June 29, 2006

Jim Baen (1943-2006)

Influential editor Jim Baen, co-founder of the independent SF/fantasy publisher Baen Books, died yesterday at the age of 63. He suffered a massive stroke on June 12, and never regained consciousness.

Any serious science-fiction reader doubtless has a few books from Baen on the shelf: authors in their catalogue include Ben Bova, C. J. Cherryh, Frederik Pohl, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Timothy Zahn.

Baen was also a leader in Web publishing, starting a subscription service called webscription.net, then later a free library of dozens of novels. Science-fiction publishers have been among the first to pick up on the benefits of free and unencrypted distribution of their material on the Net, realizing that since there is no market for "teaser" excerpts and DRM-crippled books, giving away a few novels for free doesn't hurt profits in the long run; indeed, it helps improve them since people will buy what they like. Public libraries are good for business, in other words.

Jim Baen turned out some quality SF, not to mention some plain good yarns. His presence in the publishing world will be missed.