The Great Editor Passes
Revolutionary editor and publisher, and leading anti-DRM fighter dies at 62.
James Patrick Baen, one of the greatest editors of science fiction and fantasy ever, and the acknowledged leader in publishing of electronic books and magazines without DRM, passed away with dignity last night at about 5 PM. Jim had suffered a major stroke on June 12, and had been in a coma since.
David Drake, perhaps Baen’s best friend, has posted a superb eulogy at David-Drake.com. “Jim Baen called me on the afternoon of June 11. He generally phoned on weekends, and we’d usually talk a couple more times in the course of a week; but this was the last time. In the course of the conversation he said, “You’ve got to write my obituary, you know.” I laughed (I’ll get to that) and said, ‘Sure, if I’m around–but remember, I’m the one who rides the motorcycle.’ So I’m writing this.”
Baen was, as Drake says, “always his own man, always a maverick, and very often brilliantly successful because he didn’t listen to what other people thought.”
“For example,” Drake went on, “the traditional model of electronic publishing required that the works be encrypted. Jim thought that just made it hard for people to read books, the worst mistake a publisher could make. His e-texts were clear and in a variety of common formats.” Baen’s unencrypted ebooks, published with no DRM whatsoever, are available at Webscriptions.
Baen also thought that the fact that modern book distribution was killing the chances of new authors to get published, and more established midlist authors to keep their books in print. With bestselling author, Eric Flint, another of his discoveries, he founded the Baen Free Library, and later went on to found the incredibly successful magazine, Jim Baen’s Universe published both online and in downloadable formats, as well as in a physical edition in an unencrypted CD format.
With his discoveries of star writers like Elizabeth Moon, Lois McMaster Bujold, Eric Flint, David Weber, John Ringo, and David Drake himself, Baen was remarkably successful in finding new talent before other editors recognized it. From Drake: “When in later years I thanked him for retrieving the first two Hammer stories, Jim responded, ‘’Oh, David—Jake (Ejler Jakobsen) rejected much better stories than yours!” (Among them was Ursula K LeGuin’s Nebula winner, The Day Before the Revolution.)”
How successful was he at his latest venture, publishing his entire list unencrypted? Drake again: “While e-publishing has been a costly waste of effort for others, Baen Books quickly began earning more from electronic sales than it did from Canada ($6,000/month). By the time of Jim’s death, the figure had risen to ten times that.” And that doesn’t include Jim Baen’s Universe, itself a successful venture under the direction of editor Eric Flint, nor does it include the free “book-crack” Baen purveyed by putting out a series of CDs with his entire backlist on them, tucked inside his string of best selling books.
Baen’s legacy will live on, and not only in the publishing house he founded, and the magazine that bears his name. One of the last things JIm Baen did in his life was approve using the Baen Free Library as the seed stock for creating a general online library for science fiction and fantasy. Later this year, a new library will be launched under the name of “The Science Fiction Public Library,” which will expand the mission of the Baen Free Library, and ReadAssist.org, to the entire field, and, hopefully, all publishers.
Dave Drake sums up, “I could not get so crazy and depressed that I didn’t trust Jim Baen to stand by me if I needed him. I don’t know a better statement than that to sum up what was important about Jim, as a man and as a friend.”
Condolences may be left in the Waiting Room conference on Baen’s Bar.
–The Staff of Jim Baen’s Universe