Month: September 2018

Month: September 2018

Innsbruck’s Tell

Looking south along the Universitätstraße, Innsbruck Mud brick has fallen out of fashion, so cities no longer rise ever higher on the jumbled bones of dead houses. When the Flood or the Umman-Manda next come, perhaps we will regret that, for there is nothing like a good tell for persuading nasty... Continue reading: Innsbruck’s Tell

The Economics of Publishing

A street scene of four-storey brick and concrete buildings with a bookstore at ground level
Even in sleepy Innsbruck with its fixed book prices, all is not well in any end of publishing. The Wagner’sche in the Museumstraße, Innsbruck (they own the first two storeys of the white building, and the second storey of the brown one).

One of my jobs is as a freelance writer, and it is a hard time for us. Advances and royalties are falling, and professional writers in a rich country earn an average of 10k a year from their writing (CAD, USD, GBP, EUR … the currencies vary but the numbers are similar). Elaine Dewar has seen a study that only 7% of the revenues of the Canadian publishing industry are paid to authors; I hope she names it in the print version of ‘The Handover’ and puts it next to how much goes to the publisher and how much to retailers, printers, server farms, and other middlemen and service providers, because another source estimates 10% to the writer, 10% to the publisher, 10% to production, and 70% to various middlemen. Chart writers’ incomes from their writing and you find a hockey stick: the top 5% of authors in the UK earned 42% of the income. If you follow novelists you will hear about the death of short fiction as a paying proposition in the 1970s, the midlist death spiral in the 2000s, or changes in search rules on Amazon or Facebook which devastate creative people’s sales. The central problems are, probably, that they keep inventing other forms of entertainment, and that so many people want to be writers even if the pay is bad. These days if you are interested in history you can watch YouTube or read blogs about books and swords instead of opening a book that someone paid for. (That said, I would really like to see some data on book sales over the last 10 or 20 years … right now all I have is anecdotes).

Now, people like Kris Rusch or Dean Wesley Smith will remind you that many writers change pen names as casually as some people change their clothes, and that surveys of writers are often answered by wannabes who do not write, do not finish what they write, do not put it on the market, and do not keep it on the market until someone buys it. If a favourite writer vanishes or only publishes a book now and then, they may well have switched to a new pen name or be spending time writing a different genre. However, I don’t see any reason to think that there were more wannabe writers in 2014 than 2005 to drive down the average income, and pay rates for short fiction have not increased much since the middle of the last century, while the value of a dollar or a pound has collapsed (the Science Fiction Writers of America, for example, count works paid at least 6 cents a word as professionally published … back in 1940 a penny a word was typical, but the penny was worth 17 times more). If rates are falling, clearly writers have to publish more to earn the same.

Talking about the publishing recalls the fable of the blind man and the elephant: everyone assumes that their little corner of the industry is the model for the whole. So in this post, I would like to talk about the situation in some kinds of publishing which are not as famous as novels.
Read more


A Lancehead from Deve Hüyük

A black-and-white closeup of steel with a swirling, lumpy, grainular structure like wood
A 4x magnification (macrograph) of the cross-section of a spearhead from the cemetery at Deve Hüyük. Plate III from Coghlan’s Notes on Prehistoric and Early Iron (1956)

Most studies of old iron begin with the Celts or the Viking age, with a few digressions on exotic eastern steels like the nickel-steel daggers from Tutankhamun’s mummy, wootz from India, krises from the jungles of southeast Asia, and katanas from Japan. In fact, there are a number of studies of very early iron from the Aegean and the Near East. One of the first of these examined a spearhead from the cemetery at Deve Hüyük on the upper Euphrates. (There is some dispute about which country the site is in right now). It was badly rusted and mineralized, but enough elemental iron remained to understand the composition.

Read more


What I Did Instead of My Summer Vacation

A cheap steel bookcase full of academic texts and a thesis bound in linen with the title "Dissertation: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire" (Sean Manning, MA, 2018)

On a foggy Monday the 3rd of September I sent my dissertation to the printer in Salzburg. I will defend it around the start of November. I suppose I should talk about what I have been working on for five years, aside from learning all of these languages, poking around museums and archaeological sites, and publishing articles.

If you look around for research on armies, soldiers, and warfare under the Teispids and Achaemenids, you will find that there are a lot of articles but only a few short overviews, and the methods behind those overviews are not the best. Scholars have all kinds of opinions, but they generally write what they think rather than list the different interpretations and make a case for one of them, and the people working on lists of equipment from Babylonia don’t talk very often to the people trying to decide what Herodotus was doing or the people excavating mounds in Turkey.

My doctoral dissertation has 348 pages and seven chapters. More specifically, there is a chapter on the history of research and why what we read today sounds so much like what Eduard Meyer wrote under Kaiser Bill, a chapter on war in the time of the the Neo-Assyrians and Achaemenid armies in the context of an ancient Near Eastern tradition, a chapter on warfare in royal inscriptions and imperial ideology, a chapter on warfare in documents and the ordinary soldier, a chapter on archaeological evidence, a chapter on warfare in classical literature and the pitfalls of interpreting those sources, and a conclusion which looks at the problem through Thomas Kuhn’s model of scientific paradigms. This is partially a thesis about the ancient Near East, and partially about the forces and ideologies in the last hundred years which shape how we talk about it.
Read more