walmart and Safeway, but my memory might be wrong and I can’t find this quickly) decided they would deal with ten distributors each. Nationwide. They let the existing distributors compete for the business, and each company chose a different group of ten. (Eventually, those twenty distributors whittled down to four.) 
Most of these regional book distributors didn’t have the ability to provide books at that scale. (It required a major cash outlay.) Some didn’t even try. Others tried and failed. Many of the regional companies bought other regionals just to handle the demand. But by the deadline, the grocery chains had picked ten distributors and just did business with them. 
The result was twofold. Most of the regional distributors who didn’t work with the chains went out of business, including our former neighbors. Some of the distributors got bought up, but those employees (if they stayed) were busy trying to provide books to a much larger market. The initial twenty distributors who survived didn’t have time to learn that book buyers in Raleigh preferred historical novels over science fiction novels or who the local authors were in New Orleans. So all the surviving distributors did was order bestsellers and pray that those books would sell while the distributors learned how to do business on this grand scale. 
The distributors learned within a year, but the damage was done. The publishers were repeatedly told that only bestsellers could get into the pipeline, so publishers only bought guaranteed bestsellers. The whole idea of growing a bestseller from a midlist book went out the window. If the books didn’t perform significantly better with each release, then the authors were jettisoned. 
And backlist? Gone, at least from these distributors. The big chain bookstores started ordering directly from the publishers, setting up their own distribution arms. Midlist writers and their backlist still made it to the superstores, but not the smaller retail outlets and not to their customer base in certain regions. 
And the older books didn’t stand a chance. Unless they were being released in classy editions that looked good as wallpaper. 
So here’s the upshot. By the beginning of the new century, the old genre classics in science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery were unavailable. They weren’t in new bookstores; they had a small (and often expensive) presence in used bookstores; and they weren’t in libraries. 
If someone had heard of a particular classic writer, that reader had to order the book from Amazon or eBay or some bookseller somewhere else. Maybe. If the book didn’t cost an arm and a leg. 
Anyway, there's a good deal more.  Check out the link and read the whole thing.

The upshot for today is that much of this has been brought back into print by small and independent presses.  The downshot is that unless you're specifically looking for it, you wouldn't know that.  The end result: the genre generation gap that Jeffro talks about.  Gamers today—and even just simply science fiction and fantasy genre fans, whether or not they're gamers—have to specifically be told to look for these books, and many of them never are and consequently never look.  Sure, the Appendix E can count as them being told, I suppose, assuming that they look at it.  But the Appendix E is full of a bunch of fluff compared to the Appendix N (which even then, I think, certainly had its share of fluff).  And today's crybaby generation reads stuff like the Conan stories and finds themselves "triggered."  It's a sad state of affairs.

No comments: